Series of Security Failures Led Up to West Bank Settlement Attack, Probe Shows

Although alarm sounded when terrorists entered Itamar, settlement's security team apparently failed to inform soldiers on patrol; this allowed terrorists to remain in settlement for three hours during which they murdered five people.

A preliminary probe undertaken by the army on Saturday shows that the fence around Itamar functioned properly and that when the terrorists infiltrated, an alarm sounded in the settlement's security room, indicating the exact location where they entered.

But the settlement's civilian security team apparently did not inform soldiers patrolling the area of the fence when the alarm went off. The civilian security officer, who went to the site of the disturbance and found nothing out of order, also failed to report the incident. Consequently, the terrorists were able to remain in the settlement for three hours, break into two homes, murder five people and then leave carrying two rifles they had stolen.

Even after the family's 12-year-old daughter and a neighbor discovered the bodies, a great deal of time passed before it became clear that the terrorists were no longer in the settlement and a manhunt began along possible paths of escape they may have taken.

The head of the community's civilian security team and its members receive all their instructions from the Shomron Brigade, which is responsible for the area. The brigade's headquarters is located only a few minutes drive from Itamar.

In recent years, the IDF has significantly reduced its presence in the West Bank, in order to allow for more training time for soldiers - one of the lessons of the Second Lebanon War - and in response to a significant drop in terrorist attacks.

The IDF, which stations practically no troops in the settlements themselves, today operates according to the concept of "peripheral security" - patrolling the area around the settlements and making sure soldiers are prepared to enter within minutes in the event of an attack.

Security within the settlements themselves has mainly been handed over to civilian security teams, reinforced by personnel from Modi'in Ezrachi, a private company.

Because of Itamar's proximity to Nablus and a number of other hostile Palestinian villages, six security people are assigned to guard it.

IDF commanders in the West Bank say that over the past few weeks, as friction between settlers and Palestinians has mounted, they have warned of the possibility of a "popular" terrorist attack in one of the settlements, like the one in which five members of the Fogel family were killed Friday night in Itamar.

Such attacks, perpetrated by Palestinians not necessarily affiliated with terror groups, have constituted the majority of terror incidents over the past two years, after the IDF and the Shin Bet security service arrested or killed almost all wanted terrorists, and following increased security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority.

The IDF will undertake a comprehensive investigation of the incident in the coming days. The investigation will focus on coordination between the settlement's security team and IDF forces, particularly on the question of whether the nearby IDF company should have been informed that the alarm went off at the fence. According to a former combat soldier who worked until recently as a security guard in a settlement, dozens, and sometimes even hundreds, of alarms are set off at the fence each month, and during the winter an alarm can be set off by wind, rain, tree branches or animals. "You can't treat them all seriously and call in the forces to the spot every time," he said.

But the IDF said that any time an alarm goes off, an officer with the rank of company commander must come to the spot, together with a tracker, to rule out an infiltration.

Emil Salman