No Longer a 'Local Problem'

The fear that last week's kidnapping of Corporal Gilad Shalit could become a model adopted by terrorist organizations in Arab states has caused others of these countries to become involved over the weekend in the effort to arrange Shalit's return. Senior Saudi officials, for instance, spoke with Syrian and Lebanese leaders to determine their ability to influence the kidnappers and/or to moderate the urgings for them to stand fast that are emanating from Hezbollah and other organizations.

"The problem is that the abduction has developed from a local affair into an affair that brings demonstrators into the streets in many Arab cities," one Egyptian source explained. "The abduction has turned into a test of strength not only between the kidnappers and Israel, but also of the Arab states' ability to influence Israel's policy. That is where the sense of being trapped stems from: If Israel gives in to the kidnappers' demands, the kidnapping might become a new fashion in Arab states, which see what is happening in Iraq and now in the Palestinian Authority. But if Israel decides to attack in force, this will generate a public counter-reaction that is liable to deprive the moderate Arab states of the option of continuing to mediate. That is the reason for the supreme effort that Saudi Arabia and Egypt are making to confine the abduction to its own local framework."

However, this situation was further complicated by Israel's arrest last week of Palestinian ministers and parliamentarians. "If before, the view among some Arab leaders was that the Hamas government was an undesirable development, now they are compelled to defend the detainees," the Egyptian explained.

The Egyptian mediation effort continued yesterday, but Egyptian sources said that they are having trouble figuring out exactly who is making decisions about the kidnapping.

The confusion over who is in charge was also evident in Saturday's harsh denunciation of the Hamas leadership in Gaza by Mohammed Nazel, an overseas member of Hamas' political bureau. "Their [cabinet] chairs have tempted Hamas, and therefore they cannot respond to Israel's acts against the Palestinian people," he said. "We urge our heroes: Don't return the soldier until your demands are met."

This indicates that either Hamas' external leadership does not control the kidnappers, or that Nazel is not in on the secret.