Kidnapping Saga Leaves Many Loose Ends

There are a lot of loose ends, but one thing is clear: When Israel refuses to pay the price of peace, it can’t avoid paying the price of no peace.

Amir Oren
Amir Oren
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a Foreign Affairs Committee meeting, at the Knesset, June 30, 2014.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a Foreign Affairs Committee meeting, at the Knesset, June 30, 2014. Credit: AP
Amir Oren
Amir Oren

The saga of the three kidnapped teens lasted 19 days – just like the Yom Kippur War.

As in that war, the most crucial development occurred right at the beginning; and just as October 1973 didn’t really end until all the loose ends were tied up, so too will June 2014 drag on until the kidnappers-murderers are found.

There is another parallel that must be drawn: Here, too, there must be a concerted effort to find out what happened and why. But unlike the Agranat Commission, which totally ignored the diplomatic background to the Yom Kippur War, this time there must also be a diplomatic accounting in addition to the operational investigation.

There’s no point in establishing a government commission of inquiry, since even if the Netanyahu government would accept such a demand, it will work to dilute the power of the commission by limiting its mandate so that no politicians’ heads will roll.

But there should be a probe of the inner confusion that served as the diplomatic background to the kidnapping. A government is meant to conduct policy that will be either challenged or confirmed by Knesset elections and by no-confidence motions. That is its right.

At the same time, it is obligated to be consistent in implementing those policies. In this the governments of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – this one, and its predecessor – have failed.

When Netanyahu freed hundreds of prisoners in exchange for captured soldier Gilad Shalit, he was rewarding terror and boosting Hamas at the expense of the more moderate Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas. To take the edge off this message, he agreed to release prisoners for Abbas as well, as part of the diplomatic talks that resumed last year.

It seemed that the release of prisoners, which was an abomination to Netanyahu when previous prime ministers did it to redeem captured Israelis, alive or dead, had become a more amenable policy than, say, freezing construction in the territories.

But after fulfilling three-quarters of his commitment, he balked to go through with the fourth and final release. At that point, according to security sources, the disappointed prisoners turned to Hamas, and their entreaty was answered with a public assurance from Hamas’ leadership abroad that it would help. This promise was translated into the June 12 kidnapping.

This chain of events, with their causal or circumstantial relationships, should be investigated by the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, just like special committees appointed by that panel investigated the operation of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard and the botched attempt to assassinate Hamas’ Khaled Meshal.

This investigation cannot be delayed until things calm down, or until our forces return from an operation they may yet be dispatched to carry out, God forbid, for dubious purposes. It should be recalled that after Shalit’s abduction and the killing of two of his comrades eight years ago, the IDF launched a massive killing spree in Gaza called Operation Summer Rains. That operation did not get Shalit back, nor did it prevent Hamas from seizing control of Gaza the following year.

A comprehensive and professional investigation is also needed to examine the performance, as opposed to the policies, of all the political figures involved in intelligence and operation preparedness (the prime minister, the defense minister, the public security minister and the security cabinet) and the security organizations involved (the Israel Defense Forces, the Shin Bet security service, and the Israel Police). This investigation must include all entities, with no exceptions and no evasions.

When former Chief of General Staff Dan Halutz ordered an investigation of the Shalit abduction, the Shin Bet managed to evade the probe, claiming that it was not subordinate to the chief of staff or the defense minister, but answered directly to the prime minister.

If the Shin Bet conducted any internal investigation of its role then, the results have not been submitted to the army to this day. This is typical of the “organization that dwells alone”; there is close cooperation on the offensive, but not on the defensive, and certainly not in an investigation in the event of a failure.

Only when the kidnappers or their accomplices are caught will we have reliable information about their motivations and intentions. Meanwhile, under the current circumstances, when Israel refuses to pay the price of peace, it can’t avoid paying the price of no peace.

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