In a mathematical equation, 1+1 always = 2.
In an ideological equation, 1+1 can sometimes = 6+10
When it comes to the lives of their soldiers, Israel does not think
mathematically, Israel thinks ideologically. And that makes the
equation much more difficult to analyze, much more difficult to work
out and much more emotionally laden. Ideological equations are not
computed in our brains, they are wrenched from our hearts.
And that is the how and the why explaining Israel's decision to
engage in talks with Hezbollah over the exchange of one famous
Hezbollah terrorist, four live Lebanese prisoners, one Israeli Druze
who spied for Hezbollah and ten dead Lebanese for two Israeli soldiers
taken captive over the Lebanese border by Hezbollah in the summer of
2006. For Israel, it's 16 for 2 when the two are Ehud Goldwasser,
affectionately known by the entire country as Udi, and Eldad Regev.
The faces of Udi and Eldad, along with the face of a third Israeli
soldier taken captive by Hamas, Gilad Shalit, are known to every
Israeli and almost every Jew worldwide. Their birthdays are noted.
Their family members are recognized on streets and in airports. Their
capture is mourned, but they have not been turned into martyrs. That is
not the Israeli way.
That is the Hezbollah way. And that is why it is so important for
Hezbollah to include the famous Hezbollah terrorist Samir Kuntar in
this prisoner exchange.
Samir Kuntar is a symbol more than a man for Hezbollah, he is a part of Hezbollah lore.
Samir Kuntar represents the ideal terrorist, he is the man every
Hezbollah member hopes their child will become. On April 22, 1979
Kuntar arrived on Israeli shores in a rubber speedboat and terrorized
the Haran family in their home in the port city of Nahariya, Israel's
northernmost city. Within one hour he had shot and then drowned Danny
the father in front of his four year old daughter and then turned
around and bludgeoned and bashed four year old Anat. He bashed, he
brutalized, he butted. He shot, he drowned, he bludgeoned.
Fearing for their lives, twenty four month old Yael was hiding in a
crawl space with her mother Smadar and a neighbor. Cradled in the
loving embrace of her mother, fearing Yael's cries would alert the
murderers, the helpless baby was smothered.
In every negotiation between Israel and Hezbollah, Samir Kuntar is
on the table. He has been Hezbollah's most often repeated request from
the time of his capture, conviction and sentencing. Hezbollah has not
yet secured his release and Kuntar is in an Israeli prison, sentenced
to four life terms. This time, only thirty years into his sentence,
Hezbollah might just get their man.
These deals are never simple. This one is even more complex. When
the sides refuse to negotiate directly, when they will not talk to each
other, when conversations are conducted through third parties, the risk
of miscommunication is obvious. In this type of sensitive negotiation
the possibility for misunderstanding and the probability of
misinterpretation is great.
Israel and the Arab world have engaged in, negotiated and
successfully arranged several swaps over the past several years. Many
more have fallen apart. For the most part Israel has received dead
Israeli soldiers and returned live prisoners - and that was OK, because
every Israeli is deserving of burial at home. One notable exception is
the recent swap Israel conducted with Lebanon which resulted in the
return of Elhanan Tannenbaum, an Israeli criminal/businessman and
former IDF colonel was captured by Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The question is not whether Israel should do everything to free Ehud
Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. According to a poll published by the
Israeli daily Haaretz, 63% of Israelis think that releasing Kuntar for
Goldwasser and Regev is a good idea. 21% do not agree and the remaining
16% are unsure.
The question is what happens when Israel exchanges live terrorist
symbols for Udi and Eldad. Does a bargain of this magnitude increase
the possibility of more captured soldiers? Hezbollah has already
proclaimed that capturing Israelis is one of their most sought after
goals. And one of the reasons capturing Israeli soldiers is so enticing
to Hezbollah is, without doubt, because it is an effective way to bring
Israel down on her knees.
The question is what is the obligation of a country to the families
of the victims? What is the obligation of a country to the justice
system that tries and sentences terrorists? When the exchange centers
on the dead bodies of terrorists, decisions are easier. When the
exchange centers live terrorists, the decision is more complex.
The question is - is Israel like every country?
When Samir Kuntar entered Israel, he came with three other
terrorists. Two of the four were killed. Ahmad Al Abrass, the fourth
member of Kuntar's terror unit, was freed from Israeli prison in May of
1985 as part of a prisoner exchange of 1150 Lebanese prisoners for
three Israelis POW's held by Lebanon. Because of the success of that
exchange the terrorists were emboldened to act again. Within months the
same Palestinian group from Lebanon hijacked the Achille Lauro. They
killed a disabled American Jew named Leon Klinghoffer, a passenger on
the ship. And then they pushed his dead, drooping body, still in his
wheelchair, overboard. They did it because they were emboldened, they
did it also because they were angry, they did it because Kuntar had not
been included in the original prisoner exchange. And then, once again,
they demanded the release of Samir Kuntar, their star terrorist.
It is essential to recall these events and their brutality. It is
essential because it provides perspective. Israel must do whatever
Israel can do to negotiate the release of prisoners held by the enemy.
But at what price? What about the victims of terror, what about those
families? It's a very hard call. It's a question of justice.