Archive for June, 2008

Results of the prisoner swap will be felt in the future

Monday, June 30th, 2008

News item:

Hamas on Monday said it was emboldened by Israel’s decision to trade Hezbollah terrorist Samir Kuntar for Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.

Gaza strongman Mahmoud Zahar, speaking to the independent Al-Quds radio station, said Hamas would take advantage of this decision “to release people Israel accused of having blood on their hands like Samir Kuntar. We have to take advantage of this to release our prisoners”…

Amos Gilad, a retired general involved in the Egyptian-brokered negotiations to free Schalit, told Army Radio that Sunday’s cabinet decision would have no effect on the talks.

“Hamas’s demands regarding Gilad Schalit have been known for some time,” he said before Zahar spoke. “They haven’t been influenced by the contacts with Hezbollah.”

Yes, their demands have been known for some time. The difference is that now they can be sure that they will be met.

Here’s the deal that Israel made with Hezbollah:

According to the resolution that was approved by an overwhelming majority of 22-3, Israel will receive Goldwasser and Regev, as well as a Hezbollah report on the disappearance of airman Ron Arad, captured in Lebanon in 1986, and the remaining body parts of soldiers killed during the Second Lebanon War.

In exchange, Israel will release Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar, responsible for the brutal deaths of four Israelis in Nahariya in 1979; four Hezbollah fighters being held by Israel; dozens of bodies of infiltrators and terrorists, including eight Hezbollah men; and information that will be given to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the disappearance of four Iranian diplomats in Beirut in 1982, during Israel’s invasion.

After these exchanges are made, Israel is to release an undetermined number of Palestinian security prisoners. According to the cabinet resolution, the number of prisoners to be released, as well as their identities, will be determined by Israel. Hezbollah, according to government sources, demanded the release of 700 Palestinians, something that Israel did not agree to.  — Jerusalem Post

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert explained:

Olmert, in his lengthy comments to the cabinet, summarized the agonizing moral question lurking behind the decision, saying that “there is no escape from dealing with the fundamental and essential issue of what the obligation is for a country which sends its soldiers into battle, and they are taken captive while in its service.”

Olmert said that while the country’s values demanded that no soldier be left behind, “over the years we also learned that this obligation has limits. A country must have limits even when dealing with the price of freedom for soldiers, and the price for their very lives.” Indicating that once this deal, and the deal for the release of Gilad Schalit, were done with, Israel would establish new game rules for dealing with prisoner swaps, he said there was a need to set “organized, agreed-upon and firm procedures to deal with this issue in the future, and we will do so soon.”

Olmert said that he struggled with the question of whether holding out now would have brought about a better deal, and that he concluded that if Israel followed that path it could well face a situation similar to the situation it faces with [missing IAF navigator Ron] Arad – that the fate of the missing soldiers would not be known for decades.

Olmert also said that it was not a ‘good’ decision, that there can be no good decision in this situation. Of course he is right about this. An operation to return a soldier from the battlefield, dead or alive, justifies a very high price, and there are plenty of cases in which such a price has been paid under fire by the comrades of a captured, wounded or dead soldier.

The problem in this case is that it is not a fixed price. It is an open-ended commitment to pay a similar price every time an Israeli falls into enemy hands. Saying that there will be a set procedure for dealing with such situations in the future is meaningless: if the government could not withstand the pressure today, what will change if there are guidelines?

There was a guideline that Israel would not make trades for prisoners with ‘blood on their hands’, but this has been officially changed in connection with the Schalit negotiations so that those convicted murderers who did not actually pull the trigger themselves could be released. Leaving aside the fact that this means that the planners of suicide operations like the Passover Seder Massacre are now eligible (one assumes that those who blew themselves up are not), Kuntar very literally had the blood of 4-year old Einat Haran on his hands. Very literally. So much for guidelines, for ‘next time it will be different’.

When will the next ‘next time’ be? How hard is it to grab some Israeli kids traveling in India or Thailand?

I’ve made these suggestions before, but here they are again:

  • Israel must establish and carry out a death penalty for terrorist murder. So there will be no Kuntars to exchange.
  • The government needs to stop worrying so much about international reactions to its actions and do what’s necessary to survive. The enemy’s success at asymmetric warfare depends on Israel’s bending to pressure to avoid civilian casualties.
  • Asymmetric warfare also depends on keeping the level of conflict low enough so that the victim cannot bring its superior firepower to bear. Therefore, Israel should escalate the conflict.

