Is Shalit's Return Really Israel's 'Chief Priority'?

Haaretz reveals IDF didn't invest enough in searching for Shalit during 6 months after abduction.

Despite endless pledges to do everything possible to secure Gilad Shalit's return, his release has not always been one of the army's top priorities and the cabinet sometimes passed resolutions that the Israel Defense Forces thought would undermine efforts to free the kidnapped soldier, documents obtained by Haaretz reveal.

During the first six months after Hamas kidnapped Shalit to Gaza in June 2006, the documents show, the IDF failed to allocate the necessary resources to the search for him. This search relied heavily on the use of drones and other air force resources that were allocated to different army units for a limited number of hours per day. But at a meeting in December 2006 with Maj. Gen. Tal Russo, then head of the IDF's Operations Directorate, a senior Shin Bet security service official was still complaining that his agency had been allocated insufficient drone hours to pursue the search in an optimal manner.

The following year, the Shin Bet reiterated this complaint during an internal IDF inquiry into the allocation of drone hours, saying the search for Shalit "did not receive the requisite priority, and additional flight hours were not allocated to this mission until December 2006."

Even then, however, the Shin Bet did not get as much drone time as it wanted. That did not happen until February 2007, when then defense minister Amir Peretz ordered various army units to "donate" drone time to the search for Shalit. Thus in January 2007, other army units donated 14 hours a day of drone time, out of a total of 120, to the search; the following month, this figure was doubled.

The internal inquiry eventually concluded that the desire to give all units a "fair share" of drone time sometimes resulted in low-priority operations getting drone time at the expense of high-priority missions.

The December 2006 meeting with Russo also revealed that as of that date, the Shin Bet had still not established a special task force devoted solely to finding Shalit. The senior official told Russo that "at this stage, the service is examining the option of establishing" such a task force.

One of the most significant cabinet resolutions affecting the issue was the declaration of a cease-fire with Hamas in late November 2006. On November 21, a few days before the truce took effect, then IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz told the cabinet that he opposed a cease-fire unless it included Shalit's return. However, the cabinet rejected his stance.

Similarly, the IDF's Plans and Policy Directorate objected to the "benchmarks" plan proposed by Gen. Keith Dayton, the U.S. security coordinator for the region, in 2007, saying its demand for opening the border crossings between Israel and Gaza should be rejected until Shalit was returned. However, the cabinet overruled the army on this matter as well.