The prisoner exchange is taking place today at Taba, on Egypt’s border with Israel.
The Egyptian military, by holding Grapel for more than four months and using him as leverage to secure the release of 25 Egyptians imprisoned in Israel, is able to champion its own success. Israel did Egypt’s military council a favor by giving Egypt a way out of the situation without losing face, says Dr. Gad.
It also allows Egypt to close the file on several issues that have plagued relations with Israel.
Israel-Egypt relations hit a low in August, when Israeli soldiers killed six Egyptian border guards after a terrorist attack in the Sinai. Several weeks later, an angry crowd breached the Israeli embassy in Cairo, leading Israel to withdraw its ambassador and nearly all its diplomatic staff.
By patching up relations since then, the military council is also sending a message to the West that it will maintain Egypt’s ties with Israel, Gad says. The February overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak, who maintained Egypt’s unpopular peace treaty with Israel, has caused some in the West to worry that the Israel-Egypt relationship could rupture.
Israel’s decision to exchange prisoners for what it claims is an unjustly imprisoned citizen in a nation with which it has diplomatic relations is unusual. But had Grapel truly been a spy, says Gad, Egypt would have exacted a much higher price for his release.