Germany played key role in the Schalit talks

Gerhard Konrad, who heads the foreign section of the intelligence service of BND, jump-started the Schalit mediation process in 2009.

By JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
October 14, 2011 01:14
3 minute read.
German intelligence agency BND

Germany's intelligence agency BND 311 (R). (photo credit: Fabrizio Bensch / Reuters)

 
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BERLIN – While the diplomatic consensus, including Germany’s government, says Egypt played the critical role in mediating the agreement on Tuesday to secure Gilad Schalit’s release from Hamas captivity, a German intelligence officer helped lay the foundation for the deal.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu thanked German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday for her government’s “constant support,” likely a reference to her decision to assign intelligence officer Gerhard Konrad to negotiate for the tank gunner’s freedom.

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Konrad, who heads the foreign section of the intelligence service of the Federal Republic (BND), jump-started the Schalit mediation process in 2009. He is said to use multiple aliases and speak a number of languages, including Arabic. He was on the edges of this week’s process. The German government has long been tight-lipped about his activities in the region.

The German Foreign Ministry and the Merkel administration declined to issue comments on Konrad to The Jerusalem Post. A BND spokeswoman said on Wednesday that she “cannot and is not allowed” to speak about Konrad.

Der Spiegel online only refers to him as “Gehard C.,” apparently to protect his identity. His surname has been spelled as Conrad. It is unclear if it is his real name.

The Israeli Embassy, however, did cite the German representative in its statement that was sent to the Post and other news organizations on Wednesday.



“The ambassador of the State of Israel, Yoram Ben-Zeev, expressed the gratitude of Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel for the support of the federal government in the negotiation for the release of Gilad Schalit,” the embassy wrote.

“In the next few days, a telephone conversation is planned between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chancellor Merkel. Israel is very thankful for the central mediation role of the German representative during the entire time of Gilad Schalit's captivity and for the help, which contributed to the agreement leading to the release of Gilad Schalit.”

Asked about Konrad and Germany’s involvement in the Schalit deal, a German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman wrote the Post on Wednesday: “The federal government and German foreign minister have always repeatedly called for the release of Gilad Schalit and campaigned for his release.”

The spokeswoman cited Foreign Minister’s Guido Westerwelle’s visit to Gaza, in which he called for the release of Schalit. She continued that “for the federal government, what is most important in the current situation is that the release of Gilad Schalit, in fact, successfully takes place.”

According to reports over the years, Conrad has been involved in crunching numbers and shaping the outlines of the deal, including the total number of terrorists to be released. His shuttle diplomacy has spanned Egypt, Israel, the Gaza Strip, and other locations in the region and Europe.

Who is Konrad? He has earned the moniker “Mr. Hezbollah” within German intelligence circles because of his talks to secure prisoner swaps with the Lebanese-based terrorist group. Some accused Konrad of shedding his meditator’s neutrality in 2009 when he sealed a deal gaining the release of the bodies of two IDF reservists, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, for the freedom of five terrorists, including the child-murderer Samir Kuntar.

The Schalit process has been a rocky bargaining process for Konrad. Fox News reported in late 2009 that an Israeli source close to the Netanyahu government and the Schalit talks said that Konrad “seems to be more favorable to Hamas, possibly because of Germany’s economic ties with Iran, known to be Hamas’s financial and ideological backer.”

Some critics of Konrad in Germany even coined the phrase “Mr. Hamas” to describe his pro-Hamas tendencies.

Abu Marzouk, deputy head of Hamas’s political bureau, however, sharply criticized Konrad in May and June for siding with Israeli positions. Marzouk said Konrad had “endorsed the unfair and unjust positions of the Zionist government.”

Berlin previously awarded Konrad the Federal Cross of Merit for his efforts in the Middle East. He is a great source of pride in the German media and among German politicians.

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