Paying the high price

Posted: February 23, 2009 by Jonathan Boyko in Gaza, Gilad Shalit, Hamas, Israel, Own Articles, Politics

Former Israeli PM Ariel Sharon standing over the casket of one of the three soldiers kidnapped in 2000

Former Israeli PM Ariel Sharon standing over the casket of one of the three soldiers kidnapped in 2000

It was bright late Thursday morning. The calendar said it was 29th of January, but it felt more April-ish; the sun rose high above the Ben Gurion airport and you could physically feel the warm waves it was sending down to earth. Slight wind made its way through our uniforms, taking some of the warmth away from. Unfortunately, we were very few outside – the rest of the A company were inside the hangar, preparing for the arrival of three caskets from Germany. Soldiers, standing in two rows, holding their weapons, were rehearsing their movements during the official ceremony: the arrival of Adi Avitan, Benjamin Avraham and Omar Sawaid from captivity of Hizb Allah in Lebanon. The soldiers were dead – as previously predicted by the IDF intelligence unit.

Despite intelligence community’s indications the soldiers were killed either during the raid on October 7, 2000, or later, by the Hizb Allah themselves, the Israeli government under Ariel Sharon released 429 prisoners – Palestinians and foreign nationals – from Israeli jails, with additional 60 bodies of Lebanese terrorists and Hizb Allah members were relocated into Lebanon. The exchange reflected to Hassan Nasrallah and other terrorist organizations: you can demand an extremely high price from Israel – no matter what the condition of the kidnapped is.

Both Hamas and Hizb Allah were taught the lesson well. On July 12, 2006, Hizb Allah attacked within Israeli borders and captured the bodies of two Israeli reserve soldiers: Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. Two years later, on July 16, 2008, Hizb Allah returned to Israel two bodies – in exchange for 199 bodies and five prisoners, including the murderer Samir Kuntar. Kuntar murdered Eliyahu Shahar, a member of Israeli police force, Danny Haran, a civilian, whom he shot dead in the back from close range and then drowned him in the sea in front of his little daughter. Then, Kuntar took on four-years-old Einat, whose head he smashed on the rocks numerous times and finished her off by crushing her skull with a rifle butt. As a “side-effect” of Kuntar’s merciless massacre, Smadar Haran – the mother – had suffocated her 2 years-old daughter, while trying to prevent her from screaming, while hiding from Kuntar. Yes, this is a man, who upon his release from Israeli jails and arrival to Lebanon proclaimed he will keep walking the road of Jihad. This is a man, whom Hassan Nasrallah, the people of Lebanon, the Arab people all over the Middle East and the Al Jazeera TV network accepted as a victor and a honorable guest.

After the Israeli disengagement, during the summer of 2005, Hamas proclaimed Israel’s move as a victory of Hamas over the Israeli oppressors – and proclaimed their will to push Israel further and intensify attacks on Israeli population, until all of Israel is annihilated. Hamas viewed Israel’s will to allow limited (at first) self-governance in Gaza strip as Israel’s weakness, thus felt it could gain more by pushing Israel further.

And so it did. On June 25, 2006, Hamas captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, using a tunnel dug under the Israel-Gaza border. Shalit is still in captivity, with a single letter received from him during his time in Hamas’ prison. Hamas demands release of over 1,400 prisoners, including murderers, who participated in Park Hotel massacre in Netanya and the murder of Israeli minister Rehavam “Gandhi” Zeevi.

Hamas took a tough stance on the issue, barring any visitors and showing no signs of life from Shalit for over two years, barring visits to him by the Red Cross and denying any requests for information on Gilad’s current condition. Hamas’ representatives talk tough on Arab TV channels, demanding release of prisoners and claiming there are to ties between the upcoming ceasefire agreement and Shalit’s release.

It is up to Israel, though, to tie any ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas to Shalit’s release. Hamas’ talk might be tough – however, they are in no position to negotiate at the moment – if Israel’s government is tough enough. Hamas wants results. According to people on the ground, prisoners’ release on Hamas’ terms would not only boost Hamas’ stance in Gaza, but would also put it in high rankings among Palestinian citizens within the West Bank, as some of the released prisoners would return to WB as well. Hamas’ leader, Ismail Haniyeh needs this popular support both to take control over the West Bank and to make some Palestinians – especially Gazans – forget about the carnage his organization has caused during the unsuccessful “resistance” to IDF’s troops this winter. Israeli Defense Forces’ ground operation dealt a great blow to Hamas’ operational capabilities and Haniyeh has great need in restoring his stance among the civilians. Although outright criticism of Hamas is effectively barred in Gaza (and whoever tries to attack Hamas’ actions is being promptly labeled “collaborator” and shot), the Palestinian street – according to reports – was quite unhappy with Hamas’ handling of the situation. So unhappy, in fact, that some civilians openly complained to foreign journalists “on the record” – something that could get you killed in Gaza.

Hamas should be thanking Allah for the poor abilities of Israeli political echelon, who couldn’t convert the military gain into a political victory. Hamas’ actions indicate they comprehend the danger posed by Israeli troops; so far, though, they are taking a tough stand, which just might work – knowing the past history of political action within the Jewish state. In the past decade, Israeli leaders showed nothing but the will to cave in to pressure by terrorists – leaving Lebanon in 2000 and then Gaza in 2005 – both were immediately declared as victories by Nasrallah and Haniyeh.

Gilad Shalit is Israel’s chance to take some of that respect back. Israel has several ways of pressuring Gazans – the crossings is just one of them – and they should be used wisely. It would be really tough forcing Hamas to release the soldier from captivity – especially as it would hurt its standing among the civilian population. That factor, however, could be played both ways, as releasing the soldier would open the crossing and give international organizations the ability to assist the population in need of food and medication. During the winter war, Israel used another tactic – and is using it today – bombing the tunnels Hamas digs under the Egypt-Gaza border, thus hindering the smuggling efforts by the terrorists. The effect is twofold: Haniyeh’s thugs have less options of smuggling weapons, while the civilians have less options of smuggling in food and luxury products – beyond the ones provided by UNRWA and other organizations. Opening the borders would increase population’s wellbeing by many notches.

Israeli government has not been formed yet; today, future PM Benjamin Netanyahu is to meet Labor chairman Ehud Barak, to consider the option of Labor joining in with Likud and forming a “unity government” – a term used in Israel to describe both the Left and the Right sitting in the same coalition. The results are not known yet and knowing Barak’s past efforts to talk in heroic terms – while not actually acting heroic – we are not to expect anything of serious nature coming from Netanyahu’s and Barak’s “unity” – if one to emerge eventually. Sadly, past experience teaches us Netanyahu will probably hide behind tough words – while releasing the prisoners Hamas demands and receive another casket – the one covered in Israeli flag, just like several others we’ve seen on TV screens in the past few years.

  1. […] have previously elaborated on the subject. In several past deals, Israel received several caskets in exchange for hundreds […]

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