Netanyahu Shalit
Aviva and Noam Shalit with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara. Photo by Avi Ohayon
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The recent appointment of a senior Mossad official as the negotiator for the release of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit has raised eyebrows among the defense establishment.

All of the predecessors of the new appointee, David Meidan, were former members of the Shin Bet security service, the Mossad espionage agency, the Israel Defense Forces, or attorneys who are unconnected to the defense establishment.

Meidan is the first such representative in prisoner-swap talks - a position that has existed for some 25 years - who is officially and currently serving in a high ranking position in the Mossad.

While the Shin Bet, the Mossad and Military Intelligence all have units or officials who handle prisoner exchanges, their names are not made public; their job is to assist with information and to evaluate the work of the official representative who is the public face of these behind-the-scenes activities.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's recent appointment is also surprising as it is prohibited to make public the name or photograph of a current member of the Mossad, or of the Shin Bet, except for the heads of those agencies.

Sources in the intelligence and defense establishments said it is possible the appointment was intended to solve personal problems related to Meidan or organizational problems within the Mossad, rather than to place the appropriate person in this position.

Meidan was until recently head of Tevel, the Mossad branch dealing with spy agencies around the world and countries that do not maintain diplomatic relations with Israel. Most of his years in the agency have been spent as an "Arabist" and in the department known as Tzomet, which finds, drafts and fields agents. He also headed a number of Mossad stations abroad.

Meidan arrived at the Mossad after serving in MI's Unit 8200, charged with collecting signal intelligence and code decryption.

Highly skilled or highly volatile?

Former Mossad officials who know Meidan are divided over the extent of his skills and capabilities. Some say he was a highly skilled expert during his service in Tevel and Tzomet. Others say that, particularly during his period abroad, he came into conflict with subordinates as well as superiors.

According to these sources, there are two explanations for Meidan's appointment. One is that the job was intended to compensate him after current Mossad chief Tamir Pardo had hinted to Meidan that he would not be appointed deputy director of the agency, as Meidan had hoped.

The second possibility is that he was given a job that would keep him in the agency, precisely so that he could later contend for the job of deputy chief when the time came, and from there even rise to head of the agency.

Meanwhile, Germany will continue to mediate between Israel and Hamas for Shalit's release, although the current mediator Gerhard Conrad is apparently to be replaced. The name of his replacement has not been made public, but like Conrad is said to be a member of Germany's intelligence community.

Hamas sources told the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram Tuesday that a new European mediator is working instead of Conrad to jump-start talks on a Shalit swap. In response to that report, Netanyahu's bureau said "Israel will continue to work, led by the German mediator, based on the proposal constructed vis-a-vis Hamas."