Text size

Click here for more articles by Yossi Melman

Mossad head Meir Dagan, Shin Bet security service head Yuval Diskin, former chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon, and all the wise men of the defense establishment who are suddenly opposed to the prisoner swap with Hezbollah and with Hamas, are bullies. They know how to flex their muscles when it comes to a weak prime minister like Ehud Olmert, who is apparently ready to grasp at any straw to survive politically - even change his mind and work toward torpedoing the deal he himself initiated and backed.

Their last-minute bullying is at the expense of the misery of the Regev, Goldwasser and Shalit families. Ya'alon went even further when he said this week that if the cost is too high, a prisoner should be sacrificed. One wonders where were then-chief of staff Ya'alon, Mossad head Dagan and then-deputy Shin Bet head Diskin (then on sabbatical and acting as Dagan's advisor on terror) at the end of 2003, when the deal to release Elhanan Tennenbaum was brewing? Why were they silent, legitimizing one of the most contemptible deals ever made in Israel? They stood by, although they knew Tennenbaum was a compulsive gambler who got involved in drug-dealing to cover his losses.

Not only did they legitimize the deal, they also ruinously allowed Tennenbaum's lawyer, Eli Zohar, to obtain for his client a deal that contravened the interests of the Shin Bet, the police and the Israel Defense Forces. Zohar managed to persuade them that he and Tennenbaum's family be allowed to meet with Tennenbaum for a few moments, immediately after his plane landed in Israel. Instead of interrogating him like a common criminal suspected of treason from whom all the information he gave to his captors should be extracted, they agreed to the meeting, in which Zohar instructed Tennenbaum not to respond during questioning.

Tennenbaum broke his silence only when he was promised immunity from prosecution. This was explained by the dubious reasoning that it was essential to know whether he had given up information on any secret significant IDF project to which he had been privy. As if all those defense heroes did not know that the basic working assumption in intelligence is to assume the worst-case scenario when a soldier is captured - that he told his captors everything he knows.

But Ya'alon, Dagan, Diskin and other senior defense officials were not so brave and determined when faced with a strong prime minister like Ariel Sharon. They preferred to become morally tainted rather than flout Sharon and block the Tennenbaum deal.

That was the deal that broke all the moral codes and crossed all the red lines to which Israel had tried with difficulty to adhere. Hundreds of Arab prisoners were released, including Palestinians, in exchange for one drug dealer and the bodies of three IDF soldiers. Israel was even willing to release the terrorist Samir Kuntar, backtracking only at the last minute to assuage missing airman Ron Arad's family, who where furious over the release of kidnapped Lebanese nationals Mustafa Dirani and Sheikh Obeid.

That is how, four years ago, with a mere scribble and a word, Kuntar became a "bargain chip" and a "national asset." Woe to us if national security and "Israeli deterrence" depend on one terrorist or even hundreds of terrorists - even if they include the most despicable murderers - to be released in the deals now under discussion.

The bitter truth is that all Israeli governments were two-faced, uttering pretentious words like "we will not give in to terrorist extortion" and giving in time after time to terrorist extortion, beginning with the 1968 hijacking of an El Al plane to Algiers.

There were even times when Israel released bodies and live prisoners for slivers of information or soldiers' belongings, including in the case of Arad. Apropos Arad, it is doubtful that another country would have worked so hard, fielding its best agents, risking combat soldiers and spending tens of millions of dollars to discover the fate of a single soldier.

Indeed, Israel must formulate a clear policy that will set criteria that will be clear to the enemy, too. The guideline must be bodies for bodies, prisoners for a limited number of prisoners. A ratio of 10 to 1 is more than a reasonable price. But this policy has to be formulated and declared ahead of time and not retroactively. This should be done only after the deal with Hezbollah (whose price of five Lebanese prisoners, eight bodies and a few Palestinians, the number and identity of whom is to be determined by Israel, is one of the lowest paid) and with Hamas.

It takes neither a genius nor a hero to heap all the Israeli policy failures of the past onto the fragile shoulders of Regev, Goldwasser and Shalit, and falsely present the situation as a security disaster if the deal in the form it is taking comes to pass.