Ofer Dekel, the Prime Minister's Office's emissary heading Israel's efforts to have its missing and captive soldiers' returned, has traveled abroad earlier in the week, where his is awaits the reply of Hizbullah Chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah on the deal offered by Israel for the return of kidnapped IDF soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser.
Nasrallah is expected to address three key points: The release of a small number of Palestinian prisoners, the date in which the deal will be carried out and its exact stages.
Sources in the Prime Minister's Office said Monday that the reports published by the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, suggesting a prisoner exchange deal is expected as early as next week, were "inaccurate," adding it is unlikely the deal will be finalized in such a short time.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is said to meet with members of missing IAF officer Ron Arad's family and brief them on the latest developments, as well as on the fact the Hizbullah has yet to offer any new information in their case; but it was said the Arad family in unlikely to attend the meeting.
The most recent developments in the talks with Hizbullah materialized once Israel announced it intends to have Regev and Goldwasser as fallen soldiers whose gravesite is unknown; enabling any deal to be made in exchange for remains alone. The Israeli government has reportedly made the decision several weeks ago, relayed it to the German mediator, who in turn took it to Hizbullah and offered the organization two alternatives:
- A one-stage deal, in which six Lebanese prisoners – including Samir Kuntar –
as well as the bodies of 10 Hizbullah operatives would be released in exchange for Regev and Goldwasser and a detailed report of everything Hizbullah knows about the fate of Ron Arad.
- The second alternative embedded somewhat of a warning: Israel is willing to have Regev and Goldwasser declared fallen soldiers whose gravesite is unknown, thus re-categorizing them in the same way it did the three soldiers who went missing after the 1982 Battle of Sultan Yacoub; and effectively suspending all negotiations regarding a prisoner swop in favor of discussions on the retrieval of remains.
Crossing Ts, dotting Is
Nasrallah knows that Israel is serious; that he has to make up his mind soon if he doesn't want to miss the chance to get Kuntar and other Hizbullah prisoners back; which stands to win him numerous popularity points with the Lebanese public.
Nasrallah knows that Israel is serious; that he has to make up his mind soon if he doesn't want to miss the chance to get Kuntar and other Hizbullah prisoners back – which stands to win him numerous popularity points with the Lebanese public.
Nasrallah wants Kuntar back. He wants to prove the Lebanese Druze, whom he alienated, that he can bring their brethren back home. He needs to prove to the Druze opposition that supporting him will bear fruits. That's probably one of the reasons he has notified the German mediator that he is willing to considers Israel's first offer.
The deal has not been finalized as of yet. No date for a prisoner exchange has been set. Dekel, the German mediators and Nasrallah's representatives still have to agree on the final details.
Dekel is expected to return to Israel in a few days. Only then will we know if a deal has been struck, or if Nasrallah has decided – yet again – to try and squeeze something more out of Israel.
As for Ron Arad: Eliad Shraga, head of the Born To Freedom organization, told Ynet that "every possible mistake has been made. Hizbullah has beaten Israel big-time. They've been able to get every last one of our bargaining chips, kidnap more soldiers and now we have nothing left.
"Promises must be kept. We had to give (Mustafa) Dirani and (Abdel Karim) Obeid in the last prisoner swap – they were the best bargaining chips we had on Ron's case. To make this wrong a little more right, they told us the deal would have a second stage – information about Ron in exchange for Kuntar. It's been four year. Kuntar is going home and we still have no new information about Ron."
Eyal Regev, Eldad Regev's brother, told Ynet that "the family is cautiously optimistic that the end is in sight."
- Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser have been in Hizbullah captivity for 706 days.
Roni Sofer and Ronen Medzini contributed to this report