Egypt Cooperating With Israeli Search Efforts for Kidnapped Teens, While Hamas Faces Catch-22

A Hamas official says he is not sure timing of kidnapping serves the organization’s interests.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Israeli soldiers taking part in the search efforts for the kidnapped yeshiva students, June 15, 2014.
Israeli soldiers taking part in the search efforts for the kidnapped yeshiva students, June 15, 2014.Credit: Reuters
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

Egyptian security forces raised their level of alert along the border with the Gaza Strip on Sunday. They were also told to carefully check all those who pass through the Rafah border crossing, which was opened on Sunday morning in a very limited manner.

Egyptian forces destroyed five tunnels leading into Gaza on over the weekend.

Cooperation between Israel and Egypt involves giving Egypt advance warning of plans to attack in Gaza. According to reports, Egyptian forces moved back 300 meters from the border before Sunday’s attack.

It seems that opinions are divided also within Hamas on how to respond to the kidnapping. Until Sunday, despite the declarations of support for the kidnappers and the kidnapping, no single official Hamas spokesperson confirmed or denied that Hamas was behind the kidnapping. But on Sunday Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri called the accusations from Israel “stupid” and said their goal is for intelligence purposes. “The Israeli occupation will bear responsibility for the escalation on the West Bank,” he said.

In the face of these declarations, Fatah officials say that Ismail Haniyeh has given Palestinian factions freedom of action “to bring the prisoners affair to an end.” In other words, even by such kidnappings.

A few months ago Hamas published an 18-page booklet entitled “Guide for the Kidnapper,” which includes operational guidelines for carrying out kidnappings. For example, the guide recommends to carry out kidnappings on rainy days, to use pistols with silencers, to use backup cars to move the victims and kidnappers, to know Hebrew well and to speak it, to rent hideouts in an unsuspicious location, and not to report immediately on the kidnapping until the victims are in a safe hiding place.

In the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing, a debate has been ongoing about the ability to carry out a kidnapping in the West Bank. The main difficulties are the security cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, Israel’s firm control over the West Bank, and the lack of an adequate infrastructure to hide the victims so that Israel will not be able to find them.

A Hamas official told Haaretz that he is not sure the timing of the kidnapping serves the organization’s interests. Hamas is now involved in a reconciliation process with Fatah and has no interest in giving Israel and Fatah any excuse to destroy what has been achieved, said the Hamas official.

The American recognition of the unity government – when they know that Hamas has given it its patronage – is in itself a big achievement, he said. “That is why I am not at all sure the leadership approved, or even knew, of the kidnapping operation. It is possible that it is an independent cell or factions that are mad at us over the reconciliation with Fatah and want to prevent it.”

It seems that Hamas will be forced within days to make it completely clear, especially to Abbas, where it stands on the kidnapping. Abbas may well find himself in a situation where his forces are cooperating with Israel while Hamas – even if it did not carry out the kidnapping – is undermining this cooperation and endangering the position of the Palestinian president.

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