IDF Favors Freeing Prisoners Who Aren't Terrorists

The security establishment is prepared to release Palestinian prisoners who have not been convicted of hostile terror activity, if a deal is reached with Hamas on the release of Corporal Gilad Shalit and instituting calm on the Gaza-Israel border.

The Israel Defense Forces said it will not support a deal that would release terrorists "with blood on their hands," but only those who have not been involved in planning or carrying out terror attacks. The army would be willing to release individuals who are being held under the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance, such as Hamas ministers and members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, as well as security prisoners jailed for relatively minor offenses, such as belonging to terrorist organizations.

The number of prisoners released is less important to the IDF than the type of prisoners, and there are no plans to repeat the actions of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who freed ordinary Palestinian criminals to fulfill his part of the Wye Accords.

Decisions on the type of prisoners whose release the IDF would support came up in security discussions held over the last few days, led by Defense Minister Amir Peretz and IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, in which defense officials have formulated a draft deal for the release of Shalit.

However, military officials said they do not think the sides are close to reaching such a deal. Top IDF officials said the crisis over Shalit's abduction is liable to last "days, weeks, months and even years." As of last night, the most updated information available to security officials indicated that Shalit was alive and that his captors planned to keep him healthy as long as they don't think the army is planning a military operation to secure his release.

The conditions for such an operation are far from ready, according to senior military officials. They said the negotiations for his release will require a lot of patience. Such patience is also likely to characterize the IDF approach to ground operations in Gaza, which are not planned for the short term.

The IDF's draft deal is meant to show the Olmert government the limits of the Israeli concessions that the army considers tolerable. In the eyes of the IDF, more significant concessions to Shalit's captors and Hamas would encourage extremist Arab and Muslim groups and would critically damage the position of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

Defense officials warned against ending the crisis in a way that would show Palestinians and others in the region that Hamas and extremist groups have succeeded where moderates like Abbas have failed.

The draft deal calls for a total halt to the firing of steep-trajectory weapons, whether by Hamas or other organizations; a halt to attacks on Israeli citizens and IDF troops, wherever they are located; and a ban on abductions. There were four abductions and attempted abductions over the last month, three of them in the West Bank.

In exchange for a Palestinian commitment to stop these activities, the deal calls for the IDF to stop operating in Gaza, while reserving the right of defense and the right to foil terror attacks. The IDF also wants a "sleep balance" between Sderot and Gaza: If the children of Sderot can't sleep due to fear of Qassam rockets, Israel will disrupt the sleep of Gaza children.

The IDF assessment is that Hamas leaders in Gaza recognize that their rule would be seriously threatened if an attack on the Negev leads to a harsh Israeli reprisal. The army also said that flying over the summer palace of Syrian President Bashar Assad undercut the position of Hamas lead Khaled Meshal in Damascus.

Senior IDF officials in charge of Gaza think Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh will choose to maintain power, at the cost of suspending terrorism.