Dekel resignation will not affect Schalit release efforts, security experts say

Dispatcher, not envoy himself, seen as key in setting policy for talks.

Ofer Dekel 224 88 (photo credit: Channel 10)
Ofer Dekel 224 88
(photo credit: Channel 10)
The resignation of Ofer Dekel, former prime minister Ehud Olmert's envoy to negotiate the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit, will not have a significant influence on future release efforts, security experts told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. Dekel met with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Tuesday night and asked to be relieved of his post. He will be temporarily replaced by Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yuval Diskin. "This isn't the first time an envoy appointed to negotiate the release of a kidnapped soldier has been replaced. The same happened during efforts to release Ron Arad," said Yehuda Ben-Meir, director of the National Security and Public Opinion Project at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies (INSS). "This is especially true when the negotiations drag on. There's no doubt that the envoy's skills are important, but the envoy is a messenger. It is his dispatcher who makes the decisions and the policy," Ben-Meir said. "Envoys carry out policies. Of course, his negotiating skills and understanding of nuances also play a part. But we are talking about an envoy who did not deal directly with the other side [Hamas], but rather, spoke through an Egyptian mediator." Ben-Meir said current talks were frozen after the government offered to release a number of prisoners "with blood on their hands" but refused to meet all of Hamas's demands. "Beyond the fact that there are some people who should not be released, there is the principle of not caving in to everything demanded by Hamas. This is a correct stance by the government," he said. He drew attention to the fact that Egypt also failed to mediate between Hamas and Fatah during recent talks between the Palestinian sides in Cairo. "Even in an internal-Arab negotiations attempt, Egypt, which invested heavily in the talks, failed. Several factors could be behind this. Hamas is a fanatical ideological organization, it is internally divided into factions and cannot make decisions easily like Hizbullah, and there could be a third, external element blocking agreements, which is Iran," Ben-Meir said. "I would say this was an ideal time to change the envoy. If we were on the brink of an agreement, a replacement now could be damaging. But as things stand, it won't cause significant damage to a future deal," he added. Yoram Schweitzer, director of the Program on Terrorism and Low Intensity Conflict at the INSS, said, "I think the right way to look at it is that Dekel was Olmert's man. Now that there is a new prime minister, he can choose his own man. This is normal." Schweitzer said he believed Dekel's claim to have resigned of his own free will. "He will pass his knowledge on to others. I'm sure that others, like Diskin, are familiar with this issue. This government has its own stance. The change is acceptable," Schweitzer added. "It will be interesting to see how the government will take a different approach from its predecessor," he said. Schweitzer added that attempts to tag Dekel as a failure were unwarranted. "He did not fail in talks with Hizbullah [to retrieve the bodies of kidnapped IDF soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev]. Nasrallah received [convicted terrorist Samir Quntar] and three unknown Palestinian fighters. Also, Dekel did not fail in the current efforts with Hamas. Olmert was involved in this story, and Dekel didn't call the shots." Shlomo Brom, director of the Program on Israel - Palestinian Relations at the INSS, said Dekel's replacement would have a degree of effect on efforts to release Schalit, but added that "it's not the main thing. It is the government that decides what price it is willing to pay, not the envoy." Meanwhile, Netanyahu has reportedly embarked on a series of meetings with defense officials to receive a clearer picture on attempts made so far to release Schalit.