Analysis: Listening between the lines

Gilad Shalit 298 ch 10 (photo credit: Channel 10)
Gilad Shalit 298 ch 10
(photo credit: Channel 10)
The timing of the release of the audiotape was perfect. The first anniversary of Cpl. Gilad Schalit's abduction, but even more importantly just as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was flying down to Sharm e-Sheikh to participate in a peace summit aimed at strengthening Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas's intention was clear: Steal the show from Sharm and show Olmert and Abbas that while they can try to ignore what has happened in the Gaza Strip, Hamas is still a major diplomatic and political player in the region. Hamas holds the key to Schalit's release and with it not only can the group steal the prime time slot on the news from Olmert and Abbas's meeting, but it can also make the PA appear weak and powerless. Not much can be learned from the tape. Schalit's claim that his health is deteriorating might be true - he was believed to have been wounded during the attack and when he was kidnapped - but it could alternatively be a ploy by Hamas and an attempt to put more pressure on Olmert. Israel also believes that the reason behind Hamas's decision not to release a videotape of Schalit was because the terror group - which clearly dictated the speech - did not want to contradict the claim raised in the audiotape that the soldier's health was deteriorating. A few interesting details can be gleaned from the end of the tape, when after signing off with his name, Schalit asks "Did you record it?" - a question aimed apparently at one of his captors. Two possible lessons can be drawn from this last question: First, that at least one of Schalit's captors speaks Hebrew, and second, that this was not the first recording but possibly one of several. Another assumption is that Schalit's speech was initially written in Arabic and was translated into Hebrew. This was arrived at after analyzing the grammar and choice of phrases, some of them a literal translation of Arabic phrases into Hebrew. One of the most important conclusions that can be drawn from the tape is Hamas's decision to take exclusive responsibility for Schalit. Until now, a number of Palestinian groups - Army of Islam, Hamas and the Dormoush clan - have been named as the groups responsible for Schalit. The release of the tape on Monday by Hamas and Schalit's statement that he is being held by Izzadin al-Kassam indicate that Hamas is now the declared sole owner of the abducted soldier. This has its advantages, since it could potentially mean that through direct or even mediated talks with Hamas, a deal can quickly be reached. By releasing the tape just hours before Olmert and Abbas met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordanian King Abdullah in Sharm, Hamas might also have intended to use the tape as a goodwill gesture. The summit focused on ways to strengthen Abbas - releasing prisoners, tax money and transferring weapons - but also on how to further isolate Hamas in the Gaza Strip. By releasing the tape without anything in return, Hamas might be trying to send a message to the leaders that the group is interested in renewing relations, like they were before Abbas dissolved the national-unity government two weeks ago. The bottom line, however, is this: Hamas is looking for legitimacy and is using Gilad Schalit to get it.