As the inner cabinet inches closer to making a final decision on the proposed Gilad Schalit prisoner swap, the fighting between top government and security officials also moves up a notch.
While it is natural to want to believe that all of Israel's elected and appointed officials share the same goal of freeing Schalit, each player also has a personal agenda that cannot be detached from the ongoing debate.
The leaks that have been coming out of the Prime Minister's Office criticizing Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi - he was accused of behaving like the head of the IDF's Parent Teachers Association and of failing to rescue Schalit in a military operation - are understood by senior officers in the IDF as having more to do with Binyamin Netanyahu's own personal frustration.
The prime minister, one defense official speculated Tuesday, is, due to his upbringing, ideology and beliefs, intuitively opposed to a mass release of security prisoners. While Mossad chief Meir Dagan and National Security Council chief Uzi Arad share that opinion, Netanyahu, this line of thinking goes, would have also liked to have Ashkenazi on his side as well.
This way, if the inner cabinet were to decide against the deal, he could save face by claiming that he had the full support of Israel's top security officials. Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Yuval Diskin's position is forbidden for publication by the military censor, since he is an active member of the German-mediated negotiations.
Ashkenazi - taking advice from his media adviser, IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Avi Benayahu - has taken the high road by keeping quiet and releasing a statement saying that at this juncture his efforts are focused on retrieving Schalit.
So while the criticism of Ashkenazi is completely out of place at this critical point in the negotiations - it remains to be seen if Arad is the critic - there is something to be said about the army's failure to rescue Schalit in a military operation during the more than three years that he has been in Hamas captivity.
For anyone familiar with the IDF, it is difficult to understand how such a strong military - which in recent years wiped out a Syrian nuclear reactor and fought wars with Hizbullah and Hamas - failed so miserably when it came to rescuing a soldier located in a relatively small strip of land and just a short drive from the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv.
This is, by the way, not just the IDF's fault; the blame is also shared by the Shin Bet and the Mossad.
While Schalit's rescue was not one of the goals of Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip earlier this year, there was a hope at the time that it would help the IDF discover where the soldier was being held. The army returned empty-handed, although with a belief that Schalit was being held in southern Gaza, possibly in Khan Yunis or Rafah.
This had to do with a simple process of elimination. During the operation, the IDF cut Gaza into two sections, and excluding the occasional short foray in the south, mostly operated in northern Gaza. If Schalit was being held in the north, officials said at the time, the army likely would have come across at least an indication, and therefore, he is most likely in the south.
Once he returns home, the defense establishment will need to dedicate the time to investigate and explain this incredible failure.
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