December 10, 2023

At least four names have been tossed around publicly in terms of responsibility for the issue of the fate of the 240 hostages Hamas has held since its October 7 invasion of southern Israel.Who is really in charge? Gal Hirsch was the first one appointed in a public announcement on October 8 by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to handle the issue on his behalf and for the cabinet.A few days later, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Nitzan Alon and Maj.-Gen. (res.) Lior Carmi were appointed by the IDF to handle a variety of security and intelligence operations issues related to the hostages. At the end of October, it was revealed that Mossad Director David Barnea and his predecessor and former sponsor, Yossi Cohen, had visited Qatar to try to negotiate the hostages’ release, with Qatar serving as an intermediary for Hamas.Less prominently, there have also been reports about Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) Director Ronen Bar handling some hostage-related issues with Egypt. But this has mostly been at the tactical level in terms of coordinating some small releases, especially of foreign citizens, which have already taken place.Cohen and Hirsch are the two who have taken some public punishment and who have responded to ward off attacks on their roles.Alon gave a public account of his efforts on October 19, but since then, he has stayed out of the public eye. AdvertisementBarnea has not made any public appearances, and little is known about his role, other than a short statement from the Prime Minister’s Office confirming that he is the lead player in negotiations with the Qataris. People comfort each other, as they gather in front of the United Nations Headquarters in Jerusalem demanding for action to be taken to return the hostages kidnapped by Hamas during the October 7 attacks, in Jerusalem November 13, 2023. (credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)In terms of Cohen and Hirsch, the narrative is highly disputedSome people publicly attacked Hirsch for not taking the issue by the horns and for being a political appointee of Netanyahu who was out of his element.Some publicly attacked Cohen as invading an already full pool of large personalities dealing with the hostage issue in an effort to gain new positive attention for a later potential political run.Incidentally, Cohen is eligible for the next election at any point because there was an election after his June 2021 Mossad retirement, which broke the need for a three-year, cooling-off period.Or in the worst most-delayed scenario for him, he would be able to run in any election occurring after June 2024, i.e., any election announced by the start of 2024, meaning he will very likely be part of the next political round.Netanyahu has issued multiple statements on these issuesIn one statement, he said Barnea was the sole holder of the negotiations portfolio with Qatar, with support from Alon, and he has also said Hirsch is in charge of other issues related to the hostages, including dealing with the families.Criticized for his role on the issue, Cohen publicly responded in interviews that he was authorized by Netanyahu himself and that he had met with Hirsch.Additional top diplomatic sources confirmed that Cohen had acted on authority from the prime minister. But Cohen did not limit himself to defending his role and took a shot at Hirsch, saying: “I volunteered to assist on three fronts, one of which was to help Gal Hirsch, about whom I am not sure if I truly understand what his role is.”Pressed further on the issue, Cohen countered to his KAN News interviewers, asking them if they could be sure about what Hirsch’s role was.Sources familiar with Hirsch’s view would say his role and the roles of others have been a dynamic and evolving process in handling an unprecedented issue with no real map to follow.On October 8, when the country was still in a complete haze, Hirsch was the only one working on the issue, and he had assembled a skeleton staff in a tiny room in the Prime Minister’s Office to try to get a handle on the more than 3,000 potential missing, killed, or kidnapped victims.Hirsch quickly reached out to dozens and then hundreds of contacts in the Mossad, Shin Bet, IDF, Israel Police, Israel Prison Service, government, and elsewhere to start building a large enough apparatus to receive all of the constant thousands of calls from families wanting to know where their loved ones were and to collect information from all the many disparate sources who were tracking missing Israelis, according to informed sources.Over time, Alon and the IDF took over running the call center and intelligence collection information.“All of my soul and brain are committed to this, with hundreds of people,” Alon said publicly on October 19. “We will not stop for a moment until we find any way possible to return our dear ones to us.”“Our efforts are complex, difficult, and challenging,” he said. “It includes intelligence and operational challenges, during which we analyze and extrapolate every piece of information.”“We work with the families, the villages, and the communities,” Alon said. “Along with me, there are hundreds of top personnel from the special forces and the entire intelligence and defense community. We are all working diligently day and night, and within our power, we have the most advanced intelligence and technological means.”The IDF said there were top civilian minds from the hi-tech community, some of whom are reservists, along with the police and other civilian teams that were working with them on the issue, including building special algorithms and facial-recognition platforms.At this point, Hirsch shifted to a mix of diplomacy – including meetings with officials from England, France, Canada, the UN, the International Committee of the Red Cross, Thailand, and many others – as well as continuing meetings with representatives of the families of the hostages.He also is serving as a conduit for Netanyahu by gathering information for him in regular meetings with Alon, Barnea, and Bar, and he is also holding meetings with various Israeli political officials, including cabinet ministers and Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana.Regarding meetings with Ohana, sources said Hirsch has also been deeply involved in pushing forward legislation to compensate the victims’ families and to create a framework for the various legal authorities handling the hostage issue so that it is not a free-for-all.Critics will say Hirsch was pushed out of the key issue of negotiating over the hostages and running IDF hostage policy operations, which led him to focus on less onerous responsibilities.Supporters would say he has filled every role related to the hostage issue at different points and has acted with no ego, shifting his energies when it made sense to do so.Cohen’s case is complicated because he clearly had authority for some kind of intervention, and he met with Hirsch several times. But he then fell into the crossfires, either because his involvement was not meant to leak, or he banged heads with one or more officials involved.Meanwhile, Cohen disputed to The Jerusalem Post any narrative that had him going beyond Netanyahu’s directives. (Notably, Netanyahu has not criticized him.)Barnea’s office has refused to comment, merely referencing statements made by the Prime Minister’s Office as having gone beyond what might have even been needed to comment on such sensitive issues.For Barnea, commenting can only be a can of worms because he would fall into conflict with Netanyahu, Cohen, Hirsch, or multiple officials.Alon has been able to remain above the fray because no one has tried to do his work in parallel.What emerges is that Barnea is handling negotiations with Qatar-Hamas; Alon is handling operations and running the command center, which gives individual updates to families; and Hirsch is handling other diplomatic, political-social, and legislative issues.Whatever role Cohen may have had in assisting at the early stage with the Qataris has concluded, although he may still be in contact with various victims’ families. !function(f,b,e,v,n,t,s) if(f.fbq)return;n=f.fbq=function()n.callMethod? n.callMethod.apply(n,arguments):n.queue.push(arguments); if(!f._fbq)f._fbq=n;n.push=n;n.loaded=!0;n.version=’2.0′; n.queue=[];t=b.createElement(e);t.async=!0; t.src=v;s=b.getElementsByTagName(e)[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(t,s)(window, document,’script’, ‘’); fbq(‘init’, ‘1730128020581377’); fbq(‘track’, ‘PageView’); !function(f,b,e,v,n,t,s) if(f.fbq)return;n=f.fbq=function()n.callMethod? n.callMethod.apply(n,arguments):n.queue.push(arguments); if(!f._fbq)f._fbq=n;n.push=n;n.loaded=!0;n.version=’2.0′; n.queue=[];t=b.createElement(e);t.async=!0; t.src=v;s=b.getElementsByTagName(e)[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(t,s)(window, document,’script’, ‘’); fbq(‘init’, ‘742096245912121’); fbq(‘track’, ‘PageView’);