One Illusion Regarding the Kidnapping Is Shattered, Two to Go

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Israeli security forces block the northern entrance of the village of Halhul, near the West Bank town of Hebron, where the teens' bodies where found, June 30, 2014.Credit: AFP

A little after 10 P.M. on June 12, Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach were squeezed into the back seat of a car at the Gush Etzion Junction and disappeared. With the discovery of their bodies on Monday, one illusion was dispelled, leaving another two.

The first was that despite the signs that the incident had ended badly, the three boys, or at least one or two of them, would be found alive; that the bargaining for their release would begin, even after the kidnappers’ long silence.

Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisheh, the suspects in the crime, were willing to go as far as murdering their victims, but a more reasonable assumption is that murder was not their goal. They wanted to perpetrate a kidnapping, whether for bargaining purposes or to stretch Israel’s nerves to the breaking point. The kidnapping went wrong. They panicked, murdered the boys and dumped their bodies in a remote area.

If the goal had been to kill Israelis, there would have been no need for a kidnapping. If a car carrying armed and perhaps disguised Palestinians had pulled up at the fairly crowded bus stop at Gush Etzion Junction, the driver and his accomplice could have perpetrated a massacre by running people over or shooting them. Their chances of escaping would have been good. For that reason, it is correct to say that the attack was successful — and the Shin Bet security service failed — the moment that the kidnappers’ car entered the junction, without warning, without anyone to prevent their arrival. What to do afterward, whether to kidnap or kill or both, was up to the terrorists by that time, and no Israeli agency could intervene.

The emergency call to the police by one of the abducted teenagers surprised the kidnappers and got them off track. But the fact that the Judea and Samaria District Police missed the meaning of the call was not a factor in the murder. There was no connection between the failure to follow up the call promptly and the fatal outcome. So much for the illusion that the youths would be discovered alive.

The second illusion was that a mid- to large-sized operation of revenge/punishment/deterrence would lead to sustainable accomplishments. For some reason, Hamas has not been frightened until now by the inclusion of Habayit Hayehudi’s Naftali Bennett, Uri Ariel and Uri Orbach in the cabinet. The appointment of Tzipi Hotovely as deputy transportation minister did not generate monumental quantities of fear and trembling. Now they will pay, they will — Hamas’ Khaled Meshal and Ismail Haniyeh and Mohammed Deif and all who obey them or decode their signals, since, after all, it has not been proven that the kidnappers acted as part of any chain of command. How will they pay? In blood and fire and columns of smoke and vengeance against a little child, which Maj. Gen. Rafael Eitan, to paraphrase Hayim Nahman Bialik’s famous line that “Satan has not yet created retribution for the blood of a small child,” promised during Operation Litani in Lebanon 1978, before countless acts of retribution and casualties, the likes of which Satan had never created.

There is no such operation, Pillar of Defense combined with Cast Lead, that can provide Ofakim, Afeka and Afikim — communities and inhabitants alike — with peace and quiet for months on end. Every prime minister, defense minister and chief of staff who found themselves at the end of a military operation with several grave-faced men (and occasionally a woman) knows how fickle the crowd calling not to be restrained can be. At first it thirsts for the enemy’s blood, but very quickly, as the rockets hammer and the reports of casualties at the front and the home front come in, grows impatient and demands the commanders’ scalps. Sending troops to Gaza, which means rockets upon Tel Aviv, threatens the image and the future of the three senior officials in the Israeli government: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Chief of Staff Benny Gantz — more than the perishable heads on the other side.

The third and most dangerous illusion is that the current state of Israeli-Palestinian relations can be maintained. In his response to a petition submitted to the High Court of Justice — which allowed the demolition Tuesday of the home of the murderer of senior police officer Baruch Mizrahi — OC Central Command Nitzan Alon described a clear trend of escalation in the territories in the two years since the rejection of Mahmoud Abbas’ political efforts. Alon cited 1,414 terror attacks in the West Bank in 2013 and more than 500 in the first half of this year; six Israelis killed as compared with none in 2012. Over the past six months, particularly during the quarter that ends this week, there has been a sharp increase in terrorist plots of various kinds. “Approximately 96 plans and intentions to carry out terror attacks were prevented, and a sharp upturn began in the level of warnings against an attack in the form of a kidnapping,” said Alon.

There have been plenty of attacks at both extremes (Baruch Goldstein on the one hand and the suicide attackers of Hamas and Islamic Jihad on the other), even when peace talks were taking place, in an attempt to disrupt them. But that is all the difference in the world, between sabotaging peace efforts and a round of bloodshed with no purpose.

If no far-reaching peace initiative is embarked upon, in an attempt to reach an arrangement that will ensure Israel’s security without a settlers’ tent being put up next to an army sentry’s hut, then the hope that the murderous kidnapping of the three boys will be the last of its kind will be a short-lived illusion.

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