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Like so many others in Israel, I watched the special telecast of the return home of Gilad Shalit, 25, on Mabat/Channel One TV, and along with most Israelis I was moved by the warm embrace between father (Noam) and his son following the long struggle to bring him home after five years and four months of agonizing captivity. The Shalit family deserved a happy ending considering the tragedy the family already endured in losing Noam’s twin brother in the Yom Kippur war. But is this prisoner exchange with Hamas strategically good for Israel as a nation?
In the short term, the left-leaning Israeli media that campaigned vigorously on behalf of a prisoner exchange, and emotionally engaged the entire nation in seeking Gilad’s return, will give Prime Minister Netanyahu full credit for his release. Soon enough, however, the 1027 Palestinian terrorists, most with blood on their hands, will return to their murderous activities, something the Hamas leadership assured us they will be encouraged to do. The Israeli media will then point an accusing finger at the Likud government, and Netanyahu’s tactical and temporary triumph will disappear in what pundits will see as his strategic mistake.
Ironically, it was Benjamin Netanyahu who wrote in his 1995 book, Fighting Terrorism: How the West Can Defeat Domestic and International Terrorism that “Refusing to release terrorists from prison was one of the most important policies that must be adopted in the face of terrorism.” Netanyahu added, “By leading terrorists to believe that their demands will be met, they encourage precisely the terrorist blackmail they are supposed to defuse.” As the opposition leader in 2008, Netanyahu opposed Prime Minister Olmert’s deal to free terrorists, arguing that “this would weaken Israel and strengthen the terror elements.”
The deal made with Hamas to exchange the prisoners has to be considered one of Israel’s most dramatic intelligence failures. It is, first and foremost, a blow to Israel’s credibility as an uncompromising combatant of terrorism. For decades Israel preached to the Western world the mantra of “terrorism must be fought, not negotiated with,” a lesson the U.S. and Russia learned well but apparently not Israel.
The exchange sends a clear message to Hamas and other enemies of Israel that the Jewish State’s resolve has weakened, and that the will to find ingenious ways to free its captives has now withered away. People still remember how the Israelis in July 1976, crossed continents to rescue hundreds of Israelis and Jewish hostages in Entebbe, Uganda, killing the Arab and German terrorists and safely bringing the hostages home.
The world, which admired Israel’s courage and ingenuity in rescuing hundreds of hostages, cannot understand why a nation with one of the best intelligence services, and with one of the most advanced technological capabilities, along with an experienced military, was unable to discover where Shalit was kept (he was known to be in Gaza, only a few miles away from the border with Israel) and find a way to rescue him during the past five years. Moreover, Israel failed to mobilize compelling pressure on Hamas, and in the end had to give in and deal with Hamas.
The ethos of the IDF, an army of the people in which everyone serves as opposed to an army of professional soldiers, is that everything will be done to bring a soldier home. In contrast to the U.S. and armies of NATO nations where service is voluntary, the government is not obliged to trade terrorists for the lives of captive soldiers.
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