Costly false alarm

"Shockingly irresponsible," was how Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court Judge Avital Chen described 22-year-old Niv Asraf’s kidnap hoax as he remanded him.

April 5, 2015 22:04
3 minute read.
Niv Asraf, the IDF soldier who faked his own kidnapping

Niv Asraf, the IDF soldier who faked his own kidnapping. (photo credit: FACEBOOK)

‘Shockingly irresponsible,” was how Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court Judge Avital Chen described 22-year-old Niv Asraf’s kidnap hoax as he remanded him and his accomplice in custody on Passover Eve.

This was characteristic judicial understatement.

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Asraf, purportedly in a bid to impress the girlfriend who had dumped him, faked an abduction from which he schemed to emerge as the hero who overcame his Hamas captors.

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In the course of this harebrained plot, Asraf toyed with the anyhow strained nerves of an entire nation and triggered major searches (including with helicopters and drones) in the Hebron area – to say nothing of the massive cost in resources, equipment, man-hours of both the police and the IDF, and even canceled holiday leave for uniformed personnel. Thousands of Palestinians were subjected to searches and inconvenienced by hours-long traffic jams at checkpoints as soldiers combed the area for their ‘missing’ comrade.

This was no sudden whim but a carefully premeditated fabrication.

His friend Eran Nagaukar alerted the police with the yarn that Asraf had disappeared after having gone into the dangerous Beit Anun village – of all alternatives reasonably available in case of a genuine emergency – to obtain tools to change a punctured car tire. All that while, Asraf was comfortably concealed in a ravine near Kiryat Arba, where he was later found with camping equipment and provisions – including a plastic garden chair, a sleeping bag and canned food.

The two had calculatingly concocted a scam to cause a great scare and had prepared all the trappings in advance.

This was not Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn running off to play pirates and only later realizing that the town folks presumed they had drowned. Besides, Asraf and Nagaukar didn’t operate in a fictional setting but chose a chillingly treacherous backdrop for their scenario.

We will all – each and every taxpayer – have to foot the bill for the hefty expenses the pair selfishly imposed on the security forces. But such losses are the least of it. We will get over our anxiety. The search teams will put the efforts and inconvenience behind them and even Asraf’s sister will reschedule her eyebrow tweezing appointment that, she complained, was inconsiderately disrupted by the hullabaloo.

The entire escapade points to a deep moral flaw. It was akin to knowingly tossing lit matches into a powder keg.

Not only didn’t Asraf apparently care about the anguish to which he’d subject his parents, but he evidently didn’t harbor any concern for the loss of life his sham kidnapping could easily have led to.

Who was to guarantee that security personnel – forced into friction inside Hamas strongholds – would escape unharmed? Who was to guarantee that fighting would not erupt due to the interrogations and suffering the local Palestinian population was put through? What if shots were fired, killing both Israelis and Palestinians? Undercover operatives and intelligence gathering methods could have been severely compromised. But worst of all is the “crying wolf” aspect.

Obviously Asraf and Nagaukar alluded in their action to the very real and tragic abduction/murder in that very vicinity last June of the three schoolboys on their way home. The search then was crucially delayed because police did not give credence to the distress call one of the boys managed to make. There were all too many bogus alarms previously that led officers to doubt the call’s authenticity.

Likewise, each cock-and-bull story could in the long run sow the seeds of such skepticism and thereby critically impede rescue efforts. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out the gravity of Asraf’s reckless deception.

For this reason he must not get away with a stern lecture and a slap on the wrist. This case must serve as deterrence to other egotistic fools. Asraf and Nagaukar must be tried and have the book thrown at them. Only unambiguously prohibitive prison sentences will dissuade copycats from similarly gaining 15 minutes of fame.

The new Knesset would do well to enact the bill adopted in preliminary reading in November to levy a mandatory NIS 75,000 fine on anyone who puts through a false distress call. There is nothing funny about practical jokes that can kill.

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