Inside the Secret Israel-Hamas Negotiations to Release 50 Hostages

WSJ via

I’m going to omit the hyperbole- feel free to read entirely at the link above

Biden was injecting himself into one of the most complex hostage negotiations in modern history, a diplomatic frenzy that involved the heads of the Central Intelligence Agency and Israel’s Mossad, Egyptian intelligence officers and Sinwar, an enigmatic leader that Israeli officials say was operating from an underground bunker.

I do not believe Biden is capable of injecting himself into the most complex hostage negotiations in modern history- Flat out, don’t believe it. Reads like election propaganda. Another party most probably filled that role. Most likely Antony Blinken.

The agreement produced from those negotiations on Wednesday morning faced last-minute drama, with quibbling over the fine print delaying it by a day. But by Thursday evening, Qatari negotiators said the deal was back on to free 50 Israeli hostages held by Palestinian militants in Gaza in return for the release of 150 Palestinian prisoners by Israel, starting on Friday.

The agreement also requires daily pauses in Israel’s drone surveillance of Gaza—a key concession that Biden extracted from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. officials said.

The broad outlines of the agreement—an exchange of civilian hostages for Palestinian prisoners and aid—were proposed by negotiators weeks ago, but the talks continued to break down as the conflict flared.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, was coming under heavy pressure at home to break the impasse. The families of hostages held a five-day protest march from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and met with members of Israel’s war cabinet, fearing the military campaign was putting the hostages’ lives in more danger.

This account of the negotiations is based on interviews with more than a dozen officials in the U.S. and across the Middle East that were involved in brokering the breakthrough over the last several weeks. Officials discussed the details of the negotiations, which they frequently described as dramatic, intense, frustrating and tedious, in anticipation of the deal going through. Although the parties have all accepted it, it will be days before all the hostages are actually released. One U.S. official reiterated that the deal isn’t done until the deal is done
n the early days of the crisis, top officials from the U.S., Qatar, Egypt, Israel and Gaza began to hold secret talks as part of a special hostage negotiation cell. U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan directed Josh Geltzer, a legal adviser to the National Security Council and White House aide, to help create the cell, according to a senior administration official, and it was established in the Qatari capital of Doha.

Qatari officials were expected to press Hamas’s political leaders. Egypt’s intelligence services had decades of experience dealing with Hamas in Gaza and with Sinwar specifically. The Egyptians had successfully brokered cease-fires in a series of previous wars between Hamas and Israel, and they maintained the only viable channel to Hamas’s military leadership in Gaza, according to officials across the Middle East.

Sinwar himself was no stranger to prisoner exchanges. Israel had freed him and more than 1,000 prisoners in 2011 in exchange for a single Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who was held for years by Hamas in Gaza.

Often times freed prisoners are very friendly to their so called captors- At the time of the Mavi Marmara there was a prisoner, Mahdi al Harati, set free by Israel, who appeared in the US backed overthrow of Libya’s legitimate leader and subsequent destruction of that nation- Showing up in Syria too. He became the Mayor of Tripoli. He had also been rewarded with a nice new life in Ireland. Which makes me question Sinwar’s actual role in this entire situation

Developments on the battlefield “impacted the negotiation dramatically,” said Mohammed Al-Khulaifi, the Qatari negotiator. “Any escalation will make our task extremely difficult.”
The talks resumed days later, with Egyptian intelligence officers trying to coax Hamas into supplying a list of 50 names. On Oct. 31, Israel launched an airstrike targeting a Hamas leader in Jabalia in northern Gaza that flattened entire apartment blocks, killing more than 100 Palestinian civilians in the deadliest single airstrike of the war to date. Egypt, Qatar and Hamas all halted the negotiations in protest.

With the talks teetering, Central Intelligence Agency Director Bill Burns and the director of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, David Barnea, flew to Doha to try to obtain more information about the hostages and see if more pressure could be applied on Hamas. Burns met Barnea and Qatari officials in Doha on Nov. 9 in what regional officials saw as a breakthrough in the talks. Officials wrote a rough draft of the deal.

On the morning of Nov. 12, Hamas finally supplied more names of hostages to be released as Israeli troops surrounded Al-Shifa Hospital.
Hamas leaders in Gaza again cut off contact with negotiators. Sinwar sent a message to Egypt saying Hamas would cancel the negotiations completely if the Israeli military didn’t call off the operation at the hospital.

Qatari officials agreed to prod Hamas and asked Biden for help pressuring Israel to accept the deal. Biden said he had been in frequent contact with Netanyahu about the negotiations.
In the following days, McGurk flew to Doha to hammer out the details of the agreement, now written down in a six-page document, while Burns joined the talks remotely. McGurk also flew to Cairo to meet Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel to go through the same document.

Hamas had agreed to most of the draft document, but sticking points remained. There was disagreement over the ratio for exchanging Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners, as part of a second wave of releases. The two sides still differed over the length of the pause in fighting.
Hamas was also demanding Israel stop its drone surveillance of Gaza during the pauses—a measure that would hamstring Israel’s efforts to pursue Hamas leaders in southern Gaza.

Biden held a series of conversations with Netanyahu on the issues. Israel had initially resisted the request to stop drone surveillance, but at Biden’s request, ultimately conceded the point. The U.S., which also conducts surveillance over Gaza, is considering if it will continue its own drone operations and at what scale.
“We are evaluating how the U.S. will adjust its activities in support of these efforts,” one U.S. official said.
Hamas publicly accepted the deal on Nov. 21. Israel’s government approved it early on Wednesday.

But by Wednesday night, Israel’s top national security official, Tzachi Hanegbi, issued a surprise statement saying the deal would be delayed by at least a day. A last-minute issue had come up.

According to negotiators, Hamas asked Israel for a list of the first group of Palestinian prisoners to be released so it could inform their families. When Israel turned down the request, Hamas refused to share the list of hostages it planned to hand over on the first day, negotiators said.
A spokesman for Qatar’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday that the lists of hostages and prisoners to be swapped would be exchanged daily.

Brett McGurk- Lawrence of Kurdistan- one of my censored reports..

Leave a Reply