Israel’s top-notch cyber intelligence agencies draw a blank in search for teenagers

Israel's major intelligence agencies have brought their nearly unlimited financial and technological resources to bear in the search for the three kidnapped Israeli teenagers, now missing for six days. But the failure of their highly trained best and brightest to pick up a trace of the boys and their abductors points debkafile’s cyber expert away from direct involvement by a major terrorist organization It is far more likely that the kidnapping was the work of an ad-hoc cell with as few as three or four members.

Had a major organization such as Hamas or its military wing the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades itself committed the abduction, Israeli signals intelligence (SIGINT) would have turned up some sort of communication concerning an aspect of the incident – be it organizational, logistic or operational. But a smaller cell would not have to use detectable electronic equipment or send messages to its handlers by routes accessible to eavesdroppers.

In fact, a small team of kidnappers may well have been instructed to dump their phones, sever Internet connections and vanish from the grid.

Every possible tool for tapping into terrorist communications is certainly in place. Four out of Israel's five intelligence agencies – Shin Bet, the Military Intelligence Research Division, Unit 8200, and Mossad – have made locating the missing boys, Gil-Ad Sha’ar, Naftali Frenkel and Eyal Yifrach, their tp[ priority.

Police intelligence and SIGINT departments have also been mobilized.

These agencies are free of the usual strict government budget oversight. They have access to massive financial, manpower and equipment resources and cutting-edge technology. They are able to handpick personnel from young conscripts to the Israeli Defense Forces.

They have also spread out a multilevel eavesdropping net of secure sources, agents and collaborators on the West Bank and Gaza Strip for feeding the latest audio-visual equipment designed to quarry and analyze “Big Data” or even computer-simulated artificial intelligence.

If any chatter was out there hinting at a clue to the kidnapping mystery, they would have pounced on it like a shot.

But those tools have failed to detect any useful leads, any more than the interrogation of hundreds of detainees and the thousands of potential informers and witnesses caught in the widespread net the IDF has cast over the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
There has been no claim of responsibility for the abduction, and the known terror groups have disavowed participation or claimed ignorance. This too bolsters the theory of a small group acting alone, with no organized structure or hierarchy, which can easily stay out of sight.

That those top-notch agencies are looking into the report that the green light for the abduction was encoded in a public speech delivered by Hamas politburo head Khaled Meshaal three weeks ago to the prisoner Hassan Salemeh indicates that they are groping in the dark. That tale rightly belongs on the pages of a spy novel.

Blame for the time lag in starting the search has been widely assigned to the young officer at the Israeli police emergency phone desk,  who dismissed the distress call from one of the captured teens as a prank. The critical five hours before the military was informed gave the kidnappers time enough to have slipped out of Hebron, the West Bank and Israel across the border into Gaza, Jordan, Sinai or even Egypt.

Police Commissioner Yochanan Danino on Wednesday appointed a team of seven officers to establish how this lapse occurred. But it is worth noting that police desks in small places are routinely manned by young recruits, usually around 18, who are chosen because their skills for more demanding duties are below par.
For years, the police have promised to reassess the system and slot in properly trained and competent officers on emergency hotline desks. This tragic error of judgment will no doubt spur a long overdue reform.

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