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On Thursday I published an article on Frontpagemag.com that concludes in support of the Gilad Shalit deal. Since then, not surprisingly, strong criticisms have been leveled against the deal, including an article in Friday’s Frontpage by Steven M. Goldberg. While I respect the critics’ arguments and share their distress over the mass release of terrorists, I still think the deal is the lesser evil.
The critics’ main argument concerns security. They say the terrorists to be freed will murder large numbers of Israelis, and that rescuing a single soldier can’t be morally justified if that is the result. The critics base this claim on statistics about terrorists released in previous lopsided Israeli prisoner deals who returned to terror and murdered Israelis.
There are two problems with this argument. One is that the statistics come mostly from periods in which there was rampant anti-Israeli terror in general; both terrorists released in deals and other terrorists were able to perpetrate numerous attacks.
For instance, in the 2004 prisoner deal that is most often cited in this context, Israel freed over 400 security prisoners in return for one live captive, Elhanan Tannenbaum, and the corpses of three soldiers. A 2008 article reported that “from the date of the deal on January 29, 2004, until April 17, 2007, those freed in the deal had murdered 35 Israelis.”
Those were still, however, years of high Israeli casualty tolls from terrorism in general—for instance, over 130 killed in 2004 and over 50 in 2005. In 2009, however, the total came to 6; in 2010, to 11; while the number so far in 2011 is 18. (Statistics are drawn from the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Rocket fire from Gaza is a different matter, but it has mostly been nonlethal and a form of psychological warfare.)
Clearly, then, many of the hundreds of terrorists freed in Israel’s prisoner deals are still roaming free, but are much less able to perpetrate attacks—because Israel, mainly by reestablishing its security capabilities in the West Bank, has succeeded in drastically reducing terrorism overall. Those assuming that the terrorists to be freed in the present deal will be able to kill many more Israelis are not taking this into account.
The second problem with the critics’ main argument, the one based on security, is that under the terms of this deal a total of 110 less-dangerous terrorists will be released to the West Bank, and all of the more dangerous ones to Gaza or abroad. As Yoram Cohen, chief of Israel’s Shin Bet (internal security), remarked, “There are 20,000 Izzadin Kassam members in Gaza, and another 200 [terrorists to be sent there] are not going to make a huge difference.” As for the 110 lesser terrorists in the West Bank, it would be surprising if Israel can’t keep a lid on them; and as for those to be sent abroad, it will be hard, of course, for them to effectuate attacks from there.
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