A thousand little surrenders

The Hamas prisoner swap seems to be drawing closer:

An envoy negotiating the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit has met twice in recent weeks with senior Hamas members in an Israeli jail, reporting progress on a prisoner swap deal, according to a lawyer close to the talks.

The envoy, Ofer Dekel, met 10 days ago with five members of the Hamas military wing at Hadarim Prison near Netanya…

Dekel told the Hamas inmates that progress has been made on a deal to win the release of Cpl. Schalit, who was captured by Hamas-allied terrorists in June 2006 and is being held in Gaza, the lawyer said. In exchange, Hamas seeks the release of several hundred prisoners, but Israel has balked at meeting the demands.

Dekel told the five Hamas prisoners – all of whom are serving life sentences – that some in the group would be able to go home soon, but that others would be sent into exile if a deal goes through, the lawyer said. — Jerusalem Post

Hamas has consistently asked for more than Israel can reasonably grant. The fact that the prisoners mentioned are said to be serving life sentences implies that they have probably been convicted of murder. Moussa Abu Marzouk, Hamas spokesman has said that are 350 prisoners that they want released and they have given Israel a list.

This is a horrible situation for the Israeli government to be in, and of course a worse situation for Gilad Schalit’s family and friends. Let’s look at Israel’s options.

The first option is to meet the demands. What would be the consequences of doing so? The good news is that Schalit would be free.

In addition, 350 of Hamas’ most dangerous operatives would also be free and able to participate in attacks against Israel (I don’t know where ‘exiled’ terrorists would be sent, but the precedent set in 1992 when Sheik Yassin and 400-odd Hamas members were deported to Lebanon is not encouraging).

One of the operations that the former prisoners would doubtless engage in is the kidnapping of more Israelis, followed by more demands. Why not? It’s a proven effective technique.

Hamas would announce another victory of their brave fighters against the Zionist enemy. This would be a big boost for recruitment, along with the knowledge that anyone who is captured by Israel would only have to sit in jail until the next kidnapping/prisoner exchange event.

No, this Hamas victory would not be the end of Israel. It would be just a small surrender. Some think that Israel can absorb small surrenders. Yariv Oppenheimer of Peace Now says

The release of Palestinian prisoners with blood on their hands is not an easy step, and will only be executed in order to promote an Israeli interest, such as the release of kidnapped IDF soldiers [in contrast to right-wing demands to release Jews imprisoned for terrorism against Arabs, which he feels should not be granted].

Looking at the big picture, this particular small surrender would be one in a series of small and not-so-small surrenders by Israel to her enemies, Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran. Take, for example the withdrawal from Gaza, the failure to prosecute the war in Lebanon to a satisfactory conclusion and acquiescence to Hezbollah’s rearmament, the de facto acceptance of the bombardment of Sderot, the decision to stop construction activities near the Mughrabi Gate, the cooperation with the US in arming Fatah, the coming release of 250 Fatah prisoners, etc.

None of these little surrenders will mean the end of Israel in itself, but every one makes her a little weaker, and her enemies stronger. This is a process that can’t continue forever. It will end, after a thousand little surrenders, with a regional war that Israel will no longer be capable of winning.

There is another option, which is to try to free Schalit by ultimatum and by force. By refusing to use the power in its hands, Israel is accepting the rules of the asymmetrical war being waged on it by Hamas, Hezbollah, and ultimately Iran. This process has to be preempted.

My suggestion is that Israel present Hamas with a serious ultimatum to release Schalit or be faced with an all-out assault which will include the killing of its leaders and the destruction of its fighting forces. The goal of this operation would be simple: to kill as many Hamas members as possible.

At the same time, Israel should use every means possible, including its police hostage-rescue unit, Yamam, which may be the best unit of its kind in the world, to rescue him.

The main downside of this approach is that Hamas may kill Schalit before he can be rescued. There is also the danger of triggering a wider conflict, perhaps involving Hezbollah, and Israel will need to take the necessary steps to deter such a response beforehand.

Yes, it’s risky and almost certainly promises conflict in the near future. But the other approach, while it might stave off an immediate struggle, guarantees disaster in the long run.

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