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It is most unpleasant to write this particular article, but, I fear, it is most necessary. Almost two years have past since Palestinian bandits loosely affiliated with the Hamas kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. In July, it will also be two years since the Hezbollah kidnapped Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser. Our hearts go out to our kidnapped soldiers and to their families. There is no argument that we must to everything within reason to bring them home.

At the same time, we must only do what is within reason. It is difficult to remain within reason in the face of the pleas of stricken families and comrades. Who can deny the tears of a wife or a mother? If you are like me, you have received many impassioned pleas, calling on the Israeli government to make every sacrifice, agree to any bargain, give in to any conditions, in order to return the three captives.

Those who issue these pleas have the best intentions, and they are motivated by the highest ideals. Solidarity between soldiers and citizens, and the imperative to never leave anyone behind have always been an integral part of the Israeli tradition. But there are other values, other ideals, and other imperatives. Not to endanger other soldiers and citizens is an imperative and an ideal as well. Certainly, we should not endanger live soldiers and civilians in order to obtain the remains of dead ones. We must be mindful that except for Elchanan Tannenbaum, who was not captured in uniform but kidnapped in the course of a drug deal, the Hezbollah have never returned a single soldier alive. IDF examination of the site of the kidnapping of Regev and Goldwasser, including examination of their vehicles, led to the conclusion that it was unlikely that they are alive. No sign of life has come from them since.

The dangers emanating from prisoner releases are three fold. The first danger, the one most cited, is actually the least important. Released terrorists may or may not go back into the terrorism business. However, there are generally plenty more to replace them. What is lost is the deterrence of jailing terrorists, since they can be confident of fairly rapid release. But each prisoner exchange makes the next kidnapping more likely, and in each kidnapping, several more Israelis are likely to be killed.

Over the years, Israel has conducted numerous prisoner swaps, always disadvantageous. The swaps always invited more kidnappings and endangered more soldiers and civilians. The Palestinian Professor Sattar Kassem notes:

The Palestinians learned over the years that the best way to gain release for their freedom fighters is through prisoner swaps with Israelis detained in Palestine. In 1979, the Palestinians captured an Israeli soldier and exchanged him for around 80 Palestinian prisoners, including several that had been sentenced for long periods. Another swap took place in 1983, when Fateh, the organization led by Yasser Arafat, exchanged five prisoners for thousands of Palestinian prisoners. The biggest and most harmful swap for the Israelis took place in 1985 when Ahmed Jibreel, the leader of a Palestinian faction, brokered the release of around 1,150 Palestinians and Lebanese in return for three Israeli soldiers. That was an important deal because hundreds of long-term prisoners were released. All of the soldiers released in this swap had been captured in Lebanon.

The Jibreel swap was the beginning.

In 1996, the bodies of Joseph Fink & Rahamim Alsheich were returned in return for bodies of numerous Hezbollah terrorists, and an exchange of captives between the Hezbollah and the South Lebanon Army.

In 1998, Hezbollah swapped the remains of one Israeli soldier for 65 live terrorists and the remains of 40 others. These swaps were "legitimate" to the extent that the Israelis were apparently captured or killed in action. However, the lopsided ratios of exchange were tempting. Each such swap represented a clear victory for the terrorists. Though there had been previous kidnap attempts by Hamas, the Hezbollah kidnapping of Elhanan Tannenbaum and the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli soldiers in Shebaa farms in 2000 inaugurated a new era, in which prisoner releases are the motivation for kidnapping soldiers, and each new deal hands the terrorists a great victory. Tannenbaum and the three bodies were exchanged for hundreds of live prisoners in 2004. That wonderful deal made another kidnapping inevitable. For Hezbollah and Hamas, it is all gain and almost no pain. The "deal" effectively signed the death warrant of every fatality in the Second Lebanon War. It also signed the death warrant of the comrades of Gilad Shalit, killed when he was captured, and ensured that he, or someone else like him, perhaps your son or my son or you, would be kidnapped. No matter what deal is made, those who were killed in the kidnapping attempts can never be brought back to life.

Hassan Nasrallah, General Secretary of the Hezbollah, is already the most popular man in the Arab world, though his Lebanese compatriots may not hold him in such high esteem. A one-sided swap agreement with Hezbollah like the 2004 deal would raise the prestige of the Hezbollah sky high. Likewise, a deal with Hamas that results in the release of prisoners like Marwan Barghouti would put all of Palestinian society in the thrall of the Hamas. Hamas would also gain legitimacy and cement its rule in Gaza. Hamas rule in the West Bank would not be far behind.

There is no doubt whatever that such a deal, and the prospect of more easy and spectacular victories, would provoke more kidnappings - more Gilad Shalits would find themselves at the mercy of Gaza oozlebarts and more Eldad Regev's and Ehud Goldwassers would disappear in the maze of Lebanon.

The much maligned government of Ehud Olmert, and PM Olmert himself, deserve credit for one act that showed better judgment than that of Ariel Sharon or Yitzhak Rabin. The "failed" Second Lebanon war, as well as the harsh response to the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit were meant to signal that the kidnapping season is over, and that kidnapping attempts will be met with force, as they must.

So please, when you read the impassioned letters urging Israel to do anything and everything to get back our kidnapped soldiers, think of our kidnapped soldiers first. Think not only about the soldiers who were already kidnapped and those who are already dead, but also, and more important, about the many many soldiers and civilians who will be kidnapped or killed if Israel gives in to terrorist extortion.

Ami Isseroff

Original content is Copyright by the author 2008. Posted at ZioNation-Zionism and Israel Web Log, http://www.zionism-israel.com/log/archives/00000538.html where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Disributed by ZNN list. Subscribe by sending a message to ZNN-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by e-mail with this notice, cite this article and link to it. Other uses by permission only.

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Replies: 1 Comment

Thanks, Ami, for this sad but unavoidable truth.
Surely, the unwanted consequences of different POW-exchange policy could be the attitude of our combat soldiers: is it worth risking their lives on the front line if your government is not ready to pay every price to get you from enemy's paw's? I can not answer honestly, because my son is no longer in a combat unit. But I'm ready to adopt Ron Arad's late mother's formula: no live Arab prisoners for dead Ron.
I hope that my family's stance will be the same if I'm kidnapped. As a matter of fact, at my age I don't want to be exchanged for more than one "alte kakker".

Misha SHAULI, Wednesday, May 7th

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