Israel Approves Prisoner Swap Deal With Egypt to Free Ilan Grapel

Prime Minister Netanyahu's cabinet unanimously supports agreement; 25 Egyptian prisoners to be exchanged for suspected Israeli spy.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet approved on Tuesday a prisoner exchange deal with Egypt to release suspected Israeli spy Ilan Grapel in exchange for 25 Egyptian prisoners.

Under the terms of the newly approved deal, Grapel is due to be released this coming Thursday.

Ilan Grapel Tahrir

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The cabinet's unanimous decision came after an Israeli negotiation team met Monday with Grapel in Cairo to update him on his upcoming release from Egyptian prison where he has been held since June 12.

Attorney Yitzhak Molcho and MK Yisrael Hasson (Kadima), who met with Grapel at the Egyptian intelligence headquarters, reported that Grapel was in good health, and that negotiations between Egypt and Israel would continue in order to secure the release of Ouda Tarabin, an Israeli Bedouin who has been held by Egypt for 11 years on charges of espionage.

According to Hasson, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should be credited for “handling the sensitive situation” of round-the-clock negotiations.

Grapel was originally charged with espionage, although the charges were later changed to incitement, insurrection, and damaging a public building during the uprising that took place in Egypt earlier this year. The U.S. has been especially active in trying to secure Grapel's release during the last two months.

In a statement published by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office, Israel and Egypt reached a deal to release the suspected spy, saying that Grapel is to be released in exchange for 25 Egyptian prisoners, including three minors.

However, despite claims by Israeli officials, according to which the deal would set free only Egyptian prisoners jailed over criminal offences, a report in the Egyptian newspaper al-Masry al-Youm said that the Grapel deal would include two security offenders, charged with planning to target sites within Israel in cooperation with Palestinian militants.

According to the report, the deal represents the largest prisoner exchange agreement between Israel and Egypt, with Egyptian officials estimating that the swap would take place by this Thursday.

The PM's office added that the deal was reached as a result of U.S. mediation, and that none of the prisoners to be released were linked to attacks on Israeli citizens.

'Moral bankruptcy'

Responding to the cabinet's approval of the Grapel swap deal, National Union MK Aryeh Eldad criticized the decision to release the suspected Israeli spy for 25 prisoners, saying that the deal indicated that "Israel has declared moral bankruptcy."

"After freeing murderous terrorists for a drug dealer it is freeing drug dealers for a professional anarchist who worked against Israel in Bil'in," Eldad said, referring to the 2004 exchange deal between Israel and Hezbollah in which 430 prisoners were released for retired IDF officer Elhanan Tannenbaum, who was reportedly involved in a drug deal before being kidnapped by the Lebanese militant group.

"The State is emptying all concepts of law and justice from meaning. Tomorrow, they could offer the wholesale release of foreign workers indicted in Israel for robbery or rape in exchange of Israelis who sold drugs in Japan or Thailand," Eldad said.