Shin Bet head: Hizbullah swap increased appetite for kidnappings

Families of Sultan Yakoub MIAs skeptical about Nasrallah's offer to provide information on the fate of their sons.

diskin 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
diskin 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The recently concluded swap with Hizbullah for the bodies of soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev has increased the motivation of terrorist organizations to carry out other kidnappings, Yuval Diskin, head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), told the cabinet Sunday. Diskin, who opposed the deal with Hizbullah, said there was intensive pressure from terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip to "export" attacks to the West Bank. He said that during the first quarter of 2008 a "wave of terror" from Sinai into Israel was prevented, including what he said were a number of "harsh" attacks. He did not provide any details. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said that the Rafah border crossing from the Gaza Strip into Egypt should be opened only if there was progress in securing the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit, and only in coordination with the security forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Otherwise, she indicated, opening the crossing would only strengthen Hamas. In a related matter, government sources denied that Israel was on the verge of releasing hundreds of Palestinian prisoners to Hizbullah as part of the deal for Goldwasser and Regev. The government sources said that according to the UN-brokered deal, a month after Goldwasser and Regev were returned, Israel would release a number of Palestinian prisoners whose number and identities Israel would determine. No meeting of the cabinet or security cabinet has yet been scheduled to discuss which prisoners to release. The bodies of Regev and Goldwasser were returned on July 16. Meanwhile, families of the three Sultan Yakoub MIAs are skeptical but hoping for closure on their sons' fates following Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah's announcement Sunday that he is willing to provide information about the captives and on IAF navigator Ron Arad in an exchange for Palestinian security prisoners. IDF soldiers Zachary Baumel, Tzvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz were captured in the battle for the Bekaa's Sultan Yakoub, five kilometers from Syria, in June 1982. The families say the government has done little toward their return since a year following the battle, when an opportunity to retrieve them disappeared. Baumel also holds US citizenship. While the Sultan Yakoub families hope to hear news of their sons, some are skeptical of the proposed talks. "[Nasrallah] has got to prove that he's got something," said Yona Baumel, Zachary's father. "I'm opposed to these blind negotiations. In the previous negotiations with Nasrallah, he has not shown what he has. With Goldwasser and Regev, it was not clear whether he was talking about live prisoners or bodies until the last moment." Tirhiya Heiman, Yehuda Katz's sister, also believes that Nasrallah is unreliable and may be trying to use deception to free security prisoners. "If we can get information we should get it, but we should find out what information there is and then make the decision [to negotiate]," Heiman said. "If there's reliable information we should keep going." Still, the missing men's relatives were happy to hear Sultan Yakoub being mentioned and some saw a potential for a positive outcome should the government pursue the negotiations. "I'm happy that there's someone that's thinking about them," said Anat Cohen, Tzvi Feldman's sister. "The prime minister needs to think of them, not Nasrallah, but though Nasrallah can be clever, on the other hand, he stands behind what he says." But Yona Baumel said that because Hizbullah was a non-state player, it was not held accountable to the same extent as Israel and therefore did not need to keep its word. Therefore, Israel might compromise its security interests by talking to the Shi'ite organization, he said. Relatives of the captives also mistrust the government, which they said had betrayed them by not making more of an effort to get the captives back. In addition to pushing for talks with Hizbullah, members of the Feldman and Katz families will be at the High Court of Justice in Jerusalem on Monday to petition the justices to order the government to include the release of the Sultan Yakoub MIAs in its talks with Syria. "The [government] threw them to the dogs," Cohen said of the captives. She believes, however, that Hizbullah is sincere about these negotiations because it suggested them of its own accord. "If Nasrallah comes and says that I can help bring information, we definitely need to do this," she said. "We haven't known what's been happening for 26 years, and receiving information is 90 percent of the work of bringing the captives home." Still, Cohen said the government must include the three captives in the talks with Damascus because the regime there had relevant information. "The Syrians are the only ones that can give a full answer regarding our son," she said. "The Syrians have kept prisoners alive for over 20 years. They know that Israeli soldiers can be a valuable [negotiating] card. Anything can happen. This is our final opportunity. We need to get our boys back."