A Bitter Day, With No Pleasant Surprises

The white Prison Service van climbed up the hill to Rosh Hanikra, at the Lebanese border. Among its passengers was Amir Kuntar. Had he been able to see out the heavily tinted windows he would have seen the Mediterranean Sea below. Twenty-nine years ago, he made the reverse journey, from Lebanon to Israel, in a boat. He came ashore at Nahariya, where he murdered three members of the Haran family. Yesterday the murderer was released, as a Lebanese hero, together with four other live terrorists and the bodies of about 200 more, in exchange for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers. Two hours before, the convoy with the coffins of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev made the reverse trip, from Lebanon and down the hill from Rosh Hanikra.

It was a long, exhausting, bitter day, with no pleasant surprises. Members of the Israel Defense Force Medical Corps and the Military Rabbinate labored for six hours inside the military facility at the border crossing in order to positively identify Regev's and Goldwasser's bodies and officially declare them as war dead.

"It was complicated, difficult work," the chief military rabbi, Brigadier General Avihai Ronsky, said. Just two weeks ago, when the prisoner exchange was in doubt, he was asked to work to have Goldwasser and Regev declared as war dead whose place of burial is unknown.

"A long time has passed since the abduction, we have professionals who were very devoted to their work," Ronsky said.

"We bow our heads and embrace the families," IDF Spokesman Avi Benayahu said immediately after announcing the positive identification of the bodies. He said that the behavior of the families since the abduction was "exemplary." He also noted that in contrast to the celebrations taking place at the same time across the border, the IDF had chosen the path of "modesty, restraint."

Benayahu took advantage of a question from a reporter for an Arab network to minimize Hezbollah's achievement. "If anyone in Hezbollah has decided to portray the base, despicable, contemptible murderer as a hero, I believe that this is not the position of the Lebanese people," in reference to Kuntar. "Nasrallah hasn't been out of his bunker for over two years," Benayahu said about the Hezbollah leader.

The question marks are still there, however, especially concerning the way in which the foreign networks reflected the proceedings at the army base at Rosh Hanikra. Renato Coen, a journalist with Sky News in Italy, said that in his broadcasts from Israel he finds it difficult to explain the Israeli side in the deal, in which the state received two corpses in exchange for five live terrorists. "They are also surprised at the fact that both sides hold onto so many bodies of enemy soldiers after the war is over."