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(photo credit: AP [file])
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reinstated senior Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad as his special envoy to Egypt on Wednesday, two days after suspending him, and a week after a very public spat between the two cast a pall over efforts to secure quiet in the South and gain the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit.
The decision to reinstate Gilad, who has for years been intimately involved with diplomatic negotiations with Egypt and the Palestinians and who is widely considered one of the most influential figures in the diplomatic/security bureaucracy, came after Gilad asked for a meeting with Olmert, during which he submitted a written apology for criticism he leveled against Olmert and the government in an interview published last Wednesday in Ma'ariv.
According to the Prime Minister's Office, the letter read, "I would like to apologize for what I said in the Ma'ariv newspaper on 18.2.09 against the prime minister and the government. The remarks were unjustified, were said in error and it would have been better had they not been said."
During the 20-minute meeting, which Olmert's aides said took place in a "good" atmosphere, Olmert gave Gilad a letter in return that read, "Following our meeting, during which you apologized to me for the unjustified remarks you made, in error, against me and against the government, and in light of my appreciation of you and your dedicated work over the years on behalf of Israel and its security, I intend to bring this matter to an immediate close."
According to officials in the Prime Minister's Office, the exchange of letters was meant as a way for the office to withdraw a complaint it filed against Gilad, the head of the Defense Ministry's diplomatic-military bureau, as a result of the interview with the Hebrew daily. It was not immediately clear when Gilad would make his next trip to Cairo.
In the Ma'ariv interview, on the eve of the discussion in the security cabinet where it was decided to link opening the Gaza border crossings to Schalit's release, Gilad was quoted as saying, "I don't understand what they are trying to do. 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."
Gilad was responding to criticism directed at him from the Prime Minister's Office, to the effect that he acted independently with the Egyptians and was dragging the prime minister 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 slammed Olmert for not dealing with the Schalit issue, saying that Olmert's point-man on prisoner issues, Ofer Dekel, had been under-involved, and had not been in Cairo for a long time.
Sources in the Prime Minister's Office, who said after the interview that it was clear Gilad had lost the prime minister's confidence and could no longer be a trusted envoy, said that once Gilad made it clear he was willing to apologize, "the waters calmed down."
"People here still have a great deal of respect for his experience and abilities," one official said, when asked if it was reasonable to think Gilad could now regain Olmert's confidence. "Things changed the minute he came to apologize."