Saturday night Jan. 2, Israeli police and security services knew everything about the gunman who Friday sprayed automatic bullets on passersby on Tel Aviv’s favorite recreation street, killing two people and injuring eight – except where to find him. They gave his name as Nashat Melhem, 29, from the Israeli Arab village of Ar’arah in the eastern Wadi Ara district.
He was actually filmed in the act of shooting into a milling street crowd outside a Dizengoff café, before getting clean away. The clips were sported by all the media. The Shin Bet internal security service obtained a court gag order for controlling the release of information about the investigation and the related probe into the murder of an Israeli Arab taxi driver, Amin Shaaban, aged 42, an hour after the Dizengoff shooting. His body was found outside the beachside Mandarin hotel in North Tel Aviv.
This led to the inference that Melhem’s murder spree was planned with accomplices and that they or Melhem murdered the cab driver to cover their escape route – possibly to the Palestinian territories by a car parked near the hotel, or even by sea aboard a boat waiting off the nearby beach.
Judging from the information and images released, debkafile’s analysts have reached the following conclusions:
1. Melhem was not a random killer, but a terrorist who planned his attack in detail including his escape..
2. This was no solo operation. This type of modus operandi requires accomplices.
3. Their identities and whereabouts are as deeply mystifying as his.
4. His family’s attempts to depict the gunman as disturbed and unstable don’t detract from the stark fact that he was responsible for the first undoubted Islamic State terror attack on the most popular high street in Israel, trendy Dizengoff. Like the jihadist killers in Tunis, France and San Bernardino, California, Melhem did not wait for direct orders from Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to kill Jews: He was inspired by al-Baghdadi’s ideology.
5. The Tel Aviv attack had all the hallmarks of the outrages the Islamic State perpetrated in France in recent years – e.g., the 2012 murder by Mohammed Merah of four Jews in Toulouse; the atrocity of Yassin Salhi who displayed his boss’s severed head on the fence of an American gas factory (and this week took is own life in a French prison); and the Nov. 13 massacre of 130 victims n Paris.
French intelligence and security services had all these perpetrators on their watch lists at some time before they committed their acts of terror, but found their hands tied for apprehending the killers in time to stop them.
6. Israeli security and intelligence services appear to be in a similar situation to their French counterparts. They too knew enough about Nashat Melhem to appreciate that he needed holding in check, but did nothing about it.
7. For his escape, Melhem or his backers may have studied the tricks of the notorious female terrorist Hayat Boumeddiene, who helped plan the deadly attacks at the Charlie Hebdo Paris office and the kosher market before escaping to Syria via Turkey and announcing she had reached her destination with the Islamic State forces.
8. Israeli authorities come up against the first almost certain ISIS attack in Tel Aviv, while yet unable to figure out how to extinguish the wave of Palestinian terror, which has surged since September – with daily stabbings, motor, shooting and other attacks – but dates back in fact to June 2014, when Hamas terrorists murdered the three Israeli teens, Gil-ad Shaar, Naftali Frenkel and Eyal Yifrah, after snatching them at the Gush Etzion intersection.
9. The panicky response to the Tel Aviv shooting was evidence of bewilderment. Instead of a disciplined pursuit of the killer, a disorderly pack of hundreds of security officers with drawn guns raced through Dizengoff, Raines and Spinoza streets with their weapons drawn, followed by crowds of photographers and onlookers.
It took much too long for authority to take charge, and meanwhile the shooter made good his escape.