Hours before attack: Nearby base evacuated
Just a few hours before tank position came under attack Sunday, army evacuates soldiers from nearby base fearing Palestinians dug a tunnel under it, plotting to carry out attack, Ynet learns. Also, why did reinforcement units fail to reach scene faster to intercept terrorists?
Ynet learned that between Saturday night and Sunday morning, the army evacuated soldiers from a post next to the Sufa crossing, about one kilometer away from the site of Sunday’s attack. The post was occupied by soldiers from a desert reconnaissance regiment, whose job was to secure the crossing and thwart infiltrators attempts to enter Israel from Gaza. Fearing a large-scale attack, similar to the one leveled against a Bedouin reconnaissance regiment half a year ago, in which a massive device detonated in a tunnel under an army base killed five soldiers, the army decided not to take any chances in letting the base become a target.
Army sources explained that, “owing to warnings in the area, it was decided to transfer the soldiers to carry out their mission at an alternate location to reduce the threat to the troops.” The base was in the scope of the territory included in the Shin Bet’s warning of an impending attack effort using an underground tunnel.
Meanwhile, the IDF continued digging near the evacuated post to locate the tunnel they feared was being dug there. Until the excavation is completed, the army is tightly guarding the area and forbidding anyone from entering it.
IDF officials said that the tank that was targeted in Sunday’s attack had only recently been stationed there in an effort to prevent terrorists from infiltrating through a tunnel, or any other way, to the Kerem Shalom kibbutz. According to assessments, it was possible that a security mishap in the area resulted in the difficult episode – as if another tank was stationed within eye contact of the first tank position, the attack could have been thwarted, or could have ended differently.
“In every briefing we were prepared for the possibility of an attack, including with the use of a tunnel. They said we should pay attention to what was happening behind us, in case there was a tunnel there,” said soldiers from the Mahatz company of the Reshef tank brigade.
Could attack have been prevented?
Sunday morning's attack along the border of the Gaza Strip amounts to the army's worst case scenario. In light of past experiences along the Gaza border and the announcement that the kidnapping is considered of high standards by terror groups, it could have been possible to know how to deal with it better.
After Israel pulled settlers and troops from the Gaza Strip last August, the IDF Southern Command expressed satisfaction with its redeployment along the border.
Since the pullout, the army foiled numerous attempts by terrorists to cross the border. While efforts are focused on releasing the kidnapped soldier, the IDF will have to answer serious questions about the incident: Was the IDF prepared for a kidnapping attack? Were soldiers aware that the army received warnings of attacks in Kerem Shalom? Why was communication between soldiers in the tank and colleagues in the outposts lost? Why weren't reinforcement troops sent to the scene faster?
The IDF has two options: Wait for diplomatic efforts to bear fruits and lead to the soldier's release or launch a rescue offensive.
The second option is charged with risk and requires pinpoint intelligence that can lead special forces to the kidnappers' hideout.
Military sources said a rescue operation is not in the cards so long as the required intelligence is lacking.