Oct 11, 2008

Gilad Shalit is still in captivity - who is to blame?

ANALYSIS / Gilad Shalit is still in captivity - who is to blame?
By Amos Harel

The approaching end of Ehud Olmert's term as prime minister has coincided with a wave of media reports about Gilad Shalit's abduction and the ongoing negotiations over his release.

Why now? Because it seems as though Olmert, despite his recent efforts to find a compromise that would salvage the negotiations, is likely to end his term with Shalit still in captivity. Thus this is an appropriate time for an interim assessment.

The gloomy picture includes a lot of bad blood, both personal and organizational. Everyone involved in the affair, from the kidnapping itself to the negotiations, has failed; thus they all have an interest in trying to shift some of the blame to others. This is not just a matter of the strain between Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak; it includes tension between the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security service and within the IDF itself.

Following are the principal points at issue:

b The kidnapping itself. Here, there is no argument that the blame lies mainly with the IDF. But there are numerous subsidiary disputes: How precise was the warning the Shin Bet relayed before the abduction? Could the interrogation of Hamas operative Mustafa Muammar have produced critical information sooner? Did the 24-hour delay in his arrest result in vital information being obtained too late?

b The failure to locate Shalit. For over a year, the IDF and the Shin Bet have been quarreling over who is responsible for obtaining precise information about where Shalit is being held - a necessary condition for any rescue attempt. The IDF accuses the Shin Bet of apathy and lack of initiative; the Shin Bet charges that the army is not allocating enough resources to this matter. About six months ago, Olmert laid the blame squarely on the Shin Bet.

b The failure to conclude a deal. For this, much of the blame obviously rests with Hamas' exaggerated demands. But Israel's leadership is divided over what price the country ought to pay: Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin, who opposes a large-scale prisoner release and presents data showing that a significant percentage of prisoners released in the past have resumed terrorist activity, is at odds with IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and the government's lead negotiator, Ofer Dekel, who believe that time is running out for a deal. Members of the IDF General Staff wonder whether Diskin would take a similarly hard line had the victim been a Shin Bet agent.

b The link between Shalit and the truce in Gaza. Israel walked into this trap with open eyes. Last week, Olmert's associates blamed Barak for it, but in truth, the entire government knew quite well that Egypt's pledge to accelerate the talks over Shalit once the Gaza border crossings were reopened was vague, and that Hamas did not necessarily feel bound by it.

As a footnote to all these disputes, Yedioth Ahronoth last week published a chapter from the book Dekel is writing about the negotiations he conducted with Hezbollah over the return of the bodies of two other kidnapped soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. Nothing could better illustrate the "end-of-term" atmosphere on Israel's side. And that atmosphere might be justified were it not for one minor detail: Gilad Shalit is still in captivity.


Rabbi Menachem Creditor
-- www.netivotshalom.org
-- www.shefanetwork.org
-- menachemcreditor.org

To join Rabbi Creditor's email list, send a blank email to thetisch-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

Chag Sukkot Sameach, dear friends.