When Lieutenant Colonel A.'s wife opened the front door of their home in a central Israel town and faced a group of grim-faced officers, she guessed something had happened to her husband, who is in a Central Command division. She was right. A terrorist cell had kidnapped A. and smuggled him from Kastina junction, via the Beit Guvrin area, into the West Bank. Efforts to intercept the cell before it could cross the shadowy Green Line failed. A. and a woman soldier from his company were held as hostages. The East Jerusalem office of the French news agency received a photograph of an amputated finger, and a written demand for the release of prisoners, first among them Marwan Barghouti.
An IDF negotiating team initiated a dialogue with the kidnappers. The officers had come to stay with Lieutenant Colonel A.'s wife during the excruciating hours of waiting for the incident to end, and the end eventually came. The kidnappers' hideout was discovered and the reconnaissance unit Sayeret Matkal freed A. in a lightning raid. The woman soldier's body was discovered not far from Ramallah.
All of this happened last week - but in an exercise. The Central Command and its Judea and Samaria Division arranged an exercise called Hafetz Haim (desire for life). The day featured a simulated terrorist kidnapping that started inside Israel and ended in the territories. The episode crossed regional military commands (Southern and Central) and police districts (Southern, Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria) and included a "passing of the baton" from police to soldiers.
Security forces are accustomed to drilling two main types of terrorist attacks perpetrated in order to seize negotiating chips - infiltration of an Israeli settlement to seize hostages, and kidnapping Israelis and smuggling them into the territories. This time, the security forces drilled the second type of scenario. The headquarters of one of the Central Command divisions, under Brigadier General Eyal Shlein, played the kidnappers; the HQ of another brigade, headed by Brigadier General Tal Russo, supplied the hero of the play; a third division HQ, headed by Brigadier General Aviv Kochavi, supervised the production; and the HQ of the Judea and Samaria Division, under Brigadier General Gadi Izenkot, was tested. During part of the three-day exercise, Izenkot was in a forward command post with the head of the Central Command, Moshe Kaplinski. Simultaneously, the operations section of the army's general staff was drilled from a control room in the supreme command bunker (which is sometimes known as "The Library").
When the exercise was being prepared, and when it was recorded in the date planners of the various HQs, the deal with Hezbollah was still up in the air. The assumption was that the danger of terror attacks for the purpose of seizing bargaining chips, which had seemingly died down in the past few years, could be expected to become a more real threat after the prisoner exchange. The release of Arab prisoners in exchange for Israeli hostages certainly stirs among the Palestinians mixed feelings of encouragement and disappointment - those bitter over the fact that their dear ones were not this time included on the list will be induced to carry out additional kidnappings.
The only chance to save hostages depends on the skills of all the branches of the security establishment during the crucial hours of search and rescue, which relies on the training of units and HQs and on the joint exercises held between them. The Hafetz Haim production aspired to be as realistic as possible. A.'s family agreed to take part in the game; the female soldier was played by a doll. A similar scenario will soon be played out in the Southern Command, with the kidnapping of Israelis and their being held in Gaza.
In a presentation of the annual intelligence assessment, Hezbollah was portrayed as being active in two arenas - the Northern (along with Iran, Syria and Lebanon) and the Palestinian. Stabilization of the blue line in the north has moved the center of gravity of Iranian and Hezbollah activity to both sides of the Green Line, as demonstrated by efforts to enlist Israeli Arabs for perpetration of acts of terror, be they suicide bombings, standard bombs and mines, or taking hostages as negotiating chips.
If these grim assessments tempt the reader to leave Israel and find a faraway hiding place, one must note that Israeli and American security forces have cautioned that Hezbollah, Hamas and Al Qaeda are building up strength in a triangle along the borders of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, where they are preparing for attacks on Israel, Jewish and Western targets throughout Latin America.
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