Former Hostage Negotiator Lotan: ‘200 Hamas Terrorists for Each Soldier’

YERUSHALAYIM -
A brother of late soldier Oron Shaul seen at the protest tent outside Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s residence in 2016, in demand of retrieving the missing bodies of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul from Hamas captivity. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In recordings of a previous interview held with him, Army Radio cast light on the decision of Lior Lotan, the government’s chief representative on hostages and missing soldiers, to resign from his post. According to the recordings, Lotam was in favor of negotiating with Hamas — after Israel arrested more terrorists that could be used to swap for Israeli soldiers held by Hamas.

“The war between Israel and Hamas should not end with Hamas holding two Israeli prisoners and Israel holding no Hamas terrorists,” as occurred after Operation Protective Edge. “For every Israeli soldier held by Hamas, we should have 200 of their people. If they have two of our soldiers, we should have 400 of theirs. If three, then 600.” With another armed conflict between Israel and Hamas likely, said Lotan, the IDF should change its focus. “Some commanders believe that the important objective is to destroy a position or an antenna,” he said in the recordings. “I say we should be concentrating on filling up our ‘pockets’ with prisoners.”

Lotan asked to be relieved of his position as the chief negotiator with Hamas for the return of missing IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, both presumed niftar, as well as Avram Mengistu, who went missing in Gaza in 2014. He did not give a reason for his request, but it has been widely assumed that the reason was due to the government’s refusal to allow him to make a deal.

In a weekend interview on Channel Two, Leah Goldin, mother of Hadar Goldin, slammed the government, and in particular Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, essentially blaming them for Lotan’s decision. “His resignation is not surprising, given that for three years the government has been promising to bring our children home,” said Leah Goldin. “Any opportunity for this to happen melts away as it arises.”

In response, Liberman said that Israel could not afford “to repeat the mistakes we made in the deal to free Gilad Shalit.” Israel in 2011 released 1,027 terrorists in exchange for Shalit, who had been held hostage by Hamas for over five years, “among them murderers and their handlers, including Mahmud Kawasme,” who led the 2014 kidnappings and murders of Israeli teens Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrach — a prelude to Operation Protective Edge, a war against Hamas — “and Yahya Sanwar, the current head of Hamas in Gaza. I will continue to be personally responsible for the return of the missing Israelis Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, as well as other Israelis who are being held prisoner in Gaza in contravention of international law. I see this as among the greatest importance morally as part of our commitment to the families, the IDF and Israel,” Liberman said.

Lotan said in the recordings that the army understood his point of view. IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkott “understands what I am talking about and is very supportive. This is an area the army needs to improve in, and the Chief of Staff is taking on the challenge.”