WASHINGTON — The kidnapping of 2nd.-Lt. Hadar Goldin Friday morning is not, and must not be allowed to become, a second Gilad Shalit incident, Col. (res.) Lior Lotan, the former head of the IDF’s POW and MIA department and former head of the IDF’s hostage negotiation team and counter-terrorism unit said Friday, hours after the kidnapping.
Lotan, who currently heads the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at Herzliya’s Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), said that the coming hours were known as “the golden hours” in which forces on the ground will try to intercept or thwart the terrorist’s plans for the rest of the kidnapping operation.
According to Lotan, IDF efforts will concentrate on a tactical operation to try and intercept or thwart the kidnappers, and to utilize intelligence to try and anticipate their movements.
“These are the golden hours, the space in which the IDF is trying to contain the area and intercept the plan of the kidnappers,” Lotan explained. “After this it turns into an intelligence, special operation situation and could impact the strategic situation in the region.”
Lotan rejected claims being circulated that the operation to kidnap Goldin was the responsibility of Islamic Jihad and not Hamas. He said that given the dominance of Hamas in the area, it was “inconceivable” that the operation had occurred without its knowledge or tacit support.
He suggested, however, that evidence pointed to an even deeper connection between Hamas – which had agreed to an internationally brokered cease fire that went into effect shortly before the kidnapping – and the incident.
“An indicator might be that Hamas refused to send its negotiators to Cairo this morning; one can assess that they might have known in advance that such an event that is going to happen,” he surmised. He added that if Islamic Jihad operatives had carried out the kidnapping, they likely did so acting as a proxy for Hamas.
According to Lotan, Friday’s incident does not have to turn out like the 2006 kidnapping of Cpl. Gilad Shalit. Shalit, the last IDF soldier kidnapped alive by Hamas, was held captive for over five years before being released in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian security prisoners.
“The important issue is that this is not Gilad Shalit number two,” Lotan said, arguing that today, “the IDF and the state of Israel has more leverages than in the situation with Gilad Shalit.”
Lotan argued that because Israel is in an ongoing military conflict, negotiating Goldin’s release “cannot be isolated as something else like Israeli and Hamas negotiating the release of an Israeli soldier during normal practice.” Rather, “the goal is isolation of this event and containing it during the military event.”
If Israel can do so by resolving the kidnapping tactically during the ground operation or during the conditions for any future ceasefire, the kidnapping may not have its desired impact of “changing the strategic equation by this act.”