Three days have passed since one of the youths called the police to report that “we have been kidnapped!” and there still isn’t much news to share. Israel does not know where the youths are, nor what condition they are in.
But the security forces are not groping in total darkness. The information they have gleaned from the detainees in the mass arrests that have been made of Hamas and other terrorist operatives, and from other intelligence sources, is slowly accumulating. It’s a crumb from here and a crumb from there. There is still not enough material, though, to create a broader picture. The political echelon doesn’t want to wait and is already preparing a harsh response against senior terrorists, including those who were released in the Shalit deal, who are apparently behind the kidnapping.
Since Friday morning, all military arms are working at peak capacity on the intelligence level to find the missing boys. Emphasis was placed on the Hamas presence in Chevron and its environs, a region with many homes and caves, cellars and possible hiding places. Some of the activities are overt and other parts of the operations are undercover. The searchers are working with the assumption that the boys are alive, and are making every effort to return them safely. The operation is massive in scale, and spans the General Security Services, the Israel Police, the Civil Administration, the judicial authorities in Yehudah and Shomron, all parts of the army and more.
There has been a virtual closure on the entire Chevron area since Motzoei Shabbos. It’s not a full, hermetic isolation, as there are efforts not to affect the Palestinian civilian population. Briefings and assessments of the situation are held every few hours. The GSS is very familiar with the region and the people operating out of it since long before the kidnapping. Dozens of kidnapping attempts and plans have been thwarted, b’chasdei Shamayim, in the area. The security forces are not entering unfamiliar, murky territory. There is information and it needs to be interpreted vis-à-vis this particular incident.
Security forces are not linking the kidnapping to the prisoners’ hunger strike. Motivation for the abduction existed before the strike, and when the preparations were complete, the group who perpetrated it moved into action.
Furthermore, the security forces treat every such incident as a potential for an escalation, and the objective of all the elements in play is to prevent deterioration. Therefore, they are acting cautiously, yet with determination. No one knows how much time this can take. It can be short and swift, or it can stretch into a more prolonged incident.
From previous experience with kidnappings, especially of Gilad Shalit, the kidnappers presented their demands on the fourth or fifth day after the abduction. Therefore, Israel is now waiting to see if this will happen now as well, although there is the feeling that Hamas might put off this step because it is afraid of the Israeli retaliation when the “price tag” for the boys is presented.
At this point it is clear that there were some serious foul-ups here, primarily regarding the lapse of time between when the police received the report of the abduction and when the information was conveyed to higher-up security forces. The issue will be thoroughly investigated, those in charge say, but at this point everyone is focusing their efforts on returning the boys home as quickly as possible.
Every day can be critical. Fervent tefillos are needed.