Text size

A murderer is getting away with murder. This murderer is Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah. From Beirut he threatens and pontificates, while sending his men on missions of murder and kidnap. The kidnapped and the bodies of the murdered are bargaining chips in the cruel game of extortion that he practices, leading to further murders and kidnapping, in an escalating spiral.

The victims claimed by acts of terror perpetrated by Hezbollah and its associates include 242 U.S. Marines killed by a suicide bomber in Beirut, 58 French soldiers blown up at about the same time, 63 people killed in a suicide attack on the U.S. embassy in Beirut, U.S. Marine Colonel William Higgins, kidnapped and killed, people killed in the attack on the Israel embassy and the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, hundreds of Israeli soldiers - and Ron Arad, whom Hezbolla "sold" to the Iranians.

The total of lost innocent lives makes Nasrallahh a close second to Al Qaida's Osama Bin Laden as a mastermind of mass murder. Nasrallahh's chief of operations, Ahmad Mughniye, directly involved in most of these operations, today moves freely between Beirut and Tehran planning further acts of terrorism.

Nasrallah meanwhile presents Israel with the "bill" for the return of the bodies of soldiers his men have murdered, and the return of the civilian they kidnapped and tortured. So now Israel's cabinet ministers have become tortured souls, trying to decide whether his offer should be accepted or rejected. Nasrallahh can take satisfaction in this additional "suffering" he has imposed on the Jews.

By what criteria or norms should the decision be taken? Is there a numerical limit to the ratio of prisoners to be released by Israel to bodies returned by Nasrallah? Is there a different ratio for the dead than for the living? Does it matter who is being released? Does it matter that Ron Arad is being left behind? Or does our duty to the Israeli soldiers who fell in battle and the kidnapped Israeli civilian brook no other considerations, leaving Nasrallahh to dictate the conditions of any "deal" he proposes?

Israel has unfortunately had bitter experience in such "deals". The outstanding example, from which much can be learned, is the Jibril exchange in 1985 brought to the cabinet by the late Yitzhak Rabin, who was then defense minister.

The entire cabinet, except for Yitzhak Navon, then Minister of Education, supported the proposal - including myself, a minister without portfolio. The late Shmuel Tamir, who was in charge of the negotiations for the Defense Ministry resigned in protest. It is now generally agreed that Israel made a mistake in agreeing to the "Jibril exchange."

Why was the mistake made and what is to be learned from it? The overriding consideration in the cabinet discussion at the time was that our prisoners be returned at almost any cost. It was a debt we owed them. Little attention was paid to the potential fallout from the massive release of terrorists. It was not long before the exchange boomeranged.

Many of the terrorists returned to their vocation to form the backbone of the intifada and bring about the death of many Israeli citizens. There is little doubt that had this been foreseen Israel would not have agreed. That kind of price we would not have been willing to pay.

What will be the fallout of accepting Nasrallah's latest offer? It is bound to be negative. That can already be seen clearly. How many more Israelis will be killed and kidnapped as a result? What is the next "deal" that Nasrallah is going to offer us? It may be a further demonstration that this kind of blackmail is detrimental to the interests of Israel and its citizens.

And a word about Ron Arad, the Air Force navigator, now missing for seventeen years, who was "sold" to the Iranians by Mustafa Dirani, who himself is going to be part of the exchange. Although we hear frequent announcements that no effort is being spared to discover Ron Arad's whereabouts and to bring him home, the question of whether everything is really being done to achieve this hangs in the air.

It has been clear for years, that neither German intermediaries or personal appeals to presidents and prime ministers will free Ron Arad. Those who hold him - dead or alive - are not prepared to own up to their bestial act. Hundreds of Iranians who are aware of his fate and his whereabouts are not about to volunteer this information. Other means will have to be tried. Leaving him out of the present exchange is not likely to improve his situation.