After more than four months, it looks like Israeli-American law student Ilan Grapel, 27, will be freed from Egypt, where he has been detained under the accusation of espionage. The cost: 25 Egyptian prisoners, three of whom are minors; it has been supposed that, unlike many of the prisoners freed in exchange for Gilad Shalit, the Egyptians are in jail for infractions like illegal immigration rather than terrorism. The Israeli cabinet will vote on the deal tomorrow. In an emailed statement, Rep. Gary Ackerman, ranking member of the House Middle East subcommittee and the congressman of Grapel’s parents’ Queens district, took credit for helping to broker the deal by engaging Egypt’s military leaders.
Last week, I spoke to intelligence expert Bruce Riedel about Grapel. Though Israel and Grapel’s family have denied that he was a spy, Riedel mused, “The simplest solution—not necessarily the right one—is he is some kind of Israeli agent, and they felt he would be much less likely to be arrested with a U.S. passport, and that assumption proved to be erroneous. I haven’t got a clue. But the simple answer would be: he was on some kind of mission, and therefore the government of Israel feels responsible to bring him home and would be willing to trade prisoners for him.”