Former prime minister Ehud Olmert maintained a secret channel to Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in 2006 aimed at ending hostilities between Israel and Hamas, Channel 10 reported Wednesday night.
In a carefully worded statement, a spokesman for Olmert immediately denied that there had been any overtures from Mashaal, and said that the report made it sound as though Hamas was a peace-loving organization rather than a terrorist group that murdered Israelis.
According to the expose, Olmert had indirect contact with the Damascus-based Hamas leader through a complex chain. A European middle man met with Mashaal in Damascus. Starting in April of 2006, he relayed messages to two Israelis – an anonymous “K” and Dr. Nimrod Novik, a former foreign policy adviser to Shimon Peres and a member of the board of directors of Channel 10 – who in turn contacted Shin Bet director Yuval Diskin. The security chief then reported on the contacts to Olmert.
The back channel was used to try to enable Olmert and Mashaal to negotiate an “end of conflict” agreement, the report said. It was so secret, according to the report, that Olmert did not inform the heads of either the IDF or the Mossad, or any cabinet members. When Cpl. Gilad Shalit was kidnapped, and an urgent discussion was called to weigh a military incursion into the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, Olmert ordered Diskin not to divulge the secret channel, the report said.
The Egyptian government, which was involved in negotiations with Hamas leaders in Gaza for the return of Shalit, was also kept unaware of Olmert’s indirect contacts with Mashaal.
The report intimated that Shalit was kidnapped against Mashaal’s will, with Hamas’s Gaza strongman Ahmad Ja’abari the key player. It said that via the indirect channel, Olmert and Mashaal communicated over a tentative deal for Shalit’s release in exchange for a relatively small number of Hamas security prisoners held by Israel.
Whatever may have been going on behind the scenes, the Channel 10 report showed footage of Olmert at the time publicly declaring that Israel “will not capitulate to extortion” and “will not negotiate with terrorists.”
Channel 10’s report stated further that the secret talks were so complicated by Israel’s military operations in Gaza following Shalit’s kidnapping, and Mashaal’s inability to stop the terrorist operations of Ja’abari, that the European contact in Damascus gave up on the project. The outbreak of the Second Lebanon War delivered a fatal blow to the secret channel, the Channel 10 report said.