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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Soldier Tomer Hazan kidnapped and killed in West Bank: Shin Bet's race against time

Intensive Shin Bet intelligence efforts led to the dramatic investigation late Friday night into the abduction and murder of Sergeant Tomer Hazan from Bat Yam by Nidal Amar from the Palestinian village of Beit Amin, who worked with him at an Israeli restaurant. 

Shin Bet officials, including the organization's director Yoram Cohen, took part in the operation to find Hazan, knowing that time was crucial in preventing past scenarios from occuring again.

The entire Shin Bet establishment took part in the investigation, which began 10 pm Friday when the first report regarding the kidnapping of an IDF soldier was received.
A preliminary investigation revealed that this case, unlike many other similar reports, was true. Within minutes, the entire security establishment was set into emergency mode, and a special command center that was opened in Tel Aviv was soon joined by another war room in the vicinity of the village of Beit Amin in the West Bank.
Senior Shin Bet officials, including director Yoram Cohen, took part in the efforts, all with one clear goal: To reach the missing soldier, as soon as possible, out of fear that if it takes hours or days for him to be found, the hijackers would have succeeded in their primary goal – isolating the soldier, dead or alive, and thus guaranteeing the launch of negotiations for his return to Israel.

For this reason, Nidal, possibly with the help of additional partners, chose a good hiding place for the body: A 7-meter-deep (22 feet) well in a rocky and uncultivated field north of his village. After he murdered Hazan, in the vicinity of where the body was found, he threw the body into the pit. The murder weapon has yet to be found.

Murdered, then went to bed

Initial estimates within the security establishment point to the murder taking place Friday night. The meaning: The terrorist carried out his plan and returned to his home in Beit Amin for the night. At the same time, unprecedented intelligence efforts led the Shin Bet to conclude that the abduction was carried out in the area of Beit Amin, and at about 4 am a crucial lead in the case was received: Nidal Amar drove with Hazan to the same area 24 hours earlier.

In the war room near the village, Judea and Samaria Brigade Commander Brig.-Gen. Tamir Yadai ordered special police forces to immediately head to Amar's home. He was pulled out of the house without any objection, together with his brothers, in a joint Shin Bet-IDF operation.

In order to solve the case, the defense establishment used a variety of intelligence tools, including drones that were persistently in the air and surveillance measures on the ground.

On Saturday morning, Nidal confessed to the murder of Hazan, and said he had done so in order to release his brother, who has been imprisoned in Israeli jail. The brother, Nur a-Din Amar, a former Tanzim activist, has been in prison for 10 years for placing explosives and planning a suicide attack. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Nidal agreed to take special IDF forces to the well in which he left the body, where it was indeed found and identified at 11:30 am. The Israeli Air Force was called to the scene in order to remove the body.

Thus, while understanding that time was of the essence, the operation to find Sgt. Tomer Hazan was concluded. Among the questions that remain unanswered and will be investigated in the next few days: What made Hazan follow Nidal to a Palestinian village in the middle of night, and whether Nidal's imprisoned brother had taken any part in the planning of this act.

This incident joins dozens of kidnapping attempts  in the West Bank in the past year.

Despite the lock down imposed on Beit Amin and nearby villages, the Shin Bet invested heavily in providing complete secrecy for the operation. Thus, unusually, the most serious event to take place in the West Bank in recent years was not even published in Palestinian media until Saturday noon. The raid on Amar's home was carried out after the forces prepared for any possible scenario,.

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