Initial interrogation of the five detained accomplices of Natash Melhem, the triple Tel Aviv murderer who died in a gunfight Friday, Jan 8, revealed that he was part of an Islamic State cell. He was run to ground after a week by the operations branches of the police and Shin Bet at his home town of Arara in the Wadi Ara district. When called on to surrender, Melhem opened fire and died in a brief gunfight with the Border Police’s Special Anti-Terror unit.
He used the same Specter M4 Falcon submachine gun with which he murdered Alon Bakal and Shimon Revimi outside a Dizengoff café on New Year’s day and the cab driver Amin Sha’aban near the Mandarin hotel in north Tel Aviv an hour later. Five people were arrested as his accomplices. They guarded him in his hideout, brought him food and attended to his other needs.
debkafile’s counterterrorism analyst reports that the full gamut of “signal intelligence” was strained to the limit to locate the fugitive terrorist. It was a blunder by one of Melhem’s close helpers in making a call on the cell phone stolen from the murdered taxi driver that ultimately pinned him down. Meanwhile, human intelligence methods were intensively applied by security service agents who scoured the gunman’s home ground in the Arab Israeli town of Arara and drew up a map of the Melhem clan of thousands, with the help of a DNA sample he left at the scene of the Dizengoff shooting. Its members were gradually cleared of sheltering the fugitive by a painstaking process of elimination, all the while drawing the net closer to their target and his hideout.
It would seem that the police Yamam commando team selected to confront the gunman should have been told to disable him and bring him in, so as to draw out valuable information about additional ISIS cells, and find out who were his controllers in Israel and abroad, his orders, how he was trained, where he obtained his sidearm, how he managed to escape and hide – as well as, possibly, what further attacks he planned, where, how and with which helpers.
Yamam operatives are excellent marksmen. Yet although they won precious seconds to get their aim straight, thanks to the attack dog with them forcing Nashat Melhem to come out in the open, they nonetheless fired at his upper body, head and hand. He died instantly still clutching the Falcon submachine gun that stayed with him all the way from Dizengoff St.
debkafile’s counterterrorism sources report that the operation’s success cannot be rated as complete. Melhem alive would have been a rare source of valuable intelligence on the background of his murderous attack in Tel Aviv. Disabling rather than killing shots might have left a living source of information on what was clearly a meticulously planned terror attack by a gunman with a support team.
This raises a tough question: Why did the superb Yamam marksmen choose to kill him instead of injuring him and taking him alive? Were they acting on orders or did they miss their aim and kill him by mistake?