'Drive to kidnap IDF soldiers up since Schalit deal'

On 3rd anniversary of Cast Lead, senior IDF commander says terror groups in Gaza working to abduct soldiers, digging tunnels.

Gaza tunnel smuggling palestinian 311 (photo credit: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa / Reuters)
Gaza tunnel smuggling palestinian 311
(photo credit: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa / Reuters)
Warning Hamas it will be hit hard in a future conflict, a senior IDF commander said on Wednesday that motivation to kidnap Israeli soldiers has significantly increased since the prisoner swap for Gilad Schalit.
According to Col. Tal Hermoni, commander of the Gaza Division’s Southern Brigade, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip are working to abduct Israeli soldiers and are digging tunnels that could be used in such an attack.
RELATED:IDF trains for soldier abduction scenario'Hamas refuses to abandon policy of IDF kidnappings'“We believe that since there are additional Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails that these groups are working to kidnap soldiers,” Hermoni said during a briefing to reporters along the border with Egypt.
There were people working in Gaza “on a daily basis” in the tunnel industry, and Israel was investing significant resources to gather intelligence and locate those tunnels to limit the element of surprise if they were to be used in a future attack, he said. The terrorists who kidnapped tank gunner Schalit in June 2006 infiltrated Israel via a 500-meter-long tunnel they had dug under the Gaza border near the Kerem Shalom crossing.
Hermoni said the abduction of a soldier would have “strategic significance” for Israel, and the IDF was working on several levels to prevent such an attack and to thwart one if it were launched.
He said orders about how commanders and soldiers should operate in an abduction attack were being clarified and explained to all the relevant ranks within the IDF.
The Jerusalem Post recently revealed that the General Staff was working to codify procedures that soldiers will be expected to follow if they have the opportunity to thwart the abduction of a comrade, even at the risk of endangering his life.
Turning to the border with Egypt, Hermoni said the IDF was investing new resources and putting in place intelligence- gathering systems to prevent attacks from Sinai. In August, eight Israelis were killed when terrorists crossed into Israel.
“We are speeding up the closure of the border with the [Sinai border] fence and plan to compete it by the end of 2012,” Hermoni said. “The challenges along the border are great. We are facing an increase in African migrants seeking refuge and work in Israel as well as criminal smuggling of drugs in addition to potential terrorist attacks.”
Senior IDF sources said, though, that with the closure of the Egyptian border, there was a fear that terrorists would try to cross into Israel from Jordan.
Turning to the third anniversary of the Cast Lead offensive, Hermoni said the IDF believed the deterrence that was created following the operation was still in place, and that Hamas was currently not interested in a renewed large-scale conflict with Israel.
“The IDF created a new security reality after Cast Lead; before then dozens of rockets were fired daily. Today that is not the case,” Hermoni said.
The brigade commander stressed that the army was prepared to carry out a large offensive if needed.
“We are ready at all times” he said. “Hamas will be the one to pay the price.”