German Mediator Explains Intelligence Agency's Role in Shalit Deal

Speaking to reporters, top German intelligences officials laud prisoner exchange deal, warning, however, that the situation was still fragile.

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Haaretz
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Haaretz

While explaining their role in the prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hamas that would see IDF soldier Gilad Shalit free, top German intelligence officials said on Friday that the situation will continue to be fragile until Shalit arrives in Israel.

The comments were made by the German mediator to the Shalit talks Gerhard Conrad and the head of German intelligence Ernst Uhrlau, who had aided Israel in talks geared at retrieving former IDF officer Elhanan Tannenbaum from Hezbollah captivity in 2004.

From left: Hamas chief Khaled Meshal, captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit and Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuCredit: Emil Salman and AP

Speaking to reporters in the Berlin headquarters of German intelligence (Bundesnachrichtendienst, or BND), the officials expressed their satisfaction with the completed deal, and from their contribution to its completion, adding, however, that the situation was still fragile until the terms of the deal take place on the ground.

The German officials were asked about the role of Iran and Syria in the process, but they denied any involvement by the two countries.

The intelligence officials told reporters they had been optimistic as to the chances of striking a deal by the end of last year, saying, however, that talks fell through, a fact which they attributed to turmoil in the Arab world, and especially in Egypt.

It should be noted that Israeli sources estimated that one of the reasons a deal was not achieved six months ago was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's unwillingness to make the required concessions, to which he agreed in the deal signed recently. That refusal also brought on the retirement of Shalit talks envoy Haggai Hadas, who was replaced by David Meidan.

Even though Conrad and Uhrlau did not indicate so directly, the impression they gave was that the Arab Spring and the Egyptian crisis severely damaged German intelligence ties with the old Egyptian regime, especially with the head of Egyptian intelligence, the General Omar Suleiman.

In this context, they half admitted that lines of communication were disrupted, a fact which scaled down their part in Shalit negotiations, leaving the stage for Egypt to supervise the prisoner swap talks.

Conrad, a man in his mid-50s, is a veteran intelligence officer, with a rank equivalent to that of a colonel, and represents the Middle East wing of the BND.

However, as far as Shalit negotiations were concerned, he was considered a "freelancer" of sorts, working in behalf of the BND, in order to prevent a direct link between his official role in German intelligence and his job as mediator. That's mainly because Germany does not officially recognize Hamas.

He has been working in the Mideast for the last five years, following 2006's Second Lebanon War, and mediated talks between Israel and Hezbollah which led to the 2008 swap deal that brought Israel back the bodies of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser.

Conrad was not involved at the time in Shalit talks, while they were run by then-Israeli envoy Ofer Dekel, but was brought in to those negotiations once Dekel was replaced by former Mossad man Haggai Hadas.

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