For now, the defense establishment is focusing its enormous resources on safely retrieving the three kidnapped youths from their captors. But in the coming days, and in light of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s confirmation that Hamas is behind their abduction, and his vow to reach those who perpetrated the attack, it seems increasingly possible that the kidnapping crisis will cross over from the West Bank to Gaza.
In principle, Hamas in Hebron, allegedly behind the kidnapping, maintains operational links with the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip and with Hamas’s military wing, the Izzadin Kassam brigade.
The Kassam brigade in Gaza has repeatedly tried to set up West Bank terrorist cells to carry out kidnappings, shootings, and bombings against Israelis. These attacks were designed to take place away from Gaza, in order to maintain the appearance of a “truce” with Israel, while still orchestrating terrorism against it. The vast majority of them have been quietly thwarted by the Shin Bet, which has developed astounding intelligence capabilities over recent years.
In one case last year, for example, the Shin Bet arrested a 26-year-old attorney from a village near Ramallah, and accused him of working under the instruction of Izzadin Kassam in Gaza.
According to the charges, the suspect received directives via Facebook and emails to set up a terrorism cell that would fire rockets and kidnap and kill an IDF soldier.
Military courts have processed similar cases over the past two years. The suspect’s charge sheet showed that he was in email contact with two Gazan Hamas operatives, who taught him to evade Israeli intelligence, build bombs and rockets, and kidnap and murder a soldier. The Hamas recruit was ordered to bury the soldier’s body and present his personal items to deceive Israel that he was still alive, allowing for negotiations for the release of Palestinian security prisoners.
It is important to stress that in the ongoing kidnapping crisis, security officials are working under the assumption that the three teenagers are alive.
In the past, some failed West Bank attacks were linked by security forces to Gazan Interior Minister Fathi Hammad.
The current nature of Israel’s security environment means that an incident in one arena can quickly spread to another, which is why the IDF has been training for multiple-theater conflict over recent years. This was noted in 2013 by IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, who said, “An incident can turn into a bigger event, which can cross arenas. Threats haven’t disappeared. They’ve changed form.”
If called upon, he added at the time, “we’re prepared to act as is necessary in the unique Gaza combat conditions.”