The safe return of Eliyahu Gurel, the Israeli cabdriver freed by commandos after five days in terrorist captivity, is a welcome reminder of those happier times when Israel’s military was a model of gallantry and derring-do, not a pariah. For the first time since the Entebbe operation of 1976, Israel managed to end a hostage situation not with hostages murdered by their captors or killed in crossfire but brought out alive and unharmed.
In a textbook operation, the crack General Staff Commando unit, backed up by the Border Police counter-terrorism squad, managed — by tapping his captors’ cellphone calls — to trace the missing cabbie to an abandoned factory outside Ramallah, then lured the kidnappers outside and freed him without a shot.
Leaks from the Israeli Defense Ministry this week, disseminated widely by Israel’s friends and allies in this country, were making much of the fact that Gurel was freed without any help from Palestinian security services. The idea seems to be to discredit the cease-fire. Palestinians, for their part, were complaining that they couldn’t do much to help because Israel wasn’t sharing its leads.
But the debate misses the point. As the army itself made clear, Gurel’s captors were a gang of freelancers without links to any established terrorist groups. Along with the fatal stabbing of an Israeli in Tel Aviv, the kidnapping represents a new wave of terrorism by amateurs without backup from the Palestinian leadership. That’s because the cease-fire, as shaky and mistrustful as it is, is working.