Analysis: Hamas clearly wants a deal before elections

Analysis Hamas clearly

Two things are immediately clear from the videotape of Gilad Schalit that was transferred to Israel on Friday. First, no valuable intelligence can be gleaned from the tape. Second, Hamas is interested in finalizing a prisoner swap with Israel. The video was carefully analyzed over the weekend by all the relevant authorities within the defense establishment - from the IDF, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and Mossad. Defense officials said the understanding within all the agencies was that the tape did not contain any real viable intelligence, but did make clear that Hamas was interested in a deal. The text that Schalit read in the video was carefully compared to the text he read in an audiotape that was released to Israel in June 2007. Then, Schalit was heard complaining of deteriorating health. In Friday's tape, he looked healthy, walked around, smiled and said that he was being treated well. One interesting observation was that Schalit likely does not speak Arabic. This was inferred from the way he said "mujahideen of the Izzadin Kassam Brigades" - the group - Hamas's 'armed wing' - that is holding him. Officials confirmed that he seemed to stutter when he spoke the Arabic words, possibly an indication that his captors speak to him strictly in Hebrew; if not, he should have been able to pronounce the words correctly. The difference between the two tapes is that in 2007, Hamas used Schalit as a tool to play with Israeli hearts and minds and to get the public to put pressure on a government that was then reluctant to agree to the terror group's high demands. In the video released on Friday, Schalit is no longer being used as a tool but is portrayed as a piece of merchandise, something that Hamas wants to trade in exchange for around 1,000 prisoners, including 450 of some of the deadliest terrorists in Israeli prisons. There are two main causes for this shift in Hamas strategy. The first is that the Netanyahu government is eager to reach a deal and has reportedly been more flexible than the previous Olmert government. The second cause for the shift is the upcoming election in the Palestinian Authority, which under the Egyptian-mediated reconciliation proposal will take place some time in the first half of 2010. Hamas wants to use Schalit to the maximum and the way to do that is to exchange him for the most prisoners possible, a deal that will almost definitely boost its popularity on the Palestinian street and help it garner votes. Israel will have to take this into consideration. If it reaches a deal with Hamas that is used to help the group win the election, it will essentially be defeating the cause, undermining PA President Mahmoud Abbas and helping to bring to power a terror group not just in the Gaza Strip but also in the West Bank.