The Megiddo bombing was likely carried out by a Hezbollah terrorist who crossed the Israeli-Lebanese border undetected earlier this week and planted a bomb at the junction, the IDF revealed on Wednesday, saying that it is still investigating the incident alongside the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
The terrorist was later killed by security forces, while he was wrapped in an explosive belt.
Israel will only respond after the security forces have collected all of the relevant data, made a clear finding and consulted with the political echelon.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced that he will cut his visit to Berlin short and return to Israel on Thursday night as the IDF prepared on Wednesday afternoon to release information about a classified “security incident” which took place in northern Israel in recent days.
For over 48 hours following the detonation of an explosive device next to a vehicle near the Megiddo junction on Monday morning, the government has banned the press from publishing further details about the explosion and about at least one separate, unspecified incident which led to a road closure near the border with Lebanon on Monday evening.
Explosion near Megiddo
Sherif al-Din, a resident of the village of Salem, was seriously injured in the explosion near Megiddo junction and transferred to Rambam Health Care Campus for further treatment. As of Wednesday morning, al-Din was still in serious condition, sedated and intubated.
As of Wednesday afternoon, security forces were still midstream with the probe into the incident but wanted to release initial details.
The distinct nature of the explosive device
IDF sources said that from the start of the probe, Israeli security forces knew that the character of the improvised explosive device (IED) was not similar to explosives seen from terror emanating from the West Bank.
Estimates from military sources are that the terrorist who set the Megiddo junction bomb infiltrated into Israel from Lebanon on either Saturday or Sunday.
There was a quick organization of joint activities by the IDF, the Shin Bet and the Police including a manhunt, inspecting the area and doubling the guard forces in the North.
The terrorist who planted the explosive was found in a car on Route 899 along with a driver, IDF sources said. Police commandos from the YAMAM Unit and Shin Bet operatives found the car and approached it to make arrests.
During the arrest attempt, the forces believed that the terrorist presented a danger to them, leading them to fire on and neutralize him, according to military sources.
This was despite the fact that videos are out on social media of someone in the car raising their hands, possibly to surrender.
IDF sources said that what is out on social media may give a very limited vantage point regarding what occurred, noting that the terrorist not only had large amounts of explosives in the car, but also had an explosive belt on him which was ready to be detonated.
Estimates from military sources were that the terrorist could have carried out a variety of other explosive attacks had he not been caught.
Status of the IDF and Shin Bet investigation
The driver was arrested and interrogated by the Shin Bet. Ynet reported that he had been released from detention following the interrogation.
The security establishment is still probing exactly where the terrorist crossed the Lebanese border.
Pressed about why the IDF and Israel were not already responding to Hezbollah, military sources said that though most data pointed to Hezbollah, the probe is still midstream and it would not be responsible to jump to conclusions in a rushed manner.
Although the northern border has been one of Israel’s quieter ones for a long time, IDF sources said that if they conclude that Hezbollah at its highest levels did order the attack, there will be consequences and Israel will not remain silent.
Military sources said that the temporary disruption of civilian life in parts of the North were just to catch the terrorist and ensure there were no other ones or explosives already in play.
They said that there are no longer any special instructions and that life in the North should return to normal.
IDF sources acknowledged that the northern border is not impregnable and that there is a multi-year project to create greater obstacles for penetrating Israel’s border.
Statements from the current and past Defense Ministers
“I congratulate the security forces on the countermeasures taken against the terrorist involved in the explosion at Megiddo Junction on Monday,” said Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Sunday evening. “This success is a result of determined, quick, combined activity by the IDF, the Shin Bet and YAMAM.
“We will continue with our operational and intelligence efforts and integration between organizations, following the dangerous attack and the successful countermeasures, which will prevent further attacks,” he said.
“In the last few days, I conducted situation assessments on this attack with the cooperation of IDF commanders and heads of security organizations. We continue to take all required steps to maintain civilian daily life and exhaust all routes of investigation into the incident,” Gallant said.
“I call upon the public to take responsibility and avoid spreading false information or unconfirmed rumors on social media. The official [source of information] is the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit.”
National Unity Party head and former defense minister Benny Gantz tweeted on Wednesday evening that “this evening, our enemies must know that the iron fist of the IDF and the security forces has wide support. I wish to emphasize [that] every responsible and correct security decision will be accepted with full support from the opposition. We are united against security threats and challenges even in these complicated times.”
"The fruitful cooperation between the YAMAM, the Shin Bet and the IDF proves once again how the long arm of the security forces reach anyone who carries out an attack or plans to do so," said Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai. "The cooperation leads again and again to stopping independent or wide-ranging terror organizations. [This is especially critical] in this period before Ramadan, when Islamist terrorists doing everything they can to carry out attacks inside Israeli territory."
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Herzi Halevi stressed that Israel is facing a multi-front challenge.
“We want to be ready for it, and that means we need a regular army and a reserve army that are very prepared. This is very necessary and very relevant.
“Our enemies look and say: ‘Maybe at a time like this we can see there is an opportunity for weakness.’ The state looks at us and says: ‘Okay, disputes in the State of Israel have been and will be. Let’s see what happens in the IDF.’ And most importantly, the younger generation in the country looks up to us. Those who will make security here even in 40 years,” he said.
“And in 40 years, if we are not strong and if we do not have deterrence, we will have a problem here. To everyone, both to our enemies and to the country and the younger generation, we have one very simple message. We are here in the ranks – and soon, in just a moment, in the trenches – together, working together; one task, together.”
A slow release of information
Israel Police chief Kobi Shabtai welcomed the capture of the terrorist, stating that “The fruitful cooperation between the Shin Bet and the IDF proves once again how long the hand of the security system reaches to anyone who carries out an attack or plans to do so.”
“The cooperation repeatedly leads to the thwarting of independent or broader terrorist organizations – and in this period before Ramadan, there are elements of Islamic terrorism who are doing everything they can to carry out terrorist attacks inside the territory of Israel.”
Already on Tuesday, the defense establishment recommended that the political echelon permit the release of some details about the security incident in order to avoid panic and stop the spread of rumors, but the political echelon declined and insisted that the gag order stay in place.
Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman condemned the prime minister’s handling of the situation on Twitter on Wednesday, saying: “We have all heard about the security incident in Megiddo, and we are hearing...rumors that are spreading. But I can only say one thing: We have a prime minister who is a coward... Here was the most cynical violation of military censorship, against the position of all the security forces!”
Additionally on Tuesday, Gallant held a situation assessment with the heads of the defense establishment about “recent security incidents.”
Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.