Vilnai: Even Hamas Leaders Don't Know Where Shalit Is Held

Home Front Defense Minister says most of the militants involved in the soldier's capture from Gaza five years ago 'are no longer with us.'

The Minister of Home Front Defense, Matan Vilnai, implied yesterday that Israel has killed Hamas militants who were involved in the 2006 abduction of Gilad Shalit. Speaking to high school students at Gymnasia Rehavia, in Jerusalem, Vilnai said: "The Hamas prime minister and his chief of staff don't know where Gilad is being held. The group that is holding him knows. Many of them are no longer with us. Poor guys, they had all sort of accidents. But we haven't reached the end. Anyone involved in the abduction doesn't need to worry about a retirement home, he won't get there."

Someone might infer from this that Israel is scouring the globe for Shalit's kidnappers, as it did with the architects of the massacre at the 1972 Munich Olympics (and, on a smaller scale, with the perpetrators of the brutal murder of two Israeli reservists in Ramallah in 2000 ). The truth is very different. About two months ago, during the last military escalation with Hamas, Israel killed Taysir Abu Sanima, who was involved in the abduction, but mainly because of his rocket-launching activities. In two other incidents Israel arrested or abducted (depending on one's perspective ) individuals it thought were connected to Shalit's abduction, but the goal was apparently extracting intelligence about his whereabouts rather than settling scores. If there were any other cases in the past five years they were never reported in the media.

Vilnai, like other senior figures before him speaking to an audience, apparently got carried away and was less than precise. Perhaps it's no coincidence that this episode took place with high school students, who as future soldiers are very troubled by Shalit's fate. Many fear the state has abandoned the abducted soldier.

Vilnai's remarks were preceded by former chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi saying that Shalit's whereabouts are unknown, to which his successor, Benny Gantz, responded that sometimes silence is golden.