French President Nicolas Sarkozy was angry with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after Israel refused to include France in the release of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, the French leader recently explained to Jewish leaders, after he was overheard calling Netanyahu a ‘liar’ last month.
Sarkozy offered the explanation after he told U.S. President Barack Obama last month that he was fed up with dealing with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and considered him a liar.
He made the comment during a private conversation with Obama during a G20 summit in the French Riviera town of Cannes and the remarks were overheard by a small number of journalists.
According to an Israeli official, Sarkozy told Jewish leaders two weeks ago that his anger with Netanyahu was caused by events surrounding the deal to secure Gilad Shalit’s release.
Sarkozy offered Netanyahu that a French helicopter will fly Shalit from Egypt to the Israeli air base of Tel Nof upon his release from Hamas custody – a helicopter carrier from the French navy that was in the area was already on-call – but Netanyahu rejected the offer.
Moreover, Élysée Palace requested that the French ambassador to Israel, Christophe Bigot, participate in the welcoming ceremony for Gilad Shalit at Tel Nof, but Israel also refused that offer.
Sarkozy was very frustrated by Israel’s refusal, the official said, as well as by the fact that France did not get any credit for Shalit’s release. He explained that France deserved to be part of the celebrations of Shalit’s release since the abducted IDF soldier also holds French citizenship, as well as due to his personal efforts to secure Shalit’s release.
According to the Israeli official, Sarkozy’s frustration intensified when Israel did give credit not only to the Egyptian mediators but also to the German negotiators, who were involved in the early stages of the negotiations on the prisoner swap deal.
In recent weeks, French officials turned to the Israeli embassy in Paris and asked that Israel make a symbolic gesture toward France in the second phase of the Shalit deal. They asked that Israel consider releasing the Palestinian-French prisoner Salah Hamouri, a PFLP member who was arrested in 2005 for planning to shoot Shas spiritual leader Ovadia Yosef in Jerusalem.