Egyptian revolution led to Shalit deal


Mubarak's exit created a new page for Egypt-Hamas relations, and a more conducive atmosphere for making a deal.

The Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange deal has provided some surprising insights, the most surprising of which has nothing to do with Israel. In February, Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak was removed from power by officers of his army after 29 years of autocratic rule. Negotiations for the release of Gilad Shalit were stalled, and everyone who stated his opinion on the stalled negotiations felt a mortal blow when Israel's "friend" was removed from the scene.

Quite quickly, it became clear that the opposite was actually the case. It turns out that it was Mubarak's regime that had been the obstacle to a breakthrough. A short time after the government was replaced, Hamas leaders initiated a return to negotiations. Mahmud A'Zahar said that the Egyptian authorities had forbidden him from entering the country for more than a year.

The Egyptian government persecuted members of the Hamas military wing who entered Sinai, threw them in jail, and interrogated them at length, among other things to find out where Gilad Shalit was being hidden. They imposed strict restrictions of movement across the Rafiah border crossing, and were in effect full partners with Israel in the closure of the Gaza Strip.

The Egyptians acted according to their own security interests, because they viewed the Gaza Strip as a ticking bomb in their backyard. Apparently, this was in line with Israeli interests, but this is not what is expected of an honest broker. At the end of the day, this situation worked against Gilad Shalit.

The first crack

Mubarak's exit turned over a new leaf in Egypt-Hamas relations, and created an atmosphere more conducive to a deal. Khaled Meshal and Ahmed Jabri, a senior member of the military wing of Hamas, began to enjoy a constructive dialogue with the new Egyptian leadership, which made them attentive to Cairo's claims in the negotiations.

It is no wonder that Meshal hurried to proclaim the dramatic changes in Egypt, "a welcome revolution". The rehabilitation of the relationship between them was the event that led to the first crack in the wall of the stalled negotiations.

A parallel situation existed in Israel. Within a few months, in the first half of the year, the entire defense establishment leadership had been replaced: the Mossad chief, the head of IDF Intelligence, the head of the Israel Security Agency, and the IDF Chief of Staff. These are the people who have prime minister's ear on sensitive security matters.

At the beginning of last week, upon hearing the news from Cairo that a deal had been struck, Security Agency head Yoram Cohen, Mossad head Tamir Pardo, and IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, approved the implementation of the deal.

Cohen's predecessor, Yuval Diskin, had never hidden his strong opposition to a deal. In Diskin's defense, it must be said that an important change occurred in eh meanwhile: Hamas became more flexible and agreed to give up on a few key prisoners, those considered "symbols of resistance". They also waived the demand that Marwan Barghouti and Ahmed Sadat, commander of the PFLP, be included in the list.

A new reality

Numerous words of caution have been heard over the last few days about the potential damage that freed prisoners could cause after they are released. The people appealing the decision cite the Jibril deal in 1985, in which 1,150 prisoners were released, some of whom became leaders of the First Intifada that broke out two years later.

The comparison ignores the different reality of the Palestinian territories in those days. The prisoners being released in the Shalit deal were imprisoned at the height of conflict with Israel, but they are going back to a completely different political and military atmosphere. There is a feeling of disgust towards the spilling of blood among the Palestinian public, as well as among some of the leadership.

Yasser Arafat, who knew how to achieve goals through the muzzle of a Kalashnikov, is no longer around. His replacement, Abu Mazen, chose to strive for an independent state without using violence. Even anarchy is not what it was: the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are operating under different governments, but they are both stable. The Palestinians are benefitting from economic stability, and they will not give this up easily. Growth was 9.3% in the West Bank in 2010. The security establishment there rules with a high hand and receives back-up from Israel.

Murderers whose hands are stained with the blood of innocent Israelis are being released in this deal, but most of them were " foot soldiers". The people who engineered the intifada are staying where they belong - behind bars. This is the Netanyahu government's biggest achievement, and the regime change in Cairo was the main factor behind it.

Jacky Hougy is the “IDF Radio" (Galei Zahal) reporter on Arab Affairs.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - - on October 17, 2011

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2011

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