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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Shalit fiasco: More than enough blame to go around

I now drive my 9.5 and 7-year old sons to school at the other end of the city on Sunday through Friday mornings (why is a long story). The bad news is that it's an hour or more each morning before my Talmud class in which I can no longer blog. The good news is that it means that I listen to more of Israel Radio during morning drive time. This post is mostly based on things I heard this morning. By the way, the kids' Passover vacation starts in two weeks, and then there will be three weeks in which that hour will be returned to me.

With the collapse on Tuesday of the 'negotiations' (and you will see in a minute why I put that term in scare quotes) to free kidnapped IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit, there is apparently more than enough blame to go around. Among those being blamed with some degree of justification are the Israeli government, which did nothing to advance Shalit's freedom over the course of the last two and a half years; the media, particularly Israel Radio, and two Hebrew newspapers - Yedioth and Maariv - which ran over-the-top campaigns to free Shalit that included overtly emotional appeals (use of a font made from Shalit's handwriting saying "save me" in the case of Maariv and use of his childhood pictures in the case of Yedioth - YNet's Hebrew language source) and shrill claims that 'no price' was too high; certain Knesset members who made similar claims; and the Shalit family, which placed enormous pressure on the government over the last two weeks to free Shalit at any price. All of the above were criticized by the IDF yesterday.

The more important question is where to go from here. One of the pundits on Israel Radio this morning pointed out that Hamas' demands have remained unchanged since Shalit was kidnapped three years ago, while Israel has continued to 'negotiate' with itself, agreeing to release more and more terrorists, while not yet reaching the 450 murderers demanded by Hamas. This is somewhat undercut by one of the claims that Hamas made this morning: That the negotiations failed over Israel's demand that some 90 of the terrorists be expelled abroad and not over the number of terrorists to be released.

For those who believe that Hamas is indifferent to its prisoners' release, that is apparently not the case, and perhaps that will provide Israel with an opening. Hamas demanded this morning that Egypt squarely blame Israel for the 'negotiations' (and I hope that in light of Hamas' unchanging demands versus Israel's eroding position you now understand why I put that term in scare quotes) failing. Apparently even if Hamas doesn't care about its own prisoners, the terrorists' families do care about them, and Hamas is at least somewhat answerable to those families. Hamas is also threatening to kidnap more Israelis, which is probably also a threat that is meant to speak to the terrorists' families.

If Egypt does blames Israel for the negotiations' failure, that would resolve the fate of another question raised this morning namely whether Egypt should be replaced as a mediator. It was pointed out this morning that Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman - who is the official mediator - was not present for a good portion of the past week, and that the Egyptians have to much of an emotional investment in the negotiations on behalf of their 'Arab brothers' to be a fair mediator. The suggestion made this morning was that German intelligence should mediate instead, as was the case with Hezbullah last year. Some of you may recall that Hamas made the same suggestion last summer after Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev's bodies were returned to Israel in return for mass murderer Samir al-Kuntar and a few lesser lights, and some 200 bodies of terrorists.

The most common suggestion that is being made today is to change the conditions under which Hamas terrorists are being held to more closely approximate the conditions under which Shalit is being held. Someone mentioned this in the comments to one of my posts last night, and this is in fact being discussed by the government.
While the government did not vote on any concrete proposal at the meeting, it did approve the establishment of a ministerial committee, headed by Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann, to propose additional sanctions that Israel could use to "soften" Hamas's demands.

Among the proposals that the committee is expected to discuss, and which are to be brought to Sunday's cabinet meeting, measures to make the conditions in Israeli jails for Hamas prisoners more difficult, including restricting visitation rights, phone and telephone access, and newspaper and television privileges, and perhaps depriving them of electricity at night. The rationale behind this would be to make the conditions facing the Hamas prisoners somehow similar to Schalit's.
While the idea is appealing, I don't believe it will make a difference (no one in Israel is going to torture the Hamas prisoners while that is a possibility for Shalit if it is not being done already). In the long run, I don't believe it is capable of implementation either. We all know that if the Israel Prisons Service made these kinds of changes to the conditions under which the Hamas terrorists are being held, there would be an immediate appeal to Israel's Leftist Supreme Court, and in all likelihood an order to reinstate the previous conditions.

