In October 1994, days after Sgt. Nachshon Wachsman disappeared from the Bnei Atarot junction in central Israel, the prevailing presumption within Israel’s intelligence community was that the then-corporal from the Golani Brigade had been abducted and taken to Gaza.
No one thought he was being held a 15-minute drive from his hometown, just north of Jerusalem, in the village of Bir Naballa.
No one aside from Gidon Ezra. Then the commander of the West Bank and the Jerusalem region in the Shin Bet, one of the organization’s top posts, Ezra felt there was no way a Hamas team, which had already taken responsibility for the act, would choose to travel so far with such a precious bounty.
Having learned the make of the car that picked up Wachsman, Ezra had his operatives call up every car rental spot in and around East Jerusalem and find out which of them rented that kind of car, MK Israel Hasson, a former deputy head of the Shin Bet, told the Times of Israel last year, shortly after Ezra died.
Only one of the agencies carried that sort of car.
The distance between that information and the name of the person who actually paid for the car was short and the subsequent interrogation quickly yielded the names of the men involved, and the location of their hideout.
Although that mission ended with the deaths of Wachsman and Cpt. Nir Poraz, one of the rescue force commanders, it is the sort of clue the security forces are hoping to produce in their search for the three missing yeshiva students, who disappeared on Thursday night in the Gush Etzion region and have not since been heard from.
Another possible place to look for clues may well be within Israel’s prisons.
On June 1 the Shin Bet put out a press release saying that, since September 2013, Palestinians jailed in Israel had tried to carry out, from behind bars, a total of 11 abduction operations. Their plan: yet another Gilad Shalit, the conscripted soldier who was whisked off a 65-ton tank in 2006 and exchanged, five years later, for over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.
In September, Nidal Amar, a Palestinian working illegally in Israel, lured Sgt. Tomer Hazan, a co-worker, into a cab in the direction of his hometown. After they’d crossed east of the security fence, into the West Bank, Amar killed Hazan and stuffed his body into a well.
“The engine behind the attack,” according to the Shin Bet, was Nur Adin Amar, Nidal’s brother, a Fatah member who has been incarcerated in an Israeli prison since 2003. “The point of the attack, which was not realized, and was foiled by the Shin Bet, which found the soldier’s body, was to conduct negotiations for prisoner release,” the Shin Bet said in a statement.
The three missing students may have fallen prey to a similar initiative.
Currently, Special Forces troops are hurrying up and waiting for word from intelligence sources. Infantry patrols and roadblocks are likely cutting the territory up into searchable areas, barring the escape of the kidnappers to an area far from the scene of the crime.
And Israel, which the Prime Minister’s Office said “views the Palestinian Authority as responsible for the well-being of the missing,” holds its breath, waiting for further information.