lotan - Gadi Dagon - January 6 2011
Col. (res.) Lior Lotan Photo by Gadi Dagon
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Col. (res. ) Lior Lotan will be the next Israel Defense Forces spokesman, chief of staff-designate Yoav Galant has decided.

Lotan, who spent much of his service in the elite Sayeret Matkal unit, was decorated for his role in the failed attempt to rescue kidnapped soldier Nachshon Wachsman in 1994.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak has approved his appointment.

By appointing a decorated combat soldier to fill this post, which has gained great importance due to the intense media focus on the IDF in recent years, Galant is both sending a message and taking a calculated risk: The new spokesman will be a soldier's soldier, not a "spin doctor" like the incumbent, veteran journalist Avi Benayahu.

This is also Galant's first solo appointment. While he has already filled three other key posts, those appointments were made in consultation with Barak and current Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi.

Lotan, 45, commanded the 1994 raid on the house in the West Bank town of Bir Naballah where Hamas held Wachsman. But Wachsman and Capt. Nir Poraz were both killed in the raid, while Lotan was seriously injured. The citation he later received noted that despite being wounded twice, he refused to abandon the fight until all the terrorists had been killed.

Earlier that year, Lotan played a key role in capturing Mustafa Dirani, head of the Lebanese terrorist organization Amal, which had seized navigator Ron Arad after his plane was downed in Lebanon in 1986 but later handed him over to another organization, after which all trace of Arad was lost. Israel had hoped to trade Dirani for information about Arad. Lotan was also involved in other efforts to find out what happened to Arad, but to no avail.

After leaving Sayeret Matkal, Lotan, who is also a lawyer, spent almost a decade heading the General Staff's negotiations unit, and later, MI's unit for tracing MIAs. He played a major role in negotiating the 2004 deal under which Hezbollah returned businessman Elhanan Tennenbaum and the bodies of three kidnapped soldiers in exchange for Israel's release of more than 400 terrorists, and was later involved in negotiating with extremist settlers who barricaded themselves in their homes during the 2005 disengagement from Gaza.

But Lotan was not involved in the negotiations over kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, and later criticized how these talks were conducted in op-eds written for Haaretz.

Lotan has no media experience whatsoever. Nevertheless, the prevailing assessment among both journalists and the staff of the IDF Spokesman's Office was that his long experience in both negotiations and psychological warfare operations would stand him in good stead.