Despite sporadic rocket fire from Gaza and a deadly ambush along the Syrian border, which triggered the air force’s first overt strike within Syria in decades, the search for the three missing Israeli teens is the defense establishment’s top priority, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon told infantry troops in the Hebron region on Monday.

“What you’re doing now is the number one mission of the entire defense establishment, not just the IDF,” he said. “We have turned all of the intelligence assets at out our disposal – of both Military Intelligence and the Shin Bet – and also all of the forces we know how to deploy in order to, in the end, find the kidnapped and lay hands on the kidnappers.”

The three missing teens, Eyal Yifrach, Gil-ad Shaar, and Naftali Fraenkel, were abducted 11 days ago while hitchhiking at a bus stop in the Etzion region south of Jerusalem. An emergency call to the local 911 number, in which one of the teens whispered that they had been kidnapped, went unheeded for hours.

Over the ensuing days, nine brigades have been deployed to the West Bank, 361 Palestinians have been arrested, 1,701 sites have been searched, and five Palestinians have been killed.

Since Friday, the IDF has narrowed its focus to the Hebron region, with company commanders receiving maps of wells, caves, and stone terraces that the troops are tasked with searching.

Yaalon in the Hebron region with the Kfir Brigade commanders on Monday photo credit: Ariel Hermoni/ Ministry of Defense)

Ya’alon in the Hebron region with the Kfir Brigade commanders on Monday (photo credit: Ariel Hermoni/ Ministry of Defense)

Ya’alon told the troops that they were in the area because “one of the more probable scenarios” is that the kidnappers came through the region “and we have to make sure they did not leave anything behind.”

He told the Kfir Brigade soldiers that there was “no shortage of places” for people to hide or be hidden in the area, listing pits in the earth, wells, collapsed houses, abandoned houses, brambles and thick patches of vegetation as some of the possible hideouts in the area. “We’ll continue looking until we can rule out every possibility,” he said.

“As you know, we haven’t started searching today, but we’ll come back again and again, and we’ll come back again with trackers and dogs and specialists, and you with your eyes, to try and find them.”

Calling the mission “important and holy,” Ya’alon said that this “is our top mission, one that everyone can unite around, and we will not relent.”