Panel: Mum's the Word on Soldier Release Negotiations
Three years after it began its work, a committee headed by retired judge Meir Shamgar handed over to Defense Minister Ehud Barak its recommendations on ways to deal with freeing abducted, missing and captured IDF troops, without resorting to mass releases of terrorists. The report comes months after Israel freed over 1,000 terrorists in exchange for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.
The report says that the committee headed by Shamgar examined all aspects of dealing with the problem – not just how to conduct negotiations, but whether or not to even discuss the release of soldiers with terrorists. In addition, the report discusses what Israel's “red lines” should be, and who should be in charge of negotiations, if indeed they take place. In addition to the Defense Minister and IDF leadership, the report says, “of course the Prime Minister and the cabinet must endorse what has been negotiated at some point, so they are intimately involved in the process as well.”
The report recommends, among other things, centralizing all the efforts to free soldiers under the authority of the Defense Minister, and to avoid using government-sponsored special negotiators to discuss matters with terrorists. In addition, the report suggests avoiding giving “updates” about the status of negotiations. “Secrecy is an important part of our recommendations,” the report says. “It is better to leave to guesswork information about the status of kidnapped or missing soldiers, and not provide that information to groups that will use it in improper ways.”
Only a portion of the report was released Thursday; most of it is still being studied by defense officials, and a gag order was placed on most of the material due to its sensitivity.
Upon receiving the report, Barak said that he had long felt that it was necessary to organize policy on dealing with missing and kidnapped soldiers. “After the return of Gilad Shalit it is essential for us to reevaluate our methods of dealing with these issues in the future. It is for this reason the Shamgar panel was convened.”
The committee was formed in the wake of exchange deals that Israel undertook in recent years, including the 2004 deal, in which the bodies of IDF soldiers Adi Avitan, Omer Sueid, and Benny Avraham, along with Israeli Elchanan Tannenbaum, were returned to Israel in exchange for 436 terrorists, including arch-terrorist Mustafa Dirani. In a 2008 deal, Israel received the bodies of IDF reserve soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev in exchange for top terrorist Samir Kuntar.