In the shadow of ongoing attempts by terrorists to kidnap soldiers, particularly in the West Bank, the IDF is in the midst of drawing up a comprehensive plan to regulate responses to future kidnapping incidents.
The IDF’s Security Branch, a part of the Operations Division at General Headquarters in Tel Aviv, is overseeing the plan’s development. The document defines areas of jurisdiction, so that in a real incident, every security agency will know what is expected of it, and sets out guidelines on inter-organizational cooperation.
“The threat hasn’t changed,” an army source told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. “We continue to identify a very big potential for a kidnapping. The terrorists understand the sensitivity of such an act within Israeli society, and the possibility of using a kidnapped soldier as a bargaining chip to release security prisoners,” the source added.
The source expressed confidence in the ability of security forces to mount a swift intelligence and operational response to kidnappings, but added that the vast majority of potential kidnappings could be avoided altogether if soldiers and civilians adhere to basic safety instructions and refrain from entering Area A in the Palestinian territories, or hitchhiking.
Maj. G. (full name withheld), head of the IDF’s Security Branch, told the IDF’s official website in recent days that according to intelligence assessments, the next kidnap attempt will likely occur along the Green Line, rather than somewhere like Tel Aviv, where the escape route is far longer. Military Police have been carrying out mock kidnappings of soldiers in places located near the West Bank, as part of an effort to underline the threat and deter soldiers from hitchhiking.
“Every terror cell has a kidnapping plot. They understand that this is the biggest strategic asset,” the army source said Sunday.
The Salafi jihadi terrorists killed in an exchange of fire with special forces near Hebron last week also intended to kidnap a soldier, after attacking army forces on roads in the West Bank, the source added.
In September, IDF soldier Tomer Hazan was lured by a Palestinian colleague from a Bat Yam restaurant to the West Bank village of Beit Amin, where he was killed.
The perpetrator, who wished to trade Hazan’s body for the release of his brother, a senior terrorist, was arrested within hours of the incident.
That incident raised concerns in the defense establishment that other terrorists will attempt to tempt soldiers or civilians to situations that would facilitate a kidnapping.
The army source expressed outrage over the fact that Israeli civilians continue to enter Area A of the Palestinian territories illegally, in search of cheap garages for car repair jobs, or even just lunch.
“This is something we continue to fight against,” the source said. “Tactical acts by a soldier targeted for kidnapping, like resisting the attempt, or preventive measures like not entering Area A, are very important,” he added. “Preventive measures can decrease the threat by 95 percent.” Concerns remain in the IDF that many reservists are unaware of the threat, and those who will be called up in 2014 will receive guidance tips on how to avoid kidnappings.
According to the IDF’s figures, most of the kidnap attempts in 2013 occurred in the West Bank and in the North, and in the big majority of cases the attackers are not caught. Figures published by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) this year point to an increase in attempts by Palestinian terror groups to kidnap Israelis in the West Bank and Israel.