Prime Minister Netanyahu at cabinet meeting, June 15, 2014.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
In an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post Monday, the former MIA division head for the Mossad, Rami Igra, questioned Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s assertion that the three Jewish teens abducted in the West Bank Thursday were taken by Hamas.
Igra, who retired in 1999 after spending a decorated career leading search and rescue operations for captive persons, said any conclusions as to who abducted Naphtali Fraenkel, Gil-Ad Shaer and Eyal Yifrach cannot be drawn until clear evidence is presented.
“The facts are very simple,” he said by phone.
“These kids have gone missing against their free will, but no one has claimed responsibility, and their bodies have not been found. There have been no facts presented to the public that they have been abducted by Hamas, so we need the correct information.”
Until such conclusive verification surfaces, Igra said, Netanyahu’s claims have more political than factual undertones.
“The fact that he is naming who abducted these kids is more political than based on fact,” he said.
“Netanyahu says that the people who did this are part of a terrorist organization, and we all agree. But at this point, while it could be true, it is premature.”
Igra continued: “At this stage, there are only indications that they have been abducted but no evidence.
They could have been killed. We hope this is not the case and that they were abducted, but we don’t know yet.”
In the meantime, up to 20,000 IDF, police and internal intelligence officers have been deployed in the search, he said, and are employing three main search tactics.
“First, internal agencies are using each and every source they have to learn [the boys’] whereabouts,” he said. “Second, the IDF is using force to ‘rock the boat’ in the West Bank to yield information by arresting and questioning Hamas leaders.” The third process, Igra said, involves “making life difficult” for Palestinians in the search area.
“The Israeli government is telling the Palestinian population: ‘What you have done is outside the rules, so now we are going to make your life more difficult,” he said. “Palestinians have been living freely in the West Bank, and all of this has changed overnight because the goal is to make their lives as difficult as possible, to make it clear that what happened is not acceptable.”
Although Igra believes that there is no current proof that Hamas abducted the three teens, he acknowledged that it is inevitable that the terrorist organization will ultimately oversee any subsequent negotiations with the Israeli government.
“There is no question in my mind that Hamas will lead the situation, because at the end of the day no other organization could,” he said. “Gilad Schalit was not abducted by Hamas.
Most abductions are not made by big [Palestinian terrorist] organizations, but by small, extreme Islamic fragment groups who attempt to sell or move captives to a larger Palestinian entity.”
Igra contended that the Israeli government has maintained a dangerous and unsustainable precedent by agreeing to mass Palestinian prisoner releases for individual Israelis.
“The government has over the last 20 years created its own demon,” he said. “The fact that it has released over 1,000 Palestinian killers [for Schalit] has created a situation where the Palestinians know they can get thousands of prisoners freed if they kidnap [an Israeli].
This method of operation has created a great incentive for Palestinians to kidnap.”
Indeed, according to Igra, since the 2011 Schalit exchange, hundreds of attempted abduction attempts have been foiled by the Mossad and other Israeli security forces.
“If you look at the Palestinian community right now, there is complete consensus that they should to try abduct Israelis to release their prisoners,” he said.
“We need a leader to change the rules of the game; to show that abducting an Israeli will not result in a mass Palestinian prisoner release.”
Moreover, Igra said that a committee headed by former chief justice Meir Shamgar three years ago concluded that the policy of mass prisoner releases for single soldiers must be changed to eliminate incentivizing terrorists to try to abduct more Israelis.
Although the guidelines were not formally released, Igra said the committee concluded that the way the government should deal with such a scenario is: “A soldier for a soldier; a body for a body; a prisoner for a prisoner – because this current policy damages us in the long term.”