Commentary

Is the IDF Overreacting to West Bank Abductions?

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

The alleged kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers by suspected Palestinian militants in the West Bank has triggered a sweeping operation by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), which has arguably gone beyond the original scope of recovering the youths. Many in Palestine and throughout the region accuse the IDF of using the kidnappings as a pretext to punish Hamas for forming a unity government with Fatah. For some in Israel, however, the reaction was actually too slow, considering evidence that such kidnappings had been unsuccessfully attempted dozens of times prior to last week.

The Peninsula editorial bemoans the timing of the kidnappings, since the disappearance of the three youths is likely to increase pressure on Fatah to disassociate from Hamas, making unity talks even more difficult: “The disappearance of Israeli teens has dealt another blow to peace prospects. It comes at a wrong time – when Hamas and Fatah are trying to work out the shape of a unity government. It’s also likely to strain the relationship between Hamas and Fatah....the unity government has won huge support, including from the U.S., despite warnings by Israel. This goodwill and support which Palestinians currently enjoy are likely to be tarnished by the latest developments....Israel too must learn the right lesson from the alleged kidnapping – that the safety of its citizens can only be guaranteed through the creation of an independent Palestinian state.”

In Israel, many have turned their anger toward their government, which many believe has waited too late to take action. For example, the Jerusalem Post editorial questions why the government did not launch a similar action earlier: “In the wake of the kidnapping, Israel has launched a major crackdown on Hamas operatives and affiliates in the West Bank, because, according to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Hamas is responsible. One former military official told The Jerusalem Post that security forces are ‘taking advantage’ of the kidnapping to ‘clean up’ Judea and Samaria. One wonders why this ‘clean up’ was not launched long ago, before Hamas succeeding, after several foiled attempts, to carry out a kidnapping. Perhaps it is the same sort of self-defeating ‘wait and see’ strategy that has allowed ISIS to grow so dangerous.”

Others have taken aim at PM Netanyahu for what they believe WAS the government’s accommodation of terrorist demands, when the prime minister agreed to the release of more than one thousand Palestinian prisoners in exchange for an abducted Israeli soldier: “As the person who freed Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin at the time, and then negotiated with Hamas and released from than 1,000 murderers in return for kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, he cannot deny that he gave terror organizations a serious boost of encouragement to try to abduct additional Israelis, both soldiers and civilians. With his own hands, he showed them the road to success....Will we draw the historic conclusions, which will outline the direction for setting Israel's borders and for a thorough and fundamental treatment of the roots of the conflict which is poisoning our relation with our neighbors? Will we finally understand that behind this individual cell there are millions of Palestinians who will never give up on their desire to live in freedom, in liberty and separately from us?”

Similary, the former Shin Bet chief, Yuval Diskin, argues on the pages of Yedioth Ahronoth’s that rather than “calling for 'more force' against Palestinians, we should just stop freeing terrorists…. there is no point in statements calling for ‘more force,’ as if we are not using enough force as it is....We had better think about halting the release of terrorists in exchange for kidnapped soldiers, or about halting the release of terrorists instead of freezing construction in the settlements during the negotiations with the Palestinians. These releases are the main motive for further abduction attacks....Forty-four kidnapping attempts thwarted in the past two years speak for themselves. So enough with the cheap populism of ‘let's use more force and the problem will be solved.’ This is the main problem in the current situation, and there is something here that the government and lawmakers must do.”

There are suspicions though that the Israeli government is using the disappearance of the three Israeli youths as a pretext for a far more sweeping action than their disappearance warrants, a fact which has been confirmed by recent statements from the head of IDF’s Central command who spoke “regarding the Operation Brother's Keeper, not far from where the kidnapping took place....Alon said the IDF has 10 brigades and special forces working to attack Hamas at all its ranks. ‘The heads of Hamas are feeling the hits and getting the message. Hamas is going to come out of this operation weaker,’ Alon said in closing....In addition to the arrests, soldiers on Tuesday seized guns, explosives, and grenades. A security source said a large quantity of weapons was recovered during the arrests, describing the raids as a large-scale counter-terrorism clean-up operation.”

Reacting to the ongoing massive operation, the Khaleej Times editorial raises the question whether IDF’s actions amount to ‘collective punishment’: “This is barbarism and speaks of the contempt that Tel Aviv has for the Palestinians. Notwithstanding the veracity of the abductions and whether they went missing in the restive West Bank zones while hitchhiking home or what role the reigning political force, Hamas, has in this so-called kidnapping, the Jewish state’s response was unqualified and its indiscriminate use of force is condemnable. There is no rationale in penalising an entire community while looking for the whereabouts of three citizens who were non-combatants....At a time when the global media focus is on Iraq, this episode is merely an attempt to hoodwink public opinion by opening a new front of violence in the occupied territories.”

According to a Maan News report, the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council in fact uses the term ‘collective punishment’ to condemn IDF’s round-up of over 200 Palestinians and excessive use of force: “Israel's massive arrest campaign, closure of large parts of West Bank cities, and the recent killing of a Palestinian youth in al-Jalazun refugee camp constitute collective punishment, Palestinian rights groups said Tuesday. The Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council, a collection of human rights groups, issued a statement calling on Israel to respect the ‘right to life’ and ensure that the use of force does not endanger civilians....Since three Israeli youths disappeared from an area near the settlement of Gush Etzion late Thursday, Israeli forces have arrested approximately 200 Palestinians, including eight members of the Palestinian Legislative Council.”

Finally, there are critics of the IDF response in Israel itself, including Ron Ben-Yishai, who believe that singling out Palestinian Authority President Abbas ‘isn’t justified or smart’: “From the beginning it was clear that Netanyahu was and would continue to use the abduction as grounds to continue his attacks against Palestinian reconciliation, but more importantly, the real goal is to erode the prestige and status that Abu Mazen so readily receives from governments in America and Europe....The need of the prime minister and his cabinet to win international legitimization in putting pressure on Hamas and the Palestinians in order to force the release of the abducted teens is clear and justified. However, the exertion from Netanyahu in order to discredit Abu Mazen isn't justified and isn't smart....This campaign ought to be taken off of the prime minister's daily schedule. It would be better to focus on intelligence efforts in finding the victims of the abduction rather than trying to make ourselves additional enemies.”


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