The German Connection

An Unlikely Middle East Mediator Works in the Shadows

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and German Chancellor Merkel in Jerusalem, January 2011. Baz Ratner / Courtesy Reuters

Three days before the media reported the deaths of Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaier, and Naftali Fraenkel, I was tipped off to their tragic fate. In early June 2014, the three Israeli teenagers had gone missing while hitchhiking in the West Bank; their kidnapping was one of several sparks that helped ignite the latest round of violence between Israel and Palestine. Although I had spent weeks in the region interviewing Israelis and Palestinians about prisoner exchanges, the alert came from a surprising corner: August Hanning, a former president of Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst, or BND. With the media railing against U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for failing to advance the Israeli–Palestinian peace process and a group of would-be mediators -- including China, Japan, and Russia -- waiting in the wings, I had come to Berlin to talk to Hanning about a country that is rarely considered

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