German spy helped facilitate Israel-Hamas prisoner exchange

BND sealBND seal


Amidst the ongoing media frenzy over the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit by Hamas, in exchange for hundreds of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, few noticed that Germany was expressly thanked by the Israelis for its role in the deal. Speaking to journalists right after Shalit’s release, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his government was “grateful [to] German negotiators for helping facilitate the exchange. Commenting on Netanyahu’s statement, Germany’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Guido Westerwelle, said simply that he was pleased because the German government was “able to contribute to Shalit’s release”. But what exactly was Germany’s role in arranging the deal? The answer was given on Tuesday by Ernst Uhrlau, director of Germany’s intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND). Uhrlau hinted that BND officers had assisted Israel and Hamas in securing the unlikely agreement. Now Germany’s Suedeutsche Zeitung newspaper claims that it knows the identity of the BND officer who acted as the foremost mediator between Israel and Hamas. According to the paper, the officer’s name is Gerhard Konrad; he is 50 years old, six feet tall, and has a PhD in Islamic Studies from Germany’s prestigious Heidelberg University. He speaks fluently French, English and Arabic, which he perfected while working in the Middle East “for several years”. He began his career with BND by representing the agency in German embassies in countries such as Syria and Lebanon. It was there, says Suedeutsche Zeitung, that Konrad cultivated relationships of trust with Hamas and Palestine Liberation Organization-affiliated groups, such as Fatah. He also developed a strong reputation for negotiating with militant groups in adversary conditions. In 2004, Konrad was personally involved in lengthy prisoner exchange negotiations between Israel and Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah. Five years later, Konrad earned the nickname “Mr Hezbollah”, after he managed to convince the militant group to release the bodies of two Israeli soldiers, in exchange for five Hezbollah members held in Israeli jails. Suedeutsche Zeitung contacted the BND about Konrad, but an agency spokesman said simply that the majority of the credit for organizing the latest prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas belongs to Egypt.

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