Security cabinet okays Grapel prisoner swap with Egypt

Israel to exchange 25 Egyptian prisoners for Israeli-US citizen detained in Cairo on espionage charges; US helps broker negotiations.

Grapel, Hasson and Molcho 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Grapel, Hasson and Molcho 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Dual Israeli-US citizen Ilan Grapel is scheduled to be released from Egyptian jail and return to Israel on Thursday, after the 14-member security cabinet unanimously approved a deal freeing 25 Egyptian prisoners for his freedom.
Grapel was arrested in Cairo on June 12 and initially held on charges of spying for Israel. These charges were later downgraded to trying to incite violence among the Egyptian protesters who took to Tahrir Square to bring down president Hosni Mubarak earlier this year.
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Tuesday’s decision approving the Grapel swap took place a week after IDF soldier Gilad Schalit was released in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian terrorists. But unlike the first 477 prisoners who were released, who served time in the prisons’ security wings, all the Egyptians to be released were housed in the criminal divisions of Israeli jails.
According to a list of the prisoners placed Tuesday afternoon on the Prisons Service website, 10 of the 25 prisoners are serving jail time for weapons offenses, such as trying to smuggle arms or explosives into the country. They are not considered security prisoners, however, as the arms they were smuggling were intended for criminals inside Israel, not terrorists.
Another 10 prisoners were convicted of drug offenses, and the remaining five for other criminal offenses.
One government official said the successful conclusion of this deal, together with Egypt’s active participation in negotiating the Schalit swap, showed that despite the challenges in the relationship with Egypt as a result of Mubarak’s ouster, “the bilateral relations remain open, communications are good, and cooperation continues.”
According to a Prime Minister’s Office statement released after the security cabinet vote, Binyamin Netanyahu directed the officials dealing with the matter to make all efforts to also free Ouda Tarabin, another Israeli in Egyptian jails. Tarabin, a Beduin shepherd, has been held for 11 years on espionage charges after illegally entering Egypt to visit his sister.
Channel 2 reported on Tuesday that he was expected to be freed as part of the Grapel deal in the coming weeks, but that his release was more complicated since he was already convicted by Egyptian courts, whereas Grapel had not yet stood trial.
Details of the deal were presented to the security cabinet by the prime minister’s envoy, Yitzhak Molcho, who helped negotiate it, and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yoram Cohen.
Kadima MK Yisrael Hasson, a former deputy head of the Shin Bet, was also involved in the negotiations, since he has connections to Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the head of Egypt’s ruling military council and its de facto head of state.
The Prime Minister’s Office statement said the cabinet members thanked the US for its assistance in reaching the deal. The US, diplomatic officials said, has been intimately involved in the Grapel case, with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta raising it in Cairo during his recent visit there.
Grapel, whose family lives in Queens, New York, moved to Israel after graduating from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and enlisted in the Paratroop Brigade. He fought in the Second Lebanon War and was wounded during fighting near the southern Lebanese town of Taibe in August 2006. At the time of his arrest he was studying law at Emory University in Atlanta