How Gilad Shalit Will Save Netanyahu

Mark my words, Gilad Shalit is coming home. He will soon be set free but not because of German mediations or the thousands of appeals made by his parents and their supporters. He's coming home because Bibi needs Gilad more than Gilad needs him.

In a television address aimed at countering public pressure for the government to secure the release of Gilad Shalit, Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu, said that "Israel is willing to pay a heavy price for the release of Shalit, but not at any price."

The man with the "three no(s) : no withdrawal from the Golan Heights, no discussion of the case of Jerusalem, no negotiations under any preconditions," finds himself in a position to reluctantly say yes to negotiations with Hamas, a "terrorist' organization in his book, an entity he was keen to topple from day one.


Mr. Netanyahu said that he would release 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in return for the freedom of Gilad Shalit, who has been held in captivity in Gaza for the past four years.

Netanyahu's address comes five days after the family and supporters of Shalit began a protest march from the Shalit's Galilee home to the prime minister's official residence in Jerusalem.

Noam Shalit, Gilad's father, dismissed Netanyahu's speech and said that he was "recycling statements made by Olmert in March 2009."

Noam is probably right, but Netanyahu is in trouble. Since assuming office in April 2009, he has managed to destroy Israel's global standing, and alienate if from its closest allies. Here is how:

The "Settlement Freeze" Saga

The saga began a few days into his term following Barack Obama's speech in Cairo over a request for a freeze on new settlement construction in West Bank Jewish settlements to encourage peace talks with the Palestinians. Mr. Netanyahu rejected the goodwill gesture.

The fallout over the settlements hit a pinnacle when Vice President Joe Biden was greeted in Jerusalem with the announcement of the approval of more settlement construction by the Israeli Interior Ministry in Occupied East Jerusalem. This was contrary to U.S. wishes and complicated Biden's mission to help jump start the peace process. This was followed by the snubbing of Mr. Netanyahu at the White House, and the rest is history.

The Mossad Dubai Debacle

The issue here is not about the Mossad's "reality TV" operation in Dubai, nor the comedy of errors that ensued. The operation became a diplomatic disaster for Israel when it was revealed that the members of the Mossad hit squad blamed for the assassination of a Hamas commander in Dubai used fake British passports, as well as those from several other countries. The repercussions from the Dubai Debacle are still felt today. The recent arrest of a member of the Dubai hit squad in Warsaw is threatening to disrupt relations between Israel and two of its closest allies in the EU, Poland and Germany.

The Flotilla

The raid on the Gaza flotilla is another fiasco operation that happened under Netanyahu's watch causing worldwide condemnation of Israel. The boarding and seizure of six ships of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in May 2010 resulted in the deaths of nine passengers, eight Turks and one American. It also resulted in rapid deterioration of relations between Israel and Turkey, a NATO member and the first Muslim majority country to recognize Israel. Although not-so-secret talks by Israel and Turkey are underway to repair relations, the damage has been done. Turkey's Prime Minister Erdoğan has made it clear that the Israel-Turkey relationship had been irreparably damaged.

Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS)

The boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) effort against Israel is getting progressively worse for the Netanyahu government in Europe and the United States. Several trade unions, academics, and artists have now joined the movement. Israel's War on Gaza spurred the campaign in the United States and around the world, but most recently, Israel's raid on the Free Gaza flotilla has added fuel to it. In an unprecedented move, dockworkers in Oakland, California recently refused to cross a picket line to unload a ship from Israel.

Against this rapidly deterioration of Israel's standing in world opinion, Netanyahu has to make a move to restore its image and his credibility as well. Short of launching another war, Gilad Shalit's release appears to be his best option for either creating a diversion or positive news to help him do this.