One reason Hamas became flexible in a deal to release kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit is because the group feared he would die in captivity, Shin Bet security service head Yoram Cohen said last Thursday.
“Hamas was afraid of losing the asset” in light of his deteriorating health, Cohen told a closed forum in Tel Aviv, referring to Shalit.
Cohen said Hamas’ precarious status in Syria and internal considerations had also led to greater willingness to strike a deal for Shalit’s release.
In answer to a question, Cohen conceded that “the Shin Bet failed in a major way in not finding the intelligence that would lead to a rescue operation.”
When asked whether the public campaign for Shalit’s release and the social protest in the weeks prior to it had affected the decision-making process, Cohen said statements by senior figures that everything possible must be done to release Shalit “hurt, because it caused the other side to believe it had power.”
As for the impact of the social protest on the deal, Cohen said: “I may be naive, but I don’t think the social protest played a major role in the prime minister’s decision.”
Cohen said Hamas had initially asked that 1,400 prisoners be released to their homes in the West Bank and Gaza, but that this number had declined with time. “I told the government the deal was not good for Israel both in terms of strengthening Hamas and in terms of security, but that was the price if we wanted to bring the soldier home,” he said.
Cohen, who said the prime minister had set the framework but that he, Cohen, had decided which prisoners would be released based on the danger they presented, said: “I believe that we dramatically reduced the risk in the end.”