Israel Looks for New Scapegoat in Kidnapping Case

The Israel Police is in the firing line following last Thursday's events in the West Bank, and heads look set to roll.

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Israeli soldiers man a checkpoint in Hebron on June 15, 2014, as Israel imposed a tight closure of the town.
Israeli soldiers man a checkpoint in Hebron on June 15, 2014, as Israel imposed a tight closure of the town.Credit: AFP

Commander Yisrael Tal is a veteran officer in the Israel Police, nearing retirement. His associates in that generally unsympathetic organization describe him as kind and friendly. Others of similar rank who served alongside him were promoted. Tal commanded over the police officers’ training course, the Ayalon sector (Holon and Bat Yam) and the Knesset election administration, before he was appointed commander of the Hebron sector of the Judea and Samaria District. His position has turned him into a potential scapegoat after the kidnapping of the three teens, as it occurred under his jurisdiction.

Just as they did to Commander Moshe Mizrahi, who served in Tal’s position when Baruch Goldstein perpetrated the massacre at the Tomb of the Patriarchs back in 1994, it is likely that the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security service will attempt to pin the blame on Tal.

It seems that the fatal problem was the delay in passing on details of the kidnapping to the IDF and Shin Bet after it occurred. It took four hours, from the first report at around 10:30 P.M., after one of the boys phoned the police emergency line, for the information to be fully understood (when one of the boys’ fathers turned up at the police station).

This delay, which gave the kidnappers an entire night’s lead in evading the authorities, is now allowing the other organizations in the investigation to wash their hands of responsibility or guilt. Supposedly, the police made a mess of things, and the others have been called in to clean up.

When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met to discuss the crisis on Saturday night, he was joined by his military secretary, Eyal Zamir, and National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen. In front of him sat Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, and Tamir Pardo and Yoram Cohen, heads of the Mossad and Shin Bet, respectively. Missing from the room was a police representative. Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino was in New York for an international commissioners’ conference. But Deputy Commissioner Nissim Mor, standing in for Danino, wasn’t there either.

The ultimate responsibility for the impossible situation in the territories – from the mixing of Palestinians and Israelis in Hebron, and everything else – lies with the government. But Danino wouldn’t dare say so: He’s well versed in politics, and he knows that lashing out against the government could jeopardize his prospects. In February, Danino presented Netanyahu with a sword that belonged to Ze’ev Jabotinsky 100 years ago, confiscated by the British. There’s no doubt Danino would be a good fit in Likud’s ranks when he becomes eligible to enter politics, in May 2018.

The police’s main purpose in Hebron is to prevent friction caused by settlers. Serving in Hebron has quite an advantage for police officers – a hefty salary bonus of a few thousand shekels. But it also has a severe disadvantage: excruciating boredom. There is little actual activity. There is not much turnover, either. Police officers in Tel Aviv, for example, would be glad to change places temporarily with their comrades in Hebron. The police command, for some reason, likes to cling to old habits.

These details don’t do much to enhance Tal’s case, or those of his chief, Maj. Gen. Kobi Cohen. Cohen was Danino’s second-in-command in the Southern District, but their relationship soured there. Only after many long months as a placeholder did Cohen get officially appointed to his current position, along with the promotion it entailed. If the police need heads to roll, Tal’s and Cohen’s will most likely be the first to go.

Trying to find someone to blame for the events of June 12 teaches us yet again just how arbitrary this whole business is. The IDF’s tactic, generally, is to fire the division commanders for such incidents, but to spare the sector commanders. Can Judea and Samaria Division Commander Brig. Gen. Tamir Yadai be blamed for the actions of uncontrollable citizens within his sector? No more than the Shin Bet district commander. Currently, Yadai commands more than just the usual six brigades he’s responsible for; he now has three of the IDF’s five infantry brigades under his command as well. Only Golani and Givati are missing.

If the kidnappers left their victims alive, but separated them, it would be very difficult to execute three simultaneous rescue operations. It is, in and of itself, a success for the Palestinians in harassing the Judea and Samaria command and control center – 42 percent of all calls were harassment and not warnings – and in disrupting the IDF’s training schedule.

Israel’s security establishment has been put to the test over the last two days. Currently, Netanyahu is playing the role played by Yehoram Gaon in “Operation Thunderbolt” [Gaon played Yoni Netanyahu in the film, one of the dramatizations of the 1976 Entebbe rescue mission]. He admitted on Saturday, inadvertently, his ultimate responsibility for the “price-tag” attacks. After all, Netanyahu isn’t a hypocrite. If Mahmoud Abbas is responsible for the attacks that originate in Palestinian Authority territory, that means Netanyahu is similarly responsible for everything that occurs in Israeli territory. Of course, Netanyahu would by no means agree with this logic. He would blame not only Hamas, but also his friend, Abbas, and perhaps soon he’ll start blaming his friend’s friend – “the Israeli left.”

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