Analysis: Killers' identities heightens significance of Nablus op

Analysis Killers ident

IDF soldiers in Nablus 248 88 (photo credit: )
IDF soldiers in Nablus 248 88
(photo credit: )
The IDF raid in Nablus on Saturday, during which the three murderers of Rabbi Meir Chai were killed, appears on the surface to be just another military operation in the West Bank. It was, however, much more, and resonated widely at Sunday's cabinet meeting in Jerusalem due to the identities of two of the terrorists and the ongoing negotiations for the release of Gilad Schalit. One of the terrorists was Raed Sarkaji, a known Tanzim operative, who was released in January 2009 from an Israeli prison after serving a seven-year sentence on terror charges. Another was Anan Subuh, an Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades operative who had received a pardon from the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) as part of the 2007 deal, under which 400 Fatah terrorists handed in their weapons, promised to cease their terror activity and in return were assured that the IDF would stop hunting them. The timing could not have been better for the opponents to the Schalit deal, who have long argued that the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners would mean more terrorist attacks against Israel. Sarkaji and Subuh are proof of this. This does not mean that all Palestinians released from jail return to engage in terror activity or that the fugitive deal is a failure. On the contrary, the fugitive deal is considered a success since out of the 400, only a handful returned to terror and most of them have already been re-arrested. As a safeguard from all of this, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is demanding that the hard-core prisoners, slated to be released in a swap with Hamas, be exiled either to Gaza or overseas, but will not be allowed back to the West Bank. While the intelligence on the identity and location of the three suspects was obtained by the Shin Bet, the IDF had the option to transfer the information to the Palestinian Authority and ask it to carry out the arrests on its behalf. In December 2007, for example, the IDF allowed the PA to arrest two gunmen who shot and killed two off-duty IDF soldiers as they were hiking near Hebron. The two are still being held in a Hebron prison. Behind the IDF's decision to carry out the operation on its own - a move that raised the ire of the Obama administration - was an understanding that the settlers in the West Bank would view a PA operation to capture the three as the final act of betrayal. After freezing settlement construction and ousting the Har Bracha Yeshiva from the hesder arrangement with the IDF, the Netanyahu government - the settlers would have said - is leaving our security in the hands of the Palestinians. In addition, there was the possibility that due to their affiliation with Fatah - the ruling party in the West Bank - the three might have been let off the hook by the PA. This was a chance Israel was not prepared to take. The question the IDF is now asking is whether last Thursday's shooting attack which killed Chai is the harbinger of a new wave of terror. According to one high-ranking Central Command source, there has been a slight increase in terror activity in recent weeks, mostly stoning and Molotov cocktail attacks. Another example was the improvised explosive device - made from a gas canister and firecrackers - that was set off last week along Route 443, one of Israel's main highways.