Niv Asraf, suspected of faking his kidnapping last week in the West Bank, held a press conference outside his Be'er Sheva home on Monday, stating that he would have made contact had he known there was a massive manhunt for him underway.
"If I had seen all the chaos, believe me, I wouldn't have done it," he said, adding that was sorry for the incident. "I didn't plan for this. If I had known it would be considered a kidnapping, I never would have done it. No one told me what was happening outside. I was isolated... I don't know how many hours I was there. I know I was in a bush and preferred to freeze than to be found."
He dismissed speculations that the hoax was related to a breakup. "You don't do something like this after a month and a half," he said. "I have lots of girls."
Motti Yosef, Asraf's attorney, said police had attempted to make Asraf an undercover agent against his will after he complained of receiving threats from people he owed money to. According to Asraf, he received a threatening phone call and decided spontaneously to disappear. "These are people you don't mess around with," he said.
"They forced me to use my money until they put me in a hole, and the police know that," Asraf said about the millions of shekels in gambling debts he claims he accumulated. "I was scared to even go out to the backyard. I hope I'm forgiven. It's up to every soldier who went searching for me to forgive me or not. My goal was for the police to help me, to put two and two together and check where I'd gone. I prefer to be the most hated person in Israel than for my father to mourn me."
Asraf said he did not take his cell phone with him because he didn't want to be found. He claimed that he had not brought a sleeping bag, contrary to police and IDF reports, and said he slept on two shirts. "I didn't get a response from the police and wanted to send a message that if something happens to me, they'll put two and two together.
"I thought the officer and detective who spoke with me would understand what happened. The police confirmed that it was contacted. I decided to escape to Hebron and Kiryat Arba because it's a Jewish area. I told my friend that I was going to disappear because of the criminals. If he had known people thought it was a kidnapping they would have found me in 20 minutes. The police have known about what happened to me for four weeks."
Asraf claimed that his friend Eran Nagauker, who notified the police about the "disappearance", knew his location but was unaware of the massive search. "Eran didn't know, he didn't know. He was isolated in a Shin Bet interrogation room for eight hours. My father begged to see him. I served in Hebron, and if I wanted to stage a kidnapping, I wouldn't do it there."
A spokesman for the Negev District Police denied the "baseless" claims that Asraf had complained about being threatened multiple times. He also declined to address the issue of whether Asraf wanted to work as an agent, saying the matter was private and confidential.
Jerusalem Magistrate's Court on Monday ordered the conditional release of Asraf and Nagauker.
They are suspected of conspiracy to commit a crime, fabricating evidence, obstruction of justice, disturbing the peace and obstruction of a law enforcement officer.
Judge Chen Avital ruled that each will be required to deposit NIS 3,000 in cash and sign a bail agreement of NIS 10,000.
Israeli security forces were first alerted to Asraf's disappearance on Thursday, when Nagauker called the police at around 4pm, saying the two had become stranded with a flat tire on their way to pray at the Cave of the Patriarchs. Nagauker said Asraf went to find tools to replace the tire but never returned.
But when the IDF arrived at the scene, troops found no flat tires and after determining there were holes in Nagauker's story, he was taken for questioning. Asraf was located hours later in a nearby wadi, equipped with a sleeping bag and canned food.
The police had asked the court to release the two to house arrest for one week, and ban them from the West Bank for three months. The judge ruled that they could be released under those restrictions, and also barred them from leaving the country until May 6.