Iran transferred $50 million to the Hamas leadership in Damascus in order to sabotage a deal for the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was abducted from an army base outside of the Gaza Strip last spring.

The Iranian fund transfer was revealed by Western sources who are following the affair. The sources said that there was agreement in principle for releasing Shalit two months ago. Immediately upon his release from his captors in Gaza, Shalit was to be given to the Egyptians or to Red Cross representatives, and from there to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

It has been learned that Israel was willing to release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, in return, in “stages.” The date set for the prisoner exchange was early this week, in time for the Eid el-Fitr holiday that marks the end of the Muslim Ramadan month of fasting.

However, a few days after it appeared that an agreement had been reached, a delegation from Iran secretly arrived in Damascus and gave Khaled Mashaal $50 million on condition that he torpedo the deal. Following the fund transfer, Mashaal’s position became more inflexible and he demanded the release of dozens more prisoners, including those described as “tough prisoners.” The Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot has learned that, a few days ago, Mashaal held a harsh conversation with Director of Egyptian Intelligence General Omar Suleiman, who came to Damascus.

High-ranking Egyptian officials who updated European diplomats on the details of the conversation between Suleiman and Mashaal in Damascus said that Mashaal is sabotaging the talks for the release of the kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit because Mashaal fears losing his power. A secret report that reached the top political echelon in Jerusalem says that Egypt believes that holding onto Shalit helps Mashaal build up his position in the Palestinian arena in particular, and in the Middle East arena in general. Shalit represents a bargaining chip for Mashaal; should he lose it, he will be weakened.

Hamas terrorist Araf el-Muasher, who took part in the action in which Shalit was kidnapped from the IDF outpost near Kerem Shalom, was killed Wednesday by IDF fire in the course of activity near the Philadelphi Road in Rafah. Another Hamas member was also killed in that incident.

Putin Offers Moderate Support

“The Iranians should be scared of something happening to them that they don’t want to happen,” Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Wednesday at the Kremlin in Russia. Olmert has been holding meetings last week with high-ranking officials in Moscow. It was Olmert’s first time in Russia since becoming prime minister.

Russian administration officials told Olmert that Russia will support international steps against Iran’s nuclear program – but this will be support for steps that are “measured and moderate” in contrast to the harsher and more immediate steps Israel is seeking.

In a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Olmert received promises that Russia would not allow Iran to threaten Israel’s existence. At the same time, the Russians are pressuring Israel to increase its economic cooperation with Russia.

Putin welcomed the Israeli delegation and said that, in recent years, Israeli-Russian relations had taken a new and positive turn. He stressed that the dramatic improvement in Russia’s relations with Israel were due to the actions of the former prime minister, Ariel Sharon. Olmert was careful to stress that Israel’s main concern is the Iranian nuclear threat. “Israel does not have the privilege of allowing there to be a situation in which a country like Iran has nonconventional capabilities. We will never accept this. For us, when the leader of a country says he wants to destroy us, this doesn’t sound like any ordinary declaration. This is something we have to prepare for in order to prevent it,” said the Israeli Prime Minister.

After their meeting, Olmert said, “I told the president that we would not be able to have results on the matter of preventing the Iranian nuclear plan if Iran is not fearful that something will happen to it.

The Iranians have to be scared that something will happen to them that they do not want to happen. The meeting with the president went into great detail, in other words, what we mean. I made my position clear and I explained why I think it is important that the Iranians be scared, and what the options are. Obviously I won’t go into detail in public. There are things that are said in public, there are things that are said in front of ten people, and there are things that are said in a small forum.”

More Action In Gaza

The IDF activity in the Philadelphi Road area was stepped up almost two weeks ago, when large forces seized control over the entire area between Kerem Shalom and the Rafah crossing. The Israeli security establishment views the action as successful: the troops discovered seven tunnels to smuggle weapons.

The operation to locate tunnels began almost two weeks ago. The Bedouin desert battalion and combatants from the Oketz dog unit went into Gaza in the area of Kibbutz Kerem Shalom and began to advance next to the Philadelphi Road, which runs along the border with Egypt. The Givati Brigade’s Tzabar battalion joined in Wednesday. Together the two battalions now hold onto a four kilometer strip of Palestinian territory.

The Israeli troops searched a number of houses, hothouses and chicken coops in the area, directed by the Israeli Intelligence sectors. Security sources said that several of these, mainly on the border with Egypt, were built only to hide arms-smuggling tunnels. IDF sources said that the tunnels that were discovered were much less sophisticated than those dug by Palestinians in the period in which there were IDF troops inside the Gaza Strip before disengagement.

The tunnels were dug at a depth of 15 meters, and the openings were far less concealed than in the past. Based on these factors, it appears that the terror organizations did not expect the IDF to operate inside Rafah.

In wake of the operation, Defense Minister Amir Peretz tried to relay a calming message and said that Israel would not reoccupy the Gaza Strip. The defense minister stressed the need for the present operation. “We cannot ignore the change in the quality of the weapons that make it into the Gaza Strip, which could lead to very serious escalation,” Peretz said. “The address for this is first and foremost the Hamas government. We cannot let the tunnels turn

©The Bulletin 2006


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David Bedein
David Bedein is an MSW community organizer and an investigative journalist.   In 1987, Bedein established the Israel Resource News Agency at Beit Agron to accompany foreign journalists in their coverage of Israel, to balance the media lobbies established by the PLO and their allies.   Mr. Bedein has reported for news outlets such as CNN Radio, Makor Rishon, Philadelphia Inquirer, Los Angeles Times, BBC and The Jerusalem Post, For four years, Mr. Bedein acted as the Middle East correspondent for The Philadelphia Bulletin, writing 1,062 articles until the newspaper ceased operation in 2010. Bedein has covered breaking Middle East negotiations in Oslo, Ottawa, Shepherdstown, The Wye Plantation, Annapolis, Geneva, Nicosia, Washington, D.C., London, Bonn, and Vienna. Bedein has overseen investigative studies of the Palestinian Authority, the Expulsion Process from Gush Katif and Samaria, The Peres Center for Peace, Peace Now, The International Center for Economic Cooperation of Yossi Beilin, the ISM, Adalah, and the New Israel Fund.   Since 2005, Bedein has also served as Director of the Center for Near East Policy Research.   A focus of the center's investigations is The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). In that context, Bedein authored Roadblock to Peace: How the UN Perpetuates the Arab-Israeli Conflict - UNRWA Policies Reconsidered, which caps Bedein's 28 years of investigations of UNRWA. The Center for Near East Policy Research has been instrumental in reaching elected officials, decision makers and journalists, commissioning studies, reports, news stories and films. In 2009, the center began decided to produce short movies, in addition to monographs, to film every aspect of UNRWA education in a clear and cogent fashion.   The center has so far produced seven short documentary pieces n UNRWA which have received international acclaim and recognition, showing how which UNRWA promotes anti-Semitism and incitement to violence in their education'   In sum, Bedein has pioneered The UNRWA Reform Initiative, a strategy which calls for donor nations to insist on reasonable reforms of UNRWA. Bedein and his team of experts provide timely briefings to members to legislative bodies world wide, bringing the results of his investigations to donor nations, while demanding reforms based on transparency, refugee resettlement and the demand that terrorists be removed from the UNRWA schools and UNRWA payroll.   Bedein's work can be found at: and A new site,, will be launched very soon.