In his first statement since the disappearance of Eyal Yifrach, Gil-ad Shaar and Naftali Frenkel nearly 48 hours ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed Saturday that the three yeshiva students were kidnapped by a terrorist organization.
“Our boys were kidnapped by a terrorist organization. There is no doubt about that,” said Netanyahu in a statement to the press Saturday night, following a security meeting with Defense Minister Moshe (Bougie) Ya’alon and IDF chief Benny Gantz.
“We are in the midst of a widespread operation to locate and bring back the three young yeshiva students. I spoke with their parents, and I told them that we are doing everything possible and more to bring back their boys, who are also our boys,” said the prime minister.
Netanyahu said he gave the following instructions to all the authorities and services aiding the ongoing search for the three teenagers:
“1. [We must] use all tools at our disposal to locate the boys. 2. prevent the possibility of their transfer to Gaza or anywhere else. 3. prepare our forces for all eventualities. 4. demand from the Palestinian Authority, and from its leader Mahmoud Abbas, from whence the kidnappers came, to do all that is necessary to make sure the boys return safely. This is the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority.”
Netanyahu harshly criticized the unity government between the Fatah-led PLO and Hamas sworn in earlier this month.
“The pact with Hamas has led to very harsh results, results which are the exact opposite of advancing peace between us and the Palestinian
s,” said the prime minister.“All of the terrorist organizations – Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the other terrorist organizations – are committed to the destruction of Israel and they draw encouragement from this pact. Their personnel are constantly trying to murder, attack and abduct Israeli citizens simply because they are Israeli citizens. Over the decades they have tried to perpetrate abductions and, to our regret, they occasionally succeed,” he said.“There is no possibility of talking peace with Israel while, at the same time, establishing a unity government with Hamas, a terrorist organization that aspires to destroy Israel. Those same elements in the international community that said that the Palestinian agreement with Hamas would advance peace now see the true results of this union,” he went on.Speaking Saturday night just after the prime minister, Ya’alon promised to bring the perpetrators to justice.“We will know to lay our hands on those who planned the abduction and carried it out,” said the defense minister.Netanyahu convened an emergency security meeting Saturday evening at the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv to discuss the ongoing search for the three yeshiva students.
The three — Shaar (16) from the settlement of Talmon, Frenkel (16) a dual Israeli-American citizen from Nof Ayalon near Modi’in, and Yifrach (19) from Elad near Petah Tikva — were reportedly last spotted at a hitchhiking post in the vicinity of Hebron on Thursday night. No one has seen or heard from them since.
Israeli security forces conducted a massive manhunt overnight Friday and into Saturday as part of an ongoing investigation into the disappearances.
Ya’alon said Saturday afternoon that Israel’s working assumption is that the three, who are feared to have been kidnapped, were still alive. He admitted that their apparent abduction had gone “under the radar” of intelligence gatherers who therefore failed to thwart the attack.
Security officials believe the three were kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists while trying to hitch a ride home from the Yeshiva High School where they studied in Gush Etzion. Since early Friday, security forces have led a massive search effort for the three in the Hebron region, but have yet to make any significant progress.
“We are in the midst of an intelligence (gathering) and operational effort,” Ya’alon told reporters early Saturday afternoon after holding a situation report with military leaders. “I hope this effort leads us as soon as possible to the missing (teens) and to rescuing them alive.”
“As long as we don’t know differently, our working assumption is that they are still alive,” Ya’alon stressed.
“This phenomenon of abductions, of abduction attempts is nothing new,” he added. “In 2013 we managed to prevent over 30 such abduction attempts; this year, in 2014, around 14 such kidnapping attempts.”
“Apparently this incident went under the radar,” he said. “But we will not rest until we release the missing (boys) and until we lay our hands on the terrorists who are responsible for this action,” he added.
Earlier, a senior military official told Channel 10 news the search for the three missing youths will not be over within a matter of hours, and could take many days.
The unnamed official said some progress had been made overnight, though he would not give details. “There are a number of lines of inquiry,” he said. “This is not an incident of several hours, we are preparing for days. This isn’t going to be short.”
The official confirmed that security forces had made several arrests in the Hebron region overnight, explaining that they were made in hope of getting closer to “the inner circle” of the kidnappers.
The army official added that the IDF has deployed its elite Paratroopers Brigade and other special units to the Hebron region to aide in the hunt for clues.
