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Friday, July 18, 2008
 
A SHAMEFUL EXCHANGE

There are a lot of people in Israel who believe that the end is near for Ehud Olmert's political career. He has said himself that he will step down if he is charged in an indictment - and the possibility of him being charged looms larger and larger. But even without the stories of corruption which have plagued his tenure as Prime Minister, this latest "accomplishment" - the release of convicted criminals in return for the bodies of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, should provide him with more than enough shame to prevent him from being able to continue in his job.

It was two years ago when these two were taken prisoner in a Hezbollah raid across the Lebanese border, which also killed two of their comrades. How long Goldwasser and Regev remained alive isn’t known. They may well have been dead when Israel responded to their capture with a massive air and ground attack against Hezbollah strongholds - and in the 33 days of conflict that followed, more than a thousand Lebanese lost their lives and 159 Israelis were killed, including 40 civilians killed by Hezbollah rockets, fired indiscriminately into civilian areas.

Since the birth of the state and through all of its wars and skirmishes, Israel has placed a high priority on the safety of its military personnel and it has been its policy to leave no stone unturned in its efforts to secure the release of captured soldiers. Many of Israel’s enemies are absorbed in a culture of death They aspire to achieve martyrdom in their impossible struggle to turn the clock back to 1947 or 1946 or even earlier. To Israelis - and to Jews everywhere, life is a precious gift, to be protected and honored. It’s even reflected in the Hebrew toast - l’chaim - To Life. And although the exchange of criminals who have been tried, convicted and sentenced for one or two captured Israeli soldiers - or their bodies - goes against the grain and the natural preference to not negotiate with terrorists, the pressure to do so is understandable. So if in August or September of 2006, the Israeli government had agreed to release some prisoners, including the murderous Samir Kantar - for the safe return of Goldwasser and Regev - the Israeli public and supporters of Israel around the world would have swallowed hard but would have understood that life is sometimes more important than a "never negotiate" principle of non negotiation with terrorists.

But what would have been reluctantly acceptable two years ago is far from acceptable today. It dishonors the Israeli soldiers who died in battle. To my mind it dishonors Goldwasser and Regev. What was the purpose of launching the massive attack - not just on Hezbollah - but on the Lebanese infrastructure, which killed so many Lebanese civilians - rather than negotiate a release of the two Israeli prisoners? Surely it wasn’t to obtain their release - and any thought that such an attack , which from the beginning seemed to have no cohesion, would not just achieve that unlikely result but would "destroy" Hezbollah, would have to be the thinking of raging drunks. The attack and the 33 days of conflict that followed were an unmitigated disaster both for Israel and Lebanon. And the provisions of UN Security Council resolution 1701 that brought an end to the conflict have been ignored by Hezbollah and Lebanon and no one has done anything about it. Two years later, after all of the sacrifice - nothing has been achieved.

After the shooting stopped on August 14, 2006, Hezbollah claimed victory. They weren’t victorious of course - no more so than Israel - but they had survived and to this day retain their power as a "state within a state" in Lebanon. But after this ignoble exchange and the greeting of the murderer Samir Kantar as a hero in Beirut, they can rightfully claim a victory - and they can send their letter of thanks directly to Ehud Olmert. But they’d better hurry. If they wait too long there may be a change of address for the Israeli Prime Minister. Maybe one with which Samir Kantar would be familiar.