JERUSALEM — Police in the north were intensifying their searches this week for two teenagers, both American Jews, who have been missing since last week.
One of the missing teens, Eliezer Zussiya Klughoft, 19, is the grandson of a chasidic leader in Brooklyn, the Skoliner rebbe, Rabbi Yisrael Avraham Portugal. A yeshiva student, he was in Jerusalem as a tourist and disappeared August 3 while visiting the tomb of the 3rd-century mystic Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai at Mount Meron near Safed.
The other, Dana Bennet, 18, lives in Tiberias with her mother. She was declared missing in the early morning hours of August 1 after finishing her shift as a waitress at a Tiberias restaurant and then failing to appear at her uncle’s house.
The two cases appear unrelated, but police have not ruled out the possibility that the two teens were kidnapped by a terrorist gang operating in the Galilee region. An Israeli soldier was kidnapped and murdered in the region in July.
Security officials believe that Iran is focusing on freelance terrorist cells in the northern West Bank, near the Galilee, as the key to its hopes for keeping up attacks on Israelis and sabotaging the current Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire.
With fears running high that terrorists are adopting kidnappings as a new tactic, the army has repeatedly warned soldiers not to hitchhike, urged young lovers to avoid isolated places and told parents to think twice before letting their children out at night.
In addition, the security belt around Cabinet ministers has been tightened.
More than 200 volunteers and 100 police officers were involved in the search for Bennet. They were joined Monday night by Bennet’s father, Benjamin Ben-Yitzhak, who came from San Francisco with her brother Rafi.
Police received reports that she had been sighted in various parts of the country, by some accounts in the company of an Arab boyfriend. But police said the longer she remained missing, the greater the likelihood she had been taken against her will.
On August 5 the Magistrate’s Court in Nazareth issued a gag order prohibiting publication of further details on the search for Bennet, suggesting that the investigators were focusing on nationalist motives.
As for Klughoft, investigators said that he had a history of psychological problems and has vanished several times before. His parents reportedly flew in from New York on Wednesday to join in the search efforts. Hundreds of yeshiva students from around the country had gathered in the north to assist as well.
The repeated warnings about possible kidnappings may have led an Israel Defense Forces soldier to lie yesterday that he had been stabbed on his way to his military base in the north of the country.
The soldier said he had walked for about a kilometer on the road from the Golani junction to the base, where he was attacked by several men but then managed to escape.
The police investigation suggests that the soldier either had a fight with another soldier, was beaten up and then invented the stabbing story, or that he had been missing from the base for several days and had created the story about the stabbing in order to avoid punishment.
Last month, the body of IDF Corporal Oleg Shaichat was found buried in an olive grove in the north of Israel after he had been missing for a week. In the wake of the murder, the IDF reissued orders that soldiers should not hitchhike and should not even accept rides in military vehicles.