Avigdor Liberman .
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Israel is fully committed to securing the return of all “civilians and soldiers” in enemy captivity, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said on Wednesday, during a visit to the Druse town of Daliat al-Carmel near Haifa.
During a visit to the town’s Yad Lebanim Association of families of fallen soldiers, where he met with Druse leaders, Liberman took the opportunity to slam a report, aired on Channel 10 earlier this week, that claimed he had recently said behind closed doors that he would reject any deal to return the bodies of IDF officers St.-Sgt. Oron Shaul and Lt. Hadar Goldin, killed in action during the 2014 Gaza war.
Two living Israeli civilians who entered Gaza on their own accord are also believed to be held by Hamas.
“Nothing was said behind closed doors, no comments were made. [Such reports] simply harm the national interest,” Liberman said.
“We have a full obligation to secure the return of all Israeli civilians and soldiers in captivity. Our first obligation is to bring them home.”
Liberman said that “all speculation simply harms the national effort. The more we talk about it, the harder the mission will get.
It is better to remain quiet and speak less,” he said.
The defense minister said his stance on large-scale prisoner deals with Hamas to secure the release of Israelis has long been clear, noting that he voted against the 2011 Gilad Schalit exchange with Hamas, in which Israel released over 1,000 security prisoners for his freedom.
“In retrospect, I think I was right. How many of those released returned to the terrorism cycles? How many took up key positions among Hamas’s murderers? How many took part in terrorist acts, including the murder of Israeli civilians? Our first obligation is to return them [Israelis]. Our second obligation is not to chatter,” Liberman said.
Following the Channel 10 report, Goldin’s brother, Tzur, attacked Liberman, telling Army Radio on Tuesday, “He must make his stance clear. We have been saying the whole time that he must press Hamas. We are turning to Liberman and saying, ‘Take responsibility, because you are evading it.’ He is not fighting for the soldiers, but, rather, he is giving up on Hadar and Oron.”
Also on Wednesday, Liberman’s bureau released a statement, saying, “Despite a report by Channel 10, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman did not speak – today or in recent days – about the issue of returning the soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin. Minister Liberman has always been opposed to the kind of prisoner exchange deals that have occurred until now.”
Liberman also criticized “Israeli bureaucracy” for holding up long-needed financial resources for the Druse communities. “The problem is beating Israeli bureaucracy,” he said. “If there is a real enemy here [in improving the flow of state resources], it is not the coalition or the opposition, but Israeli bureaucracy.”
Liberman promised during his speech to work hard to overcome bureaucratic hurdles and secure the missing funds.