Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Today's Reading Assignment

In his WSJ column, Bret Stephens traces Israel's "Descent from Entebbe" over the past 32 years. A nation once known for its refusal to deal with terrorists--and mounting bold operations against them--now finds it easier to negotiate, with predictable results. A few sample paragraphs:

Tomorrow, the Israeli government is scheduled to release five Lebanese prisoners, including a man named Samir Kuntar – more on him in a moment – in exchange for two of its kidnapped soldiers, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, and information concerning the fate of airman Ron Arad, missing since 1986. The exchange might seem semiequitable, if only the three Israelis weren't all presumed dead.


Israel's predicament is a self-inflicted wound. In 2004, Israel released some 400 prisoners, including Hezbollah cause célèbres Abdel Karim Obeid and Mustafa Dirani, in exchange for the remains of three Israeli soldiers and a living former army colonel named Elhanan Tannenbaum, described in press reports as a "businessman." It later became public that Mr. Tannenbaum's business was drug dealing.


Now Kuntar, 45, is about to be freed. In 1979, he took an Israeli family hostage in the northern coastal town of Nahariya, shot and killed father Danny Haran and dashed the skull of his 4-year-old daughter Einat against a rock with his rifle butt. Danny's wife, Smadar, managed to hide from Kuntar in a crawl space of their apartment with two-year-old daughter Yael, whom she accidentally suffocated while trying to keep the toddler quiet. A policeman was also killed in the attack.

Kuntar was sentenced to 548 years in prison. In 1985, Palestinian terrorists seized the Achille Lauro cruise ship to win Kuntar's release. Wheelchair-bound U.S. passenger Leon Klinghoffer was murdered along the way. Kuntar has never repented and recently vowed to continue fighting once released.


But whatever happens, Israel has once again demonstrated to its enemies that their strategy of taking hostages works. Worse, it works even when those hostages are killed. If Regev and Goldwasser are dead, the situation of Cpl. Shalit – and any other Israeli who might be taken alive by Hezbollah or its ilk – becomes infinitely more precarious.

There is, of course, another irony in all of this. The recent liberation of 15 high-profile prisoners from Colombia's FARC rebels was made possible, in part, by Israeli technology, and (presumably) training from Israeli counter-terrorism experts. Perhaps it's time for Israel to reapply those lessons at home.

1 comment:

Utopia Parkway said...

This article in today's jpost Hizbullah's Triumph explains in a somewhat legalistic way many of the problems with Israel's history of prisoner exchanges.

This self analytical piece explains how this decision matches the Israeli state of mind, for better or worse.

The time to deal with this problem was two years ago when the soldiers were taken hostage and in the days that followed. Perhaps Israel should have fought harder. Perhaps they shouldn't have accepted 1701 without getting the soldiers back first. Perhaps they should have taken 1000 Lebanese prisoner and used them to negotiate against the soldiers. Maybe they should have the death penalty for terrorists like Kuntar.

However today, this is the best deal they could get, I guess.

At any rate they still need to get back Shalit. And they need to prepare for what they'll do the next time.