As the massive search for the three kidnapped teenagers Gil-Ad Sha’ar, Naftali Frenkel and Eyal Yifrach, went into its sixth day Wednesday, June 8, Israelis were getting impatient and skeptical about the prospects of finding them. Ten IDF brigades plus special operations units have been mobilized to scour the Hebron district, where the boys disappeared on June 12, and are keeping its population of 300,000 under curfew. So why, people are asking, has the army expanded the hunt to the northern West Bank towns of Nablus and Jenin?
Another 65 mostly Hamas activists were detained Tuesday overnight across the West Bank. Of that number, 51 were former prisoners released by Israel in the 2011 trade for the Israel soldier Gilead Shalit.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu stressed that the special message conveyed by these arrests is part of the all-out military effort to recover the three boys and break up the Hamas organization in Judea and Samaria.
At this late date, Netanyahu was implying that he made a strategic blunder in 2011 when he signed the deal for the release of 1,027 convicted Palestinian terrorists, including multiple murderers, in exchange for the freedom of a single Israeli soldier.
Early Wednesday, the IDF was ordered to start reversing that deal and putting the freed Palestinians back in prison.
But reversing the hard military core of a radical ideological movement dedicated to violence is a lengthy, painstaking and costly process. One of DEBKAfile’s military intelligence sources reports that, even after nearly 300 Hamas activists were detained this week, many thousands of activists, some of the highest rank, remain in Israeli and Palestinian Authority prisons.
As for the missing boys, the liaison officers permanently attached to their families may be more forthcoming to them than they are to the media, which are kept totally in the dark. But whatever they may have been told, the fact remains that the massive search has produced no tangible progress or concrete data on the boys’ whereabouts thus far.
Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz never tires of repeating that the IDF will never give up until they are back home.
The entire Israeli operation is designed to show Hamas in the strongest language that the old game is over. Kidnapping Israelis will never again yield the release of Palestinian terrorists from prison, only intensify Israel’s determination to smash Hamas’ political, terror, military and financial infrastructures. This piecemeal destruction of the organization’s institutions and underground presence in Judea and Samaria will go on and, if it fails to produce results, the operation will extend to Hamas’ home ground in the Gaza Strip.
Our military sources report that the IDF has deployed almost as much military strength for this operation as it fielded for the April 2002 Defensive Wall operation, that broke the back of the second intifada.
Ten IDF combat brigades have been seconded, equal to nearly three divisions and including Special Operations forces, auxiliary contingents, police units and Shin Bet internal intelligence personnel.
The high command has transferred to Judea and Samaria units from Israel’s northern borders.
The war engulfing Iraq is burning so fiercely that Tehran has pulled Hizballah fighters and Iraqi Shiite militiamen out of Syria to battle the Sunni ISIS and save the Baghdad regime. This has somewhat reduced the risks facing northern Israel.
The Israeli brigades are not just dismantling Hamas’ resources for waging terror, but every other terrorist entity they encounter – some on the strength of new information obtained from interrogations of detainees.
Israeli troops are rooting out the smallest and most primitive of these entities, one by one, to make sure that none will ever raise its head and stir up a third intifada.
Thorough though it is, this operation has three shortcomings:
1. It has not accomplished its declared mission of rescuing the three kidnapped teenagers and catching their abductors.
2. It is not reasonable to expect Hamas or its Iranian and Hizballah backers to allow Israel to continue hammering Hamas for weeks or months or “for as long as its takes,” as Israeli leaders have pledged, without pushing back. At some point, the trio running the operation, Netanyahu, Ya’alon and Gantz, will have to set a timeline.
Already Tuesday, a solid front of all the terrorist organizations based in the Gaza Strip, led by Hamas and the pro-Iranian Jihad Islami, declared full mobilization and set up a common war room for operations against Israel.
3. The man who has profited most from the IDF operation thus far is Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. He can stand back and watch Israeli forces smash Hamas’ assets and influence in the most important West Bank towns of Ramallah, Jenin, Tulkarm, Hebron and Nablus. Those towns were formally transferred to PA rule, but its security forces fear to set foot there.
Now, Abbas’ Fatah party can hope to win the Palestinian elections when they take place next January.
In Jeddah, Abbas came forward Wednesday to publicly demand that the abductors of the three Israeli boys, whoever they are, let them go at once. He accused the kidnappers of seeking to “ruin the Palestinian Authority” and vowed they would be held accountable.
Addressing a gathering of Organization of the Islamic Cooperation foreign ministers in Jedda, Abbas also pledged that there would be no third intifada.