The Wadi Ara Taxi Bombing Was Preventable
The Wadi Ara Highway Thursday March 1, in which Claude Kanfu, 27, an instructor for the blind, was killed and 9 people were injured including the terrorists, might possibly have been pre-empted had Israel’s Shin Beit Security service performed as well as necessary and enjoyed better rapport with the police. In two previous terrorist incidents, the police were caught off guard. Therefore, the security service decided this time to manage the operation on its own – from first to last. One disaster, the bombing in Tel Aviv was successfully pre-empted; the highway explosion was not.
The first alarm was sounded Wednesday night around 6 pm, when a group of three Palestinian terrorists who had been under Shit Beit observation for some weeks was sighted loitering outside Dizengoff Center in Tel Aviv checking the entrances to the shops. They all carried cell phones. Earlier that afternoon, they were seen entering a Holon apartment they had been using that belonged to a girl with whom one of them was having an affair. They carried two large bags, suspected of holding explosive materials. The girl, who was detained Wednesday for questioning, is still a mystery: she may be under suspicion for operationally abetting the terrorists. But she may also have cooperated with the Shin Beth to catch the group.
For some reason, the three Palestinians decided against planting either bag in the Dizengoff Center mall; perhaps they sensed the watchers and changed their plan. They proceeded to hide one bag in the back yard of a house in the neighboring Bograshov Street, then hailed a taxi from the corner of King George and Bograshov Streets.
The Shin Beit surveillance team split up – one to keep an eye on the hidden bag, the others to follow the three Palestinians, who alighted at Allenby corner of Montefiore and walked confidently into a fast food restaurant. They seemed to know exactly where they were going. According to one witness, a girl was with them. The agents followed them in. Both groups ordered and consumed a meal. The Palestinians paid and walked out leaving the bag under their table. They were followed by the Israeli agents, except for one, who stayed briefly to alert the restaurant owner about the bag and make sure he called the police, before joining his partners.
This is the point at which the agents would normally have handed over to the police. Not this time. Their operations officers ordered them to carry on alone in view of the lessons drawn from previous incidents – most recently the Netanya bomb outrage in early February. Then, the Shin Beit alerted the police with a full description of a suspicious car parked in the town’s main street. The three terrorists in the car were faster than the police; before they turned round, the bomb went off and the bombers escaped the scene. The police neglected to block the escape route and their pursuit cars, aided by a helicopter, failed to catch the bombers before they disappeared in Palestinian Authority areas, either Kalkilya or Tulcarm.
Harsh words passed between the two services: the police, which is responsible for counter-terrorism in Israel proper, was accused of falling down on the job because its separate districts are not organized to handle a fast pursuit operation cutting through different districts. The Shin Beit demanded that every police district post a special rapid deployment force on round the clock duty. This the police command promised but never implemented, presumably for insufficient funds and manpower.
Consequently, the police were caught napping again when a bus plowed into a group of soldiers waiting for a lift, killing eight. Then too, the rundown bus driven by the killer managed to put 35 km between himself and the scene of the attack before a local force caught up. But even then, the bus would have eluded capture were it not for a resourceful taxi driver who stayed on the rogue bus’s tail.
This time, the Shin Beit were determined to keep the police out of their operation.
Thursday morning, after the failed strike in the Tel Aviv restaurant, the Palestinian trio returned to Dizengoff Center. This time they looked round nervously, apparently conscious of observation. The leader collected the second bag of explosives and headed north to Hadera, One version is that they took a taxi, another that they were driven by an Arab living in Jaffa who was later arrested as their suspected accomplice. The Shin Beit was behind them.
In Hadera they boarded a collective taxi van bound for Nazareth. An elite counter-terrorist squad was staked out at a roadblock on the Umm Fahm junction on the Wadi Ara highway, with orders to stop the van and pick up the Palestinian terrorists.
When the bombers spotted the roadblock ahead, one of the three pulled out a pistol and ordered the drive to step on the gas and crash the roadblock. The driver out of fright hit the brakes and the van drew to a halt. It was immediately surrounded by Shin Beit agents.
As soon as one of them made a move, the explosion occurred, blowing both legs off the lead-bomber. It is not clear who detonated the explosives, which were meant to bring death to a crowd center in the northern town of Nazareth, the lead-bomber or one of his accomplices who was seen using a cell phone when the explosion occurred.
One question now is why did not the Shin Beit detain the bombers on Thursday morning when they came to collect the hidden bomb? Perhaps they hoped for a lead to the head of the squad or other members when one of them used his cell phone. The other question is why did the agents not disarm the hidden bomb after the terrorists left, to spend the night in Holon?