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My worst nightmares are their reality

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

Tomorrow (Sunday) the Israeli cabinet is expected to decide whether to free the brutal multiple murderer Samir Kuntar in return for two Israeli soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev — or their bodies, since there has been no sign of life from them since their capture by Hezbollah two years ago. At the same time, indirect negotiations are underway with Hamas to free Gilad Schalit, who has been held in Gaza for an even longer time, in return for hundreds of prisoners — including the planners of the Passover Seder Massacre in Netanya of 2002, where 30 were murdered by a suicide bomber.

Both the left-of-center Ami Isseroff (“Hezbollah prisoner swap: it’s not too late to save our boys and girls“) and the right-wing Caroline Glick (“Not a personal affair“) have argued eloquently against agreeing to the deals. They point out the obvious:

  • that if the deals are made, the kidnappings will have accomplished their purpose and will certainly be followed by more of the same;
  • that the return of a living, unrepentant, murderer for the bodies of Israelis will establish that terrorist kidnappers needn’t even keep their captives alive in the future; and
  • that the hundreds (perhaps more than a thousand) Hamas prisoners that would be released in a deal for Schalit, prisoners who were taken in operations in which Israeli soldiers lost their lives, would certainly go on to kill many more Israelis.

Yes, it is correct that Jews are required to reedem captives; the obligation derives from Abraham’s redemption of Lot from captivity (Gen. 14). But is there an obligation to redeem present captives (or their remains) if that act is certain to lead to captivity and death for more Jews in the near future? Glick writes,

That Israel will pay a price in blood if the deals go through is a certainty. That more Israelis will meet the fates of Schalit, Regev and Goldwasser is a certainty. The only thing we do not know today is the names of the victims. They could be any one of us. Indeed, they are all of us. For all of us are equally targeted simply by virtue of the fact that we are Israelis.

The situation of the families is tragic, and we who are not in their position may not criticize them for their efforts in trying to save their loved ones. My own son was part of many missions in South Lebanon before the withdrawal in 2000, often in close proximity to Hezbollah positions. My worst nightmares became horrible reality for these families.

The Israeli government must not give in to the pressure to make these trades, so that more nightmares do not become real.

Update [29 Jun 0823 PDT]: Of course the cabinet has decided (by a vote of 22-3) to swap a live, undoubtedly grinning Kuntar for the bodies of Regev and Goldwasser.

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Oh no! Fatah fires rockets behind Hamas’ back!

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

Does anyone take this seriously?

The Hamas government in the Gaza Strip voiced its rage on Thursday after Gaza militants fired two rockets into southern Israel Thursday, causing no injuries but further straining a shaky, week-old truce between Israel and the Gaza rulers. [my emphasis]

The militant group Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, affiliated with Hamas rivals Fatah, claimed responsibility for Thursday’s Qassam strikes. In a statement carried by the official Palestinian news agency Ma’an, Hamas warned the militant factions against violating the terms of the cease fire with Israel, saying such violations harmed the Palestinian national interest. Hamas also threatened to take the necessary steps against the violators. — Ha’aretz

1) The truce has been reported as ‘strained’ almost since the beginning. When do we decide that it’s been broken?

2) Fatah did it? But Fatah are the ‘moderates’ who control the PA, and who are paid by the US to be Israel’s friends. By the way, did you know that PA employees in Gaza, those who work for Fatah and Hamas alike, are also paid from PA funds? So my tax dollars bought those Qassams.

3) By the way, speaking of money, did you know that Israel is helping Hamas launder huge sums of money that are being smuggled into ‘blockaded’ Gaza?  This is a truly amazing story, from Elder of Ziyon.

4) Can you just pick up a pack of rockets at your local Qassam shop and fire them without Hamas’ permission? When Hamas was annoyed at Fatah operatives during the takeover last summer, they shot them in the kneecaps and threw them off tall buildings. Will they do this again? Why would the Fatah people take such a risk to shoot a few rockets unless they had Hamas’ approval? Come on, folks!

5) This is for Ha’aretz: why do you use the word ‘militants’ in the English version of this story? In Hebrew you just referred to Fatah’s al-Aqsa Brigades. If you really need to insert some kind of description, they are terrorists.

