Army probe points to failings that enabled brutal Halamish terror attack
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3 members of Salomon family were stabbed to death on July 21

Army probe points to failings that enabled brutal Halamish terror attack

IDF commanders, private security personnel censured for not carrying out required duties; army calls for stronger protocols, better equipment

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

ZAKA emergency response members are seen in the settlement of Halamish, July 22, 2017, a day after a Palestinian terrorist stabbed to death three members of the Salomon family there (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
ZAKA emergency response members are seen in the settlement of Halamish, July 22, 2017, a day after a Palestinian terrorist stabbed to death three members of the Salomon family there (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

An IDF investigation into a brutal terror attack in which three Israelis were stabbed to death by a Palestinian teenager in the Halamish settlement in July found significant failings by both soldiers and civilian security personnel before and during the attack, an army spokesperson said Monday.

This week, a report on the investigation was presented to the head of the IDF’s Central Command, Maj. Gen. Roni Numa. The probe found failings both on the part of the soldiers tasked with protecting the settlement and Halamish’s own civilian security professionals.

On July 21, 19-year-old Omar al-Abed from the village of Kobar, near Halamish, climbed over the settlement’s fence with a simple disguise, a butcher’s knife and bottles of water to purify himself. He tripped the sensors on the fence, but avoided detection.

Inside the settlement, he performed some kind of ablution ceremony with the water. It was a Friday night and he was wearing a white shirt, similar to the type worn by Orthodox Jews for Shabbat. A few minutes after breaking into the settlement, he knocked on the door of the Salomon family’s house, knife in hand.

(L-R) Yosef, Elad and Chaya Salomon who were stabbed to death by a Palestinian terrorist in the Halamish settlement on July 21, 2017. (Courtesy)

When the door opened, he stabbed to death three members of the family: patriarch Yosef Salomon, 70, and two of his children, Chaya, 46, and Elad, 36. The bloody rampage was only cut short when a neighbor and his son, who happened to serve in an elite IDF unit, heard the screams. The son grabbed his gun and shot the terrorist in the gut, incapacitating him.

Following Numa’s review of the terror attack, three IDF officers — a major responsible for the area around Halamish, a company commander and the commander of the IDF patrol responsible for the area– received official reprimands for failing to carry out their orders.

19-year-old Omar al-Abed, the perpetrator of a terror attack in the settlement of Halamish on July 21, 2017 (Facebook photo)

The commander of the IDF patrol was also sentenced to 21 days’ confinement to base, and the soldiers making up the patrol itself received an official note on their permanent records, army spokesperson Lt. Col. Yonatan Conricus said.

In addition, Victor Vaknin, the settlement’s civilian security coordinator, received a reprimand from Numa. Also, Vaknin’s deputy and the private security officer charged with monitoring the front gate were both released from their permissions for not calling the military after the settlement’s fence sensors recorded the breach, the IDF officer said.

“Following the lessons of the investigation, the protocols for defending settlements have been made clearer and stricter,” Conricus said in a statement.

Israeli ZAKA emergency response members are seen in the West Bank settlement of Halamish, Saturday, July 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

The military required the security coordinators and deputy security coordinators for settlements in the area to undergo additional training, and the “control processes” for civilians charged with security positions were strengthened, he said.

The IDF also said it was advancing plans to upgrade Halamish’s security systems.

Following publication of the results of the investigation, the Halamish settlement said in a statement that it intends to “implement the lessons of the report at all levels in the hope that such an event will not recur.”

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman shakes hands with an IDF soldier who shot and injured a terrorist who killed three Israelis at the Halamish settlement on July 21, 2017. (Defense Ministry)

The military investigation praised the efforts of the soldier who shot al-Abed and the soldier’s father, who assisted him. The report said the army’s decision to reward the soldier with a commendation and his father with a letter of appreciation was justified. As he serves in the army’s elite canine unit, the soldier can only be identified by the first Hebrew initial of his name, “Ayin.” His father, however, can be named as Shimon Maoz.

The full probe into the July terror attack largely matched the initial assessment by Vaknin, who told The Times of Israel shortly after the stabbing that al-Abed had set off the sensors when he entered the settlement, but had already moved on by the time the security team arrived to check it out.

Assuming it was an animal that set off the sensor, due to the settlement’s proximity to a forest, the security patrol moved on without informing the military of the breach.

“He went by, looked, didn’t see anything and drove on,” Vaknin said at the time.

In July, Halamish said it had long been aware that its southeastern side is vulnerable and warned multiple defense officials about the threat.

“We spoke to the defense minister, to the chief of staff, to the head of the [Central] Command, to every defense official possible,” he said.

Indeed, the area where Abed climbed the fence into Halamish was the same area where in November three Palestinian men allegedly started a fire that destroyed 17 homes and damaged 25 others, according to the security coordinator.

Israeli settlers grieve over their burnt houses in the Halamish settlement on November 27, 2016. AFP / MENAHEM KAHANA)
Israeli settlers grieve over their burnt houses in the Halamish settlement on November 27, 2016. AFP / MENAHEM KAHANA)

Vaknin said the settlement wanted additional cameras to monitor the area and eventually to close the road down the hill, from which both the alleged arsonists and the terrorist stabber came.

“We’ve been asking for it for seven months,” he said. “They’re taking advantage of this weak point and are managing to carry out terror attacks.”

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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