Berlin-Tehran Ties Are Key to Prisoner Deals – at a Heavy Security Price for Israel

Even if Hizballah has given Israel documents in the handwriting of the long-missing Israeli navigator Ron Arad, as claimed by a Lebanese newspaper, they still may not clear up the mystery of the fate which befell him after his capture 21 years ago.
An announcement by Hizballah is awaited on the low-profile swap Monday, Oct. 15, of a Hizballah prisoner and the remains of two Lebanon War fighters for the body of the Israeli civilian Gabriel Dawit, three years after he was swept into Lebanese waters.
Nothing constructive is expected from that statement other than the propaganda and political value which Hizballah and Tehran wring from the episode.
Israeli intelligence has long concluded that, after Ron Arad ejected from an Israeli fighter-bomber in 1986 during Lebanon’s civil war, the Amal Shiite group (headed by Lebanese parliament speaker Nabih Berri) who captured him passed him to Iran, where he was imprisoned for an unknown period.
Iran has always denied this; any materials and statements emanating from Hizballah are bound to support this contention.
debkafile‘s security sources report that the documents’ transfer is part of an earlier exchange in 2005, when the remains of the Israeli soldiers Adi Avitan, Benny Avraham and Omar Suaud, kidnapped in 2000, were handed over with Elhanan Tannebaum. Then too Hizballah offered Ron Arad letters against the release of the jailed Nahariya murderer Samir Kuntar. Since Israel stands by its refusal to hand him over, it stands to reason that Hizballah will hold back some of those papers as bargaining chips for his release.
There are hopes in Israel that the low-profile Israel-Hizballah swap Monday may have created momentum for practical negotiations to recover the reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, whose abduction by Hizballah in July, 2006 triggered last year’s Lebanon War.
The German mediator is moderately optimistic. But, according to debkafile‘s intelligence sources, he warns that today’s Hassan Nasrallah is not the powerful figure he was at the time of the 2005 exchange. Tehran has taken Hizballah’s military and intelligence functions out of his hands and passed them to its trusted minion, the master terrorist Imad Mughniyeh, confining Nasrallah to the movement’s political department and its domestic Lebanese policy.
Decisions on prisoner swaps with Israel, including the fate of Regev and Goldwasser, are therefore up to Tehran – not Beirut.
Since the mediator is a member of German intelligence, Israel is also advised to take into account the fact that Iran buys $6 bn worth of German goods per year and Chancellor Angela Merkel has come out against imposing tougher sanctions on Islamic Republic for its nuclear misdeeds. But because of its good relations with Tehran, Berlin is also in a position to provide Israel with its only real channel for dealing with Iran.
This comes with a price, Israeli security sources warn, both as regards the robustness of the Western front on harsh economic sanctions for curbing Iran’s advance toward a nuclear weapon, and the German contingent’s credibility as part of the UNIFIL security operation in South Lebanon. For the sake of recovering its soldiers, Israel is holding silent on Germany’s intelligence collaboration with Hizballah in Lebanon.

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