Security Forces' Response to Tel Aviv Attack 'Could Have Ended in Disaster,' Officials Say

Special military forces roamed Tel Aviv in civilian clothes in search of the attacker who murdered three people, increasing the risk of friendly fire and additional fatalities, security official says

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Israeli security personnel near the scene of the attack in Tel Aviv, Thursday.
Israeli security personnel near the scene of the attack in Tel Aviv, Thursday. Credit: CORINNA KERN/ REUTERS

Members of the security establishment criticized this weekend the handling of Thursday night's terror attack in Tel Aviv, focusing on the speed and efficacy of the police response.

The criticism came from within the police and other sources within the defense establishment who are not concealing their dissatisfaction with the management of forces on the ground.

Terrorist Raad Hazem, a 28-year-old from the Jenin refugee camp, was killed early Friday morning in a shootout with security forces after he shot and killed three Israeli men and injured 10 other people at a bar on Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Street on Thursday evening.

After an overnight manhunt lasting about eight hours, Hazem was found hiding near a mosque in Jaffa.

According to the police, the first calls to the emergency number 100 about a shooter on Dizengoff were made at 9:01 P.M., and officers arrived on the scene at 9:04. While the response time may seem reasonable, with the police on high alert during the month of Ramadan, a more rapid response may be expected.

That evening, police forces were stationed in the areas of Dizengoff Square and the Tel Aviv Port, where many of the city’s popular bars and restaurants are located. About 1,300 soldiers were also stationed in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area.

Some police officials complained Friday morning about the deployment of special army forces, whose members roamed the streets of Tel Aviv with night-vision devices and weaponry following the attack, on some occasions confronting civilians trying to photograph them as part of the search for the gunman. Police officials who spoke with Haaretz on condition of anonymity reported being very surprised by the number of military personnel at the scene, saying that the police did not request their presence and could have handled the incident without reinforcements from the army.

In a conversation with Haaretz, senior military officials said the large number of armed personnel, many of them out of uniform, increased the risk of a “friendly fire” incident.

“For hours, military personnel in civilian clothing ran around Tel Aviv, carrying guns, when everyone knows they were looking for a terrorist in civilian clothing with a gun,” said a senior security official. “Such an event could have ended in disaster. It’s enough for one of them to come out of an alley with a pistol and arouse suspicion in an inexperienced person at the scene, and the incident could have ended with additional fatalities.”

Police officials also admit that the lack of clarity and the paucity of information available to the forces and to the Shin Bet security service led to a situation where police officers, civilians and soldiers roamed the streets with weapons drawn, bursting into buildings, as members of the media and curious onlookers watched. This not only added to the general commotion but also created a danger that one of the service members could open fire without cause.

Another question that arises is why the police published an image of the assailant only four hours after the shooting, despite having images, albeit from a distance, within one hour. It was not until 1 A.M. that the police spokesperson’s office was instructed to distribute the attacker’s picture and ask for the public’s help in locating him.

Despite that delay, hundreds of people called 100 in the hours following the attack. Some of the callers claimed to have seen the assailant in Jaffa, where he was finally located, eight and a half hours after the shooting, but none of these calls contributed to his eventual capture and killing by the Shin Bet.

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