A kidnapping with origins in the Shalit deal
If Hamas is behind the abduction of three Israeli teens, Israel is unlikely to exercise restraint, and we could see an upsurge in hostilities with long-term consequences
his press conference on Saturday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that a terrorist organization was responsible for kidnapping Gil-ad Shaar, Naftali Frenkel and Eyal Yifrach on Thursday night, and then devoted considerable focus to the recent Fath-Hamas reconciliation agreement.
It was as though he considered this pact to be the key problem. He said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s pact with Hamas was bringing grave results, and that their joint government was “not something that Israel can accept.”
Netanyahu’s focus ignored two central aspects of the kidnapping, however.
First, he neglected to mention that before the Fatah-Hamas deal was signed, there were dozens of attempts to kidnap Israelis and these were all thwarted by the Israeli Shin Bet and/or PA intelligence services. The PA’s jails currently hold dozens of Hamas and Islamic Jihad members, arrested for involvement in these thwarted attempts. The Shin Bet and IDF Military Intelligence know this full well. The prime minister apparently does not.
And second, Netanyahu chose to ignore his part in this terrible sequence of events. As the former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin highlighted on Saturday night, Netanyahu was the prime minister who approved the release of 1,027 Palestinian security prisoners, many of them killers, in exchange for the kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit from Gaza in 2011. Anybody closely familiar with the Palestinian sphere at the time of that prisoner deal knew that the contdown to the next kidnapping had begun there and then; unfortunately, the result arrived on Thursday night in Gush Etzion, south of Jerusalem.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with IDF Chief of STaff Benny Gantz, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Chief of the SHin Bet Intelligence Yoram Cohen and Director of the Mossad, Tamir Pardo at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, to discuss the disappearance of three Jewish teenagers near Hebron, in the West Bank, June 14, 2014.
Meanwhile, despite suspicions that the terrorists responsible for the kidnapping were hiding out in the Hebron area, it was life as usual in the Palestinian side of the city on Saturday morning.
Poor. Neglected. Overcrowded. No IDF soldiers to be seen, no Palestinian forces either. On Friday there had been clashes between Israeli troops and Hamas supporters, and fireworks to “celebrate” the kidnapping. But not on Saturday.
Overnight Friday-Saturday, 16 arrests were made in the city; two of those held were women. Many people recognize that these were likely only the first steps in the Israeli effort to find the three kidnapped teenagers, the calm before the storm. By Saturday night, there were IDF troops visible in the city.
It’s no secret that there’s widespread support for Hamas in the Hebron area. The city is not festooned with green Hamas flags or posters of Hamas leaders, but it has been the Islamists’ West Bank stronghold for decades. Speaking to this reporter, a local gas station attendant named Ahmad issued a ripe curse for the Jews for arresting an 18-year-old woman who he said had just gotten married.
There is no clear proof at this stage that Hamas was involved in the kidnapping. Senior Hamas officials are expressing delight at the “successful” operation and encouraging confrontation with Israeli security forces, but they know that today’s “success” will have a price tomorrow, possibly a costly one.
If Hamas is found to be responsible for an incident of this gravity, Israel is unlikely to exercise restraint. That could mean the targeting of Hamas leaders in Gaza, and the arrests of Hamas leaders in the West Bank. And that, in turn, would likely bring a Hamas response, including rocket fire from Gaza on Israel cities including Tel Aviv. So Israel could easily find itself embroiled in a strategic upsurge of hostility that would reshape the security environment for some years. If, that is, again, it becomes clear that Hamas kidnapped the three Israeli teenagers.
Whoever was responsible, it must be said, the cell that carried out the kidnapping showed a greater professionalism than the other terrorists who have been confronting Israel in the territories. One can imagine that the kidnappers might have dressed up in Jewish garb in order to entice the three into their car (or cars) without arousing their fears of a kidnapping.
Even if the Israelis were forced into a vehicle at the point of a gun, that also requires preparation — the car, the weaponry, a hiding place, food… The terrorists would have had to overcome the three youngsters, possibly transfer them later to a getaway vehicle, and get them to the hideout, without leaving tracks or witnesses that could expose them.
There are many aspects of the kidnapping still under censorship, but those Israeli officials familiar with what little has been revealed acknowledge that the terror cell may have been preparing this operation fo months.