Political Crisis Could Drive Bennett to Far-reaching Steps in Combating Terror

Just like the question of a possible assassination of Hamas leader Sinwar, the capture of the two Palestinian terrorists turned into a superficial, ignorant and politically driven discourse on social media

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Soldiers in the forest where the Elad terrorists were captured on Sunday.
Soldiers in the forest where the Elad terrorists were captured on Sunday.Credit: Moti Milrod
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

The deadly Elad terror attack on Thursday resulted in two copycat attempts Sunday night. First, a Palestinian man stabbed a Border Police officer near Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City. The officer was moderately wounded, while the attacker was shot and seriously wounded. About an hour later came an incident in the Tekoa settlement, south of Bethlehem. According to initial reports, a Palestinian climbed over the fence surrounding Tekoa and then tried to break into a house armed with a knife. He was shot and killed by a member of the settlement's standby security squad. There were no further casualties. A search was launched in the area for another person who, according to residents, had fled the scene.

The search for the Elad attackers, meanwhile, came to its expected conclusion on Sunday morning. It may have taken over 60 hours, longer than usual in these kinds of cases, but the two men suspected of murdering three Israeli civilians with ax blows and knife wounds in the city were finally captured. And it happened, as security forces originally assessed, within the Green Line. The terror suspects failed to return back home to Jenin, and instead tried to hide in a field near the scene of the attack. A sweeping manhunt finally located them.

It seems that this case necessitated no exceptional technological means in the search; instead, it was a result mostly of legwork. Hundreds of soldiers and police personnel went searching in the fields and orchards, and when a bloodstain left behind by one of the terrorists was located, the two were found hiding behind a bush. The suspects offered no resistance, and according to the Maglan Unit commander heading the force that captured them, they looked “exhausted, completely shocked.”

That was the signal needed to kick off a pathos-filled PR fest by security forces, followed by a witless debate on social media, some of which seeped into established media as well. The officers sent to face the media spoke with good sense. Lt. Y., the Maglan officer, said he was proud of his troops, who canvassed the area for over two days until they captured the two suspected murderers. One of his commanders noted that the scene of the murder, where fathers were attacked in front of their children at a playground, was one of the most horrific he had ever witnessed. The penetrations of the terrorists through the seam line without work permits was “our failure,” he admitted – chivalrously ignoring that an Israeli civilian picked up the suspects in his car from the no-fence areas and that he drove them to Elad shortly before he became their first victim.

But the arrest, photographed from almost every possible angle, provided fertile ground for disputes, the initiators of which were apparently relying on the public’s short-term memory. Thus, Sunday was spent in vigorous debate about why the soldiers didn’t kill the suspects (they surrendered) the nature of prison conditions in Israel (access to academic studies for terrorism convicts was canceled 11 years ago) and even: "How dare they give one of the detainees a cigarette?" (That last item comes as if this isn’t a tried and true interrogation technique, meant to encourage the suspect to talk and confess – as indeed happened in this case.)

Underneath this imbecility and utter cluelessness lie political intentions as well. Those “merely asking questions” mean to argue that the government’s weakness and defeatism are responsible not only for the terrorism wave, but also for a feeble response by the security forces. Absent other proof, they seize on the cigarette. Why must we even talk about it? Because the shallow discourse on social media, in which journalists, media consultants and retired military officers also partake, sometimes seeps into life itself as well. A prominent example of this is the furor surrounding the question whether to assassinate the leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar. This demand appeared, ex-nihilo, in tweets on Thursday night, right after the terror attack in Elad. By Friday morning, it had become a fiery public debate.

The leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar.Credit: Adel Hana/ AP

The question of how to deal with Sinwar came up, indirectly, in security consultations last week, after the previous attacks in the current terror wave. None of the security branches recommends assassination at this point. But the thing is that politicians are very attuned to what they identify as the stirrings of voters’ hearts, to say nothing of politicians whose ruling coalitions are already living on borrowed time.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, in his prior incarnations as cabinet member and Defense Minister, had been tempted more than once to make far-reaching proposals that he hoped would provide a way out of the security catch-22. Bennett is now under tremendous pressure due to criticism regarding the continued terror attacks and demands that the right take a harder approach. Another terror attack or two, and it would come as no surprise if he came to differ with his coalition partners concerning next steps in the war on terror. This could have implications for the United Arab List party’s support for the ruling government in terms of moving up the elections – and even regarding the question of who will head a transition government. After all, the agreement between Bennett and coalition partner Yair Lapid states the transition government will not be headed by the side that led to new elections.

Either way, feverish assassination blather surely doesn’t help much. It is likely that it only spurs Sinwar to take extra precautions and not stay in places where he might be exposed to such operations. It seems unavoidable here to quote the timeless wisdom encapsulated in Sergio Leone’s “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” – if you want to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk.

The government nevertheless began one important initiative today, even if it is unclear whether it will live to complete it. Bennett announced at the weekly government meeting that he has decided to establish a civilian national guard composed of Border Police personnel, reserve soldiers and volunteers. This is an idea that was raised again after the last round of fighting in Gaza last year, during which there were serious riots in mixed Israeli cities. These forces would mainly be used during emergencies – for deployment in sensitive municipalities and major traffic routes, in order to secure the movement of IDF units to the front. Today the police struggle to perform these missions, some of which remain orphaned. Should enough thought and resources be allocated, this decision may prove useful – more so than idle boasting about potential assassinations.

The toll on IDF training

The multidimensional IDF unit "Tnufa" was established in order to examine and integrate the most advanced technologies in the IDF’s possession, so as to employ them effectively in future wars. And yet, its members found themselves in recent days helping in a search for a pair of terrorists who used the most primitive means possible, an axe and a knife, and hid in the brush. This is yet more proof that while the IDF’s mind prepares for technological warfare, its feet are still mired in the mud of Palestinian terrorism.

The continuation of the current terror wave, which began seven weeks ago, is beginning to take a toll on the IDF both in troop training and in unit preparation for combat. To bridge that gap, units from training and teaching tracks have been called up. And later this month six reserve battalions will be called up, in an unusual order, to replace some of the regular battalions. On Monday, the IDF is scheduled to begin its “war month,” during which the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the branches and command are to drill comprehensive war scenarios. A year ago the war month was canceled at the last moment because of a real half-war. This year the situation might repeat itself, to the Chief of Staff’s chagrin.

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