Public Security Minister Omer Barlev said Wednesday that an escape plan drawn up by prisoners had been uncovered at the Ofer Prison, outside Jerusalem in the West Bank.
The handwritten plan was connected to seven security prisoners from the Hamas terror group, according to Hebrew-language media reports.
Barlev made the revelation of the plan’s discovery as he testified before a committee investigating the escape of six security prisoners last year from the Gilboa Prison in northern Israel.
“I understand that this came as a great surprise to the Israel Prison Service,” Barlev said.
The IPS said in response to Barlev’s comments that during a search on Monday, a plan detailing the security provisions at the facility was found hidden in a cell at the prison.
The prisoners involved were immediately separated and put in isolation in a high-security wing, the IPS said.
Barlev was speaking to a committee investigating the daring escape last September from the Gilboa Prison, which ended with the capture of all the escaped inmates within some two weeks, and has been seen as a major failure and embarrassment to the Prison Service.
“It was clear that there were indications of serious deficiencies,” Barlev said. “In the first hours it became clear to me that there had been a [prior] escape attempt in 2014, that the entire prison was built on stilts and the prison plans were online.”
“It was clear that the excavation had not taken place over a matter of days and that there had been an intelligence failure. And regarding the escape itself, it was clear that there was an operational failure in light of the seriousness of the matter,” Barlev said.
The prisoners reportedly dug a tunnel for months before the prison break, using plates, panhandles, building debris and part of a metal hanger.
Barlev also described the IPS as backward and technologically inept, and unable to probe its own failings.
“It is clear that an organization that [still] works using pen and paper is an organization that cannot move forward and has zero ability to self-investigate,” he charged.
Last week, Barlev’s predecessor Amir Ohana of Likud, who was public security minister from May 2020 till June 2021, said the prison service, “in terms of organizational culture, has difficulty telling the truth.”
The escape exposed a series of lapses at the prison, including a failure to learn lessons from previous escape attempts and several operational blunders, such as unmanned watchtowers and sleeping guards.
Five of the six inmates who escaped were members of the Islamic Jihad terror group, along with notorious Fatah terrorist Zakaria Zubeidi. Several had been convicted of capital crimes and were serving life terms.