Over the weekend it appeared that an Israeli official conceded something very valuable to Hamas. A BBC reporter in Israel tweeted out comments from the spokesman for Israel’s national police who allegedly said Hamas was not behind the kidnapping and murder last month of three Israeli teens on the West Bank, an incident that was the spark for the current war in Gaza.
Prime Minister Netanyahu had promised that Hamas would pay for the murder of Naftali Fraenkel, Eyal Yifrach, and Gilad Shaar. But on Friday, Jon Donnison, a BBC reporter, citing the the spokesman, Mickey Rosenfeld, called Israel’s claim that Hamas was responsible into question.
Donnison tweeted that Rosenfeld told him that while the cell on the West Bank was operating alone, it was affiliated with Hamas. However, it did not receive direct orders from Hamas leadership.
Those tweets became the basis for a widely shared blog post saying Israel now conceded that the kidnappers acted in a lone cell and Hamas had nothing to do with it.
The twittersphere exploded with I-told-you-so’s from pro-Palestinian activists, who claimed Israel had manipulated events surrounding the killing of the teens to prepare for and justify its assault on Gaza, which has since killed more than 1,000 Palestinians.
But when reached by The Daily Beast on Sunday, Rosenfeld said that he had told Donnison what the Israeli government had been saying all along. “The kidnapping and murder of the teens was carried out by Hamas terrorists from the Hebron area,” he told The Daily Beast. “The security organizations are continuing to search for the murderers.”
Donnison on Saturday said he stood by his earlier tweets.
While Hamas has encouraged kidnappings in the past and praised the kidnapping of Naftali Fraenkel, Eyal Yifrach, and Gilad Shaar, their leaders have also denied any responsibility for it. But Israeli officials reached by The Daily Beast say they still are searching for Amer abu Aysha and Marwan Qawasmeh, the two suspects in the kidnappings and murders of the three boys last month. Israeli authorities still consider Abu Aysha and Qawasmeh to be Hamas terrorists, they said.
At issue is whether or not the two Hamas suspects were acting on orders from the group’s Gaza leadership. To date no Israeli officials have asserted that.
“Hamas is fractured and it is even more so in the West Bank where they have been given no quarter by the Palestinian security forces,” said Jonathan Schanzer, the vice president for research at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. “So they have been operating underground in cells that may not even communicate with one another. The idea that you might have an independent cell carry out an attack without communicating with the Gaza leadership is within the realm of the possibility.”
The Daily Beast reported earlier this month that Israelis remain interested in the role of Saleh al-Arouri, a Hamas operative based in Turkey and who is seen as a key financier and logistics coordinator for the group's activities in the West Bank.
“Al-Arouri is the founder of the Qassam brigades in the West Bank,” Schanzer said. “He is based in Turkey and is believed to be a focal point for logistics, finance and operations in the West Bank. He has been a primary suspect in the kidnapping of these teens.”