The Israeli government will have a lot less room to maneuver in possible future negotiations for the release of a captive Israeli soldier if Defense Minister Ehud Barak adopts recommendations expected to be made by a committee tasked with examining the issue.
The recommendations are expected to be submitted to Barak within two weeks.
The committee, headed by retired Supreme Court President Meir Shamgar, will recommend strict guidelines that would significantly restrict the government’s options in future prisoner swaps.
Barak appointed the committee two years ago and it came up with the recommendations before Hamas released Gilad Shalit in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in October, but government officials decided that the guidelines would not apply to Shalit.
Barak said at the time that “it wouldn’t be right to change the rules on the back of a single soldier.”
Since Shalit’s return to Israel after more than five years in captivity, the committee has met with David Meidan, the Israeli representative to the Shalit talks, and senior officials in the Shin Bet security service and Military Intelligence, along with other divisions of the army.
In addition to Shamgar, the committee members include Maj. Gen. (res. ) Amos Yaron, a former director general of the Defense Ministry, and Asa Kasher, the Tel Aviv University philosophy professor who helped develop a code of conduct for the Israel Defense Forces.
Barak says the negotiation guidelines must be radically altered, arguing that Israel cannot allow itself to agree to such unequal deals as the one that resulted in Shalit’s release. But many defense officials have expressed doubt over the feasibility of setting guidelines in advance – particularly in light of popular pressure to free any Israelis taken captive, regardless of the cost.
Barak is expected to appoint another committee shortly to recommend ways to reduce the risk that more soldiers will be taken captive. It will also examine how to improve the way Israel responds to such seizures if they do occur, from an operational and intelligence perspective.
The committee is expected to be headed by a high-ranking retired officer with an intelligence background and to include members of the various intelligence agencies. Barak has not announced the appointments yet because he is waiting for the results of internal inquiries within the intelligence agencies regarding the Shalit affair.