by Adam Gonn
JERUSALEM, Oct. 16 (Xinhua) -- Israel on Sunday began preparations for the release of some 477 Palestinian prisoners who will be freed on Tuesday in exchange for captive soldier Gilad Shalit.
Israel's cabinet last week approved the prisoner swap deal with Hamas, which includes 280 Palestinians serving life sentences for planning and perpetrating terror attacks. Some 477 prisoners were transferred by Israel Prison Service to two prisons, prior to being released to Jordan, Egypt, Gaza and the West Bank.
Shlomo Gazit of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University told Xinhua that the release of Hamas members isn't going to have a major impact on the group's military capability because "many of them are already 10 or 20 years out of action, so there is a new generation of so called Hamas military experts."
The director of Israel's Shin Bet internal security agency, Yoram Cohen, was quoted by local media as saying that "the risk we are taking is on a level and a security challenge we will be able to deal with. There are 20,000 Izz al-Din al-Qassam fighters in Gaza, and another 200 terrorists won't make the world crash down upon us."
The Izz al-Din al-Qassam is the military wing of Hamas, whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel and rejects any form of peace talks.
Gazit argued that there is "of course the possibility that a number of them might rejoin terrorist activities in the foreseeable future."
But according to Gazit, the military effects for the Hamas are secondary to the political implications of the prisoner exchange.
Gazit said that the swap deal is a public relations victory for Hamas vis-a-vis the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), its leader Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party.
Dr. Ely Karmon of the Institute for Counter-Terrorism argued that Hamas has clearly scored a strategic victory, despite the fact that the group failed to secure the release of all its members in Israeli prisons.
He agreed with Gazit that the deal does strengthen Hamas' position against the PNA and that the organization has now taken some of the support that Abbas gained in September when he handed over a full-membership application to the United Nations.
"Hamas now has the possibility to show that their success is quicker and more real and it doesn't depend on outside forces," Karmon said.
Furthermore, Karmon said that while some of the to-be-freed prisoners are "very successful operatives of Hamas," the main danger Israel faces isn't a "direct threat of those liberated but the strategic implications of this liberation."
"On the regional strategic level, Israel is losing a lot," he added.
Hamas currently has its headquarters in Damascus. But as the Syrian government continues to struggle with an internal unrest that has been raging for several months, Hamas may have to start to look for a more stable country to relocate.
"Perhaps one of the results will be that Hamas' headquarters will be moved either to Egypt or Turkey, because the two counters will offer Hamas an escape from the difficult situation in Damascus these days," Karmon said.
Egypt, together with Germany, was the main brokers of the Shalit deal and Hamas has been developing strong ties with the new military leadership that took over power when former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak stepped down in February.
Hamas is also close to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is expected to gain substantial influence in Egyptian politics after elections later this year.
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