The deal is done. Israel has agreed to exchange live Arab prisoners for
dead Israeli soldiers. Walking, talking, alive and breathing, tried and
convicted terrorists and 190 dead terrorists for the corpses of
kidnapped Israeli soldiers.
In politics, much like in big business, decisions do not always
follow the classic game theory model. Win-win, win-lose and even
lose-lose do not always apply. Sometimes, decisions are made only in
order to cut future losses and move on. Israel is cutting losses,
Israel is moving on. Israel has nothing more to gain in this go-round
with Hezbollah and nothing more to lose.
Bad decisions were made from the beginning and those bad decisions
will live on, setting a bad precedent. When the War with Lebanon began
two summers ago, the intention was to find Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad
Regev and bring them home - dead or alive, to return Israeli soldiers
to Israeli soil. Along the way Israel lost sight of the original goal.
Instead of fighting to find the boys, Israel fought to debilitate
Hezbollah. By the time a cease fire was called, neither goal had been
There have been other deals between Israel and Hezbollah and none of
them have been good - but neither have they significantly hurt Israel.
This deal, which includes exchanging notorious terrorist Samir Kuntar,
will number among one of the worst deals the State of Israel has ever
cut with the enemy.
The reasoning for accepting the deal goes like this. The parents of
Goldwasser and Regev, their immediate family, need closure. Their
extended family, which has grown to include the entire country of
Israel, needs closure. The Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem has
said that Hezbollah has no more information to give about Israeli
navigator Ron Arad who was shot down, taken hostage and abandoned on
enemy soil twent-two years ago. If Hezbollah has no more information to
give, then Kuntar has little currency. Politically Kuntar is now dead
The best use of Kuntar right now is to sacrifice him for the remains
of the Israelis, to stave off the possibility of Goldwasser and Regev
turning into Arad - disappeared into a black enemy hole with no one
claiming knowledge or possession. By retrieving the bodies Israel will
be denying her enemies the pleasure of gloating over a prized
possession - the bodies of two Israeli soldiers.
Kidnappings take a tremendous toll on a tiny, tightly knit, nation
like Israel, a place where there are very few degrees of separation
between families and the masses. In Israel almost everyone serves and
that means that almost everyone's child is put at risk.
Israelis loan their children to the army, defending Israel against
enemies is an unfortunate but totally understood reality. Israel
receives those children with a special promise - to protect them, to
make certain they do not die in vain. And if a parent is called upon to
make the ultimate sacrifice for home and country, if an Israeli soldier
is killed, Israel has always promised to bring back the body and erect
a proper grave.
The Israeli army mantra, the Israeli army code, of "no body left
behind in the battlefield" is not only meant to soothe soldiers and
their families. It is also meant to tell the enemies of Israel that
they will be denied the perverse thrill of publicly mutilating the
bodies and then exchanging the corpses for live terrorists.
The ramifications of this deal are significant. The bodies will be
returned, graves will be erected, but a gaping hole will have been
placed in the Israeli justice system because of this prisoner exchange.
The Arab terrorists in this exchange were tried and convicted by the
Israeli court. Kuntar was sentenced to four life sentences without the
possibility of parole for his brutal acts. Israel does not have capital
punishment, this judgment was the toughest sentence the court could
Now the message is being transmitted to all terrorists - those
already convicted and those still planning their acts - that there is
always a way to get out, there is always the possibility of exchange.
The message to the terrorists is that there is always a way to get out.
Just kidnap Israelis and hold them for ransom.
And then there is the blow to the victims, the people injured by the
terrorists now being released, the families of the people whom they
killed and the people injured and killed in the capture of these
terrorists. All Israelis understand the risk of living in Israel. All
Israelis understand the dangers of terror and the reality of army
service. These citizens of Israel relied on the State for justice. Now
the brutal murderers will be set free because the State is cutting
political and military losses.
There are some in Israel who think that this exchange does more than
cut losses, they think that it hurts Israel militarily. They think that
it signals a death sentence for Gilad Shalit, another hostage, another
kidnapped Israeli soldier who is being held in Gaza by a Hamas-related
group. They think that the enemy will now believe that if you can get
so much for a dead soldier, why go through the trouble of keeping
Shalit alive? The answer to that is, strange as it sounds, Hamas is not
Hezbollah. Each enemy group, each terrorist organization, each country
at war with Israel plays by their own set of rules much as Israel deals
differently and independently with each of them.
There are those in the intelligence and the defense world who say
never exchange live prisoners for dead soldiers. Live for live, dead
for dead, no exceptions or you lose the advantage in negotiations. That
thinking has merit. But today's politicians have acted differently and
right now, in this exchange, it is too late to implement that policy.
This will not be the last negotiation because this will not be the
last kidnapping. Terrorists are rehearsing. They have training films
and propaganda reels. Recruits are learning how to grab the Israelis
and how to carry them away.