Monday, June 30, 2008

Israel Prisoner Swap Extracts Emotional Toll

Israel Prisoners

The government of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert agreed to a prisoner swap with the terrorist organization Hezbollah, the Los Angeles Times reports:

The Israeli Cabinet's approval Sunday of a prisoner swap with the militant group Hezbollah touched off cries of victory in Lebanon and sparked fresh debate within the Jewish state over the price of its determination to retrieve missing soldiers.

After weeks of emotional public speculation and a six-hour Cabinet debate, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government voted 22 to 3 in favor of a deal that would return two captured Israeli soldiers. Olmert acknowledged Sunday that they were probably dead.

In return for the men or their bodies, Hezbollah would receive several imprisoned Lebanese militants, the bodies of about a dozen other fighters and the release of a still-unspecified number of Palestinian prisoners.

Hezbollah's leadership still has to approve the deal, but the Shiite Muslim group on Sunday hailed it as a victory for the strategy of armed resistance....

The deal touches deep and controversial emotional chords that resonate through Israel's national psyche. The retrieval of captured soldiers is a core national value in a country where military service is mandatory for most.

"The state has an essential commitment to its citizens," said Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz. "We must convey this moral message so that every citizen, every soldier and every parent knows the country will do everything to bring its soldiers back."

But that national priority is offset by fear that a dangerous precedent would be set.

Yossi Beilin, a member of Israel's parliament, or Knesset, criticized the terms of the deal, saying: "The principle must be live prisoners for living soldiers, bodies for the dead."

If groups such as Hezbollah or Hamas "understand that Israel is willing to pay the same price for its captive whether dead or alive, then they will make no effort to keep them alive," Beilin said. "This is a difficult thing to say, but it is in Israel's national and security interest to maintain the principle."

This is a very difficult issue, and I fear that for Israel to complete the prisoner swap will indeed embolden the terrorists and result in additional abductions. On the other hand, the emotional costs of doing nothing - for a country that fights the forces of evil like no other - might have been even more unbearable than the risks of further conflict.

I can when remember President Ronald Reagan, who was so firm in his public statements that the United States would not negotiate for the release of hostages, ultimately took full responsiblility -
during the Iran-Contra Affair - for the arms-for-hostage exchanges the resulted in the release of captive Americans in the 1980s.

I'll have updates later.

Photo Credit: "Demonstrators in Jerusalem hold posters of captured Israeli soldiers Gilad Shalit, left, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser. Israel worked out an exchange with Hezbollah for the latter two, who were seized in 2006 and are now thought to be dead," Los Angeles Times.