Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

29 Av 5763 - August 27, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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New Progress in Negotiations with Nasrallah
by M Plaut

There was a flurry activity of the diplomatic sort known as "confidence building" in Lebanon this week, as a German mediator was allowed to visit Elchanan Tannenbaum, as Israeli businessman who was captured by Hizbullah nearly three years ago. On Monday, Israel turned over to the International Red Cross (ICRC) the bodies of two Hizbullah fighters who transferred them to Lebanon.

The senior German official, who oversees intelligence affairs for German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, was recently appointed as mediator. On his return from Beirut he met in Germany with Major General (res.) Ilan Biran, Israel's coordinator for prisoners and MIAs, and gave him a report on his visit to Tannenbaum. The mediator said Tannenbaum was in "reasonable" condition.

Based on the visit and information from the mediator, Israel decided to transfer to Lebanon the bodies of two of the Hizbullah's members.

Defense establishment sources expressed optimism about bringing the issue of all the Israelis being held by Hizbullah to a close in the coming months. Security sources said that the moves are also in anticipation of receiving information from Hizbullah on the fate of three IDF soldiers also kidnapped around the same time. They have been declared dead by the IDF with their place of burial unknown.

Lebanese sources said that in return for the bodies, Hizbullah handed over information concerning all four Israelis. A Hizbullah official said that other steps would follow soon.

Hizbullah Secretary-General Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah also said that the return of the bodies was part of a larger move. On Saturday night, Nasrallah said he hoped the organization would soon be able to bring home Hizbullah prisoners being held in Israel.

Of the two bodies handed over to Hizbullah, one killed himself in a suicide attack against an Israeli military convoy in December, 1999. The second was killed in clashes with Israeli troops in November, 1998.

Hizbullah hopes that the return of the bodies is the first step toward the return of 16 live Lebanese prisoners held in Israel, including Sheikh Abd al Karim Obeid, Hizbullah's former leader in south Lebanon who was abducted by IDF troops in 1989, and Mustafa Dirani another terrorist leader. Those last two were abducted by Israel in efforts to determine the fate of missing Israel Air Force navigator Ron Arad who was captured after ejecting from his plane over Lebanon in 1986.

Israel is now hoping to secure the return of Elhanan Tannenbaum and either the persons or the bodies of St.-Sgts. Benny Avraham, Omar Sawayid, and Adi Avitan who were wounded and captured by Hizbullah in the fall of 2000.

For the families of the hostages, the recent activity has provided a ray of hope that an end to their ordeal might be in sight.

Renewed negotiations over a prisoner swap reportedly began in earnest some three weeks ago between Maj.-Gen. (res) Ilan Biran and a senior Hizbullah official, through the auspices of a German team headed by Ernest Uhrlau, coordinator of the Federal Intelligence Service and a member of the Chancellor's Office.

Negotiations on the release of prisoners is one of the most complicated diplomatic transactions, especially with Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah who is a wily and sophisticated negotiator.

Observers say that Hizbullah is under pressure and that is the reason for the recent progress. American has listed Hizbullah as a terrorist organization. Syria is restraining them under American pressure. The families of the Lebanese prisoners held by Israel are also pressuring Hizbullah to show results.

Nasrallah needs an achievement. Despite all of Hizbullah's moves, the arrogant announcements and the provocations against Israel, Nasrallah has been unable to bring any prisoners home. Returning the two bodies of Hizbullah men is something, but the organization may want more than that -- and soon.

Until recently Nasrallah made unrealistic demands. While refusing to provide concrete information on the abducted Israelis' condition -- usually the understood procedure is that the blackmailers provide assurance that the people are alive -- Nasrallah raised far-reaching demands like the mass release of Palestinian prisoners. Israel could not respond to that. Now that other possibilities are being discussed, progress can be made.

Most analysts assume that Israel will try to reach a comprehensive deal that would solve all the open issues (the soldiers, Tannenbaum and information about Arad), but it is not yet clear whether Hizbullah is ready to provide this.


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