6) Everyone predicted this. Everyone knew that there would be terrorism during the ‘truce’ and Hamas would point its finger at someone else.  Everyone knew that there would be tremendous pressure on Israel not to retaliate. Everyone knew all kinds of reasons why the truce was a horrible idea. The Chief of staff and the head of the internal security service (Shabak) were opposed. And yet Israel agreed.

This is actually a positive development, because it might shorten the ‘truce’.

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Barn gases and murder in stages

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

This guy Ami Isseroff claims to be a left-winger. Whatever he is, he is dead on with this piece.

Humans have a great capacity for accommodation. After you work in a barn for a while, you don’t notice the smell. This normally adaptive capability can be lethal.

Read the rest here: “Gaza Cease Fire: Slow Murder?

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What’s scary about Obama?

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

Dry Bones: Obama makes me nervous

Obama makes me nervous (courtesy Dry Bones blog)

What’s scary about Obama?

Barack Obama has certainly done his best to allay our fears. Public comments at a Cleveland synagogue and at the AIPAC convention, if not the stuff of dreams, were no less pro-Israel than those of Bush or McCain. I get emails every other day from the Obama campaign refuting this or that scurrilous rumor.

Jewish support is very important to Obama, because it is concentrated in critical states like Florida and Ohio, where — thanks to an electoral system matched in its dysfunctionality only by that of Israel — a few swing voters can affect the outcome of a national election.

Michael Freund wrote,

Early last month, you’ll recall, headlines blared in the US and Israeli press trumpeting the results of a Gallup survey conducted back in April which found that American Jews preferred Democratic hopeful Barack Obama by a margin of 61 to 32 over his GOP rival.

For many observers, it seemed to confirm the time-honored tradition that American Jews continue to remain solidly in the Democratic camp. After all, a two-to-one margin represents a fairly compelling advantage.

[But a decline] became apparent in another, more recent Gallup poll published on June 5, which showed that the race for support among American Jews has begun to tighten, with Obama now leading McCain by a margin of 57 to 35.

That represents a narrowing of the gap from 29 to 22 points in just one month…

Moreover, this latest poll was conducted after it had become clear that Obama was set to be the Democratic nominee, whereas the previous survey took place when Hillary Clinton was still very much in the race as well…

Sure, you might be thinking, but he is still getting 57 percent of the Jewish vote in the latest poll, and that is still a healthy majority. That may be true, but consider the following: both Bill Clinton and Al Gore each won approximately 80 percent of the Jewish vote when they sought the presidency. And even the dour and uninspiring Democratic candidate John Kerry was able to take home 75 percent in the 2004 contest.

Freund thinks that the Wright issue hurt Obama among Jews, and this is undoubtedly true. But that has pretty much blown over by now. He also mentions Obama’s flip-flop over the status of Jerusalem. But I doubt that anyone took his original statement seriously; I know I didn’t.

My own feeling is that it has more to do with a perception that the Democratic Party has moved to the left generally. And today the extreme Left is often antisemitic and always violently anti-Israel. While Jews are still predominately liberal on economic and social issues, they are very sensitive to even a whiff of antisemitism, and there are certainly elements on the left wing of the Democratic party — you will recall that Al Sharpton was allowed to give one of the opening speeches at the 2004 Democratic convention — that give a Jew pause.

Some of them are quite outspoken, in places like’s forums, the Daily Kos, and personal diaries found on pages; and right-wing bloggers have been gleefully drawing attention to them (in the case of the Obama sites, moderators have tried to delete them before they are noticed). Although many Jews, especially younger ones, feel less connection with Israel than in the past, they are not dumb enough to miss the connection between violent hatred of Israel and antisemitism.

Perhaps it is not so much Obama himself — who is not antisemitic and who supports Israel as much (or as little) as any other mainstream American politician — but rather that Jews are finally starting to grasp the fact that since 1967 the primary source of antisemitism has shifted from the Right to the Left. And perhaps they prefer the uninspired economics  of John McCain to what they fear a Democratic victory would drag along with it. Certainly some of Obama’s anti-Israel advisers and former advisers like Rob Malley, Samantha Power, and Zbigniew Brzezinski have fed this worry.

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