Israel’s Security Chiefs See Olmert as Jeopardizing Prisoner Release
The quarrel between Israeli prime minister and the Shin Bet domestic security agency burst into the open in the wake of a report in the Palestinian Authority publication Al Ayyam, Sat. July 7.
The paper claimed that Ofer Dekel, who is in charge of handling the release of Israeli soldiers in enemy hands, visited the Hadarim prison to start negotiations with Hamas prisoners on the price for the release of Cpl Gilead Shalit, kidnapped a year ago in a raid from Gaza.
During the same visit, Dekel was also reported as meeting Samir Kuntar, the Lebanese Palestinian terrorist serving four life sentences for the murder of four Israelis in Nahariya in 1979, including two members of the Haran family, their father and a toddler.
Kuntar’s release is demanded by Hizballah as the key to the package for freeing Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, abducted shortly after Gideon Shalit from northern Israel.
The Israeli official is described as having informed this high value prisoner that Israeli exchanges mediated by a German envoy with Hizballah are advancing and the last holdup was Hizballah’s demand to include Palestinian prisoners.
Last month, Olmert made a gesture of support for the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and the Fatah government he installed for the West Bank in Ramallah in opposition to the Hamas government in Gaza: a pledge to release 250 terrorists of Abbas’ Fatah party from Israeli jails.
But then, Saturday night, the prime minister tossed back to the Shin Bet the list of Fatah prisoners to be submitted for cabinet approval Sunday, July 8, and demanded a new list. Olmert complained most of the candidates were due for release soon anyway having served out their terms. This fact would belittle his gesture towards Abbas.
debkafile‘s security sources say Olmert’s rejection landed on the desks of Shin Bet chiefs with a nasty thump. They accuse him of causing irreparable damage to the abducted Israeli soldiers’ prospects of freedom by raising the exchange ratio to a level which is unsustainable without compromising national security.
Their sharp criticism also covers his promise to Jordan’s Abdullah to free four Jordanian terrorists serving time for murdering two Israeli soldiers seventeen years ago.
They say Egyptian and other negotiators working to release the three kidnapped soldiers in Hamas and Hizballah hands have been placed in the untenable position of having to extract better bargains from Israel than the Jordanian king and Abbas. They will therefore demand a larger number of high value terrorists serving long stretches for mass murder.
Security officials accuse him of handing out concessions off his own bat to Arab leaders without reference to members of his government, the competent security bodies and even the negotiators.
By downgrading the value of the Fatah prisoners promised Abbas, the Shin Bet had hoped to salvage the negotiations with Hizballah and Hamas. Olmert squashed that move.
The Shin Bet takes his action as a public humiliation and a demonstration of lack of faith. The heads of Israel’s primary intelligence arm for combating terror loss fear a loss of face in the eyes of foreign agencies and the Palestinians.
According to debkafile‘s intelligence sources, the Al Palestinian Ayyam story Saturday was designed to exploit the disarray apparent at the top level of Israeli government in five ways.
1. To expose the Israeli prime minister as betraying his own government’s boycott of Hamas by engaging its leaders in direct talks. Mahmoud Abbas will use this Israeli step as a lever to justify his own moves for reconciliation with Hamas which are due to be launched next week when the Egyptian security mission returns to its Gaza Strip base. The mission relocated in Ramallah last month when the violent confrontation between Hamas and Fatah ended in the latter’s defeat and its establishment of a separate government for the West Bank.
2. To show up as hollow Olmert’s words last week when he said that if Abbas repairs his Fatah’s relations with Hamas, Israel will break off contacts with him.
3. To derail the separate Israeli-Hamas track which isolates his Palestinian Authority and avert the large-scale release of Hamas prisoners. This success would bolster Hamas’ domination of the Gaza Strip.
4. By alleging a conversation between Dekel and the Lebanese prisoner Kuntar, the story implied a link between the negotiating tracks for the release of the three soldiers. The resulting Gordian knot is laid squarely at Israel’s door.