Hoping for More / A Down Payment

Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah does not like making small-scale deals, and yesterday's exchange was a "small deal," both in terms of the value that Hezbollah received and the price it paid Israel. Neither Hezbollah nor Israel need "confidence-building measures," because at issue here are not long-term processes of mutual recognition or a wide-reaching change in Israeli and Lebanese bilateral policy. There is already a tradition of trust between Israel and Hezbollah with regard to exchange agreements and total distrust in every other sphere.

The conclusion that must be drawn is that this was a down payment on a broader deal. Can new, significant information about missing Israeli navigator Ron Arad now be expected? It is doubtful that such information would be given to Israel in exchange for the release of a minor Hezbollah activist and two bodies. In the past, Hezbollah demanded a much greater payment, and it is punctilious about not releasing any new information whatsoever about abducted Israeli soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser.

Sources in Lebanon said yesterday that they believed the background for yesterday's swap was an Israeli promise to release a large number of prisoners, including not only Lebanese but also other Palestinian and Arab prisoners being held in Israel as part of a wider deal. Such a deal is likely to include the release of the Israeli captives, and yesterday's deal was requested by Israel, which must prepare public opinion for the release of these Arab prisoners. According to one of these Lebanese sources, the latest deal originated with Germany's desire to demonstrate to the Israelis that the drawn-out negotiations for the release of Regev and Goldwasser had not hit a dead end, and that Hezbollah has an interest in continuing to negotiate.

The analysis of the Lebanese sources, however, stumbled when it came to explaining the timing of the current deal and determining whether it implied that the big deal has been concluded and yesterday's exchange was in effect the start of its implementation, which will continue to unfold in the days or weeks to come. The answer to that will apparently come today, in the announcement that is expected to come from Nasrallah. He seeks to prove that the deal was an important achievement for him and for Lebanon, and for that he will have to detail the nature of that achievement. After all, Nasrallah has not yet made good on his "historic" promise to obtain the release of Samir Kuntar, and two bodies and a single Lebanese detainee certainly cannot be considered an achievement.