There were two ominous developments on the 12th day since the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas terrorists. While the Israel Defense Forces continued to scour the West Bank, and in particular the Hebron area, in an attempt to find the boys and to take out the Hamas terror infrastructure, Israel’s leaders seem to be coming to terms with the failure of this operation.
IDF chief General Benny Gantz finally said what many Israelis have been worrying about: that the chances of finding the victims alive may be getting smaller. Contradicting a previous statement by Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, who claimed it “was only a matter of time” before the case was cracked, Gantz struck a less hopeful tone when he said, “with the passing of time, fears grow.”
Just as important was the vote of the Israeli Cabinet to scale back the army’s search in the coming days. This is partly a reaction to the widespread protests the IDF’s actions have provoked among a Palestinian population that has treated the kidnapping as an act of national heroism. It may also signify that they recognize that the presence of so large a force in the West Bank may be a matter of diminishing returns. Moreover, with the start of the Ramadan holiday this Saturday night, the optics of Israeli troops rummaging through Palestinian villages searching for the boys and their kidnappers during the Muslim holy month will do more harm than good.
While Israelis, Jews, and civilized people everywhere have to pray that a breakthrough in the case happens soon, Gantz’s talk of fear is an acknowledgment that the longer this drags on without the kidnappers showing proof of life of their hostages, the less likely it will be that the boys will be rescued. If Israel is about to pull back its forces to avoid offending Muslim sensibilities, there’s no avoiding the possibility that Hamas may have successfully hidden its hostages or have already killed them.
All of which means that even though the kidnapping has cost Hamas dearly in terms of its ability to operate openly in the West Bank, it has nevertheless scored an impressive victory over both Israel and its Fatah rivals/partners in the Palestinian Authority.
The sense that Hamas feels itself the winner in this exchange was clearly on display in the interview given by Khaled Mashaal to the Al Jazeera network in which he praised the kidnapping. The political chief of the Islamist terror movement, who operates from the group’s Qatar base rather than Hamas’s Gaza stronghold, said that he could “neither confirm nor deny” the group’s involvement in the crime. But he praised the kidnappers and strained the credulity of even that network’s viewers by claiming the boys—teenage yeshiva students—were “soldiers.” He then produced a photocopy of a picture of an IDF solider that is an Israeli reality-show contestant and claimed that person was one of the victims.
But leaving that farcical presentation aside, Hamas has good reason to be boasting in this manner about what it has accomplished. Mashaal doesn’t really care about whether more Hamas members are jailed or even if some of its terrorists who were freed as part of the Gilad Shalit exchange are now back in prison. By operating in the West Bank ruled by Fatah, it has shown that it is capable of carrying out acts of terror and to have the perpetrators avoid capture in spite of the claims of PA leader Mahmoud Abbas that his security forces are cooperating and the large-scale rescue operation conducted by Israel. In doing so, it has not only won the applause of most Palestinians, who have mocked the boys’ plight with a three-fingered salute on social media, but also demonstrated that the Fatah-Hamas unity agreement didn’t stop Hamas from pursuing violence against Israel.
This means that this episode is not only a tragic instance in which a terror group has targeted children and seemingly evaded justice. It also proves that despite the progress that Abbas has made in condemning terror—which Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu rightly praised today—the reaction to the kidnapping shows the Palestinians are more of Hamas’s mindset on this question than their leader. So long as that is the case, talk about more pressure on Israel to make concessions for the sake of peace is not only pointless; it is actually counter-productive since it lets the Palestinians off the hook for their vocal support for violence rather than negotiations.