Barak calls for media ban on Schalit talks

Military Intelligence chief Yadlin warns of attacks from Hizbullah in Lebanon, Gaza terror groups.

Olmert cabinet 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Olmert cabinet 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
At the first cabinet meeting since the return of the bodies of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser last Wednesday, both Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak vowed the country would "do everything" to bring home kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit. Barak, however, said that this must be done out of the media spotlight, and added he would like to see a news blackout on the negotiations for Schalit's release. He said that the military censor should implement the blackout. A blackout would increase the "chances of success" in securing Schalit's release, Barak said. "It is impossible to conduct negotiations when the cards are on the table." A news blackout was, in fact, clamped on a meeting Olmert convened in his office Sunday afternoon with Barak, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and top security officials to discuss the Schalit negotiations. Olmert, meanwhile, told the ministers that he had phoned the Schalit family the day that Goldwasser and Regev's bodies were returned and "promised" on behalf of the government that it would "do everything" to bring Schalit back home "alive, healthy and whole, as quickly as possible." "I do not need to tell you that it will not be simple, and it will not be easy," Olmert said. "As we worked non-stop for two years to bring back Udi and Eldad, so we are working for Gilad Schalit. I believe that [Gilad] will return home, safe and sound." Olmert said that even though the security establishment's assessment since soon after the end of the Second Lebanon War was that Regev and Goldwasser had been killed, and the families were informed of that assessment, "it was our supreme moral obligation to do everything to act to bring them home... We had no course of action except [to assume] that there was a good chance that they were alive, because there was no unequivocal knowledge [or] absolute proof that they were not alive." Acknowledging the public debate about the price that was paid in last week's prisoner swap, Olmert said, "this system of values, which some might see as weak, is the basis of the moral strength and the deep internal solidarity of Israeli society. It is decisive, even if sometimes, some might portray this as weakness. This weakness is the basis of the moral strength of the state of Israel. I am proud of it." Following Olmert's comments, Military Intelligence head Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin briefed the cabinet on the security situation since the swap, saying that there was a possibility of terrorist actions emanating from either Lebanon or Gaza, but that these would be limited actions, not intended to spark a war. He said that Israel's enemies were worried about a "hot summer," but not interested in a war during the waning days of George W. Bush's presidency, or until they finished rebuilding their military strength. Yadlin said that "excuses" for a possible Hizbullah provocation would be the still-unresolved Shaba Farms issue, or vengeance for the assassination in February of Hizbullah commander Imad Mughniyeh. Yadlin said that in the South, the terrorist organizations that had not committed themselves to the cease-fire were planning an attack. Hamas, he said, was committed to the truce, and was - for the most part - making sure to implement it. Yadlin said the fact that the crossings to Gaza remained closed might be an excuse used by Hamas to break the calm. In addition, Yadlin said that while there has been "more significant" Egyptian action to fight the arms smuggling from Egypt, Hamas was still able to bring "quality weapons" into the Gaza Strip.