Israel obtained a video showing Gilad Shalit alive today in exchange for the release of 19 Palestinian women from its jails. The 23 year-old Israeli soldier was captured by Hamas in a cross-border raid in the summer of 2006 and since then there had been no evidence he was alive. Reading from a piece of paper in a voice in a breaking voice, he says he dreams of the day of his release and hopes the current government reaches a deal. Hamas is demanding the release of up to 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, including convicted terrorists, in exchange for Shalit’s release.
I didn’t realise just how important it is to Israelis to bring Shalit home until I visited Israel earlier this year. Everywhere you go in Tel Aviv you see banners draped from windows and balconies with his image. According to the New York Times, “In a country where 18-year-olds are conscripted for military service, many Israelis feel intimately involved with the case”. Aluf Benn, the diplomatic editor of Ha’aretz, suggested at a panel discussion I attended in Tel Aviv that feelings about Shalit are so strong because of the way Israel (or at least part of it) sees itself as a family – Israelis see Gilad as their son, brother or father.
Interestingly, the deal between Israel and Hamas was brokered by the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), the German foreign intelligence service, as well as Egyptian mediators. The BND has traditionally been thought of as an “analytic” rather than “operational” intelligence service. But the role it played in this deal, not to mention the role it played in the Iraq war, suggests that is no longer the case. The shift in the role of the German military since the end of the Cold War and in particular since the “red-green” government is well-known, but it seems that the role of German intelligence is shifting too. Even more interesting is that it is in the Middle East of all places that German intelligence is now playing a more operational role.