Gerhard Conrad is one of many aliases used to shield Germany's top Mideast foreign intelligence agent, who is helping to mediate a complex prisoner swap with Hamas for the release of Gilad Schalit. While he is widely praised in the mainstream German media as an "honest mediator" who has bolstered Germany's positive reputation in Israel, a recent Fox News report sharply criticized Conrad as going to great lengths to favor Hamas at the expense of Israel's security interests.
According to a Fox source who has access to the Schalit negotiations, Conrad "seems to be more favorable to Hamas, possibly because of the German government's economic ties with Iran, known to be Hamas's financial and ideological backer."
Pro-Israel critics in Germany have long characterized Conrad's mediation track record as dubious, largely because he has won significant concessions from the Israeli government in exchange for paltry gains from Hizbullah in Lebanon. Within the BND, Germany's foreign intelligence, he has been nicknamed "Mr. Hizbullah," a coinage intended to convey praise and respect.
The Fox report in no way surprised astute critics of German-Iranian relations. The question frequently surfaces whether the German Foreign Ministry hoodwinked the Israelis in order to advance its pro-Iranian business relations agenda. But the so-called German-Israeli "special relationship" seeks to settle disputes behind closed doors. That helps to explain the stunning Fox revelation as a possible turning point in German mediation efforts in the region.
German observers argue that last year's swap was a telling example of Conrad pushing the pro-Hizbullah agenda, in which he secured the release of five Palestinian terrorists including child-murderer Samir Kuntar for the bodies of IDF reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser. A bitter aftertaste was evident among pro-Israel groups who viewed the German Foreign Ministry as celebrating a deal involving dead Jews while maintaining its "good relations" with anti-Semitic regimes such as Iran who seek the destruction of Israel.
The German journalist Alex Feurherdt, writing in the leftist monthly magazine Konkret, expects Conrad to earn the accolade of "Mr. Hamas" within the BND because of his efforts to bend over backwards to please the terror group.
It is not surprising that the mainstream German press ignored the Fox story and the charge that Conrad is tainted by a pro-Hamas bias. Conrad has become a national hero in Germany. The Berlin daily Tagesspiegel reported last week that he was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit this year for his mediation efforts in the Middle East. The value of the Federal Cross of Merit has become tarnished over the past year, because President Horst KÃ¶hler issued a Cross to anti-Israel lawyer Felicia Langer, who equates Israel with Nazi Germany. KÃ¶hler also held the keynote speech at the OsnabrÃ¼ck Freedom prize ceremony to praise the Swedish author Henning Mankell, who has said that "Israel must completely disappear."
Conrad has left Israel, according to the Tagesspiegel, to join his family in Germany for the Christmas break. The Israeli government is awaiting a reply to the latest proposal from Conrad.
The chances of a successful mediation hover around 50 percent, according to Berlin governmental insiders. If a deal is sealed, critics in Israel and abroad are bound to ask if "Mr. Hamas" out-negotiated and out-organized Israeli officials to advance Germany's interests in the Islamic Republic of Iran.