A dramatic rise has been recorded in the number of attempts to kidnap IDF soldiers in the West Bank, the Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported Friday.
According to the Shin Bet internal security service, 33 kidnapping attempts have been foiled since the beginning of the year, compared with 24 thwarted attempts during all of 2012.
Senior officers in the IDF Central Command warned that over past few months Hamas has stepped up its efforts to abduct soldiers and use them as "bargaining chips" to bring about the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.
According to data provided by the Shin Bet, some of the kidnapping attempts were foiled just hours before they were scheduled to be carried out.
The senior officials told Yedioth Ahronoth that the prisoner exchange deal which secured the release of Gilad Shalit encouraged Hamas to attempt additional kidnappings. These kidnapping operations, the officials say, can be carried out by only two or three terrorists with switchblades or pistols. The terrorists will most likely use a contact inside Israel to enter the country, they said.
"Hamas realizes that it will be difficult to manufacture rockets in the West Bank and launch them at Israel, so it is opting for a much more advantageous method of operation," one of the senior officers said.
"We detect within Hamas the desire and capability needed for these kidnappings, as well as a lot of audacity. So far we have been able to thwart the kidnapping attempts, but the scope is extraordinary, and it is clear we will not be able to foil these attempts forever," he added.
As part of the efforts to prevent abductions, the army has decided to further enforce strict guidelines put in place to prevent abductions, such as forbidding soldiers from hitchhiking.