'IDF raided Jericho jail once foreigners left'
Several days after successful operation to capture Minister Zeevi's killers in Jericho jail, Central Command Chief Naveh briefs cabinet on operation, says army broke into prison immediately after observers saw British, American convoys leaving site to prevent release of wanted terrorists
Central Command Chief Major-General Yair Naveh explained in details during a cabinet meeting on Sunday the unraveling of the Jericho prison raid that led to the surrender and arrest of Minister Rehavam Zeevi's killers.
Naveh explained that only when Israeli observers saw the British and American convoys leave the jail, the green light was given. This, in contrast to Palestinian claims about an alleged cooperation between Israel and the UK.
Naveh also explained that Israel had to operate in a very narrow window of opportunity, both militarily and diplomatically. The quick entry into the area very shortly after the foreign guards left was meant to prevent the release of the wanted men.
That consequently became the base for the swift and decisive operation without any diplomatic pressure on Israel which, in turn, could have required Israel to use force, an act that would have ended in bloodshed.
The green light for the actual preparation for the mission began shortly after the British Foreign Minister sent a latter to the Palestinians on March 8, said Naveh. In that letter the British announced that they're planning on leaving the Jericho jail in 10 days. They also specified two potential dates for their departure, March 11 or March 14. The IDF, the Shin Bet, and the Police prepared accordingly.
Israeli observers were stationed around the prison to keep a watchful eye on a possible unsupervised departure of the foreign guards. Operational forces headed by the Yamam, an elite civilian counter-terrorism unit, approached the area after being stationed that morning near the prison walls and waited for instructions.
"Everything was out in the open without the need for any coordination" said Naveh to the cabinet. "At 8:30 a.m. the observers noticed the first British vehicle leaving, an hour later the rest of the guards left, and then our forces went in and took over the area. At the same time the Armor Corps and other forces encircled the prison."
Tanks fired blanks
An IDF inquiry reveals that as soon as Israeli forces entered the area they encountered gunfire; soldiers returned fire and one Palestinian was killed. During the siege of the prison, tanks fired sound-inducing blanks which cause no casualties or damage. In the first fire exchange soldiers used light weapons and anti-tank missiles. After several hours, 210 prisoners and guards surrendered, and later in the evening hours an additional 80; among them the six wanted men and 33 other people who were wanted by the Shin Bet for questioning.
During the operation, according the IDF inquiry, the Israeli Division and Brigade commanders were in contact with their counterparts, the Palestinian Division and brigade commanders. Naveh reported that the contacts were unsuccessful. "They tried to buy time since the operation caught them by total surprise."
The Palestinian prison warden was instructed by his superior to act as he sees fit. "It was then that they understood that everyone was on his own; that's why they eventually surrendered", reported Naveh.
Referring to the humiliating scene of prisoners and guards coming out of the prison wearing only underwear, the Central Command chief said that the directive was given in order to prevent suicide bombers using explosive belts that may put the Israeli forces in danger.
"Once they started emerging from the prison in groups and the worry of explosive belts was refuted – we allowed them to come out with their cloths on", he said.
"Overall", summed up major-general Naveh, "it was a successful mission that ended earlier than we anticipated."