Olmert and Amos Gilad duel on Schalit policy

Top negotiator knocks government for linking captured soldier to truce; PM: Don't criticize me through the media.

By
February 19, 2009 00:48
2 minute read.

 
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The sudden shift in policy toward kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit and a cease-fire with Hamas brought into the open on Wednesday a deep split between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Amos Gilad, the Defense Ministry's diplomatic-military bureau chief who has been leading the negotiations with Egypt. Just before Wednesday's security cabinet meeting, Olmert called Gilad and his boss, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, into his office and sharply reprimanded Gilad for comments extremely critical of the government's policy attributed to him that appeared in Wednesday's Ma'ariv. Gilad, according to the paper, said he didn't understand the current policy change linking Schalit's release to a Gaza cease-fire. "I don't understand what they are trying to do," he said. "Insult the Egyptians? We've already done that. This is insanity, simply insanity. Egypt remains almost our last ally here. For what? We are harming national security. The Egyptians are exhibiting great courage." Cairo gave Israel freedom of action in the Gaza Strip and was exhibiting an interest in stopping the arms smuggling into Gaza that it hadn't shown before, Gilad said. "Right, that translates on the ground into 60 percent [effort], and not 100%," he said. "So what are we going to do? [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak is acting reasonably and with courage - the Rafah crossing is closed, Hamas is under siege. What do we think, that they work for us?" Gilad was responding to criticism that has been directed at him and Barak over the last few days from the Prime Minister's Office, to the effect that Gilad acted independently with the Egyptians and was dragging Olmert into a cease-fire agreement he didn't want. Gilad sharply denied the allegations, saying that everything he did was recorded and sent on to Olmert. He also said that he never had a meeting in Cairo without the presence of another Israeli Arabic speaker who went over the reports that were sent on afterward. "I was briefed before every trip I took and briefed the defense minister and prime minister when I returned, usually that same night," he said. Olmert, according to sources in his office, told Gilad it was totally unacceptable for a civil servant, regardless of how senior, to publicly criticize the prime minister through the pages of a newspaper. "Say whatever you want to behind closed doors, but not publicly in the paper," Olmert said. "That is not how a democracy works." Olmert informed the security cabinet before the meeting that he had taken Gilad to task for his statements, and both Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann and Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On expressed dismay at Gilad's comments. Gilad, according to officials in the Prime Minister's Office, did not deny that he made the comments to the newspaper. He is expected to return to Cairo in the next few days to continue negotiations with the Egyptians. Barak issued a statement on Wednesday evening supporting Gilad and characterizing him as a dedicated civil servant who has served a number of defense ministers and governments "professionally, faithfully and with dedication." Attempts to characterize Gilad as someone who acted on his own and without anyone's authority did him an injustice, Barak said.

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