The defense establishment is reaching the conclusion that Operation Brother’s Keeper in the West Bank to locate the kidnapped teens is nearing its end in the present format.
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Senior politicians who spoke with top officials in the Israel Defense Forces and Defense Ministry in recent days got the impression that the IDF sees it will soon have to change the nature of the operation that began in response to the kidnapping of three teenage boys 11 days ago in Gush Etzion. The impending change will find IDF having to focus on finding the kidnapped youths mainly on the basis of intelligence gathering.
During the first week of the operation, the political leadership expanded its goals. Alongside the search for the youths and the Hamas cell that allegedly abducted them, a broad wave of arrests was made, including the detention of over 300 Hamas members, including about 50 who were released in the Gilad Shalit deal. The IDF also raided institutions affiliated with Hamas and the organization’s civilian infrastructure. Soldiers entered Palestinian cities and towns in numbers not seen there in years, which led to frequent violent clashes with Palestinian youths. Five Palestinians have been killed by soldiers’ fire during the clashes.
The defense establishment is troubled by the increase in the number of Palestinian casualties and the possibility that the confrontations will spill over into the month of Ramadan, which starts in less than a week. It seems most of the Hamas activists on the lists prepared by the IDF and Shin Bet security service for arrest have already been taken in. With many, it will be difficult to marshal enough convincing evidence to put them on trial. Only a few of those detained are suspected of actually participating in terrorist activity. All these facts lead to the conclusion that the operation in its present form is reaching its close, and there will be a need to make changes soon.
The IDF would likely prefer to significantly reduce the size of its deployment and return to more focused intelligence gathering, whose goal is to locate the kidnapped teens. As time passes, the fear for their lives increases. In the widespread searches in recent days in open areas west of Hebron, thousands of soldiers examined possible hiding places, including wells, cisterns and rock piles.