Colonel (res.) Ronen Cohen, who recently retired from the intelligence division at the General Staff, where he had held a number of senior posts, says that the Shalit deal was a reasonable move on the part of Israel in view of the circumstances. Nonetheless, he said that "it is a sad day for the IDF."
Cohen says that the handling of the efforts to bring Shalit back "was a resounding failure of the IDF. There are no other words to describe it. The IDF never took responsibility for the soldier and did not even set up a team to deal with bringing him back. They simply passed it on to the Shin Bet [security service]."
At the time of the Shalit abduction, Cohen was head of the terrorism department at Military Intelligence, and then deputy head of research. His last position was the intelligence officer of Central Command.
In an interview with Haaretz he said that the IDF did not consider formulating an operational option for the release of Shalit to be a project that they should undertake in an orderly fashion with goals in mind. "Dan Halutz, who was the chief of staff at the time of the abduction, did not have time to deal with the matter seriously because less than three weeks later the Second Lebanon War broke out. Then the matter simply slipped away."
Cohen believes that Israel had partial intelligence on Shalit's situation which may have enabled a rescue operation, however the intelligence ceased being relevant at the time of Operation Cast Lead in December 2008.
"It may also be that during the operation it was still possible to do something, under the cover of the chaos of the fighting, but it was not done," he says.
He noted that Israel failed to gain "bargaining chips" in the form of abducting senior Hamas figures in the Gaza Strip, which could have pushed Hamas to make concessions earlier. Cohen says that the head of Shin Bet, Yoram Cohen, had to approve the deal that was presented because he knew that in the current situation Israel had no operational possibility of rescuing Shalit.
"Yoram realized that he was at a dead end. This is the inheritance he received. The intelligence break was lost, if it was there to begin with, and now it was like looking for a needle in a haystack. The deal mediated by the Egyptians was simply a reasonable compromise in the absence of another option. Time was necessary for the sides to reach the point where they could carry out the deal."
Cohen believes that Hamas was forced into the deal by the difficulties created by the Palestinian Authority's application to the UN for recognition. "They needed to prove that the use of force against Israel is proving itself. And the release of 1,027 prisoners, in their view, is proof of this."
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