Ron Ben-Yishai, Yediot Achronot
While security officials have yet to confirm that three Israeli teens missing in the West Bank since Thursday night were in fact kidnapped by terrorists, all of the signals are suggesting that this is the unfortunate reality.
It can be assumed that Israel is in the midst of a planned kidnapping crisis - firstly because contact was lost with all three boys at once, and secondly because there was no police report of a crash or theft involving the vehicle that was found in flames.
In the last few days, security officials have received warnings of potential attacks, specifically kidnappings that could be motivated by several issues including the ongoing hunger strike of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
With this initial evidence, the following facts must also be considered:
1. Terrorist organizations in Gaza and in the West Bank, including Fatah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad, are involved in repeated attempts to kidnap Israeli soldiers or civilians, and Hamas has created special units in Gaza that try to incite actions for the same purpose in Judea and Samaria.
Even prisoners in Israel and those who were released in the deal to bring Gilad Shalit home have been busy recently trying to initiate and direct kidnappings in order to trade Israelis for the release of more Palestinian prisoners.
The deal for Shalit, which included the release of 1,027 terrorists, 470 of whom were considered “severe” murderers, created a lot of motivation to repeat the success, particularly within Hamas, but also with other organizations.
The kidnapping of Israelis for with the intention of bargaining for the release of prisoners is considered legitimate today by all the Palestinian factions - including Abu Mazen’s people.
At the moment, Hamas has much more motivation than before, to counter claims that it has abandoned the armed struggle against Israel and the fight for the release of prisoners in favor of a reconciliation with Abu Mazen that brings Hamas economic gains.
On the Palestinian street, the kidnapping operation could restore the prestige of Hamas, or any other organization that may have carried it out.
2. The organizations that kidnap Israelis, whether in Gaza or the West Bank, have gained a great deal experience in the strategies of the Shin Bet and the IDF. Therefore, they know how to blur the traces of a kidnapping with very great skill.
This fact is evident in the field. It can be seen by the way the network that kidnapped the boys on Thursday night operated under the radar and evaded Israeli detection measures in the area. Israel’s unparalleled superiority in intelligence and military operations failed to thwart what can only be assumed to be an abduction.
It’s reasonable to assume as well that information has been painstakingly collected by terrorist organizations for a long time on potential target areas and the station where the boys were hitchhiking may have been under observation.
Odds are the abduction was carried out by a large group of terrorists who needed to physically overcome three young men while assuring that no one was would catch them in the act and alert security forces or the residents of Gush Etzion.
What will happen now?
Firstly, an aggressive operation will be carried out by security forces in all of Judea and Samaria, particularly in the area where the Shin Bet and IDF suspect that the victims are located, alive or just wounded.
This dedicated operation is already well underway, collecting information and preventing potential movement by the kidnappers. Success hangs on the level of aggression and determination by security forces as they gather information by any and all means, including undercover agents.
Afterwards will undoubtedly come the moment when the kidnappers announce their demands and then will come the hour that will test the defense minister and the entire Israeli government. It will be up to them to decide whether they will act on the recommendations of the Shamgar Commission for Prisoner Releases, which were submitted to the government in January 2012 but only discussed in the security cabinet two weeks ago due to political pressure.
The committee, headed by former Supreme Court president Meir Shamgar, along with the participation of Professor Asa Kasher and former Defense Ministry director-general Maj. Gen. Amos Yaron, recommended that the government not release prisoners and that the defense minister be the one to manage this kind of scenario.
As far as the Palestinian Authority is concerned, this is no doubt an extremely embarrassing event for Abu Mazen and as such PA officials must be believed when they say that their security forces are doing all they can to gather information on the kidnappers.
Politically, this is a strong blow for the president from Ramallah, and proof that Israel is correct in claming that the reconciliation between Hamas and Abbas only increased terrorist activity and defeats of the principle of unity.