IDF forces outside house where suspects were
IDF forces outside house where suspects wereIDF Spokesperson

A former senior intelligence official involved in the hunt for the Hamas terrorists who kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teens in June has recounted to Arutz Sheva some of the behind-the-scenes work which ended in the elimination of the killers early Tuesday morning.

Ehud Yatom is a former senior agent in the Shabak (Shin Bet) internal security service, which provided the key intelligence which guided a joint IDF and Yamam police special forces team to the Hevron compound where Marwan Kawasmeh and Amer Abu-Eisha had barricaded themselves, together with a significant stash of arms.

"From the moment the kidnapping took place" an intensive intelligence operation was launched, involving "hundreds and thousands of people", said Yatom. That effort would have involved human as well as electronic intelligence, he added.

"From the start it was clear who the suspects were, and a dragnet was put in place" to ensure they could not flee the area, he continued, though he refrained from going into precise details.

The suspected mastermind of the kidnapping, Hussam Kawasmeh, was arrested by police as he prepared to flee the country to Jordan. Other suspects would likely have attempted the same if they could, but security services were remarkably efficient at preventing them from doing so - meaning it was just a matter of time before they were captured.

Intelligence agents worked "day and night" to locate the prime suspects, honing in first on peripheral accomplices and then drawing ever closer to the murderers themselves.

Yatom said the investigation was exceptionally intense, and focused first on Kawasmeh and Abu Eisha's immediate circles. The moment it became clear the notorious Kawasmeh clan was involved - with its deep roots in Hamas's network in the Hevron area - authorities already had a good idea of where to begin looking.

But even with all the leads and information available, intelligence services were placing their hopes on a single mistake by one of the suspects or their accomplices. Once they slipped up - as they inevitably would - agents would need to act quickly, efficiently and effectively to capitalize on their error.

"Even with targeted killings of Hamas leaders, as was the case during (Operation) Protective Edge, human errors frequently occur," he noted.

The case at hand involved three major players: Hussam Kawasmeh, the mastermind, who was "isolated in a secret location"; and the two kidnappers Marwan Kawasmeh and Amar Abu-Eisha. All the intelligence services needed was one mistake from any of them to reel them in.

But there would be no second chances, and Yatom - who himself was involved in operations to capture or kill major terror suspects - recounted how the fear of missing such a crucial moment constantly plagues investigators.

"A mistake like that does not happen twice. It could occur (at any time) - in the middle of the day or at night - and if your senses are not sharp at that very moment you could miss the opportunity."

The moment is so crucial that operatives would have to act immediately on intelligence, even without informing their superiors, Yatom said.

"Here something terrible happened with the kidnap and murder. You don't need permission from the leadership of the Shabak or Yamam (police counter-terrorism force). Even if the prime minister doesn't answer the telephone you carry out the arrest operation."