Benjamin Netanyahu and Gilad Shalit - GPO - 30.3.2011
Benjamin Netanyahu and Gilad Shalit, March 30, 2011. Photo by GPO
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A few minutes before David Meidan’s lecture “Secrets behind the Shalit Deal” was scheduled to start at the Green House at Tel Aviv University, an information and communications staff member at the Prime Minister’s Office appeared on the scene. The Netanyahu bureau official was not there to distribute a press release after Monday’s lecture, but more to make sure that no journalist might somehow manage to infiltrate the event.

At first glance, this seems quite natural. Meidan, who for about 30 years occupied high-ranking positions in the Mossad, served for many months as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s envoy to the Gilad Shalit talks. After the abducted Israeli soldier was released in October 2011 from five years in Hamas’ captivity, Meidan was appointed as the government’s coordinator for all MIA and POW affairs.

Except that almost two months ago, in early June, Meidan informed Netanyahu of his retirement from the Mossad, and requested to wrap up his service as MIA and POW coordinator. Meidan left government service to take a job in the business world that is much more financially remunerative. He now serves as CEO of The Portland Trust, owned by British-Jewish millionaire Sir Ronald Cohen.

Thus, it remains unclear why Meidan, a private businessman who has already left government service and no longer holds any official post, is now entitled to use the spokesmanship services of the PMO. For comparison’s sake, other high-ranking retired officials, like former Mossad chief Meir Dagan and former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin, did not take advantage of the services of the PMO once they had left their jobs.

A PMO source noted that the bureau is not providing spokesman services to Meidan, and that it was he who invited them to the event. “He asked for a favor, so we helped him,” said the source.

Not only the social protest

The main headline in Meidan’s lecture was his statement that last summer’s social protest definitely affected Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision on the Shalit prisoner swap. The fact that Netanyahu took political considerations into account when he agreed to the deal comes as no surprise, but it was interesting to hear such a high-ranking source involved in the affair willing to admit that this was the case.

After all, at the time that Netanyahu made the decision to go ahead with the prisoner exchange, he regularly denied that his considerations were based on anything but security and diplomacy. Anyone who asserted otherwise was met with a furious response, at best, and a threatened libel suit, at worst. Only recently, several long months late, he agreed to admit – in an interview with the German newspaper Bild – that his wife Sara put pressure on him to approve the deal.

Still, Meidan did provide a few more anecdotes related to the Shalit deal, the most interesting of which, in my opinion, relates to the Hamas leadership, which Meidan described as being hedonistic and corrupt. Meidan related that he had arrived at the talks in Cairo together with another aide or two, while the Hamas team arrived with a large delegation of 10 or more people that included assistants and assistants to assistants.

Meidan even named the most hedonistic official in Hamas – the head of the military wing, Ahmed Jabari, a man on whom the Egyptians applied an especially creative form of pressure. “The Egyptians never stopped pampering Jabari,” Meidan revealed. “They feted him at restaurants, bought him new clothes and even arranged for him– at their expense – to have laser eye surgery to eliminate the need for eyeglasses.” Which can be interpreted to mean that things you can see from there, you can’t see from here.