Citing the protracted delay in confirming Gilad Schalit’s condition following his 2006 abduction, the IDF’s former head of security ties with the Palestinian Authority cautioned Tuesday that officials must work quickly to locate the three abducted teens to avert a similar scenario.
As the intensive search continues for Naftali Fraenkel, 16, Gil- Ad Shaer, 16, and Eyal Yifrach,19, since they were kidnapped in the West Bank on Thursday, Dr. Moshe Elad said time is of the essence as the teens’ captors become increasingly “organized.”
“It’s important to remember that it took one full year until we had proof that Gilad was alive,” said Elad, now a lecturer in political science and history of the Middle East.
“These [terrorists] take their time and are very patient,” he continued. “The problem for the IDF is to reach the kidnappers and the three boys before [their captors] get organized.”
Elad also cautioned that security forces must be “very delicate” upon locating the victims.
Noting the 1994 abduction and murder of IDF soldier Nachshon Wachsman following a failed rescue mission six days after he was captured, Elad emphasized that once the IDF finds the teens it must ensure their release without endangering their lives.
Wachsman, a 19-year-old American-Israeli, was kidnapped by Hamas in central Israel while on leave and taken to Nir Nabala.
He was killed during an aggressive military rescue attempt that resulted in the death of another IDF soldier.
“We are dealing with people whose history we know well, so the IDF must be very delicate with this case because when kidnappers feel intimidated, they start killing their captives, which was the case with Wachsman,” he said.
Still, Elad said it is likely the teens’ captors will seek a Palestinian prisoner release deal, and therefore will not take the teens’ lives unless they feel endangered by heavy-handed tactics.
“They didn’t do all of this just to kill people; they are trying to arrange a deal,” he said. “Killing them is their last option.”
Meanwhile, Elad said he was dubious about Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s assertion that Hamas is directly behind the abductions.
“It seems a little peculiar that they would do this now, because it’s a great mistake as they try to gain legitimacy with the new unity government,” he said of the recently formed Fatah- Hamas coalition. “Why would they do that at this time?”
“I would like to emphasize one thing,” Elad continued. “I have followed Hamas for many years as a military officer and know many of them, and one thing I know is that they are not stupid.”
Asked for an alternate theory, Elad cited smaller terrorist cells “affiliated” with Hamas.
“It might be terrorists affiliated with Hamas, because we know for sure from the past that some of these [fringe] terrorist groups have people who have tried to kidnap Israelis without a pre-confirmation with Hamas,” he opined. “The people who did this probably did not get instructions from Hamas headquarters in Gaza.”
While Elad does not believe Hamas directly ordered the abduction from Gaza, he conceded that there is a possibility that those who orchestrated it are Hamas operatives who were released from Israeli prisons over the past several months and deported out of the country.
“If they are being instructed by Hamas outside the region, it might be from prisoners recently deported to Qatar, Turkey or the Gaza Strip,” he said of the prisoners released as a precondition by the US for ongoing peace negotiations. “They are in a position to take responsibility and give orders to instruct terrorists on this specific issue.”
The final round of releases was recently canceled after Hamas and Fatah formed their unity government.
“The [freed] prisoners are angry that the last round did not go through,” said Elad. “It is important to remember that they took an oath that they will do everything possible to release their colleagues and friends still in Israeli jails.”
In the meantime, noting the several regional security offices run by Palestinians in coordination with the IDF in Areas A and B of the West Bank, Elad advised that the IDF work closely with PA officers to gain elusive intelligence.
“The cooperation today is very good between PA officers and Israeli officers, and the PA can provide important information about what is going on in the West Bank that the IDF would have great difficulty obtaining,” he said. “Palestinian officials control the seven main cities in Area A, as well as the 450 rural villages in Area B.”
The teens were abducted while hitchhiking in Area C, over which the Israeli government has full jurisdiction. They are now believed to be located in either Area A or B.
Since the boys’ abduction last week, nearly 150 Hamas operatives have either been detained or arrested in those regions, as over 10,000 IDF soldiers search the areas.