WHEN 1+1 = 6+10
By Micah Halpern
Thursday May 29, 2008
In a mathematical equation, 1+1 always = 2.
In an ideological equation, 1+1 can sometimes = 6+10
When it comes to the lives of their soldiers, Israel does not think mathematically, Israel thinks ideologically. And that makes the equation much more difficult to analyze, much more difficult to work out and much more emotionally laden. Ideological equations are not computed in our brains, they are wrenched from our hearts.
And that is the how and the why explaining Israel's decision to engage in talks with Hezbollah over the exchange of one famous Hezbollah terrorist, four live Lebanese prisoners, one Israeli Druze who spied for Hezbollah and ten dead Lebanese for two Israeli soldiers taken captive over the Lebanese border by Hezbollah in the summer of 2006. For Israel, it's 16 for 2 when the two are Ehud Goldwasser, affectionately known by the entire country as Udi, and Eldad Regev.
The faces of Udi and Eldad, along with the face of a third Israeli soldier taken captive by Hamas, Gilad Shalit, are known to every Israeli and almost every Jew worldwide. Their birthdays are noted. Their family members are recognized on streets and in airports. Their capture is mourned, but they have not been turned into martyrs. That is not the Israeli way.
That is the Hezbollah way. And that is why it is so important for Hezbollah to include the famous Hezbollah terrorist Samir Kuntar in this prisoner exchange.
Samir Kuntar represents the ideal terrorist, he is the man every Hezbollah member hopes their child will become. On April 22, 1979 Kuntar arrived on Israeli shores in a rubber speedboat and terrorized the Haran family in their home in the port city of Nahariya, Israel's northernmost city. Within one hour he had shot and then drowned Danny the father in front of his four year old daughter and then turned around and bludgeoned and bashed four year old Anat. He bashed, he brutalized, he butted. He shot, he drowned, he bludgeoned.
Fearing for their lives, twenty four month old Yael was hiding in a crawl space with her mother Smadar and a neighbor. Cradled in the loving embrace of her mother, fearing Yael's cries would alert the murderers, the helpless baby was smothered.
In every negotiation between Israel and Hezbollah, Samir Kuntar is on the table. He has been Hezbollah's most often repeated request from the time of his capture, conviction and sentencing. Hezbollah has not yet secured his release and Kuntar is in an Israeli prison, sentenced to four life terms. This time, only thirty years into his sentence, Hezbollah might just get their man.
These deals are never simple. This one is even more complex. When the sides refuse to negotiate directly, when they will not talk to each other, when conversations are conducted through third parties, the risk of miscommunication is obvious. In this type of sensitive negotiation the possibility for misunderstanding and the probability of misinterpretation is great.
Israel and the Arab world have engaged in, negotiated and successfully arranged several swaps over the past several years. Many more have fallen apart. For the most part Israel has received dead Israeli soldiers and returned live prisoners - and that was OK, because every Israeli is deserving of burial at home. One notable exception is the recent swap Israel conducted with Lebanon which resulted in the return of Elhanan Tannenbaum, an Israeli criminal/businessman and former IDF colonel was captured by Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The question is not whether Israel should do everything to free Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. According to a poll published by the Israeli daily Haaretz, 63% of Israelis think that releasing Kuntar for Goldwasser and Regev is a good idea. 21% do not agree and the remaining 16% are unsure.
The question is what happens when Israel exchanges live terrorist symbols for Udi and Eldad. Does a bargain of this magnitude increase the possibility of more captured soldiers? Hezbollah has already proclaimed that capturing Israelis is one of their most sought after goals. And one of the reasons capturing Israeli soldiers is so enticing to Hezbollah is, without doubt, because it is an effective way to bring Israel down on her knees.
The question is what is the obligation of a country to the families of the victims? What is the obligation of a country to the justice system that tries and sentences terrorists? When the exchange centers on the dead bodies of terrorists, decisions are easier. When the exchange centers live terrorists, the decision is more complex.
The question is - is Israel like every country?
When Samir Kuntar entered Israel, he came with three other terrorists. Two of the four were killed. Ahmad Al Abrass, the fourth member of Kuntar's terror unit, was freed from Israeli prison in May of 1985 as part of a prisoner exchange of 1150 Lebanese prisoners for three Israelis POW's held by Lebanon. Because of the success of that exchange the terrorists were emboldened to act again. Within months the same Palestinian group from Lebanon hijacked the Achille Lauro. They killed a disabled American Jew named Leon Klinghoffer, a passenger on the ship. And then they pushed his dead, drooping body, still in his wheelchair, overboard. They did it because they were emboldened, they did it also because they were angry, they did it because Kuntar had not been included in the original prisoner exchange. And then, once again, they demanded the release of Samir Kuntar, their star terrorist.
It is essential to recall these events and their brutality. It is essential because it provides perspective. Israel must do whatever Israel can do to negotiate the release of prisoners held by the enemy. But at what price? What about the victims of terror, what about those families? It's a very hard call. It's a question of justice.
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