I may have more on this story later today as thoughts come to mind, but I have to run out to my morning Talmud class so this is it for now. The bottom line is that Gilad Shalit is not coming home, and while I was opposed to the kinds of exchanges being proposed for his release, I also empathize with his parents and family, who are apparently powerless to do anything to bring about his release.


At 9:57 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

The fact of the matter is Hamas has used Gilad Shalit as a "lever" to bludgeon Israel into weakening itself. Israel was just about ready to walk into that trap. Thankfully, it found the price too high and balked at the last minute.

Martin Sherman has a good article on Ynet explaining why ransom undermines Israel's fight against terrorism. His main point is that Israelis have got it wrong about Shalit: civilians are not supposed to save those who fight for them; to the contrary, soldiers are expected to sacrifice their lives for their country. In today's Israel moreover, the spirit of Josef Trumpeldor's heroism at Tel Hai is absent, immortalized in the now famous words: "It is good to die for our country," which he proclaimed with his dying breath. And Israel is now making a virtue, indeed, a fetish out of what can only be described as the opposite: national cowardice on display.

Ransom Isn't The Answer - Martin Sherman

Read it all

At 10:07 AM, Blogger Abu Yussif said...

criticize the government for not doing enough to bring shalit home, and criticize the government for releasing terrorists to bring shalit home.

it is clear that hamas won't release shalit unless terrorists are released. israel can agree and release them for shalit, the downside is that terrorists are free. refuse to release terrorists and shalit remanins captive. israel can do nothing about it, other than negotiate and agree or not.

it's a painful decision either way, but what other option is there? criticizing releasing terrorists while criticizing the fact that shalit remains in custody is popular, but accomplishes what exactly?

At 10:30 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Abu Yussif, preventing the murder of more Jews is more important than securing Shalit's freedom. In a just world, he would be free already. Hamas has already threatened to kidnap even more Israelis to secure the release of dangerous terrorists held in Israel's prisons.

That is a threat no Israeli government should tolerate. Hamas wants to make up for its losses in "Operation Cast Lead" with hundreds of highly gifted people who without a doubt, will resume terrorist activities against Israel once they are freed.

That price is simply too high to bring Shalit home. I'm on record as stating I don't believe in the "at any price" school in Israel, which is simply a fancy way of saying surrender to Hamas. In closing, I want to say I defend Ehud Olmert here - I haven't always agreed with him but he got this decision as well as the "red lines" he said Israel should maintain, right.

There may be no way to bring Shalit home but it bears mention here Israelis lost in the first Lebanon War have never been returned home. The price some families suffer in the loss of their loved ones is the price that has to be paid to defend Israel's existence.

At 1:11 PM, Blogger Abu Yussif said...


both positions are understandable because this is a matter of which is the lesser evil. what is not understandable to me are those who criticize both positions, as if no matter what is done is wrong. i commented because i'm seeing mixed signals here.

At 6:13 PM, Blogger LB said...

There are clearly mixed signals here - because Israel has already set a precedent of capitulating to ransom demands of terrorists. Israel would be far better off if we said - no negotiating with terrorists, and stuck to it.

By the way, here's a piece (http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-3650702,00.html in Hebrew, sorry), from January, which makes the same point about soldiers/civilians and whose lives should be risked.

From the piece: "A complete flip with regards to human life and their stature, has occurred in Israel. In a moral state, who fulfills its responsibility towards its civilians/citizens and its soldiers it would be crystal clear that the safety of its civilians/citizens would be at the top of the priority list, even at the cost of risking soldiers.'


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