There is an Israeli Soldier Missing — Don’t Expect Hamas to Clear Up the Mystery Soon

As a society, Israelis are very sensitive to the deaths and severe injuries suffered by their country’s soldiers in the IDF.  Israel seems even more sensitive to the dangers — and the possible torture and ordeal — when a soldier is kidnapped by Palestinian radicals.  The IDF now admits that one man is “unaccounted for,” and it’s the Israeli whose name was broadcast by the Hamas media in Gaza as a supposed prisoner. Israelis hope it’s not true.

[The following piece was written by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against ARmageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, for the private TV news service that broadcasts from Israel: i24news.tv.]

The uncertainty regarding the fate of Golani Brigade fighter Sergeant Oron Shaul could impact the Gaza War’s outcome. He fought in the fierce battle on the night between this past Saturday and Sunday in the Gazan neighborhood of Shejaiya.

He and eight comrades were in an armored personnel carrier that was most likely hit by an anti-tank missile. Seconds before the hit, the vehicle had gotten stuck. The commander and another soldier jumped out to see what had happened, and that’s when the blast hit.

The two were wounded but survived while all the infantrymen on board were killed by the forceful impact and blast. The vehicle was destroyed, with some of its parts scattered dozens of meters away.

Other armored vehicles arrived immediately. They returned fire, rescued the two wounded soldiers and recovered the bodies.

Back home, medical teams, military religious personnel and intelligence officers spent two intensive days trying to identify the bodies. Six of the seven Golani combatants were successfully identified, declared dead and buried.

i24 black logoWhile this was going on, Hamas claimed they were holding an Israeli soldier by the name of Oron Shaul, and presented his military ID number.

The IDF kept silent for a while. Israel’s UN envoy Ron Prosor denied the claim. Then on Tuesday the IDF issued a statement saying that efforts to determine the whereabouts of Sergeant Shaul would continue.

The IDF refrained from declaring him dead or missing in action (MIA). His status is undetermined. But the IDF has not objected to Israeli media reports that he is “missing in action.”

This means that Israel does not have any medical, pathological or intelligence evidence that he was killed. Until such evidence materializes, the IDF will not change his status.

Nevertheless, based on the fate of his comrades and the destroyed condition of the armored personnel carrier, the prevailing assumption is that Sergeant Shaul is not alive.

The Al-Arabiya television station reported that Israel has asked Germany to use its influence to find out from Hamas whether he dead or alive. Germany’s foreign intelligence service, the BND has in the past helped broker prisoner swaps between Israel and Hezbollah as well as Israel and Hamas. For instance, the 2011 prisoner exchange deal in which IDF soldier Gilad Shalit was exchanged for 1027 Palestinian terrorists was brokered in part by Germany.

But Israel has little expectation that Hamas will give any answer. This is based on past experience with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The best-known of these incidents occurred in July 2006 when Hezbollah combatants ambushed an Israeli patrol and took two Israeli reserve soldiers, Eldad Regev and Udi Goldwasser, prisoner.

In response, Israel launched the Second Lebanon War. It took two years of intensive indirect negotiations through the BND to achieve a prisoner swap. In July 2008, Hezbollah gave Israel two coffins with Regev and Goldwasser’s bodies. In exchange, they received over a hundred live prisoners, as well as Palestinian terrorists and terrorists of other nationalities.

Up until the exchange, Hezbollah had refused to say whether the two Israelis were dead or alive.

Based on intelligence and evidence taken from the kidnapping scene (such as how much blood the two soldiers lost), Israeli experts believed the chance the two had survived the battle were slim. Still, Israel declared them neither dead or MIA.

The same is now likely to happen with Sergeant Shaul. Hamas is expected to cynically manipulate the family’s grief to try to squeeze as high a price as they can out of Israel. For each piece of information – say, a photo – Hamas will demand a price.

What could be different now from the 2008 Hezbollah deal is the public mood. The Regev and Goldwasser families launched a smart PR campaign to mobilize the public and apply pressure on the government to close the deal, even if it was a bad deal that exacted a high price.

But following the Shalit deal, which has garnered a lot of criticism from politicians and the public, the public may be less emotional this time around and stand behind the government whatever course of action it takes. This would give Israel’s government the leeway to reach a reasonable deal without surrendering to Hamas blackmail.

[The complete article, with graphics by the i24news.tv website, can be viewed by clicking here.]

July 22, 2014

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