Ex-Israeli negotiator: We shouldn’t have ended 2014 war without soldiers’ return

Lior Lotan says he quit his position in 2017 because cabinet did not accept his proposals for advancing talks with Hamas

IDF soldiers Oron Shaul (left) and Hadar Goldin (right) (Flash90)

A former official who led Israeli efforts to return the bodies of two IDF soldiers held in Gaza by the Hamas terror group has said Israel should never have ended the 2014 war in which they were captured without their retrieval.

Lior Lotan, a retired IDF Colonel, was appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2014 to lead the efforts to return the bodies of slain IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul and bring back Israeli civilians who crossed into Gaza on their own accord and were said held by the terror group. He resigned from his post in mid-2017.

On Friday he told Hadashot news he quit because the cabinet had not accepted his proposal to advance negotiations with the terror group.

Lotan did not give details on the proposal in question, but said only that he had proposed “other methods, outside the box” which were rejected by ministers. He added that he did not want to “be part of another costly and unreasonable deal with Hamas” for the captives’ return.

Lior Lotan (YouTube screenshot)

He stressed that his methods were not “a magic solution” but had the potential to be successful.

In recordings published by Army Radio following Lotan’s resignation, the negotiator said Israel should adopt a policy of kidnapping enemy combatants to use as bargaining chips in future prisoner swaps.

It was not clear whether these were the methods Lotan was referring to.

Lotan added that “There was a moment where we were close to entering a road where, at the end, we could theoretically see some sort of deal,” but he stressed that a deal was never at hand when he was handling talks.

He said that “the golden time to bring our abducted men back without a massive release of [Palestinian] prisoners…is during the campaign. And if not then, then when negotiating the terms of the campaign’s end.

He said talks to end the 2014 was were the perfect window for such demands. “One of our combat objectives should have been the capture of Hamas men. We should have said ‘If you want them back being back our men.'”

Lotan expressed support for the position of soldiers’ families that reported talks of a long-term ceasefire with Hamas — mediated by the UN and Egypt — should only go forward if they include a deal for the Shaul and Goldin’s release.

On Sunday Simcha and Leah Goldin accused Netanyahu of not doing anything to secure the return of their son’s body.

After meeting with Netanyahu for a briefing on the efforts to return the bodies of  the two IDF soldiers, the couple expressed their regret over what they described as the lack of progress. Also present at the meeting were relatives of Shaul.

Netanyahu has had a stormy relationship with the missing Israelis’ families, who have long accused the government of failing to take action to retrieve their sons’ remains.

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