Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reported to the hastily convened full government session Monday night, Oct. 11 that the deal with Hamas for bringing Gilad Shalit home within days was initialed Thursday and signed Monday, Oct. 11. It was the best possible, he said although the agreed price for the swap is heavy: one thousand jailed Palestinian terrorists, including 60 convicted on multiple murders, who will be exiled to the Gaza Strip and Arab countries.
DEBKAfile discloses that secret clauses of the transaction for recovering the Israel soldier, whom Hamas kept hidden for five years, were finalized between the United States, Egypt, Israel and Hamas during US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s visits to Israel and Egypt on Sept. 3-4.
Those clauses, negotiated directly between Panetta and Hamas’ political chief Khaled Meshaal, entailed the shutting down of Hamas headquarters in Damascus in order to undercut Syrian President Bashar Assad, Iran and Hizballah and loosen their hold on the Palestinians. Meshaal who visited Tehran a week ago agreed to gradually downgrade his ties with Iran in return for American patronage of Hamas.
Netanyahu told the Israeli ministers that he had faced a tough dilemma between rescuing the Israeli soldier and national security and a balance was hard to strike. But his commitment to saving Gilad Shalit was absolute. The “window of opportunity” presented now may never recur, he warned, given the turbulence besetting the Middle East. He therefore asked the ministers for their unanimous endorsement of the swap.
During the cabinet meeting, three ministers, Silvan Shalom, Moshe Yaalon and Avigdor Lieberman, voiced reservations in view of the high risk of setting so many terrorists loose.
That window, DEBKAfile reports, was the deal the Obama administration had reached with Hamas leaders and their parent, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s rift with Tehran.
The Prime Minister thanked the Egyptian government and intelligence agencies for their great contribution toward brokering the deal. He also voiced appreciation for the efforts of the German mediator and Chancellor Angela Merkel who gave the process her wholehearted support.
Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped in a cross-border raid from Gaza five years ago, and held without any visitors including the Red Cross every since, will first be transferred from Gaza to Cairo to await Israel’s release of the first batch of 450 Palestinian prisoners.
The remaining 550 prisoners will be freed after the soldier arrives home. This is the heaviest price Israel has ever paid for any soldiers in Arab captivity.
As to the backdoor diplomacy leading to Gilad Shalit’s release, DEBKAfile further discloses that recognizing the rising electoral strength of the Muslim Brotherhood and its Salafi allies in Egypt’s forthcoming parliamentary elections next month, the Obama administration entered into active dialogue with its leaders to draw them away from Tehran and bring them close to the ruling military junta and Washington.
Shortly before Panetta arrived in the Middle East, a US diplomat revealed that US officials had arrived in Cairo on Oct. 2 for talks with Brotherhood representatives. The American side was headed by Prem. G. Kumar, the National Security Council Director for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs at the White House.
This was the first clue that the White House was after a deal not only with the Brotherhood but also its Palestinian offshoot Hamas, part of which was to be the release of the Israeli soldier.
Two days later, on Oct. 4, the US Defense Secretary arrived to seal the accord while in another part of Cairo, the Israeli prime minister’s personal representative David Meidan and the commander of Hamas’ military wing, Ezz a-din al Qassam, Mohammed Jabry, hammered out the minutiae of the prisoner exchange for Shalit’s release.
Netanyahu referred to the heavy price Israel was paying in terms of security by letting a thousand terrorists walk free – scores much Israeli blood on their hands. But he also paid a heavy political price: Israel’s acceptance of the United States’ rapprochement with the Egyptian Muslim brothers – henceforth dubbed in Obama administration parlance a “moderate Muslim force.”
Israel can only hope that this gamble pays off.
By procuring the release of 1,000 Palestinians from Israeli jails, Hamas has outperformed is rival, the Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas as the lead champion of the Palestinian cause. After defying the Obama administration by applying for UN recognition for Palestinian statehood, Abbas is now getting his punishment.