Israel Has Nabbed 170 Would-Be Suicide Attackers in 7 Months

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israel has arrested some 170 male and female would-be suicide bombers during the last seven months, most of them during military operations in Palestinian Authority-controlled cities, villages and refugee camps in the West Bank, an Israeli official said Monday.

Three Israeli soldiers were killed in a suicide bomb attack at the entrance to the Israeli city of Ariel in the West Bank on Sunday. Four Palestinians were killed in continued Israeli operations in Jenin and Nablus.

Israeli troops and tanks entered the city of Jenin and surrounding villages last Friday in response to an earlier suicide bomb attack on a bus in which 14 Israelis were killed.

Hamas member Mahmud Ahmad Tawfik Abari was one of 60 Palestinians that have been arrested so far during the operation, code-named "Vanguard" in Jenin. Abari was on his way to carry out a suicide attack, the army spokesperson said.

At least 170 Palestinians, many on their way to carrying out attacks, have been arrested by Israel since Israel launched Operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank in the spring, said Yarden Vatikay, media advisor to Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer.

Israeli troops took up positions throughout the West Bank at the end of March in response to a suicide bomb attack at the Park Hotel in Netanya on the eve of Passover that left 29 dead and 140 wounded.

Forced to withdraw from positions in PA cities as a result of international pressure, Israeli troops returned in June following back-to-back suicide bombings in Jerusalem, which left 26 dead in 36 hours.

Vatikay said it's only the presence of Israeli troops that stands in the way of suicide bomb attacks.

"The only barrier that stands between successful attempts to murder Israelis and their inability, or prevention is the IDF [army] and the General Security Services [secret service]," Vatikay said in a telephone interview.

"The vast majority [of suicide bombers] were captured by Israel in operations," Vatikay said.

In a worst-case scenario, if each one of those bombers had been able to kill as many as the Park Hotel bomber on the eve of Passover, some 5,000 people would have been killed in the last seven months, he said.

Nevertheless, as part of a phased understanding, Israeli forces withdrew from most of Hebron last week and earlier redeployed from Bethlehem. But Vatikay said in doing so Israel was taking risks.

"We have passed [security] responsibility to the Palestinians there," he said. But according to Vatikay, even in Bethlehem, from which Israel withdrew two months ago, the PA security forces are not really fighting terror.

"The problem is that there is no one to count on," he said. "There is no determination to prevent terror attacks, no fighting against terror. We're not seeing any active operations."

Sometimes, the risks they take backfire, he said, citing the case of Jenin, where the army had opened the curfew on the city and a suicide bomber was able to get through and kill 14 people.

Hamas claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack on Sunday, in which three Israeli soldiers were killed.

The bomber was spotted trying as he came through a perimeter gate near a gas station and restaurant full of soldiers. Hotel owner Menachem Gilboa ran toward Muhammad Fustani, and along with another man, wrestled with the bomber exposing his bomb belt.

Soldiers ran to the site and Fustani was shot. His bomb either exploded as a result of the gunshot or when he fell, killing Lieutenant Matan Zargon, reserve Major Tamir Masad, and Sergeant Major Amihud Hasid and wounding 20 others.

Gilboa's wife Tova was injured seven months ago, when a suicide bomber walked into the lobby of their hotel Eshel HaShomron, and blew himself up, wounding 11, including an American tourist.

Despite the outcome, officials said that the alertness of soldiers and civilians had prevented a "far worse outcome" that would have resulted if the terrorist had succeeded in reaching a more populated area.

In Jenin, 15-year-old Fuad Abu Ghali was reportedly shot and killed by soldiers and two others were wounded. Security sources were quoted as saying that Abu Ghali had been armed. Three other Palestinian militants were killed and a fourth wounded during Israeli operations in Nablus on Sunday.