The kidnapping of IDF soldiers for use as bargaining chips has always been the ultimate fantasy of terror groups in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Ever since its successful kidnapping of Israeli soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev on the Lebanese border in 2006, which sparked the Second Lebanon War, Hezbollah has been training for various kidnap scenarios.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad, too, are ceaselessly planning such operations; the successful abduction of Gilad Schalit on the Gaza border in 2006 provided these groups with ample incentive.

It is important to understand that the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers is perceived by Palestinians both as a successful military operation against the Zionist enemy and as a legitimate and acceptable response to the Israeli occupation. Moreover, these operations confer considerable honor on those that pull them off successfully, and more importantly, as experience has shown, are very likely to result in the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

That these groups have failed to kidnap Israelis since the 2006 abductions is not due to lack of effort on their part. In 2009, for example, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) prevented a kidnapping attempt by Hamas which was to have taken place inside Israel proper with the aid of Israeli Arabs. At the end of December 2012, the Shin Bet prevented the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier by an Islamic Jihad cell from Jenin, also assisted by an Israeli Arab. And just last month media reports were released to the effect that Hamas in the Gaza Strip was calling on its operatives to intensify efforts to kidnap soldiers for negotiating purposes.

There are, of course, a significant differences between organized kidnapping attempts by terrorist organizations and spontaneous operations carried out by lone terrorists. The main one lies in the fact that organized terror attacks involve many individuals both in Israel and the territories, as well as complex logistics; vehicles, communications, armaments, disguises, operational planning. In the case of a lone terrorist and a spontaneous attack, none of these are required.

Intelligence agencies are better able to operate, and can identify threats and respond to them with a greater degree of precision, in those cases involving planning and the organization of a number of individuals. This is because such operations require communication between the various actors, and the inclusion of a greater number of people. It is at this stage, the planning stage, that that Shin Bet can, due to the communication between the conspirators, both personal and technological, usually identify the signs indicating an attack is imminent. For the same reason, in cases involving fewer individuals, it is more difficult for the Shin Bet to prevent attacks.

The Shin Bet nevertheless does thwart a significant portion of all terrorist attacks aimed at us. This success has nothing to do with luck, but is rather due to professional, thorough intelligence-gathering work that goes on 365 days a year. The intelligencegathering, and identification of indications of organization for the purpose of terrorist attacks, are carried out via a number of means, including advanced technologies, human assets and field agents.

Naturally it is easier for the Shin Bet to gather intelligence in areas it has direct access to. Thus for example it is more convenient to gather intelligence and conduct counter-terror operations in the West Bank as opposed to the Gaza Strip. In the Strip, too, the Shin Bet does manage to gather large quantities of intelligence and thwart terrorist operations, however its ability to reach the terrorist planners and operatives is better in the West Bank.

One of the most significant tools for gathering intelligence is human assets in the field, individuals personally connected to the field operatives of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Recruiting and running such assets is one of the greatest challenges intelligence agencies face. The task of identifying the best candidates, both in terms of personality and ability and in terms of placement and the individual’s chances of penetrating the target group, is not an easy one.

Added to this is the challenge of running an asset for a prolonged period, minimizing the risk of exposure while at the same time ensuring his ability to pass precise, reliable information to his handlers in real time. Success depends on several factors, that vary from asset to asset.

Contrary to popular belief, only a small minority of assets are motivated by financial concerns alone. The legendary spy tactic of using women to compromise individuals, and then ensuring their compliance by means of blackmail, is less relevant with regard to assets in the religious Muslim community.

Success depends on identifying the designated asset’s desires, and then motivating him on the basis of his expectation these will be fulfilled at some future date.

A great number of assets are “intelligence junkies,” motivated by the desire to be part of a secretive intelligence organization, to be a sort of Palestinian James Bond. Others are motivated by a desire for revenge against those who harmed them or their families, while others hope for a better life once relocated by Israel at the completion of their assignments.

Whatever the case, the trick is to create a durable motivation for the asset, combined with the ability to protect him as an active source in close proximity to the target individual or group, together with the ability to verify his reliability throughout the operation.

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