The world has undergone gut-churning revulsion this week at the videos of rows of kneeling young Iraqi men callously gunned down by Al Qaida terrorists in Mosul. But time and again, in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, Hamas has shown itself to be just as capable of such brutal cold-blooded killing. That knowledge has galvanized Israel's desperate hunt for those who abducted teenagers Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach as they hitchhiked home from their school in Gush Etzion a week ago.
As a member of Cobra, the UK national crisis management committee, I was involved in British efforts to rescue our citizens kidnapped by Islamist terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan. No modern-day military action is so fraught: the odds are stacked against the captives, the whip hand is with the captors, it is a race against time, and it becomes extremely personal.
The victims look out at us from their photographs and we look into their eyes. We learn about their hopes, their families, their friends, and their daily lives. Nothing – nothing – stands in the way of our efforts to bring them back. Although we hope for the best, we prepare for the worst.
From the outside, it is difficult to read the realities of a kidnapping. Those with the responsibility of saving lives are forced into a cat and mouse game in which they must both reassure the public and sow seeds of disinformation among the captors. So far, for Naftali, Gilad and Eyal, the signs are not encouraging. As far as we know a week later, there is no proof of life, no demands, no negotiations.
Yesterday, June 19, the Palestinian Ma'an News Agency apparently reported that Hamas leader Salah Bardawil said that the "Palestinian resistance" (Hamas -- the acronym for the "Islamic Resistance Movement") had carried out the kidnapping.
The first priority is always to establish the identity and the motive of the captors. Early on, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserted that Hamas was guilty. U.S. Secretary of State Kerry agreed, and this seems to be the view throughout Gaza and the West Bank.
Hamas leader Mohammad Nazzal, for his part, described the kidnapping of three teenage civilians as "a heroic capture," and "a milestone" for the Palestinian people. He said that every passing day in which the Israelis failed to find the teenagers was "a tremendous achievement."
Nazzal's comments reflect long-standing views on the abduction and butchering of Israelis by the leadership of Hamas, the internationally proscribed terrorist group responsible for firing thousands of lethal rockets indiscriminately against the civilian population of Israel from the Gaza Strip, the latest salvoes only this week.
It is the same terrorist group that the United Nations, the United States and the European Union -- in a display of moral bankruptcy and betrayal -- have all endorsed as a legitimate partner in a unity government for the Palestinian Authority [PA]. Just the day before the three boys were kidnapped, the EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, welcomed Hamas into the PA government while lambasting Israel for detaining terrorists and taking action to prevent Hamas terrorist attacks from Gaza and the West Bank.
Ashton, though never slow to condemn Israel, took five days to denounce this kidnapping. Both her words and actions have legitimized and encouraged Hamas. Her inaction in the face of repeated terrorist assaults has bolstered Hamas's convictions.
The kidnapping will find favor with Ashton's new best friends in Iran. Also desperate to appease the ayatollahs, British Foreign Secretary William Hague this week announced the re-opening in Tehran of a British embassy, closed in 2011 after being ransacked on the orders of the Iranian government. There are even reports of U.S. military intelligence-sharing with Iran over the crisis in Iraq – where only a few short years ago, large numbers of American and British soldiers were being slaughtered -- using Iranian-supplied munitions by terrorists trained, directed and equipped by Tehran and its terrorist proxy, Lebanese Hizballah.
As Ashton and the West cozy up to the ayatollahs, the ayatollahs are again cozying up to Hamas. A few weeks ago, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizballah, met with Hamas leaders to resolve the differences between Iran and Hamas that arose over the Syrian conflict. Hamas -- isolated from Egypt following the demise of the Muslim Brotherhood regime -- seems desperate to restore full relations with the Iranian tyrant. Iran is equally enthusiastic to bring Hamas back into the fold: Hamas remains an important instrument of the ayatollahs' overriding, stated goal of destroying the State of Israel.
In these circumstances it is certainly not beyond probability that the three boys' kidnapping was a goodwill gesture from Hamas to the ayatollahs.
It is hard to not be chilled to the bone by the thought of three teenage boys -- who might easily be our own sons or brothers -- spending night after night in the hands of ruthless terrorists... or worse. The anguish of the boys' parents must be unimaginable.
Yet among the Palestinian Arab population of the West Bank and Gaza, including children, a new symbol has emerged -- the three-fingered salute, signifying joy at the kidnapping of three innocent youths. Among the many deeply disturbing images generated on Palestinian computers and printing presses, the most repugnant is probably a cartoon of three rats, each bearing the Star of David, dangling from a fishing rod, and published on an official Fatah Facebook page.
A cartoon from Fatah's official Facebook page, depicting the three kidnapped Jewish teens as rats.
Such celebration, including the handing out of sweets in the street, has been widespread. PA President Mahmoud Abbas has condemned the kidnappings, and his security apparatus has been providing assistance to the Israeli rescue operation. But as well as bringing Hamas terrorists into his government, Abbas is responsible for the shocking way in which so many of his people have been celebrating. His Palestinian Authority is tireless in spreading fraudulent and malicious anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic propaganda, including Nazi-inspired imagery, in schools, on TV programs and in books and magazines. Both the US and the EU have paid the salaries of Palestinian terrorists by means of grants to the PA; they also fund this propaganda and incitement, no doubt including some of the imagery applauding the boys' kidnapping.
The Israeli security operation has so far focused on finding the three boys. Over 330 Hamas suspects have been arrested, and illicit weapons and ammunition seized. Echoing the code-name of the rescue operation, "Brother's Keeper," the IDF Chief of Staff, Benny Gantz, has encouraged his troops to apply the same vigour to their task as if they were searching for their own brothers or members of their own platoon. He has also reminded them that most people in the areas they are searching are not connected to the kidnapping, and to treat them with care and humanity.
Concurrently, the IDF is taking steps to weaken and dismantle Hamas in the West Bank. In some quarters these have been criticized as an unnecessary and opportunistic widening of the operation. It is nothing of the sort. With this latest kidnapping, Hamas has confirmed its continued intent to abduct, attack and murder Israeli civilians in the West Bank. Like every government, Israel has an absolute duty to protect its citizens, and undermining this terrorist threat is an essential part of that responsibility.
All military operations are unpredictable; it is possible that Operation Brother's Keeper could lead to an escalation of violence. Incidents have already occurred. It is unlikely that Israel will expand the current operation into Gaza, unless there is a serious upsurge in violence from there or a connection between Gaza terrorists and the kidnapping comes to light.
The three Israeli teenagers abducted last Thursday night: Gilad Shaar, Naftali Frenkel, and Eyal Yifrach.
Whichever way this operation develops, the international community should avoid the same response to the current defensive actions that they have so often displayed whenever Israel has sought to defend itself from missile attacks from Gaza. The international community usually ignores repeated volleys of rockets fired at Israeli civilians, and then condemns Israel for taking defensive action to prevent further attacks. It is these responses from the international community that have encouraged Hamas, and amounted to nothing less than support for terrorism. And it is these responses, along with the endorsement of Hamas's inclusion in a Palestinian unity government, that have led to the kidnapping of the boys in the West Bank.