Israel has attempted to indirectly contact Iranian military officials to advance a prisoner-exchange deal to secure the release of captured Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, according to a leaked American diplomatic cable.
According to a 2009 WikiLeaks cable from the U.S. Embassy in London to the U.S. State Department, Israel attempted to contact a former commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, Yahya Rahim Safavi, through a mediator, Chabad Rabbi Herschel Gluck, a U.K. citizen known for his contacts with Muslim clergymen, including Iranians.
The intended contact, the WikiLeaks cable claimed, was Syed Salman Safavi, an Iranian clergyman, brother of the former Revolutionary Guard chief and current military adviser to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In the WikiLeaks cable, Ayatollah Safavi is described as an unofficial emissary to certain unnamed Iranian circles.
According to the leaked cable, Rabbi Gluck conveyed to a U.S. diplomat that he had just met Ayatollah Safavi in London, at the request of the Israeli Embassy, which had asked him to try and find out the whereabouts of missing Israeli soldiers, as well as information concerning Shalit, who is held captive by Hamas.
The cable quotes an American diplomat as saying that Gluck had made it clear that Safavi was aware of the rabbi's connection to the Israeli Embassy, adding, however, that it wasn't clear whether Safavi knew that Gluck had discussed the issue with U.S. officials.
One Iranian website described Ayatollah Safavi as a clergyman and the editor of the Transcendent Philosophy Journal. However, in other WikiLeaks cables he is described as a "Revolutionary Guards fighter."
The cable quoted made it clear that the conversation was the first between Gluck and Safavi. The latter fiercely criticized Israeli policy, which he saw as responsible for the death of Palestinians in Gaza, telling his Jewish interlocutor, "There can be no deal after Gaza."
However, according to the leaked cable, Gluck said it was possible that the Iranian clergyman's outburst was meant to function as a bargaining tool in case of future negotiations.
Gluck also told the U.S. diplomats, the cable said, that Safavi could have stopped seeing him at any time, had his Tehran associates been interested in ending the meetings.
When Gluck reportedly asked about the whereabouts of missing Israel Air Force navigator Ron Arad, Safavi is reported to have said that Arad "isn't in my jurisdiction."
Iran specialists have come up with two options as to the possible nature of these irregular contacts. One is that Ayatollah Safavi is a kind of unofficial envoy with the authority to contact Western and even Israeli officials on behalf of the Revolutionary Guards.
Another possibility is that Safavi wished to make it appear as if he was speaking on behalf of Iranian officials, when in reality he had no authority to do so and could even be said to be working in a way that his brother would disapprove of.
An edited version of the report concerning the leaked cable appeared also on Iranian news website Tabnak, with some passages removed, presumably to protect Safavi's safety. The website stated that Gluck had received "threats from unknown men over his contacts with the Iranian religious sage."
Gluck himself told Chabad website Chabad.info in response that he feared the publication of the cable would bring harm to his Iranian interlocutor.
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