1. Barkan killer’s ‘luck’ runs out: Israeli forces shot and killed Ashraf Na’alowa, a Palestinian wanted for an October 7 terror attack in which he killed two fellow employees at his workplace in the West Bank’s Barkan Industrial Zone.
- According to the Shin Bet security service, the shooting occurred as soldiers attempted to arrest Na’alowa, but it provided no details.
- The operation came after Na’alowa was on the run for over two months, a rarity as most suspected Palestinian attackers are nabbed within hours or days. The army had been criticized over its inability to catch him, and the volume only grew this week as a second manhunt was launched following the attack on an Ofra bus stop in which seven people were injured.
- A military source tells reporters Thursday morning that forces expected him to fight back, and thus deployed a large number of troops for the raid in Nablus.
- As to how he managed to escape so long, the source attributes it to luck and switching hiding spots often, even though it appears Na’alowa had not planned the attack or his escape ahead of time.
- “We were close a number of times and just missed him — he almost didn’t make any mistakes,” the source is quoted saying in the Ynet news website.
- Almost, but not quite. According to reports, troops sprang into action after the Shin Bet got intelligence information that he was hiding out in a small room in a refugee camp in Nablus. Where that information came from is naturally under lock and key.
2. ‘Happy he died’: Many of the reports have a sense of a score being settled, especially given the long time Na’alowa was on the run, and the brutal nature of the attack, in which he killed two people, including office manager Kim Levengrod, who was tied up and shot execution style.
- “We hoped they would kill him,” a relative of Levengrod tells Channel 10 news. “He should serve time and get a degree? On the state’s dime? He should live like a king and get appreciation and respect?”
- “Settling the score,” is in fact the headline on at least one report of troops finding and killing Na’alowa, in Israel Hayom, which takes its mouthpiece role seriously, running as its lead story an unedited transcript of the briefing on the operation to capture the suspect.
3. Ofra fugitive killed: Na’alowa’s killing came hours after troops shot and killed Salih Barghouti, wanted in connection with Sunday’s attack outside Ofra, during an arrest operation near Ramallah (settling the score is also a headline used in connection with that incident).
- Barghouti is thought to have been the shooter in the drive-by terror attack, and Hamas claimed him as one of theirs hours after he was killed while trying to both flee and harm troops, according to Israeli authorities.
- “Barghouti comes from a family with extensive terrorist ties, including a father and uncle who were convicted of murdering an Israeli soldier in 1978. The uncle, Nael Barghouti, is one of the longest-serving Palestinian prisoners in Israel’s history,” ToI’s Adam Rasgon reports.
- Nonetheless, he apparently continued to work as a taxi driver, showing up to work after the attack, co-workers tell ToI.
- Yedioth Ahronoth reports that others captured in the raid were also thought to have taken part in the shooting attack.
4. Hamas driving upswing in attacks: Many had pointed to the lack of success in initially catching the two as giving a tailwind to would-be terrorists, ramping up the chances of a renewed wave of attacks. Nonetheless, it’s only after the successes that more signs emerged of an upsurge of violence.
- In a terror shooting at a junction near Ramallah, two people were killed and two were seriously injured. Hours earlier, two Border Guards were wounded in a pre-dawn stabbing attack in Jerusalem’s Old City, before shooting dead the assailant.
- Hamas is seen as a main factor in the attacks. Former Shin Bet head Yoram Cohen tells Army Radio that many of the attacks are being directed by Hamas members freed in the 2011 deal for Gilad Shalit, who have deep connections in the West Bank, even if they are no longer there: “Since their release they’ve been directing attacks from Hamas headquarters in Gaza,” he says.
- In Haaretz, analyst Amos Harel points to a mostly overlooked arrest of a Hamas bomb-maker near Hebron, writing that in the wake of his capture “Hamas did not give up but may have changed its methods. … It seems the organization is looking to shrink its command hierarchy and improve its operational results.”
5. Born too soon, died too soon: The capture came just as mourners on the Mount of Olives were burying 4-day-old Amiad Yisrael Ish-Ran, who was delivered in an emergency C-section after his mother was shot and seriously wounded in the attack in her 30th week of pregnancy.
- At the funeral, which dominates the print press Thursday morning, mourners and officials made loud calls for revenge in the wake of the attack (it was not yet known that Barghouti had been apprehended and shot).
- “He died prematurely. He was born prematurely. He was buried without having had one moment of peace in his short life. A tender soul that never sinned,” Emily Amrousi writes in Israel Hayom.
6. From Russia with “understandings”: An Israeli military delegation said it reached “understandings” with Russian defense officials about Syria deconfliction methods during a meeting in Moscow. However, the terse statement from Israeli authorities appears to paper over a situation that may be less than hunky dory.
- Yedioth Ahronoth reports that that Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva, commander of the IDF’s Technology and Logistics Directorate, didn’t meet with his Russian counterpart, but rather his deputy, a not so subtle message from Moscow.
- According to the paper, that official “is about to retire after 10 years in the position, which mostly dealt with exercises and operational readiness, and in the last year has spent most of his time as a representative of the Russian Defense Ministry at various ceremonies, with no connection to what is happening in Syria.”
- The paper also notes a Russian report that Israel complained about Iranian forces in southern Syria flying Russian flags in order to keep from being attacked. According to a Syrian opposition figure cited, this is by agreement between Russia and Iran, though that is far from confirmed.
- Apropos nothing, Russia decided Thursday to reiterate its opposition to Israel’s control of the Golan Heights.
#Zakharova: We continue to stand by our view of the unlawful nature of #Israel’s decision to extend its sovereignty to the #GolanHeights which was passed as a basic law in 1981. Changing the status of the Golan Heights bypassing the #UNSC is a direct violation of @UN resolutions pic.twitter.com/K6aJtyDQ7l
— MFA Russia ???????? (@mfa_russia) December 13, 2018
7. Indefensible minister: A survey in the right-wing Basheva newspaper, taken before the two terror fugitives were captured, shows a low approval rating for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as defense minister, with only 14 percent saying they think he should have the job.
- Rather, the paper, which only polled Israeli Jews, finds 35% want former army chief Benny Gantz to be defense minister, while another 19% think Jewish Home head Naftali Bennett is best suited for the job.
- In last place in the paper’s poll is actual former defense minister Ehud Barak, who gets only 4%. (h/t @tomerpersico)
8. Saudi stability trumps all: Speaking to foreign journalists, jack of all ministries (and perhaps also English language spokesman now that former flack David Keyes has officially left) Netanyahu responds to a question on the killing of Jamal Khashoggi by saying that the stability of Saudi Arabia is more important for the world than seeking justice in the “horrific” murder.
- “If Saudi Arabia would be destabilized, the world would be destabilized. Not the Middle East — the world would be destabilized. And I think that has to be taken into account,” ToI’s Raphael Ahren quotes him saying.
9. Seeing red: Israel may love Saudi Arabia, but it may not be mutual. Reuters reports that Riyadh is seeking to put together a Red Sea alliance to protect its access to the water.
- “Representatives from Egypt, Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and Jordan gathered in Riyadh on Wednesday to discuss the initiative without reaching final agreement. A team of experts is expected to meet ‘soon’ in Cairo for technical talks,” the news agency reports.
- Missing from the meeting were Eritrea, Ethiopia (which doesn’t have direct access to the sea but is still a major player in the area) and of course Israel.