The open hostility between former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak erupted once more over the weekend in the wake of an interview Barak gave Haaretz Magazine in which he blames Olmert for failure in managing the contacts with Hamas over the release of captured soldier Gilad Shalit. The accusations infuriated the former prime minister and his circle, who claim that it is Barak who caused the failure of the talks when he visited the protest tent of the Shalit family while negotiations for a deal were underway in Cairo in March 2009.
"It was possible to bring back" Gilad Shalit three years ago, toward the end of Olmert's tenure in office, Barak told Haaretz. He blamed Olmert for making the mistake of letting Hamas dictate the number and names of prisoners that would be released.
"As head of Military Intelligence I followed previous deals," Barak said. "We had never agreed to let the other side dictate the names - the minute that Olmert said 1000 people, 450 we will select and 450 you will select, then he placed all sorts of limitations."
Commenting on the last effort to bring about a breakthrough in the negotiations for Shalit in March 2009, several days before the swearing in of Benjamin Netanyahu, Barak said that the difference between the two sides stood at 130 prisoners that Hamas wanted released, included those serving life sentences for the murder of Israelis. That latest round was an effort to reach a compromise on those prisoners.
Olmert was furious about Barak's statements. During the past three years he has assailed Barak more than once and this time he embarked on a vociferous attack against the Defense Minister.
"One of the main causes, if not the main cause, of the failure to reach a deal in March 2009, is Ehud Barak," a source close to Olmert said.
"Barak is directly to blame that Shalit was not released and his behavior is irresponsible. Unfortunately Barak is not telling the truth in this case too."
"Hamas was under pressure following Operation Cast Lead and they needed an accomplishment urgently for public opinion in Gaza. Given that, the envoy Ofer Dekel and the head of Shin Bet, Yuval Diskin, went to Cairo thinking that it was possible to close the matter," sources close to Olmert said.
According to the same sources, "Barak arrived at 8 p.m., at the time of the news broadcast, at the protest tent of the Shalit family to express his support. The pictures of Barak at the tent went around the world in the Arab media. The Hamas leadership saw him and decided that Israel wants a deal at any cost.
Dekel and Diskin were convinced that Barak's visit at the protest tent had contributed to the failure of the talks. Yadlin and then Mossad chief, Meir Dagan, told the cabinet on March 17, 2009 that the visit to the tent by ministers ruined the negotiations.
"They did not use names but it was clear to everyone who was present who they were referring to," sources close to Olmert said.
Responding to the Barak interview, Noam Shalit, father of captive Israeli soldier Gilad, said yesterday that yet another Israeli decision maker had acknowledged the strategic error in negotiations with Hamas for the release of his son. "These mistakes have led to the price that Hamas asked, and is still asking these days, for Gilad's release, which is a price that is claimed to be high, some say excessive, and others [describe as] impossible," Noam Shalit said.
"Hamas was allowed to put together a list and demand the release of prisoners, many of whom are considered to be senior or commanders," he added.
Shalit linked the statements made by Barak to those of outgoing Shin Bet Chief Yuval Diskin, who claimed last week that the failure to gain the release of Gilad Shalit is a personal failure for him.
"Unfortunately the senior figures and decision makers continue to issue statements admitting their mistakes and failures, but the only one paying the price of this is our son Gilad."
Noam Shalit also called on the Prime Minister to pay the necessary price in order to release Gilad. He says that "if later there is a need, the State of Israel will be able to deal with those terrorists or released prisoners."
The full interview with Barak will appear in Haaretz's Independence Day supplement on Monday.
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