What’s happened: The final two escapees from the Gilboa Prison were caught early Sunday morning.
- Iham Kamamji and Munadil Nafiyat were captured alive after security forces surrounded their hideout in the city of Jenin in the West Bank.
- The mission to find the remaining two prisoners was a joint operation by the IDF, Shin Bet Security Service and the Israeli Police Counter Terrorism Unit (“Yamam”). In a deliberate ploy the IDF sent forces in Jenin refugee camp to create a diversion and sealed the access road preventing armed men from reaching the scene.
- As the forces left, several riots broke out in several locations across the city. Rioters hurled rocks and improvised explosive devices toward the forces, and there were exchanges of live fire, but no injuries were reported.
- Along with the escaped prisoners, two other men who helped them were also arrested. All four were taken in for questioning.
- Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai said: “From the time of the escape the Israel Police have been collaborating with other security organisations. Thanks to this outstanding collaboration among all the police, the Shin Bet and the IDF we’ve managed to close this circle. The more time that went by the surer we became that they were in Jenin.”
- Two weeks after the prison break, all six fugitives have now been caught. Nine days ago, Zakaria Zubeidi and Mohammed al-Arida were found in the village of Umm el-Ghanem, in northern Israel. Similarly Mahmoud al-Arida and Yaqoub Qadiri were found and captured in Nazareth.
Context: Credit for the successful recapture of the prisoners is largely due to the intelligence capacity of the Shin Bet, combining human intel on the ground along with technological capabilities.
- Already at the end of last week intelligence had concluded that the last two fugitives were hiding in the Jenin area. Their relocation to a safe house outside the refugee camp made it easier for security forces to capture them.
- The successful re-arrests, without any injuries and fatalities, is probably the best-case scenario that Israel could have hoped for following the embarrassing series of errors that led to their escape.
- The profile of the escaped prisoners is an example of the interconnectivity between security prisoners and terrorist in Gaza and the West Bank and their status in Palestinian society. The two weeks they were at-large coincided with an uptick of stabbing attacks and attempted attacks. According to security analyst Amos Harel, writing in Haaretz, “we can reasonably assume that the six will remain heroes in the eyes of the Palestinians, but there is no question that had they become dead heroes, martyrs, the damage that would have been done by their deeds would have been far greater.”
- Last week more details emerged of the escape. According to the lawyer of Mahmud al-Arida, considered the architect of the escape, the six prisoners started to dig the tunnel in December using spoons, plates, and the handle of a kettle.
- Munadil Nafiyat, who was rearrested in Jenin, had been in the advanced stages of talks to reach a plea bargain agreement before he escaped. Had the plea bargain agreement been reached, he would have been released within a few months. Nafiyat, was released from prison as part of the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange deal, but had been rearrested and charged on two counts of arms smuggling.
Looking ahead: The successful capture means that the road blocks across the north have been removed and life can return to normal ahead of the Succot festival that begins tonight.
- Despite the operational success in recapturing the escapees Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev is still intent on setting up a governmental commission of inquiry. He is expected to seek cabinet approval in the next few days.
- In response to their recapture, a Hamas spokesperson said that they would be placed at the top of the list of prisoners whose release would be demanded in any future prisoner exchange deal.