Despite the tragic circumstance and the sad ending of the 18-day kidnapping affair, the discovery in the Hebron area of the bodies of the three yeshiva students kidnapped by Hamas activists is an impressive Shin Bet security service achievement.
The bodies which were left in an open field were found Monday afternoon based on intelligence information provided by the Shin Bet. The achievement is enhanced by the fact that the security agency and despite its enormous efforts did not have a precise information known in the profession as a “golden tip.” Shin bet intelligence officers, desk workers, data processors, and analysts had to “refine the intelligence puzzle” consisting of tens of thousands of separate and sometimes unrelated information pieces.
Within a day of learning that Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-Ad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah had been kidnapped, and despite its official position that unless proven otherwise they were alive, it was essentially clear to the Shin Bet that they had been murdered.
This assessment was based on forensic evidence found at the burnt car near the kidnapping scene, on analysis of the telephone call to the police hotline, on the fact that nobody claimed responsibility for the action, and above all, on the various means of intelligence – from agents, collaborators, and technological intelligence.
The fact that the two main suspects in the kidnapping, Kawasame and Abu Aysha, two known Hamas militants in Hebron, disappeared just hours before the incident strengthened the intelligence estimates.
The Shin Bet assessed with high certainty from the analysis and processing of the intelligence data collected that the two were tied to the kidnapping, perhaps with a third collaborator. It is nearly certain that the Shin Bet understood within a day after the incident that these two were the wanted kidnappers.
The manhunt after them is still going strong.
According to the Shin Bet’s assessment, the three Israeli teenagers were shot and killed shortly after the kidnapping.
The only question to which there is still no clear answer is whether this was an attempted bargain kidnapping – to abduct the boys to negotiate for a prisoner release – gone wrong. Perhaps the kidnappers were seized in panic after one of the boys called the police hotline, or perhaps their plan was to abduct and kill all along.
The teens’ bodies were found based on an intelligence estimate that they must be near where they were kidnapped.
But this is an expansive territory of many kilometers, and the terrain is difficult to maneuver, with dipping valleys and cultivated agricultural land. The search then narrowed the possible territory down to the very spot they were found.
The hunt after the kidnappers is still under way, and the Shin Bet believes that they are still hiding in the area of the kidnapping, not having managed to escape to the northern West Bank or to leave the territory for shelter in Gaza or Jordan.
The Shin Bet is convinced it will lay its hands on the two, who are not particularly senior members of the Hamas organization. It will be interesting to know whether the decision to carry out the attack was theirs alone, based on their understanding that it was in “the spirit of Hamas,” or if they received orders from the Hamas commanders in the Gaza Strip.