A prize for Hezbollah
No one will fail to rejoice with the Tennenbaum family over the news of the impending release of their loved one, nor will anyone fail to sympathize with the emotions of the Avitan, Avraham and Suwad families over finally being able to bring their sons to burial in Israel. But despite this, the principles underlying the deal between Israel and Hezbollah merit harsh criticism.
No one will fail to rejoice with the Tennenbaum family over the news of the impending release of their loved one, nor will anyone fail to sympathize with the emotions of the Avitan, Avraham and Suwad families over finally being able to bring their sons to burial in Israel. But despite this, the principles underlying the deal between Israel and Hezbollah for the exchange of prisoners and bodies merit harsh criticism.
In October 2000, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah altered the status of his organization's relationship with the State of Israel. Only a few months before, the Israel Defense Forces had left south Lebanon, redeployed along the international border and liquidated the South Lebanon Army, an IDF-backed militia.
This was an achievement for Hezbollah, in the eyes of the Palestinians, as well. But Israel still held Lebanese prisoners, including some who were kidnapped during special operations deep in Lebanese territory in an effort to obtain information about the fate of missing navigator Ron Arad or to further a deal for his return. Therefore, Nasrallah decided to kidnap Israelis and make a different deal that would be better for Hezbollah.
The deal to be implemented this week, after protracted negotiations, crowns Nasrallah as the victor. When you peel away the trivia and the details, it has only one meaning: Following Nasrallah's success in kidnapping four Israelis, of whom one remains alive and the other three were killed, Israel has agreed to do what it refused to do before the kidnappings, while receiving neither Ron Arad nor any reliable information about him in exchange. The lesson - and Ariel Sharon would certainly not miss the opportunity to say so if he were leader of the opposition rather than prime minister - is that it pays to strike at Israel, whether through kidnappings, terror attacks or war, in order to reverse its refusals.
The outcome is also problematic and depressing from the internal Lebanese perspective, since it indicates that Israel is abandoning its demand that the sovereign Lebanese government impose its authority on an armed organization. And it is even graver because of the regional context within which Nasrallah manipulated Sharon. Nasrallah did not make do with releasing a couple of dozen Lebanese prisoners, first and foremost Mustafa Dirani and Abdel Karim Obeid. He also got Israel to accept his demand for the release of hundreds of Palestinians, dozens of other Arab nationals and two Europeans who aided Hezbollah.
This will contribute directly to strengthening the militant wing of Palestinian society - that same wing that defeated the moderates in internal disputes in the summer of 2000. Aid from Hezbollah - via, among others, the Israeli Arab who helped entrap Elhanan Tennenbaum - is one of the factors behind many of the attacks carried out by Palestinian organizations, including Fatah's Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.
Sharon and his government have a responsibility toward Arad and his family, toward the families of the three soldiers who fell victim to the ambush at Har Dov and, to a lesser extent, toward a civilian who landed himself in Hezbollah's trap. But they are also responsible for exercising judgment that weighs the private sighs of relief heaved by the Tennenbaum family and the families who will now be able to bury their loved ones in Israel, against the fear that this terrible deal will encourage Palestinians and others to take action against Israel in order to realize their national, religious or familial aspirations.