Theories abound as to why Netanyahu agreed to the Shalit trade now. The decision was undoubtedly “over-determined.” As is often the case in life, many different converging factors played into it. Some — for example, that he wanted to lift the morale of the nation, or that it was politically advantageous to appeal to the populist spirit of those doing the tent protests — I prefer to pass by, although they may have played into the decision in some relatively minor fashion.
A few ideas, however, merit a closer look:
Much is being written about the role of Egypt — which negotiated the deal — in bringing it about now. I have been reading about this, but have been reluctant to cite sources that are less than consistently reliable. But now I have a source that I consider quite reliable.
Khaled Abu Toameh, writing in the JPost on Friday, laid out this scenario:
“…The ongoing popular uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad has put the Damascus-based Hamas leadership in a difficult position. According to numerous reports in the Arab media, relations between the Syrian authorities and the Hamas leaders have deteriorated in recent months because of the Islamist movement’s [Hamas’s] refusal to voice public support for Assad’s regime. Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal has begun studying the possibility of moving the Hamas headquarters from Syria to another Arab country the reports claimed.
“…The growing tensions between Hamas and Syria drove Mashaal and the Hamas leadership into the open arms of the ruling military council in Egypt. Some Egyptian journalists have suggested in the past few months that Hamas may move its headquarters from Damascus to Cairo.
“Sources close to Hamas said that Egypt’s ruling generals told Mashaal that if he wanted to improve his relations with Cairo, he would have to soften his position on a number of issues, first and foremost a prisoner exchange agreement with Israel…”
“The sources noted,” writes Abu Toameh, “that the ruling military council in Cairo had a great interest in reaching a deal between Hamas and Israel. Facing increased criticism from home and abroad for its failure to hand power over to a civilian government, and violations of human rights…the Egyptian generals now have good reason to show the US and the rest of the world that they are capable of delivering.
“By embracing Hamas, the generals are also hoping to appease the Egyptian masses especially the Muslim Brotherhood organization. In the eyes of many Egyptians, being affiliated with Hamas is more dignified than an alliance with the Western-backed PA.”
OK, so the Hamas leadership may now be taking orders from Egyptian Field Marshal Tantawi and his generals in the Supreme Military Council. And they may have, per Egyptian demands, become more “flexible” in negotiations with Israel. “Flexible” meaning that they would now accept deportation to another country for some of the released prisoners, and they would agree that some small number they had wanted out (perhaps including Marwan Barghouti) would stay put.
But this is only one half of the negotiation equation: This does not automatically make the deal acceptable for Israel. And this begs the question of why Netanyahu was prepared to accept this increased “flexibility” on the part of Hamas (what is being referred to as a “window of opportunity”) and do the deal. Why he, in turn, waxed more “flexible” — allowing terrorists with blood on their hands to be released, for example.
Here we have many factors that require a closer look.
 From sources that I have referred to as less than consistently reliable has come the suggestion that Obama had reasons for wanting Hamas to move out of Syria’s sphere and into Egypt — and thus wanted Israel to make the deal with Hamas. According to this scenario, when Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was here in Israel recently, he would have pushed Netanyahu to take the deal. Understand that I put this out only as a tentative possibility. I have no definitive information. I do know, however, that when Panetta was here he annoyed me royally by talking about how Israel was “increasingly isolated” and needed to improve diplomatic relations with her Palestinian neighbors. Something to consider.
 There are those who suggest that Netanyahu was seeking to weaken the PA, following the UN gambit by Abbas. No question, the trade boosted Hamas’s popularity in the Palestinian street, at least for the moment. Something else to consider.
 Various deeply troubling reports suggest that there was an Israeli intelligence failure, so that Shalit was never located and no plans were ever drawn up for rescuing him.
We see this in the written comments of Tzachi Hanegbi, who, as an MK with Kadima, served as Chair of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee:
“I am concerned about the limitations of the intelligence community exposed by this whole affair. As someone who is aware of the amount of resources allocated by the state to locating Gilad Schalit in Gaza, to allow for a military option, I am very disturbed by the thin results of such great efforts.
“This failure stands out even more in light of the long list of achievements by IDF Military Intelligence, the Mossad and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) during the years in which Gilad’s whereabouts remained a frustrating mystery.”
And even more powerfully is this point made by Maariv journalist Ben Caspi, in his piece, “The Schalit story is an intelligence failure.”
“We flew to Entebbe and returned with hundreds of hostages. We taught the world that terrorist isn’t to be bargained with or catered to, that terror is to be fought. Despite its vaunted intelligence services, advanced technologies and enormous well-trained and experienced army, Israel was unable to locate a single soldier being held in a narrow, controlled strip of enemy territory just a few miles away.
“…In the final analysis, this will be understood to be one of the worse intelligence and military failures in the country’s history.” (Emphasis added)
(See more on this IDF/intelligence failure from Caroline Glick, below.)
Caspi writes that because of the intelligence failure Israel “was forced to fold to bring Gilad Schalit home.” I wouldn’t put it quite that way — we did not have to fold. But the intelligence failure should not be discounted as a factor. Netanyahu felt his options were limited.
 Perhaps most serious and most disturbing are the charges made by Caroline Glick in “Marketing Gilad Schalit”:
“According to the New Wave poll carried out for Makor Rishon…75.7 percent of the public supported the deal and only 15.5 percent opposed it. In a society as rife with internal divisions as Israel, it is hard to think of any issue that enjoys the support of three quarters of the population. But even more amazing than the level of support is that the poll also shows the vast majority of Israelis believe that the deal harms Israel’s national security.
“…How can this triumph of emotion over reason be explained?…what brought a large majority of Israelis to favor a deal they know endangers them?
