Modiin, Israel – As elite IDF units continue to comb the length and breadth of Judea, Samaria and Palestinian Authority-controlled areas in the West Bank searching for the kidnapped Mekor Haim Yeshiva High School students – 19-year-old Eyal Yifrach and Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frankel (some news outlets are spelling the name “Frenkel”), both 16 – Israeli officials seem to be stymied by an apparent lack of communication between the kidnappers and the Israeli security apparatus. The three teens are believed to have been abducted near Alon Shvut in the Gush Etzion area last week.
As of Tuesday afternoon, there were no ransom demands or videos claiming responsibility for the abduction.
Israeli TV news reports speculated that the kidnapping was probably carried out by a Hamas unit operating in the Hebron region but without the authorization of the main Hamas leadership in Gaza. Hamas leaders in Gaza were quick to announce the abduction of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit but were caught off guard by the latest West Bank incident, as Gaza’s leaders first denied their involvement but then threw their support behind the abduction without revealing any information concerning who was involved.
(Meanwhile, Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror units fired rockets at several Israeli cities during the past few days, eliciting an aerial bombardment by the Israel Air Force, which attacked numerous terror targets across Gaza.)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon warned that Israel is preparing a harsh response against Hamas and other terror organizations in the West Bank, Gaza and beyond in order to smash terrorist infrastructures in the region. The IDF is also facing a growing threat from Hizbullah and al Qaeda groups operating across the border in Syria, Lebanon and Egypt. Hundreds of Hamas politicians and activists have been rounded up and jailed by Border Police and IDF units throughout the West Bank over the past week.
If the abductors’ goal was to force Israeli authorities to release long-serving Palestinian prisoners, the effort backfired as Israeli forces are quickly rolling up what was left of Hamas in the West Bank and are reportedly contemplating the overthrow of the Hamas leadership in Gaza should harm come to the three teenagers.
The latest round of violence against Israeli citizens began nearly a month and a half ago when unknown assailants murdered 19-year-old Shelly Dadon in Migdal HaEmek. While the Israel Police and Shin Bet initially announced that they were closing in on one or more suspects, Dadon’s parents claimed that the police had few clues to go on. However, the Israel Police on Monday slapped a gag order on the media after it announced again that it was “close to solving the case.”
The Israel Police came under fire after it was reported that a young dispatcher, who was doing Sherut Leumi (National Service), received a phone call from one of the missing teenagers shortly after the ordeal began. But a police supervisor reportedly told the dispatcher the call shouldn’t be taken seriously. Only after the teens’ parents notified police that their children were missing did police intelligence pass on the information to the Shin Bet and IDF. The failure to communicate a possible kidnapping gave the kidnappers a six-hour head start, which, according to several police and intelligence experts, amounted to a potentially fatal failure on the part of the police supervisor.
Throughout their ordeal, the parents of the three teenagers – who hail from Elad (near Petach Tikva), Talmon (east of Modiin), and Nof Ayalon (near Modiin) – have conducted themselves with dignity, faith and love in the face of the media onslaught.
The Frankel family, which made aliyah from New York nearly 20 years ago, praised Naftali as “an amazing and sweet kid, a combination of serious and fun.” His mother, Racheli, said, “All the work that is being done by the Israeli security forces, the support of the American embassy in Tel Aviv, and the waves of prayers and support – we just request that this continue.”
According to his aunt, Naftali was heading home a week ago Thursday evening in order to study for an end-of-school-year biology exam. She said, “We feel like we’ve been receiving a big hug from everyone. I know that everyone is doing everything possible in Israel and outside. It’s a big help.”
Nof Ayalon is a religious, agricultural yishuv that is home to more than 400 families and is located amid the pastoral beauty of the biblical Ayalon Valley. A resident who sits on the local town council told Israeli television, “As a rule this is a quiet, close-knit community that doesn’t seek any kind of publicity whatsoever. However, we are now obligated to show the world who we are and the kinds of people who live here. The residents of Nof Ayalon are providing round-the-clock support to the Frankel family.”
On Tuesday the families met at the Frankel home in Nof Ayalon for the first time since the abduction. During their meeting, Netanyahu told them by phone, “We’re doing everything in order to find Eyal, Gilad and Naftali. In the field, we’re making a tremendous operational and intelligence effort for this purpose. In the name of Israel’s citizens, I would like to strengthen your spirits.”
Meanwhile, Jews around the world have been conducting prayer vigils for the three missing teenagers in synagogues, schools and community centers.
Last Sunday Israeli actress Moran Atias, who splits her time between the U.S. and Israel, staged an impromptu protest in Manhattan. Atias stood in the middle of Times Square holding up a handmade placard seeking to rally support for the teenagers. A video of her protest showed passersby paying little attention. But Jewish and non-Jewish social media activists, through Facebook and other social media networks, have been successful in securing people from all walks of life to help keep the teenagers’ plight in the forefront of public attention.
The debate over whether young Israelis should be hitchhiking at any hour of the day (the three teens were hitchhiking their way from Gush Etzion back to their homes in Central Israel when they were abducted) has prompted an Israeli start-up company, NowForce, to upgrade an emergency app that allows users to alert authorities in real time in cases of attempted kidnappings.
The NowForce app features an SOS button. When a user presses it, the NowForce reporting center alerts responders in the area – police, local security officials, and United Hatzalah – to an emergency. The state-of-the-art app displays a map showing where the reported incident occurred and information on how to travel to the site. A version of NowForce’s emergency response software is already being used by first responders in several U.S. towns and cities.
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