IDF taps special team to reexamine Gilad Shalit case
Chief of Staff Benny Gantz appoints new team led by Colonel (res. ) Lior Lotan to reexamine evidence on Shalit's whereabouts; Shimson Libman head of free Shalit campaign reacts with scorn to the move.
IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz last week appointed a new team to reexamine the circumstances of the abduction of Gilad Shalit, the soldier captured by Hamas in 2006.
The team, led by Colonel (res. ) Lior Lotan, will look again at all the evidence accumulated that might yield a clue to Shalit's whereabouts.
Shimshon Libman, head of the campaign to free Shalit, reacted with scorn to the move. "Kudos to Gantz, who decided to take the issue seriously, but it's ridiculous to think that after five years the IDF is setting up a committee for this," he said.
"After both the former chief of staff and former Shin Bet head admitted failure [in freeing Shalit], it is absolutely clear the decision is in the prime minister's hands," he said.
In addition to Lotan, six other intelligence experts and army officers are to be included in the special team.
Maj. Gen. Orna Barbivai, chief of staff at the personnel directorate, met with the Shalit family yesterday and updated them on the new move.
Former IDF chief Gabi Ashkenazi and former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin said before stepping down from their posts that Israel does not have exact information on the circumstances of Shalit's captivity and therefore Israel cannot locate him and secure his release.
The new team is meant to review with fresh eyes all the evidence gathered by the IDF and Israeli intelligence since Shalit's abduction five years ago, in the hope of finding new angles to approach the situation. At the same time, the current intelligence team on Shalit, led by the Shin Bet security service, will continue working in coordination with the Mossad.
The IDF said the new team is supposed to assist the political leadership, which is considering a prisoners exchange deal for Shalit, and is in no way a pretext to delay decisions on a deal.
The IDF's general staff and Military Intelligence did not allocate adequate resources to finding Shalit immediately after his capture. This was both because three weeks later soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser were abducted on the Lebanese border, and because the IDF and government's attention shifted to the fighting in the north.
Lotan, a former officer in Sayeret Matkal - the general staff's elite special-operations force - headed the 1994 operation to try to rescue the kidnapped soldier Nachshon Wachsman (who was killed ) and was commended by Chief of Staff Ehud Barak for his performance. Lotan studied law and commanded the general staff's negotiation team.
Lotan was General Yoav Galant's candidate for IDF spokesman when Galant believed he would be appointed IDF Chief of Staff. When Galant's appointment was revoked, Lotan withdrew his candidacy for the spokesman's position.
Kochavi was the commander of the Gaza division when Shalit was captured and ended his tenure a month and a half later. In his parting letter to the troops he wrote "of course I'm not forgetting Gilad. Throughout the past weeks we've had to endanger our soldiers in offensive action to advance his release...continue the effort and do everything possible to bring him back, as befitting the IDF's values and code of friendship and solidarity."
Noam Shalit, Gilad's father, said yesterday in response to the report about the new team that he could not comment because he did not know what the team was supposed to do.
Noam Shalit continued his meetings with legislators yesterday in a bid to have them sign a letter to the prime minister to support a deal to free Shalit, including the release of prisoners with blood on their hands.