“Part of the answer was provided by an article in the Globes newspaper…Titled ‘Lucky the kidnapping happened in the technological era,’ and written by Anat Bein-Leibovitz, it analyzed the five-year advertising campaign that shaped public perceptions about Schalit and built public support for a deal that obviously harms the country.
“The Shalmor Avnon Amichai firm ran the campaign to free Schalit. Shlomi Avnon, a partner in the agency, described the goals of the campaign as follows: ‘The first goal was to generate empathy for Gilad and his family. We did not know when the government needed to make a decision, but we wanted the Schalit family to enjoy wide public support when it came.
“‘The second goal was to keep Gilad in the public consciousness so that he would not be forgotten…We attacked on all fronts…
“‘We made a decision that our target audience was the public and not decision makers, because we knew that with decision makers all could be lost…
“Avnon and his colleagues marketed Schalit like a commercial product. As advertising executive Sefi Shaked explained, ‘This was a battle between two brands. One was “Bring Gilad back,” and the other was “Woe if we free murderers.”‘
What made this all extraordinarily successful, explains Glick, is that the media, which is supposed to be the watchdog of Israel’s national interests against the advertising executives, opted to “behave like lapdogs.” And this is not the first time that this has been the situation:
“…the media are the strongest force in Israeli society. Their power owes to the fact that the major media organs are ideologically uniform and therefore act consistently as a pack.
“…By choosing sides, the media ensure there is no substantive public debate about the controversial campaigns they support. Rather than debate the substance of an issue, the media, together with PR firms, personalize the dispute.”
Thus could an advertising executive observe, “The media left the government no option not to act [on Schalit].”
“What distinguished the Schalit campaign from those that preceded it was not the media mobilization but the complicity of the IDF, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and Mossad. In all the other campaigns, the security services either opposed the campaigns or stood on the sidelines.
“In an interview with Haaretz this past Sunday, Col. Ronen Cohen, who recently retired from IDF Military Intelligence, said the IDF never tried to put together an operation to rescue Schalit. In his words, Schalit’s prolonged captivity ‘was a resounding failure of the IDF…. The IDF never took responsibility for the soldier and did not even set up a team to deal with bringing him back.’
“…According to PR executive Geller, the IDF’s abdication of its responsibility to rescue Schalit was influenced by the media’s full mobilization on behalf of the PR campaign. ‘That [Schalit] was not hurt in a rescue operation is due, among other things, to the high value that the media placed on him.’ The IDF was too afraid of media criticism to risk a rescue raid. (Emphasis added)
A question still to be asked here is who paid for the PR campaign that promoted the trade of terrorists for Gilad Shalit?
It is a question of major import.
An excellent article by Martin Sherman echoes many of the same sentiments:
“Some have characterized the Schalit episode as a case of ‘heart prevailing over head.’ It certainly was a triumph of media-mania over mind, a victory of rating over rationality.
“For it could never have played out as it did without the press — both print and electronic — promoting the mantra of ‘no price is too high,’ with little regard for the consequences.
“Any thought of wider national issues was subordinated to the playing up the more newsworthy personal anguish. Any consideration for the long-term impact was swept away by a puerile — but profit-worthy — penchant for instant gratification that brooked no delay.”
For anyone who doubts that there is an impact on the Palestinian Arab population with regard to the release of terrorists, I share this:
Wafa al-Biss was receiving treatment 2005 at Soroka Hospital in Beersheva for severe burns. As I recall her case, the burns had been inflicted by her family, and the Jewish doctors at Soroka had saved her life. But when traveling back to the hospital from Gaza for follow-up, she was found to be wearing a belt of explosives.
Now Biss, who had been serving a 12-year sentence, was freed in the trade and is back in Gaza. At home, she told dozens of children who came to visit her that she hoped they would follow in her footsteps.
“We will give souls and blood to redeem the prisoners. We will give souls and blood for you, Palestine,” she told the kids, who cheered and waved flags.
There is a great deal of talk now about how to respond when Hamas attempts to capture another IDF soldier. This is a matter of great significance and I’m pleased to see it.
The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Subcommittee for Intelligence, Secret Services, Captives and Missing Soldiers has called for an official government policy on captive soldiers, and even Defense Minister Barak has called for guidelines.
You might also want to see this: http://imra.org.il/story.php3?id=54202 . (Thanks, Jeff D.)
PA President Abbas, smarting at the increase in Hamas popularity as a result of the trade, is demanding that Israel now release Fatah prisoners as well.
Additionally he has announced that the PA will “honor” all prisoners who have been released, including those in Gaza, by providing them with “grants.” There is more to be said with regard to the source of the funds for those grants
Another of the demands made of Hamas by Egypt, according to Abu Toameh, is that Hamas forge a unity government with Fatah. This is something we will have to watch, as the situation is currently very fluid. Reportedly, Abbas and Mashaal will be meeting in Cairo next month.
Meanwhile, Palestinian officials are saying that if their UN bid fails, they will pursue “other options.”
The Quartet plans to meet with the PA and Israel separately to get detailed proposals from each regarding borders and security, touting this as progress forward.
PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is saying that the time is not ripe for productive Israeli-Palestinian talks. How right he is.
But of course, his frame of reference is different from mine: he means we have to first agree to ’67 lines as the basis for negotiations and stop construction in Judea and Samaria.
Moshe Ya’alon, however, in a talk last night, was insistent that there would be no further freezes, which he labels ethnic cleansing. Ya’alon may be Deputy Prime Minister as well as Minister of Security Affairs, but his opinion, on its own, does not necessarily hold sway. May the government remain strong in the face of PA demands.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.