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The price Israel paid for Gilad

Published: October 21, 2011
Section: Opinions


The Israeli government recently released approximately 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the return of Staff Sergeant Gilad Shalit, who had been held hostage by Hamas for the last five years. I am not sure, however, if this was the wisest course of action to take on the part of the Israelis.

I clearly understand the impetus for getting Gilad back home to safety. The image of the former soldier rotting away in some cell, never to see or hear from his friends or family again, was utterly horrifying. Also, Gilad felt like a son not only to the Shalit family but to practically all of Israel. Nearly everyone in the country empathized and sympathized with his plight, especially considering the draft and the universality of military service. Furthermore, the Jewish mitzvah known as Pidyon Shvuyim, or the redemption of prisoners, as well as the Jewish emphasis on the intrinsic value of human life played a role in the Israeli decision-making calculus. Lastly, the Netanyahu administration apparently decided that this was the best opportunity it had to get Gilad home, considering the ever-changing regional political dynamic.

There are simply too many negatives involved here, however, for me to support the agreement fully.

Consider the identity of some of the Palestinian prisoners who are being freed from Israeli custody. According to recent reports, there is the mastermind behind the 2001 Sbarro bombing that killed 15 people; the perpetrators of the 2001 Dolphinarium attack where 21 died; and several participants in the 2002 suicide bombing of a hotel in Netanya, which led to the deaths of 29. This is just a very small sampling of the released convicts.

The thought of granting these terrorists amnesty so they can go back to committing their heinous crimes is just sickening. If anything, these sociopaths deserve to spend the rest of their lives in solitary confinement or worse.

Yet this is not the only undesirable aspect of this deal.

The agreement completely undermines Israeli deterrence. Quite simply, would-be murderers will not fear being sent to an Israeli prison, considering that they will just be swapped out in a couple of years.

It encourages future kidnappings and will embolden Hamas, Hezbollah and other radical Islamist groups to abduct Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers or Israeli citizens and take them hostage.

It strengthens Hamas at the expense of the less violent, albeit duplicitous, Fatah. Clearly Hamas knows how to negotiate from a position of strength and how to exercise its leverage to its favor. Palestinians will admire Hamas for its diplomatic savvy, as opposed to the corrupt, ineffective Mahmoud Abbas. Also, by negotiating with Hamas, even through Egyptian proxies, Israel legitimized the terrorist group.

Also, the deal reinforces the image of Israel as weak. The Jewish state possesses a formidable defense force and knows how to protect itself. Yet, as this agreement illustrates, it has a softer, more vulnerable side: the fact that it is a democracy that will go to great and arguably excessive lengths to save one of its own. Jihadists often use the following slogan: “You love life, we love death.” They may have a point.

Weakness is provocative, particularly in the Middle East. Want to exert strength, power and influence in this region? Do not make lopsided deals or offer enormous concessions, including on the issues relating to the so-called “peace process,” which favor your enemies. Now, instead of acting as a strong horse, Israel may only invite further aggression and terrorism against its civilians.

I hope everything that I am saying does not come true. Furthermore, I am aware of the intense political pressure that was placed on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by the Shalit family and others. Yet, instead of unequivocally celebrating and embracing Gilad’s release, we need to bear all of these factors in mind going forward.