Former Shin Bet Deputy Chief Ofer Dekel has been appointed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to oversee the return of three kidnapped soldiers: Gilad Shalit, Eldad Regev, and Ehud Goldwasser.
The appointment followed public criticisms of the prime minister for not including the soldiers' return in the operative part of the ceasefire
The Israeli government is aware of criticisms of the omission by the Israeli public and Knesset members in minister. On Sunday, during a meeting, Olmert vowed that the issue would not be removed from his agenda and that of the State of Israel's, and that he would appoint a senior figure to deal with the soldiers' return.
Among those attacking the prime minister was Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz who criticized the acceptance of the ceasefire proposal and UN Resolution 1701, since the kidnapping of the troops was the cause of the war breaking out.
Sources at the Prime Minister's Office rejected the claim that there was a connection between Dekel's appointment and the public criticism directed against Olmert and the government.
"His appointment was made as part of the effort to return the kidnapped soldiers. There is no connection between the timing of the appointment and the apparent criticism. The prime minister has acted and will continue to act for the unconditional release of the three kidnapped IDF soldiers. There has not been a prime minister who did not deal with this issue, and the current appointment is part of that effort," a source from Olmert's office said.
Throughout the four weeks of fighting in Lebanon, there have been almost no secret contacts to return the kidnapped soldiers.
It is understood that on the eve of the acceptance of Resolution 1701 in the Security Council, the possibility was raised that the soldiers kidnapped from the northern border, Regev and Goldwaster, would be handed over to a third party, Lebanon, or even Syria. However, there was minor attention paid to idea, and the issue is only dealt with in the preamble of the resolution, in a noncommittal section of the agreement.
Germany's Foreign Minister Frank Steinmeier, who visited Israel last week, said that to the best of his knowledge there were no negotiations between Israel and Lebanon to return the soldiers.
He added that Germany was not involved in the issue, unlike the episode of the kidnapping and return of Elhanan Tenenbaum and the bodies of three IDF soldiers held by Hizbullah in exchange for the release of hundreds of terrorists.
Sources in Jerusalem also hope that France will be involved in an effort to return Israel's soldiers home. France expressed willingness to take part in the effort. A diplomatic source in Jerusalem said that after France was so worried for Lebanon during the negotiations for a ceasefire, the time had come that it act to prove its ability to release Goldwaster and Regev.
France was also involved in attempts to return Shalit, who holds dual French and Israeli citizenships.
The families of the kidnapped soldiers met with the prime minister and expressed deep disappointment that their children were not included in the agreement.
"Not only is the return of the kidnapped soldiers absent from the operative clause, even the demand to receive a sign of life or a visit by the Red Cross is not in the decision," said Eyal Regev, brother of kidnapped soldier Eldad Regev.
The prime minister said in response: "We can't tie the whole ceasefire with the release of the soldiers. Despite the difficulties in saying this, I am saying it here and I said it to the families. There is also a population in bomb shelters and missile fire and I have to worry for everyone."