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What’s Behind the PM’s Tenacious Efforts to Make a Deal?

It would appear to all, including Hizbullah commander Hassan Nasrallah, that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is desperate to make a deal of any kind to deflect the growing shadow of criminal charges that is focusing on him. As the state’s main witness begins to give his testimony in the Jerusalem District Court, the prime minister seems to be operating at a brisk pace towards securing a deal, either with the PA, Hizbullah or Syria.

While analysts agree Nasrallah really needs the prisoner exchange deal to ‘deliver the goods’ to the Lebanese people, Olmert appears increasingly anxious to announce the closure of a prisoner exchange deal.

Nasrallah has attempted to orchestrate the release of Lebanese, Jordanian and other Arab prisoners as he continues efforts to support his self-imposed title as the regional Arab leader. By arranging a deal with Israel that would result in many prisoners walking free, he would be supporting his statements and significantly contributing to his power base. This is one of the reasons he exerted pressure to obtain the release of Fatah terrorist Marwan Barghouti.

Nevertheless, bringing Samir Kuntar and other Lebanese prisoners along with the remains of terrorists home will bring a major boost to his ailing image, one that the terrorist leader needs at present. It must be remembered that since the Second Lebanese War he has been in hiding, fearing he is marked for assassination by Israel. His messages are delivered to supporters by video and he does not make personal appearances.

That said, the announcement of Israel’s willingness to release Samir Kuntar sent resounding shock waves to the family of Ron Arad, along with all his friends and supporters around the world whom have been working since October 1986 to obtain his release.

For Hizbullah, Kuntar represents the supreme deal; the man they wish to see released above all others on the list. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon saw this, and made it clear that short of a deal including Ron Arad, Kuntar was to remain behind bars. Olmert is also aware of the significance of Kuntar as a negotiating pawn towards obtaining Arad’s release, but he prefers to advance his own agenda, this time on the back of the POW.

Yes, Kuntar is serving five life sentences for his heinous crime, but this alone does not guarantee he will remain behind bars to his last day. There is already talk and growing support for the release of Marwan Barghouti, the Fatah leader also serving five life sentences. Former Defense Minister Amir Peretz is among the outspoken proponents for his release, stating only Barghouti has enough charisma and support to push the Palestinian Authority to a deal with Israel, explaining PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) alone is not strong enough for such a move. Peretz is not alone in his demand to release Barghouti, supported by some cabinet members, hoping to bring home Gilad Shalit, who next month will mark the completion of two years in Hamas captivity.

For many, Olmert has crossed all lines in this deal, especially since according to official military estimates; soldiers Elad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser are no longer alive. While the IDF Rabbinate has not officially declared them dead, there is little-to-no-hope of the two being returned alive. They sustained very serious injuries in the rocket attack against their armored patrol vehicle when taken prisoner in July 2006.

Perhaps even more ironic is the fact that Olmert launched the Second Lebanon War with noble intentions – declaring the military offensive will not halt until the two are released by their Hizbullah captors. We know what happened and now, close to two years later, the two are still not home. The Kuntar offer could have been put on the table following their abduction and the entire war could have been averted and many lives spared, not to mention the controversy and shame that accompanied the war and the costly price tag in military spending and damage to areas in the north.

By all accounts, Olmert is not acting in the national interest, but working in a panic as he attempts to cut a deal on any front, with Hizbullah, the PA or anyone willing to deal.

What does appear to be the case is that convicted master terrorists such as Kuntar and Barghouti are preparing to walk to freedom, heroes, having beaten Israel at last.

Sadly, even the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar reports that Israel is no longer linking its demand that Hizbullah provide significant information towards Arad’s release to the release of Kuntar. Even worse, part of the deal made by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2004 stated Hizbullah in phase 2 would provide credible information as to Arad’s whereabouts/disposition via a German intermediary. This never happened and now, we are about to release the last trump card, Samir Kuntar.

In addition, in the Sharon deal, Israel released other high-ranking terrorist prisoners, including Sheikh Karim Obeid and Mustafa Dirani. Israeli agents in a daring raid captured Obeid in 1989, as well as Dirani in 1994, announcing they too would remain behind bars until such time Ron Arad is released.

Arad’s family turned to the court in the hope of stopping the deal during Sharon’s tenure, realizing with the two released, the chances of bringing Ron home were diminishing. Nevertheless, the court disappointed them.

Sharon had his own agenda, releasing the two along with 435 terrorists in the January 2004 agreement was aimed at obtaining the release of his colleague, IDF reserve duty colonel, Elchanan Tannenbaum, who the nation later learned was taken prisoner as he conducted drug deals. He was not taken captive serving his country or the Jewish people, but while dealing in drugs for profit, but we paid a high price for his release nevertheless.

For Tannenbaum Sharon was willing to compromise Arad, and now Olmert follows to save his own image.

YWN reported [HERE] that following the announced deal on the table including Kuntar’s release there was no comment from a representative of the Arad family.

(Yechiel Spira – YWN Israel)

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