Yaakov Katz
The Jerusalem Post (Analysis)
October 11, 2011 - 12:00am

The deal to release Gilad Schalit is without a doubt controversial. The main change, though, took place on the Israeli side, which in recent months changed its position on the deal that has retained mostly the same format since Hamas kidnapped Schalit in June, 2006.

The big question is what brought about this change.

The main answer is the so-called Arab Spring. Israel is concerned that the Arab regimes now in power will not be here tomorrow and that the Egyptian regime currently in power - the deal's main mediator - will not be there in a few months after elections are held in Cairo.

Israel is genuinely concerned about the outcome of elections in Egypt, expected to be held sometime next year. Predictions are that the elections will see the rise of a more anti-Israel regime to power, particularly if the Muslim Brotherhood wins a significant percentage of the seats in parliament.
These changes were also internalized by Hamas, which understood that fallout between Israel and Egypt would also impact its ability to reach a deal with Israel. This led Hamas to take a more pragmatic approach, moving it to change its own position on some of the names on the list of terrorists set to be released.

A significant number of the terrorists will be deported to the Gaza Strip. While this will be a boost to Hamas and other terrorist organizations there, it will have less of an effect on Israel than if they were to be released to the West Bank. There, they would be able to help Hamas and Islamic Jihad reestablish their terror infrastructure, which has been severely damaged in recent years by the IDF and Palestinian Authority security forces.

Egypt also successfully used as leverage the ongoing revolution in Syria and Hamas’s fears that it will have to evacuate its headquarters in Damascus if Bashar Assad falls.

The change at the top of Israel's various defense agencies also played a role. Yoram Cohen, who was appointed head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) in March, is said to have been more flexible than his predecessor Yuval Diskin. The same is said about Tamir Pardo who replaced Meir Dagan as head of the Mossad.

In the IDF, the position has always been the same - to pay the price and release Schalit. In the cabinet meeting in 2008 that debated the swap for Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser - the reservists kidnapped by Hezbollah in 2006 - then-Chief of General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi used all of his influence to push the deal through, raising the ire of then-head of the National Security Council Uzi Arad. His successor Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz shares the same view.

While Schalit's release is without a doubt dramatic, so is the day after. Hamas will be strengthened by this deal, will have brought about the release of 1,000 prisoners and will be able to use this as leverage in future reconciliation talks with Fatah, as well as in gaining popularity ahead of Palestinian Authority elections, if they are ever held. Israel will need to work to ensure that PA President Mahmoud Abbas does not view this as a blow and will still be willing to renew negotiations with Israel.

The boost to Hamas will not just be for its morale but also for its operational abilities. Kidnappings, Hamas and Hezbollah have learned, pay off. They will likely try again.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017