Israel 'Took Care to Miss' Opportunities With Hamas, Ex-hostage Negotiator Says

Netanyahu 'did not want a prisoner swap deal for his own reasons,' ex-IDF official responsible for prisoners and MIS Moshe Tal tells Army Radio

Demonstrators on the Gaza border call for the release of Israeli soldiers and civilians held by Hamas, in December.
Demonstrators on the Gaza border call for the release of Israeli soldiers and civilians held by Hamas, in December.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Israel has missed opportunities for a prisoner exchange deal with Hamas, former IDF official responsible for prisoners and MIS Moshe Tal told Army Radio on Wednesday.

Tal, who resigned on Tuesday, said that he doesn’t remember any situation in recent years in which there was a dynamic in negotiations that might lead to a deal. “There were opportunities that Israel took care to miss, and that’s what we’re living with now.”

Hamas is holding the bodies of soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, who were killed in the 2014 Gaza War, as well as two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed.

Israel has presented the return of the captives and missing soldiers as a condition for making any progress in negotiations over the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip and the repair of infrastructure damaged during May’s hostilities with Hamas.

Tal said that there was “a window of opportunity, and I find it hard to explain why Israel closed it.” He added that former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “did not want a deal for his own reasons. Without saying no directly, there were other ways of dropping the issue.”

Tal left the Israel Defense Forces intelligence corps in 2019, remaining as the chief-of-staff’s representative for dealing with captives and missing soldiers at the Prime Minister’s Office.

In his interview with Army Radio, he said that “people might say that the political reality sets the tone, or that we’re in trauma after the [Gilad] Shalit deal. I don’t take that lightly, but trauma is not a plan of action.”

Tal noted the difference between public pressure, like that around the release of Shalit, which can “spoil” things, and media attention to the issue. “I want this to be on people’s minds, since this is what will change the motive of decision makers,” he said.

There are growing chances of escalation, Tal said, since Hamas is not getting what it asked for. Changes that were promised after the last round of hostilities have not happened, he noted.

“Israel is operating under the conception that if things are good for Gazans, Hamas will realize the costs of losing, making it easier to hold negotiations over the captives.”

This is wrong, Tal said, since this topic is but one of many in the relations between Hamas and Israel. “We shouldn’t predicate something on the return of the captives, it’s a long process with many stages,” he added.

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