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The Israeli security chiefs—Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, Mossad head Tamir Pardo, and Shin Bet (internal security) head Yoram Cohen—all affirmed that there was no military option to free Shalit and came out in favor of the deal. Pardo’s and Cohen’s predecessors both opposed such a swap, though that was when Hamas was insisting that the masterminds be included.
Cohen, explaining his position, called it “the best deal possible” while allowing that “it is not simple to release 280 murderers” and “noting that [the deal] would likely increase Hamas’s motivation to attack Israel and try to abduct more soldiers.” He said further:
I think that we will be able to deal with the threat and potential dangers.… We cannot promise that they will not produce terror. Statistics show that 60 percent of those released in prisoner swaps return to activity in their terrorist organizations and that 15 to 20 percent return to Israeli prisons.
He also noted that the 110 to be released to the West Bank will be under strict surveillance. Optimists point to Israel’s currently strong security capabilities there, which have kept lethal terrorism to a minimum for years.
On one side, then, a further encouragement of kidnapping; a possible spike in terror; the pain of relatives of the victims of the released prisoners; a boost to Hamas; and a dire subversion of justice as murderers go free.
Understanding, then, why Israel’s top security officials as well as a large majority of its government and public nevertheless support the deal requires understanding certain underlying intangibles of Israeli society. Simple sympathy for Shalit and his family is, of course, one of them, but not the whole story. As Netanyahu put it in his speech Tuesday night:
I am happy that I succeeded in fulfilling the Jewish decree of redeeming captives…. The nation of Israel is a unique people. We are all mutually responsible for each other, as our sages said: “He who saves one soul, it is as though he saved an entire world.”
To which it can be objected—validly—that in this case, the statistical record suggests that saving one soul means condemning other souls. To which, in turn, it can be replied that danger is inherent in being a Jewish, non-Muslim state in the Middle East, and fundamental to coping with it is a solidarity that goes to the deepest level of Israel’s ethos of survival in a hostile environment.
For most of us, abandoning Gilad to his fate was simply not an option.
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