Israel will release convicted Hezbollah spy Nassim Nasser from administrative detention and return him to Lebanon on Sunday, as an unofficial first step in a prisoner swap between Israel and Hezbollah.
Israel has not formally said that Nasser's release is part of the deal, in which Hezbollah is expected to free Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, the two Israeli reservists whose July 2006 abduction sparked the Second Lebanon War. In exchange for the two reservists, Israel will release six Lebanese prisoners and return the bodies of 10 Hezbollah militants.
Israeli officials think the relatively low price Israel is expected to pay for Regev and Goldwasser appears to indicate that they are no longer alive.
Nasser, a Lebanese citizen reportedly born to a Shi'ite Muslim father and Jewish mother, was sentenced in 2002 to six years in prison for spying for Hezbollah. He finished serving his sentence early this year, but he was subsequently held in administrative detention, apparently so that he could be used as a bargaining chip in a deal for the release of Regev and Goldwasser.
Nasser's lawyer, Smadar Ben-Natan, said she has been notified that her client, who received Israeli citizenship after moving to Israel but has since had his citizenship revoked, would be deported to Lebanon on Sunday. He will be returned via the Rosh Hanikra crossing, with the assistance of the Red Cross and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon.
Nasser's release is slated to be followed by that of Samir Kuntar, who murdered the Haran family in Nahariya 29 years ago, and four Hezbollah operatives captured by the IDF during the Second Lebanon War.
Lebanese television stations reported yesterday that Israel has agreed to release Kuntar without receiving information from Hezbollah about the fate of Ron Arad, an Israeli navigator who went missing over Lebanon in 1986. Israel said in 2004, as part of the second phase of a deal that secured the release of captured Israeli businessman Elhanan Tennenbaum, that it would not release Kuntar without receiving information on Arad. Israeli intelligence officials said that since then, Hezbollah has made a significant effort to find the place in Lebanon where it thinks Arad is buried, but has produced no results.
It may be that Hezbollah will attempt to fulfill its commitment to provide information on Arad in exchange for Kuntar's release by providing Israel with the details of its efforts to locate Arad. An Israeli concession on this matter requires a cabinet decision.
Officials involved in similar deals in the past told Haaretz the prisoner swap might still take weeks, or even months. Even if Israel and Hezbollah have agreed on the prisoner exchange - a report that Israel has not officially confirmed - there are still many technical matters that need to be resolved, including the details of how and when the exchange will take place.
Several political and military officials have said there is no reason to give Hezbollah live prisoners in exchange for dead soldiers' bodies, but that nonetheless appears to be the formula. Defense officials said the number of Lebanese prisoners slated to be released is relatively low and that the deal is a reasonable price to pay to close the outstanding issues from the Second Lebanon War.
MK Yossi Beilin (Meretz-Yahad) is calling on Israel not to free Kuntar, or any other prisoner with blood on his hands, if Regev and Goldwasser are dead.
"The principle must always be the living for the living and the dead for the dead," Beilin said. "I don't think we need to give live detainees in exchange for prisoners who are not alive."
Israel has previously released living prisoners in exchange for dead bodies. In 1998 Israel freed 60 detainees in exchange for the body of naval commando fighter Itamar Iliya, who was killed in Lebanon in September 1997. Beilin said he fiercely objected to that deal as well, which he said set the precedent for such swaps.
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