Changing the rules
The whole country knew what the government's decision would be. Only Prime Minister Ehud Olmert played Hamlet.
All the ministers knew that Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser were no longer alive. All the ministers knew that Israel had agreed to free the murderer of the Haran family, Samir Kuntar. They all knew he would return home, sated and satisfied, with his bushy mustache and his potbelly, as a Lebanese national hero, in exchange for the bodies of two of our kidnapped soldiers. The whole country knew what the government's decision would be. Only Prime Minister Ehud Olmert played Hamlet.
Photos of a meditating Olmert, posed like Rodin's sculpture "The Thinker," appeared all over the media. The cabinet convened, and his associates intimated that he hadn't reached a final decision yet about whether to go ahead with the deal. Only in the course of the meeting was it reported on the news that the prime minister had resigned himself to releasing the Nahariya murderer.
As if he had a choice. In practice, Olmert was in the same position as then-defense minister Yitzhak Rabin in the Ahmed Jibril deal. In that swap, on May 20, 1985, 1,150 Arab prisoners, among them some of the most vicious killers, their hands literally dripping with blood, were freed in exchange for three Israeli captives. Rabin later confessed that the pressure of the families was more than he could bear.
Even if Olmert's indecision was partly an act and partly caused by a genuine fear of Israel's security services, which were not happy with the deal, he really had no choice. He would have brought Regev and Goldwasser home at any price - and I think justifiably - because of public pressure, and even more so, the pressure of their families, who had the public rooting for them.
In the wake of this miserable affair, Israel must wake up to the sad fact that 60 years after its establishment, we are looking at a crueler, more cannibalistic, less humane Middle East. During World War II, even Nazi Germany abided by the conventions governing prisoners of war, at least in the case of American and British POWs. Letters could be sent and received through the Red Cross. The families at least knew whether they were dead or alive.
In this ongoing war against the dark forces of fundamentalist Islam in our region, we must be prepared for the possibility of more kidnappings, more POWs and more cynical abuse of families by withholding news of their loved ones. Aware of the supreme value Israel attaches to human life, Hezbollah played a cannibalistic game with us, refusing to provide even the most basic information on the fate of soldiers who had fallen into their hands.
For two whole years, there was no sign of life from Regev and Goldwasser, yet they led us to believe they were alive. This tragic saga now coming to an end, which has driven the families and the whole country insane, cannot be allowed to repeat itself.
Israel knows that its wars are not over yet. No matter how much we try, and no matter how careful we are, there could be more kidnappings and more soldiers taken prisoner. No one can guarantee that something like this won't happen again. In light of this threat, the question is whether the time hasn't come to establish a new set of principles - principles that are better suited to dealing with the kind of brutal enemy we confront. We need to be tougher. We need to stick harder to our guns. We need to lay down ultimatums and insist on receiving information about prisoners or captive soldiers immediately, whether they are dead or alive.
The other side banks on the assumption that Israel is softhearted and will give in, sooner or later, to all its demands. And they love to toy with us. Listening to Nasrallah talk about haggling with Israel over body parts, with that cynical, self-satisfied smirk on his face, is enough to drive anyone up a wall. Religious cannibalism? I'm not even sure the Prophet Mohammed would sign on the dotted line.
This cruel horse-trading, exploiting the sensitivity of Israelis to the preciousness of human life, is a wake-up call to Israel to toughen its stance. It must refuse to take part in this sale of human beings. The current deal must be the last in the Israeli government's decades of bargaining to bring home its boys. Another question that begs to be asked is why the defense establishment saw fit to play by the heartless rules of Israel's enemies and pretend that Regev and Goldwasser were alive.
In view of the developments in recent weeks, I believed it was too late to play hero. Looking at the suffering of the families, I said this sad story needed to be brought to an end at any price. But from now on, Israel needs to take a new tack in its approach to kidnappings and those responsible for them.
We need to be tough when toughness is called for, and pragmatic when pragmatism is called for. If they kidnap your people, you kidnap theirs, and grab people so high up on the totem pole that it shocks them out of their minds. Let them be the ones on the begging end. It's time they played by our rules.