Israel catches up with remaining escapees in prison breakout fiasco
While the first half of this drama seemed like Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s worst nightmare, its second half and ending was a dream come true for the Prime Minister and his fragile coalition government. After the fiasco of the September 6 escape of six Palestinian inmates from Israel’s most secure prison, Gilboa, which threatened the fragile foundations of Bennett’s coalition, the Israeli security forces managed to restore their prestige with a impressive two-week manhunt that culminated on September 18 with the successful capture of the last two escapees. All six, including former Fatah leader in Jenin refugee camp, Zakaria Zubeidi, were arrested – two on September 10, two on September 11 and the last two on September 18 – without a drop of blood does not flow on either side. . Bennett’s sigh of relief seemed to echo from Jerusalem to Ramallah.
In the days following the daring escape, some in Israel feared that Zubeidi would become a Che Guevara-style folk hero and unleash Palestinian violence in the West Bank and Gaza. There were concerns that the escapees would manage to reach Lebanon and connect with Hezbollah or enter Jordan and plot to destabilize King Abdullah’s reign. Speculation about their capture did not bode well either. They were supposed to be armed and ready to fight to the death Israeli soldiers, security services and counterterrorism police units. Such an event, according to experts, could turn into a bloodbath and a third intifada and turn the escapees into martyrs whose heroic deaths would set the region on fire.
Their capture was far from won in advance. “Such an event is not a reality show,” a senior Israeli security official told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. âIt was a detailed and meticulous operation involving many participants, with intelligence flowing in from the Shin Bet and [military intelligenceÂ unit] 8200 “and the hard work of the military and police counterterrorism teams. For us, it ended in the best possible way, but we can’t rest on our laurels, next time it could end a lot worse.
According to the Shin Bet, one of the last two escapees had achieved Israel’s worst-case scenario by reaching the Jenin refugee camp, which is run by hundreds of armed Palestinians who do not respond to anyone, a place that even Palestinian Authority security forces refuse. enter. The escape and rumors reinforced the camp’s image as a symbol and hub of the Palestinian struggle. Armed camp militants last month opened fire on PA security forces and local gangs brazenly declared they were ready and waiting for the Israel Defense Forces, daring them to enter the camp. and meet death there.
But then something strange happened. In addition to information indicating that the second escapee had also reached the camp, it turned out that the two men had left the overcrowded camp and went to a refuge about a kilometer away in the eastern part of Jenin. “It still doesn’t mean we can expect a picnic,” a high-level intelligence source told Al-Monitor a few days ago on condition of anonymity. âBut this is not the refugee camp. Their reason for moving away from the relative safety of the camp is still unclear, but the security source suggested that “maybe they decided to stay alive.”
There is no doubt that the couple who barricaded themselves in the refugee camp would have resulted in a shootout, likely with casualties on both sides and the escapees most likely ending in death. Such an event, as many have speculated, would have had explosive repercussions. Instead, the operation was completed in less than an hour. Tactical police units surrounded the hideout, supported by the Shin Bet operations unit, IDF troops and air cover in an operation known in IDF parlance as the “pressure cooker” – isolating a structure to ensure that no one can escape the cord.
Just minutes after the troops used megaphones to call the escapees out, the two emerged with their hands in the air. Less than an hour later, all vestiges of Israel’s armed presence in Jenin were gone. The armed residents of the Jenin camp, who had bragged for weeks about being ready to confront the IDF, barely sought to engage the Israelis, and the whole event that threatened to unleash widespread violence was over.
What started out as a nightmare has had a relatively happy ending and has once again shown that the West Bank is perhaps the most heavily guarded area in the world. With this unprecedented success, the Israeli intelligence forces proved their full control of the region. In Gaza, Israel’s ability to recruit human intelligence sources is limited compared to the West Bank.
Success, however, doesn’t mean everything else will be rosy. Gaza’s cauldron continues to boil and threatens to overflow. While the inmate escape did not start a widespread fire, it also did not extinguish the potential for a fire. A clash with Gaza seems inevitable given the 10 million shekels ($ 3.1 million) in financial aid from Qatar that Israel insists on denying Hamas every month. The sum represents about a third of Qatar’s total monthly aid to needy Gaza residents, which is intended to pay the salaries of Hamas employees. So far, all efforts to find a solution to ensure that the money is not used for the military reinforcement of Hamas have failed. Bennett has so far refused to revert to the old method of delivering cash.
On the eve of Succoth’s vacation, Bennett can breathe a sigh of relief, but as always, his reprieve is temporary. He is leading a race against the political clock as well as the Gaza time bomb. Will Bennett make a concession allowing Qatari funds to directly reach Hamas, which humiliates him in front of the political right before November, when the Knesset must give its final approval to the state budget? Can Bennett afford one more clash with Gaza ahead of the budget vote, crucial to the survival of his government and dependent on the support of his Arab Islamist government partner, Ra’am?