Release of Palestinian prisoners angers Israeli defense officials

Monday, August 18, 2008 |  Israel Today Staff

Top Israeli security officials on Monday expressed frustration at the decision by the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to unilaterally release an additional 200 jailed Palestinian terrorists without taking into account the concerns of the defense community.

Olmert brought the proposed release to a cabinet vote on Sunday, but did not allow security officials a chance to speak before asking for a show of hands in favor of the "goodwill gesture."

One official said that part of the cabinet meeting took no more than three minutes, with the vast majority of ministers giving no thought whatsoever to the consequences of the move.

Said a senior Israel Security Agency (ISA) official to The Jerusalem Post: "You have to hear the responses [of ISA agents] to the release. They work day and night to capture and neutralize terrorists, and all of it is gone in an instant."

The official pointed out that over the past decade, about 40 percent of the terrorists Israel has captured have been released prematurely. "People in the [ISA] end up asking, 'Why do we capture these people? Where did all my work go? Where is the deterrence?'"

Of note was the fact that two of the four ministers to vote against the release were Transportation Minister and former IDF chief Shaul Mofaz and Internal Security Minister and former ISA head Avi Dicther, the two cabinet ministers with the most security experience.

Mofaz, Dicther and other senior security officials were most alarmed by the inclusion in the release of two terrorists with "blood on their hands," meaning they have succeeded in directly murdering Jews. Though Israel has released thousands of Palestinian security prisoners as goodwill gestures and as part of prisoner exchanges in the past, it has until now maintained a policy of not freeing prisoners with blood on their hands.

Both ministers also warned that the latest release will increase the price Israel must pay to secure the freedom of abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit from his Hamas captors in Gaza.

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