Israel Begins to Fear Gilead Shalit May Never Return
The fear is gaining ground in Israel's intelligence community that Gilead Shalit, the 18-year old soldier snatched from the Israeli side of the Gaza border by Hamas on June 25, 2006, will never be freed.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources report that in the long term they fear for his life.
This trepidation arises from the assessment that the young soldier is being used as a pawn in a chilling Hamas scheme.
For three years, prominent Hamas leaders, such as prime minister Ismail Haniya, Mahmoud A-Zahar, leading negotiator in the Cairo talks, and other top officers have maintained they have no knowledge of his whereabouts or condition.
This is not true. In fact, they have been using him to ensure their personal safety.
On Dec. 27, 2008, Day One of Israel's Cast Lead operation, as Israeli F-16s bombed Hamas strongholds, it was discovered that Hamas' military chief Ahmad Jabari had removed Gilad Shalit from his secret prison and brought him under heavy guard to the Hamas leadership's bunker under the Shifa hospital in Gaza City.
From here, they conducted the war.
They then signaled Israel through Egyptian intelligence lines that if this command bunker was bombed by air or blown up by Israeli commandoes, Shalit would be executed on the spot.
Hamas leaders have since made him their personal human shield.
Even after Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire and withdrew from the Gaza Strip on Jan. 18, Hamas leaders have remained under ground — and the Israeli soldier stays with them, a hostage to their safety. They emulate Hizballah's secretary general Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon, who has not been seen in the flesh since the Lebanon war of 2006.
Shalit was sighted twice at least
In the second week of February, Shalit was sighted with A-Zahar, who came out of hiding against an Israeli safe passage guarantee requested by Egypt.
The Egyptians wanted him to take charge of the long term truce negotiations for Gaza taking place in Cairo because they trusted his pragmatic approach to neutralize the pro-Iranian hardliner Khaled Meshaal.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's exclusive sources report that A-Zahar kept the Israeli soldier in his own car until he crossed the Gaza border into Egypt. The convoy then pulled up and Shalit was raced back to the command bunker under Shifa hospital.
He was seen next when Haniya emerged for a few minutes to show himself to the disgruntled Palestinian people – and again by the side of Jabari.
He is usually dressed in the same uniform as the security contingent guarding Hamas leaders and looks like one of its members.
Israel has halted its targeted strikes against senior Hamas figures for fear of sentencing the captive soldier to death.
In one respect this is good news. Gilead Shalit is alive and came out of the Israeli air campaign over Gaza unhurt, although at least two Hamas leaders contended falsely that he had been injured.
But in another respect, the use Hamas is making of him fills Israeli officials with dread.
They fear that the longer he is kept close to Hamas leaders, the less chance he has of coming out of the ordeal alive. These top terrorists will realize that he is privy to their weaknesses and secrets, a dumb witness to happenings in the buried command post which they would prefer to keep dark.
So even if Hamas leaders no longer feel threatened, they may not let Shalit return home for years – if at all.