The abduction of three Israeli youths near Hebron can be described as anything but a surprise. In recent months, the IDF has reported a spike in intelligence alerts warning of Palestinian terror plots to kidnap Israelis in the West Bank. Security forces, acting in line with Shin Bet intelligence, have disrupted no fewer than 44 kidnapping plots since the beginning of 2013.
The kidnappers’ identities remain unknown, but suspicions appear to be falling on Hamas. Most of the Palestinians arrested Friday and Saturday in security raids are Hamas members.
The fate of the missing Israelis is still unclear, to the awful distress of their families. What is known, however, is that the goal of kidnapping Israelis to secure the release of Palestinian terrorists is seen as the most prestigious form of attack, one that targets the soft underbelly of Israeli society to extort it for strategic gains.
That holds true for well-established terror organizations like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which are based in Gaza and have been trying to set up cells in the West Bank, and smaller, localized cells, that operate in West Bank cities and surrounding villages.
The defense establishment’s response to this type of threat is based on speed and intelligence, and inserting the necessary number of units to respond to any developing intelligence leads.
To that end, large numbers of security personnel have been deployed to the Hebron area and across the West Bank.Many of these units are under orders to make immediate, additional arrests of suspects.
The sensitive timing of this kidnapping cannot be ignored. It comes as 200 Palestinian security prisoners are on hunger strikes in Israeli prisons, and as Fatah and Hamas travel along a reconciliation track, a process that has thrown up several explosive issues in their own right.
Those issues have just become significantly more volatile.