Shalit Affair Represents Failure of Israel's Security Forces

'The culmination of the Shalit affair in this fashion is a sad day for the IDF,' Colonel (res. ) Ronen Cohen, who held high posts in the IDF intelligence branch until recently, told Haaretz.

Israel was forced to compromise and sign the Shalit deal because it lacked other alternatives. Of course, it is possible that Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime ministers who served during this five year period of contacts, would not have authorized an operation aimed at freeing Gilad Shalit, due to fears that such a military effort would culminate in failure, like the 1994 attempt to free Nachshon Wachsman. That operation ended with the hostage's death, and casualties among the IDF soldiers. But the truth is that neither Olmert nor Netanyahu faced such a dilemma: throughout the Shalit kidnapping affair, security officials never proposed a military raid with the potential to free the IDF soldier.

In this respect, the Shalit affair represents a failure for Israeli security forces. The branch which has sustained the bulk of criticism is the Shin Bet security service; its heads have admitted to an inability to compile relevant information. However, a sober look at events of the last five years discloses that the IDF also had a role in this failure. "The culmination of the Shalit affair in this fashion is a sad day for the IDF," Colonel (res. ) Ronen Cohen, who held high posts in the IDF intelligence branch until recently, told Haaretz. Cohen relates to the army's inability to propose an operational alternative to a prisoner release deal as a "failure fraught with implications. The IDF never took responsibility for the soldier. The whole matter was just tossed over to the Shin Bet."

Ronen Cohen - Nir Keidar - 18102011
Nir Keidar

For their part, Shin Bet officials also admitted to failure. At the end of his term as the security service's head last May, Yuval Diskin referred to Shalit's remaining in captivity as a "personal failure." His successor, Yoram Cohen, has acknowledged that the lack of intelligence compelled Israel to agree to a deal with its current parameters. The Shin Bet's inability to determine where exactly Shalit was held, during a period when the security service was able, time after time, to identify the whereabouts of terrorists who were then liquidated by the IDF, points to a troubling intelligence gap. However, intelligence officials close to the Shalit affair insist that blaming the Shin Bet alone is unfair.

The IDF did not take advantage of Operation Cast Lead in December, 2008 to try to locate or bring about Shalit's release from Gaza. Particularly surprising is the fact that during the five-year period of negotiations, Israel did not kidnap as "bargaining chips" Hamas members involved in the Shalit abduction, or persons connected to them. There were two exceptions - Muhawesh al-Kadi, a Hamas man from Rafah, was grabbed in 2007, and the engineer Dirar Abu-Sisi was detained this year in Ukraine under mysterious circumstances, and brought to Israel. Neither of these cases brought about any progress in the Shalit matter.

Speaking a few months ago to high school students, Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilnai boasted that "Shalit's captors are to be pitied. They've had some accidents. No person involved in the kidnapping will reach an old age home." In fact, this appears to have been an idle boast - only a few of the kidnappers have paid a price.