As Kidnapped Teen Search enters day five on Tuesday, Israeli papers focus on the widening military operation in the West Bank and the assessment that this saga will not be over soon, both of which are things Jerusalem is finding some solace in.
Yedioth Ahronoth, which runs a picture of two of the kidnapped teens, Naftali Frankel and Gil-ad Shaar, together helping make a human pyramid a day before they were abducted, reports that Israeli forces, while still focusing on cracking down on Hamas, have widened their operations outside the Hebron area, where they have been concentrated since Thursday.
The paper quotes a senior IDF official saying that beyond finding the boys, the operation has let the army deal Hamas a significant blow. “The amount of intelligence we have gathered in the last days has allowed us to inflict serious harm and arrest hundreds of Hamas members. Regardless of the fate of the three youths, Hamas is behind the kidnapping and needs to pay a heavy price.”
The paper’s analyst Alex Fishman also sees a slight upside in the kidnapping in giving the army a “one-time chance” to embark on a wide-ranging operation against Hamas. “Israel is planning on taking total advantage of the military opportunity and supportive international atmosphere to carry out acute searches, over a long period of time, in Area A, in order to bring down Hamas strongholds in PA territory as much as possible. In the past they called these operations ‘destroying the hametz [leavening traditionally sought out and destroyed on Passover].’”
Israel Hayom leads with Netanyahu’s call to Mahmoud Abbas to to assist in finding the boys. Commentator Yoav Limor sees the call as part and parcel of Fatah’s more-than-happiness to see Hamas knocked down a notch, and even help out. “It’s still not clear if this marks the beginning of the end for the Palestinian unity government, but Israel and Fatah have a shared interest: to weaken the operational and political infrastructure of Hamas in the West Bank.”
Haaretz and daily Makor Rishon, hailing from opposite sides of the political spectrum, both lead off with Netanyahu’s statement that the operation will not end quickly (a fact which some commentators actually point out will give the military more time to slay Hamas). Haaretz, on the left, is also the only paper to put front and center the first victim of the military operation, a Palestinian man shot and killed outside Ramallah late Sunday, an incident ignored or downplayed by the others.
The paper’s Amos Harel describes the military’s work against Hamas as “slow and steady” progress, though he says the more time that passes, the lower the chances Israel will be able to rescue the three boys unharmed. “Bits of information that are gathered are translated into addresses for arrest operations – first of the group’s outer circle and then, we hope, of the cell itself. … It may cautiously be assumed that field operatives who could know something about the kidnapping are among those arrested. … The time that passes is not good for Israel. An analysis of prior events in which Hamas held hostages shows a cold and calculating attitude to their fate.”
He also describes the challenge the army is up against trying to find people hiding in a sprawling complex of towns and villages in the Hebron hills, recalling his own experiences covering a search operation some time ago. “Look at that village” west of Hebron, he quotes a soldier telling him. “Just try to imagine how many water cisterns and storage sheds and hiding places there are. If I wanted to hide here, none of you would find me.”
Everyone’s an expert
Makor Rishon, a paper with ties to the settler movement, goes for the human interest angle, leading off with a statement from the father of Talmon resident Gil-ad Shaar.
“They say we are broadcasting courage, but I need to say all our strength comes from you… We feel a connection from all the communities and the whole public, there have been representatives from across the spectrum of political thought, and everyone is united behind this affair. We are getting telephone calls from people all over the country and we are being bolstered by communities from all over the world.”
Despite support from all over, the country is certainly not united in how to respond, or deal with the tragedy, though everybody styles themselves an expert on the subject, the paper’s Ricki Ratt writes.
“Since Friday my phone has been buzzing nonstop with WhatsApp messages. Every parent in the Gan Galia Parents Group is a senior Shin Bet officer, every past friend from my high school Class of 1999 is a political commentator, and every member of my running group is sure that we need to ‘go after them with all our might,’ ‘shut off their water and electricity,’ ‘hook their water up to their electricity,’ or ‘salute our country, which lets in Abbas’s wife for surgery.’”
One group of people that apparently had no idea what they were doing was Israel’s emergency help line, which ignored a report of the kidnapping as it was happening, leading to much finger-wagging. Haaretz gets in on the fun, reporting that the call center has been rife with issues such as these for a long time as it’s staffed by people with little training, according to a 2013 report.
“The report found a failure to follow mandated procedures. Last week, hotline staffers thought the kidnapping call was a prank, but procedure requires that, in such cases, they search to see whether the phone number from where the suspected prank call was placed is on a police blacklist. If not, the call is to be taken at face value, but that did not happen on Thursday.”
Israel Hayom, though, runs the police’s side of the story, namely that whoever called into the center either didn’t say “they kidnapped me,” or said it but it was impossible to hear. “It’s impossible to understand what is said and the voice at the beginning of the conversation, which is so significant, is extremely low and not clear,” a police official is quoted saying.