Analysis: Palestinians’ euphoria following the great escape from Gilboa Prison gives way to fear of the consequences for the wellbeing of other security prisoners, which may lead to several different scenarios, including another round of fighting in Gaza
Security forces searching a field near Gilboa Prison from which the six Palestinian prisoners escaped
(Photo: Getty Images)
As the hours pass and the search for the six Palestinian prisoners who escaped from Israeli custody continues, the feelings of euphoria that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and Hamas to a lesser extent, exuded give way to fear and threats of violence, fearing the consequences of the escape and its impact on other security prisoners still held by Israel.
The Israel Prison Service (IPS) — which has been subjected to critics’ piercing yet justified slings and arrows over the past three days — began transferring nearly 200 security prisoners from Gilboa Prison, from which the six escaped, to other detention facilities in southern Israel.
These inmates are associated with the PIJ — a group to which five of the six fugitives are affiliated.
The transfer and separation of prisoners are expected to continue which are very significant sanctions for them.
So far, the IPS used to concentrate prisoners of the same group in the same cell and would even assign separate wings if their numbers swelled, as with Hamas and Fatah inmates.
Now, the prisoners are being locked in cells with inmates from other groups, sometimes even hostile to one another.
According to Palestinian sources, the prisoners at Gilboa were also prohibited from watching the television in their cells.
Defense officials also began questioning key figures among PIJ prisoners to try and figure out whether they had any prior knowledge of the escape plan.
These sanctions caused much unrest in the prisons that ignited riots inside the prisons. Prisoners could also announce an open-ended hunger strike, further exacerbating tensions inside the prisons.
The Palestinians’ fear for what these sanctions may spell for prisoners in general, and PIJ members in particular, is beginning to show on Wednesday as their fanfare gave way to threats.
The PIJ has launched one such message, which Israel should not take lightly states, threatening to “respond any way we deem fit” if sanctions persist.
Twenty-twenty hindsight teaches us that the threats of the PIJ’s military wing should not be dismissed.
Much like Hamas, they have a diverse set of capabilities, especially in the Gaza Strip. But unlike Hamas which governs Gaza, the PIJ has no scruples to carry out its threats.
And this is how this affair, which began in a tunnel outside Gilboa Prison, can end in a rocket launch pad near Gaza’s Beit Hanoun.
The arrest of three Israeli Arabs in the north who are suspected of aiding and abetting the escapees indicates that authorities may have a lead, but it seems like a long haul from their capture.
Bear in mind that this assistance was more significant than just a shower and some supplies for the road and may also include firearms which the prisoners would need if the walls start closing in on them. Unfortunately, weapons are fairly common among Israel’s Arab sector.
At this point, the analysis splits into several possible scenarios.
If some or all the prisoners are still in Israeli territory, it would be more than likely they’d try to take hostages and negotiate the captives’ release for their relocation to a state or entity where Israel has no jurisdiction, like Gaza, Syria or Lebanon.
If some, or all of them, have managed or will manage to cross into Jordan, they would most likely lay low, fearing of being detected by the Hashemite Kingdom’s General Intelligence Directorate which incidentally has first-rate capabilities. Jordan would be just a stop for them on their way to freedom in Syria or Iraq.
If they decide to go back to their home turf, that is the northern West Bank city of Jenin, they will likely receive protection and sponsorship from many groups.
The Jenin district is the PIJ’s stronghold in the West Bank and many of the group’s members are local residents.
The Jenin refugee camp also has an inter-organizational blood pact that does not exist elsewhere, meaning the PIJ will not fight on its own. It will get active assistance from Hamas and Fatah’s al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.
And while the military and the Shin Bet domestic security agency have the capabilities to enter any home in the area, they are likely to encounter stiff resistance in such a hostile environment that is also armed to the teeth, inevitably leading to casualties on the Palestinian side, perhaps many of them, and possibly even some on the Israeli side.
And therein lies the rub. If the escapees die in an encounter, it could both shake the West Bank’s already fragile stability and lead the PIJ in the Gaza Strip to make good on its aforementioned threats.