Israel Held Indirect Contacts With Iranian Sources on Gilad Shalit, WikiLeaks Cable Says

According to leaked 2009 cable, U.K. rabbi was asked by Israel to contact Iranian clergyman with contacts to Revolutionary Guard's former commander.

Yossi Melman head
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Yossi Melman head

Israel has attempted to indirectly contact Iranian military officials in order to advance a prisoner exchange deal that would secure the release of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, according to leaked American diplomatic cables.

According to a 2009 WikiLeaks cable from the U.S. embassy in London to the U.S. State Department, Israel attempted to contact a former commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Yahya Rahim Safavi through a mediator – Chabad Rabbi Herschel Gluck, a U.K. citizen known for his contacts with Muslim clergymen, including Iranians.

IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, captured by Hamas in 2006.Credit: Archive

The intended contact, the WikiLeaks cable claimed, was Salman Safavi, an Iranian clergyman and brother of the former Revolutionary Guard chief and current military adviser to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In the WikiLeaks cable, Salman Safavi is described as an unofficial emissary to certain unnamed Iranian circles.

According to the leaked cable, Rabbi Gluck conveyed to a U.S. diplomat that he had just met Safavi in London, at the request of the Israeli embassy, who had asked him to try and find out the whereabouts of missing Israeli soldiers as well as information concerning Gilad Shalit, who is held captive by Hamas.

The cable quotes an American diplomat as saying that Gluck had made it clear that Safavi was aware of the Rabbi's connection to the Israeli embassy, adding, however, that it wasn't clear whether Safavi was aware of the fact that Gluck had discussed the issue with U.S. officials.

One Iranian website described Salman Safavi as a clergyman and the editor of the Transcendent Philosophy Journal. However, in other WikiLeaks cables he is described as a "Revolutionary Guards fighter." The cable quoted made it clear that the conversation was the first between Gluck and Safavi. The latter fiercely criticized Israeli policy which he saw as responsible for the death of Palestinians in Gaza, telling his Jewish interlocutor: "There can be no deal after Gaza."

However, according to the leaked cable, Gluck made it clear that Safavi's outburst was the harshest by the Iranian clergyman, adding that it was possibly that the flare-up was meant to function as a bargaining tool in case of future negotiations.

Gluck also told the U.S. diplomats, the cable said, that Safavi could have stopped seeing him at any time, had his Tehran associates been interested in ending the meetings.

When Gluck reportedly asked on the whereabouts of missing IAF navigator Ron Arad, Safavi is reported to have said that Arad "isn't in my jurisdiction."

Iran specialists have come up with two options as to the possible nature of these irregular contacts. One, is that Salman Safavi is a kind of unofficial envoy with authority to contact Western and even Israeli officials on behalf of the Revolutionary Guard.

Another possibility is that Safavi wished to make it seem as if he was speaking on behalf of Iranian officials, when in reality he had no authority to speak for them and could even be said to be working in a way that his brother would disapprove of.

It should be emphasized, that an edited version of report concerning the leaked cable appeared also in the Iranian news website Tabnak, with some passages removed, presumably to protect Safavi's safety.

The website stated that Gluck had received "threats from unknown men over his contacts with the Iranian religious sage." Gluck himself told Chabad website in response that he feared the publication of the cable would bring harm to his Iranian interlocutor.