15/06/2014, Last update: 17/6/2014


Key Points

  • Israeli security forces are conducting intensive military and intelligence operations to locate three Israeli teenagers kidnapped in the West Bank on Thursday, with Prime Minister Netanyahu stating that Hamas members carried out the kidnapping.
  • The kidnapping comes at a moment of increased tensions following the establishment of a Palestinian unity government to reunite the Gaza Strip and West Bank under a single Palestinian authority backed by both Fatah and Hamas.
  • The viability of the unity government is under the spotlight, with Palestinian Authority security forces in the West Bank cooperating with the IDF. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas spoke with Netanyahu on Monday and subsequently condemned the abduction.
  • Since the release of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in return for Gilad Shalit in 2011 there have been consistent warnings from Israeli security services about plots by Palestinian armed groups to kidnap Israeli soldiers or civilians.

What has happened?

  • Israeli security forces are conducting intensive military and intelligence operations to locate three missing Israeli teenagers kidnapped on Thursday evening in the West Bank.
  • The three were taken whilst hitchhiking in the area of the Gush Etzion settlement block in the West Bank. The three are Naftali Frenkel, 16, from Nof Ayalon in central Israel, Gilad Shaer, 16, from Talmon, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, and Eyal Yifrah, 19, from Elad in central Israel.
  • Frenkel and Shaar are students at the modern Orthodox Makor Haim yeshiva (religious seminary) in Kvar Etzion, a religious kibbutz in the Gush Etzion area.
  • Though one of the teenagers managed to call the police in the process of the abduction there was a delay of several hours before the incident was reported to the IDF and Shin Bet (Israeli internal intelligence).
  • The focus of operations is the Hebron region of the southern West Bank. A burnt out car found in the Hebron area may be linked. However, due to the original delay in reporting the incident, investigations have included the lesser possibility that they have been moved out of the West Bank.

Who are the perpetrators?

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said directly that Hamas members carried out the abduction. However, Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip have rejected the accusation of responsibility. According to an Israeli media report, two Hamas operatives from Hebron have been missing since Thursday, and their wives have been questioned by Israeli investigators. It remains unclear at this point to what extent the Hamas operatives involved were acting under direct orders from the military or political leadership of Hamas.

How has Israel responded?

  • The focus of the Israeli security forces is locating and returning the teenagers. The search operation, dubbed ‘Operation Brothers Keeper’ by the IDF, has included the arrest of around 190 Palestinians in the West Bank, as of Tuesday morning. Many are Hamas affiliates including its most senior West Bank-based officials, as well as some Palestinian Islamic Jihad operatives. A Palestinian man was killed in the Ramallah area during an arrest operation on Sunday night.
  • A partial closure has been imposed on the Hebron region and Israeli troops are conducting widespread house to house searches. Paratroopers have been diverted to join the search, and a small number of reservists, numbering several hundred, have been called up.
  • Palestinian Authority (PA) Security Forces in the West Bank are cooperating with the IDF, and on Monday Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas held a rare phone conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu, subsequently issuing a statement condemning the abduction.
  • On Saturday, Sunday and Monday night Israel carried out airstrikes in the Gaza Strip against several weapons stores and other targets in response to rockets fired at Israel. The Iron Dome missile defence system intercepted rockets heading for Ashkelon on Sunday night, believed to have been fired by Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
  • Israel has also reportedly moved Iron Dome missile defence batteries to the central Israeli towns of Ashdod and Rehovot – a possible indication of preparation for escalation in the Gaza Strip.

What is the security context and implications?

  • Since the release of over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in return for Gilad Shalit in October 2011 there have been consistent warnings from Israeli security services about plots by Palestinian armed groups to kidnap Israeli soldiers or civilians. According to the IDF, since 2013, the Israeli forces have foiled over 64 kidnapping attempts, with Hamas prisoners held in Israeli jails planning the majority of these efforts.
  • In September 2013, a Palestinian terrorist kidnapped and murdered IDF Sergeant Tomer Hazan, planning to use the soldier’s body to bargain for the release of his brother, imprisoned for involvement in terror attacks.
  • The current incident comes at a moment of increased tension since the suspension of recent peace talks and the establishment of a Palestinian unity government backed by Hamas.
  • Unrelated to the Palestinian unification process, the last year has seen an increase in violence from Palestinian groups and individuals in the West Bank, and credible reports of increased attempts by Hamas to operate armed cells there. The Hebron area has seen a number of incidents, with an IDF soldier killed by a sniper in the city in October 2013, and an off duty police officer killed by gunmen whilst driving with his family close to Hebron in April. Through its widespread arrest of Hamas activists, Israeli forces will likely be hoping to get a grip on this increasing threat from Hamas in the West Bank.
  • This incident also comes against the backdrop of a hunger strike being undertaken by a number of Palestinian security prisoners.