Turgeman, Diskin said to replace Gilad

Ofer Dekel will handle Schalit talks, officials claim; Egyptians call sacked negotiator "respected envoy."

amos gilad 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
amos gilad 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
While officials in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said he will "very shortly" announce a replacement for Amos Gilad, formally sacked by Olmert as his envoy to Egypt because of his sharp criticism of the prime minister that appeared in Ma'ariv last week, aides claimed to know the identity of those who will replace the top negotiator. A longtime adviser to Olmert, Shalom Turgeman, will replace Gilad in the truce talks, along with the head of Israel's Shin Bet security service, Yuval Diskin, the aides said. Veteran negotiator Ofer Dekel will handle efforts to free Schalit, they added, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks. According to officials from Olmert's office, "Gilad's job was extremely sensitive," entailing attempts to secure the release of Gilad Schalit and sustained quiet in the South. "These negotiations require precise and nuanced communication with Egypt, and it is clear that no one can be an envoy if they do not have the full trust and confidence of the person sending him," the officials said. The officials said Gilad lost that confidence when he went public with criticism of Olmert and the government last week. In the Ma'ariv story, which appeared on the eve of a critical decision by the security cabinet to link opening the Gaza border crossings to Schalit's release, Gilad was quoted as saying, "I don't understand what they are trying to do. Insult the Egyptians? We've already done that. This is insanity, simply insanity. Egypt remains almost our last ally here. For what? We are harming national security." Gilad was responding to criticism directed at him from the Prime Minister's Office, to the effect that he had acted independently with the Egyptians and was dragging Olmert into a cease-fire agreement he didn't want. Gilad sharply refuted the allegations, saying that everything he did was recorded and sent on to Olmert. "I was briefed before every trip I took, and briefed the defense minister and prime minister when I returned, usually that same night," he told Ma'ariv. Gilad also slammed Olmert for not dealing with the Schalit issue, saying that Olmert's point man on the prisoner issues - Ofer Dekel - had been under-involved and had not been in Cairo for a long time. "He is on a private vacation right now," Gilad alleged. The Prime Minister's Office said Dekel was abroad working to secure Schalit's release. The officials said that the minute Gilad went public against Olmert it was clear that he could not serve as his envoy to Egypt. Besides, the official said, "the other side wants to know that the person they are speaking with is speaking with the highest authority and has the full confidence" of Israel's leader. "The minute Gilad said what he said, it became clear that it would be impossible for him to continue," the official said, stressing that Gilad had not been fired from his job as the head of the Defense Ministry's diplomatic-security bureau, but just as a special envoy used by the prime minister. "We will announce a replacement very soon," the official said, "because we don't want the issues he was dealing with to be put on hold." Diplomatic sources said that while Gilad played an extremely important role in the negotiations with the Egyptians and built up confidence and important relationships, "nobody is irreplaceable." Despite Gilad's removal from the Egyptian track, Defense Minister Ehud Barak - who has staunchly defended him in recent days - issued a statement again supporting Gilad, saying that Gilad would continue contacts with international officials on behalf of the security establishment. "The prime minister's decision not to use Amos Gilad's abilities and experience is his right, but it is something that will harm the State of Israel," Barak said in a statement. Defense officials confirmed that Gilad would continue serving as head of the diplomatic-security bureau in the Defense Ministry, a job that entails maintaining diplomatic ties with a number of countries and agencies, including Egypt. "Gilad is still in his position and is still running the Defense Ministry's diplomatic relations department," an official in Barak's office said. Egyptian officials said that Gilad was a "respected envoy" who had been responsible for discussions on a number of strategic issues, including negotiations for a cease-fire with Hamas as well as the status of the crossings into the Gaza Strip. The officials said that Israel and Egypt had strong and long-lasting ties that were maintained by a number of envoys. Meanwhile, the Campaign for the Return of Gilad Schalit responded harshly to Gilad's suspension, calling the move part of the ego games being played by politicians. The campaign, active in raising international awareness for Schalit since his kidnapping in June 2006, issued a statement saying, "it is both distressing and worrisome that [while] an Israeli soldier is in captivity, ego games are the issue occupying the attention of our leaders. "If they would have invested half of the effort that they invest in internal politics to advance the release of Gilad Schalit, he would have been home a long time ago." Yaakov Katz contributed to this report.