The murder of the 19-year-old yeshiva student early Thursday morning near Gush Etzion in the West Bank seems to be a case of taking advantage of a limited opportunity by one of more terrorists.
Whether it was the act of a lone murderer or a more organized terror cell, the student, Dvir Sorek from the settlement of Ofra– seems to have been surprised and attacked when he was alone. Despite not yet beginning his military training, Sorek was an Israel Defense Forces soldier.
The IDF has not provided detailed answers about the incident, and the little information provided points to suspicions that it was a kidnaping attempt that went wrong.
Kidnapping, even more than the murder of Israelis, is the supreme goal of the terror organizations operating in the West Bank. Local activists, who are unconnected to terror groups with an organized hierarchy, could very well be tempted to try and kidnap an Israeli. The use of force to free Palestinian prisoners is considered to be a holy cause in Palestinian ethos.
Hamas’ success in the famous prisoners swap of Gilad Shalit- forcing Israel to free 1,027 prisoners, including hundreds of murderers, in return for a single captive soldier – is seen as a model for imitation. A number of similar attempted kidnappings have been foiled every year for the past few years.
Hamas members from Hebron who in June 2014 kidnapped three Israeli teens in Gush Etzion; Gilad Shaer, Naftali Frankel and Elad Yifrah, panicked when one of the boys called the police– and they shot and murdered the three only minutes after picking them up while hitchhiking.
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Generally speaking, security forces assess that it would be very difficult for terrorists to keep a kidnapped person alive for a long period in the West Bank. Israeli intelligence has much too tight of a control over what is happening in the West Bank to allow such a thing. Keeping a person alive requires a much greater effort and leaves tracks for intelligence (changing of the guards, providing food and other supplies, etc.) that can reveal the location of the kidnaped.
The murder will certainly become a political issue in the next few days, and the election campaign will only make it worse. On the right, the parties will compete with each other in their calls for punishment and revenge against Palestinians in the Bethlehem area. In the center, and even on the left, they will attack the Likud government for not providing adequate safety for citizens. (This week, in another hollow and superfluous statement, the heads of Kahol Lavan promised to kill Hamas leaders and “pound Gaza” if they win the election.)
Netanyahu’s government, with the unequivocal support of the IDF and Shin Bet security service, has generally avoided military escalation and collective punishment against Palestinians. When it does happen, mostly in response to the murder of the three teens and the escalation of its aftermath into what became Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in the summer of 2014, it happened mostly as a result of political constraints and giving into what was seen as public pressure.
For now, it would be best to let the security forces do their job. In most similar cases in the past, they have found the terrorists, usually relatively quickly. Rage does not help at all – and by the way, it is unlikely that it would even have any political benefits.