Results of the prisoner swap will be felt in the future

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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