As IDF soldiers continued the largest manhunt in Israeli history Monday, there are more questions about the abduction of Eyal Yifrah, Gil-Ad Shayer and Naftali Frenkel than answers. Could there be a relationship to recent gains by global jihad groups? What will the effect of the current crisis be on the Palestinian Unity Government?
The Jewish Press spoke to Dr. Moshe Maoz, professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for an exclusive view on the current crisis.
JP: Is it possible that there is a connection between the recent ISIS victories in Iraq and Syria, and the current abduction crisis Israel is now facing?
MM: I don’t know if there is a direct connection. But these groups certainly draw strength and inspiration from the abduction. Look, there is no question that extremist groups are gaining strength around the region – in Syria and Iraq, as you know, but also in Turkey, Lebanon, and even inside Israel and the Golan Heights. So whoever is responsible for kidnapping the boys, it is certainly an additional ‘shot in the arm’ for groups like al-Qaeda and the ISIS.
That sounds like you aren’t sure this was done by Hamas.
Look, this is the Middle East. Anything could be. There are certainly strong reasons to suspect Hamas – who kidnapped Gilad Shalit? And not only Gilad Shalit: Since the Shalit deal, they have been threatening and promising to kidnap more Israelis. On the other hand, no organization has taken responsibility for the abduction, and that is not typical of Hamas.
So what are some other possibilities?
There are almost endless possibilities. The attack could have been carried out by a Hamas splinter faction, looking to torpedo the unity deal with the Palestinian Authority. It could well be an al-Qaeda cell operating in Judea and Samaria. Don’t forget, that’s what happened in Iraq and Syria – eventually, the “real” Muslim extremists joined al-Qaeda, and even more extreme groups. This possibility is very bad for Israel. There are levels of extremism amongst radical Islam
There’s even a possibility that an unaffiliated group kidnapped the kids, just to hurt Israel. At the same, one thing is pretty clear: the operation was sophisticated and well-thought out. They needed to prepare hideaways, escape routes and more.
What are the implications of the abduction for internal Palestinian politics?
That’s a good quesiton. I’d say it was almost certainly carried out by a one or another Palestinian group. The question, then, is whether they did this to break up the Palestinian Unity Government, or to create a wave of Palestinian solidarity against Israel.
You’ve got to remember: For Palestinians, the issue of prisoners in Israeli jails is huge. It is a national issue, not just a Hamas one.” We’ve all read about the prisoners who are hunger striking – some of these people are administrative detainees, who haven’t been charged or tried.
We have been reading warnings about a third “intifada” for years. Could we be looking at the opening shots of that war?
Absolutely. You’ve got to understand Palestinian society a little bit. People are already frustrated, by the failure of the peace process, by the failure to win the release of prisoners in Israeli jails, by ongoing restrictions to freedom of movement. It’s an issue that creates a remarkable type of social cohesion.
It is obviously not the same situation, but I was a member of the Etzel (pre-state militia, called the Irgun Zvai Leumi, or national military organization, led by Menachem Begin). At that time, the British took so many of us hostage that it created a terrific sense of solidarity. To a large degree, that’s the way they view us.
So you have to be careful. You can’t let an incident like this go unnoticed, but you’ve got to be careful. Remember, many Palestinians already feel hopeless. If Israel’s response is too harsh, it could certainly push the society over an edge that would not be good, for us or for them.