Defense officials - Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Senior defense officials touring the Gaza border last week, near where Gilad Shalit was abducted in 2006. Photo by Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Text size

A senior Israeli defense official told reporters on Wednesday that "a military operation to free the captured soldier Gilad Shalit is not feasible."

The official noted that the IDF has invested tens of millions of shekels in intelligence efforts aimed at tracking down the location where Shalit is being held, but mostly in vain. "It's hard to conduct negotiations with four different Hamas heads," the official said. "Ismail Haniyeh has his own views, Mashal has opinions of his own, and Ahmed Jaberi and Mohamed Daf also have their own independent ideas."

The official indicated that Israel has "worked out understandings with some Hamas officials regarding a deal [to free Shalit], but other elements in Hamas have scuttled it."

The official reviewed the organization's current predicament. "Hamas faces a number of pressures," he said. "Suddenly, at this time when the reconciliation agreement has been signed, we've discovered that they have there 14 organizations. Anyone who has a Qassam missile forms his own terror organization, so Hamas has a tough time keeping things quiet."

The official said that Hamas entered into the unity pact with Fatah out of sense of frustration. "The public in the Gaza Strip has started to exert heavy pressure," he explained. "Hamas' leadership is frightened by what is happening in Arab states, so it had a strong interest in working out the agreement. It's hard for me to believe that the agreement will last once they take up complicated issues, such as elections. The gaps are very wide."

With regards to Egypt, the official said that the IDF was initially worried about changes in relations with Egypt's armed forces, but in fact, the Egyptian army has been cooperating reasonably well with Israel. "Egypt hasn't finished its revolution," the official said. "The Egyptian army has an array of responsibilities: It has to rule, operate as a police force, and deal with other government ministries. These responsibilities are much too much for it. One thing which is hard for the Egyptian army to control is the Sinai, which has turned into a black hole, as far as terror is concerned."

The official noted that Egypt is not sliding into an economic crisis. "The explosion of the gas pipeline was not an act of terror against the state of Israel," he said. "Instead, it expressed a desire for protection money."

Addressing challenges on the southern border, the official said that Israel is clamping down on illegal migrants crossing the border. "This year, we've reduced their number by 50 percent compared with last year," he said. "This year, there have been 2,500. Last year, during the same period, there were 6,000. The construction of the fence on the southern border is proceeding rapidly."

Summarizing, the official said that "the enemy Israel faces has changed. Instead of a campaign to conquer and destroy, they [the enemies] have taken up a tactic of attrition. A few years ago, terror posed the worst threat. Today Hamas threatens us by firing missiles at the State of Israel, with the goal of sowing fear among citizens, but let's not forget that during the Lebanon War and the Cast Lead Operation, our enemies learned that the price they have to pay is very high." The official concluded that "the last two and a half years were the quietest Israel has ever experienced, with regard to terror attacks."

Concerns about statehood

Outgoing Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin said on Wednesday that he is troubled by the prospect of a Palestinian declaration of statehood in September. "September is always a bad month in the Middle East," Diskin said. He added that no major change is likely to happen on October 1, but such a diplomatic move on the part of the Palestinians would "ignite processes that could degenerate."

Speaking at a meeting for friends of Tel Aviv University, Diskin said that most Palestinians would not be willing to accept the type of agreement supported by a majority of Israelis. Many Palestinian leaders, starting with Mahmoud Abbas, "indeed want peace with Israel," he explained. "But they aren't necessarily speaking about the same peace agreement that Israel has in mind."

The problem, he clarified, is that "the Palestinian Authority in Judea and Samaria represents itself, and it certainly doesn't represent Hamas on the Gaza Strip. Hamas hasn't altered its policy or ideological views."