-- October 16, 2011- Israel's Grapples With Shalit Deal

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A Daily Analysis
By Marc Schulman

October 16, 2011- Israel's Grapples With Shalit Deal

The news in Israel over the weekend has been totally dominated by the imminent prisoner swap that will bring Gilad Shalit home in exchange for over 1,000 terrorists. The country is clearly divided by the action, but a clear majority at this point favor the deal, however much it stinks.

The question of why Israel agreed to the deal now has been debated in the press and on TV, with commentators divided on whether to accept the government's position-- that with the situation so fluid in the Middle East at the moment it felt that this was the last chance to secure the release of Shalit. Others believe it was Prime Minister Netanyahu’s need to bolster his popularity that drove him to make the deal now. Whether or not that was his goal, it is clear the deal will certainly enhance Netanyahu’s popularity, at least in the short run.

It is also clear that the big winner in the deal is Hamas. Ironically, over the weekend I was reading a Time Magazine article written before the deal was announced which talked about the unpopularity of Hamas in Gaza, and furthermore, that if elections were held today they would clearly lose power. That has all changed-- at least in the short term. Hamas is strengthened and Abbas and the Palestinian Authority are weakened. Some cynical critics of the Netanyahu government believe that this is the goal of the government-- to prove there is no one to talk to, thus no pressure to make concessions.

While the Shalit deal has been getting all the attention in Israel, the continued implications of the Iranian plot to attempt to kill the Saudi Amabassador continue to reverberate in the rest of the Middle East. While all sorts of conspiracy theories have developed claiming that the assassination attempt is all a hoax perpetrated by the US or Israel, it cleary is not, and at least for the moment, seems to have underscored to the United States and the Gulf States how dangerous and seemingly irrational Iran can be.

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