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I concede that David’s skepticism about the potential of military actions to free Shalit may be correct. Neither of us are military people and I never rose above the rank of private. At the same time, I do believe that it was possible to kidnap or quietly whisk away family members of Hamas leaders and hold them hostage until Shalit’s release. These people are not hard to find and such actions should have been feasible. David is correct that kidnapping terror leaders in Lebanon by Israel – including those directly involved in the kidnapping of Ron Arad – failed to win Arad’s release. But that was no reason NOT to do those operations, and the later release of those terrorists by Israel in yet another act of “exchange” (or what I prefer to call “human trafficking” with terrorists) was one of the worst national disgraces in Israel’s history.
I certainly hope that David is not serious when he predicts the fact that a government commission chaired by a retired judge (Shamgar) will come up with some sort of “solution” to the problem of terrorists kidnapping Israelis to force it to release imprisoned terrorists. Israel’s judges have a long track record of being more concerned with the “civil rights” of terrorists, including their right to do college degrees by distance learning while in prison, than with the security of Israeli citizens. And government commissions cannot get the post office to deliver the mail properly.
Without getting into a side debate about the United States policy regarding its kidnapped personnel, which David raises, I just wanted to point out one thing. After World War II, the massacre of American GIs by Germans in Malmedy, Belgium became widely known. I cannot believe the United States would have released the murderers of those troops and allowed them to go free, no matter what the “deal” offered and no matter what the extortion being attempted. And the victims were soldiers, not children.
Hornik: Of course I agree with Steve and all the opponents of the Shalit deal that the price of releasing the terrorists was a terrible one to pay, including for the reasons Steve mentions here. There’s no point reiterating the fact that I see it has having been the lesser evil in this case. Steve raises the question, though, of what I meant in saying that “By my lights, for Israel to violate its obligation to its soldier is an even greater evil.”
I didn’t mean this mainly for reasons of IDF morale. One expert on the IDF, defending the Shalit deal, writes that “the possible erosion of combat motivation among Israel’s military personnel” poses the greatest possible threat to the country’s existence and preventing it is the supreme consideration. It’s a serious point, but still a speculative one. I know of no evidence or indications that IDF morale declined as a result of Shalit’s captivity, or would have had he stayed in captivity—though it’s possible.
My point is simpler: failing to go through with this deal at this time probably would have meant permanently abandoning Shalit to his fate. The moral obligation to rescue him is clear and doesn’t need elucidation. Not at unacceptable risk—but as I’ve already explained, I see the risk incurred in this case as within the bounds of the acceptable. If so, then, morally speaking, I prefer releasing the terrorists to abandoning Shalit—with the condition that we recognize that we’ve gone far down a slippery slope and need to change course. This is indeed widely recognized in Israel.
As for a counter-kidnapping of family members of Hamas leaders, assuming it would have been technically feasible now that Israel has left Gaza, I think the legal problems Israel would have encountered—both within Israel and abroad—would have been immense considering that these would have been defined as innocent civilians. Immense and insurmountable, so that, in an embarrassing, counterproductive failure, Israel would have been forced to free the individuals. That is not to say I oppose tough, imaginative measures like counter-kidnappings in principle, but it depends on whom one kidnaps.
By the time of the Shalit deal, though, Shalit may well have been on the verge of disappearing into the maw of a Muslim Brotherhood Egypt, and time was not on our side. But here it should be stressed that Israel did seek a military solution to his captivity. Great intelligence resources were invested in trying to locate him in Gaza so as to make that possible. However, for reasons not yet known, Israel’s vaunted intelligence agencies were unable to locate him, narrowing Israel’s options. (At least, I’ve read several articles to this effect and no contradictory accounts.)
As for the Shamgar Commission, let’s see first what they have to say. But I’m not a shill for this commission and the main thing is that someone in Israel formulate guidelines for future kidnapping situations, if there will be any, that can prevent paying exorbitant prices. I’ve seen interesting suggestions and think it’s possible. But we need to have a clear approach and to apply it from the start.
Plaut: I think David and I are pretty close to agreement. I distrust public commissions and do not think it is the proper role of judges to make military policy or any national policy. I also think that the legal aspects of Israel engaging in counter-kidnapping should be ignored by Israel. There are problems of state for which “law” is irrelevant. We do not read Miranda rights to combatants in war and we do not need any legal briefs from bespectacled lawyers to take action against terrorists.
Yes, I think that concerns about eroding national morale in Israel are in order, particularly because the politicians of the major parties have been eroding it intentionally so badly with thir countless appeasements, acts of cowardice, and the idiotic “peace process” games of pretense. I certainly do not wish to see any other Israeli soldier disappear from the face of the planet in Ron Arad manner. But I also think there are worse things that can happen to the country than another Ron Arad Affair, worse things that have already happened. As badly as I feel over the victimization of Ron Arad and his family, I am more concerned about the loss in will among many Israelis to resist Islamofascist aggression and international pressures on Israel to capitulate.
I also reject the idea that the same Israel that freed the hundred Entebbe hostages using military force had no viable military options against the kidnappers of Shalit (and the kidnappers of Arad).
Hornik: The army couldn’t attempt a rescue operation of Shalit if it didn’t know where he was. Apparently, intelligence tried for years to locate him but failed. We’ve discussed whether other options may have worked, and I don’t discount it but am less sure.
More generally, there is no question that Israeli leaders have made horrendous blunders especially since the early-1990s Oslo era began. I think I’m more inclined than Steve, though, to accept that in some cases Israeli political and military leaders are constrained by cruel realities and have to make difficult compromises.
Plaut: Well, I do not think the military was making serious efforts to locate and rescue Shalit. I of course am just an outside civilian kibbitzer, not an intelligence officer, but a military that regularly locates and targets Hamas terrorist leaders, coached by an American military that found bin Laden, could have found Shalit. Room by room searches in the whole Gaza Strip, if necessary, maybe with body cavity searches for the Hamas leaders.
Hornik: It took the U.S. ten years from 9/11 to find Bin Laden. Beyond that observation, we can, of course argue these things indefinitely.
FP: David Hornik and Steven Plaut, thank you for joining Frontpage Symposium.
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