ANALYSIS: Return of bodies is another PR victory for Nasrallah
What was meant to be the release of a prisoner who completed his sentence is now being painted as a deal.
Sunday's events, in which Hezbollah transferred to Israel the remains of what it said were Israeli soldiers killed in the 2006 Second Lebanon War, can be seen as another successful spin from Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah - despite Israel's wishes and intentions.
The transfer of the bodies followed Israel's release from prison and deportation of convicted Hezbollah spy Nissim Nasser. What was meant to be the regular release of a security prisoner who completed his sentence is now being painted as a deal, or as another step on the road to a larger agreement that will return captured soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser alive or dead.
Israel did not want the situation to appear this way. Sources from the prime minister's office, the Israel Defense Forces, the Mossad and intelligence agencies involved in the prisoner exchange talks with Hezbollah reiterated and stressed their surprise at the return of the remains at the Rosh Hanikra crossing on Sunday.
The International Committee of the Red Cross also said it was not notified prior to the developments. The proof lies in the fact that no one, not the Red Cross, UNIFIL, of the IDF made advance arrangements to receive the soldiers' remains. The Red Cross staff was even forced to wait an hour and a half until the IDF called a chief rabbi and sappers to inspect the container holding the remains.
Conspiracy theorists will find it difficult to believe the simple explanation that no one in Israel knew. Maybe everyone involved is pretending not to have known. Or they are feigning surprise so as not to make it look like there was a deal in place for the return of the remains. And this comes a year after Nasrallah's proposal regarding this matter was rejected, and after he cruelly offered to negotiate with Israel over the return of body parts. Ofer Dekel, appointed to conduct negotiations to the release of captive IDF soldiers, scornfully rejected the offer saying that Israel is interested in the return of the remains but will not allow them to be used as bargaining chips, nor will it offer any compensation for them.
But this time, it seems, the explanation is simple. Israel understood that the High Court of Justice would not allow it to keep Nissim Nasser in administrative detention after he completed his sentence. Israel decided it had no choice but to release Nasser and stressed that his release is not part of any deal or a goodwill gesture. But Nasser's attorney Smadar Ben-Natan hinted that things aren't as simple as they seem and that perhaps her client was freed in order to advance a larger deal. Hezbollah listened to Ben-Natan and believed her. That could be one possible explanation for their returning the solders' remains.
Another more sophisticated and reasonable explanation is that Nasrallah wanted to create a false impression. Nasser was released not because he served his sentence, but rather because Hezbollah cares for its soldiers and agents and does not abandon them. And that is the evidence that this was a deal. Hezbollah has sent the message: We pressed for Nasser's release and paid the price of returning the missing remains in exchange. That way Nasrallah makes Nasser look like much more than the small fry he is perceived to be in Israel. That's how Nasrallah's mind works. He is a spin artist and an expert at psychological warfare who creates dramas because he thinks he knows Israeli society. And, if it comes at the cost of suffering for the bereaved families, at the cost of a cynical game played on their exposed nerves, even better.