The Deal and the Reassessment

It is wrong to draw a comparison between the potential Shalit deal and the Goldwasser and Regev deals.

With the return yesterday of the remains of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, and the release of murderer Samir Kuntar along with four other Lebanese terrorists, the prisoner-exchange deal between Israel and Hezbollah, which was brokered by a United Nations envoy, was completed.

The other part of the deal - which touches on the fate of missing Israeli airman Ron Arad - did not answer Israeli expectations, but was not used as an excuse to call off the deal at the last minute. The Israeli mourning over our fatalities and the celebrations in Lebanon over the release of Kuntar were an emotional response to the recognition that, after two years and four days, the war that began on July 12, 2006, with the kidnapping of Goldwasser and Regev, has officially ended.

This marks the end of the deal with Hezbollah. From this point on, what is needed is a serious reassessment of the Israeli position. The crux of this reassessment should be how we differentiate between the living and the dead, between exchanges involving live prisoners and dead soldiers - a differentiation that has become worryingly blurred in Israeli society. One can certainly understand the Goldwasser and Regev families, who, until the very last moment, were unable to accept that their sons were no longer alive and needed clear-cut proof to start the mourning process.

It is harder to understand the addiction of an entire country to an illusion that was orchestrated by Hezbollah, but which relied heavily on the Israeli media and Israeli politicians, who infused the negotiations with promises, cliches, jingles, bicycle rides and problematic statements like "bring the boys back home." After all, it was clear to all that Israel Defense Forces soldiers and fatalities are not children, and that bodies cannot be "brought home" - only buried.

It is hard to shake off the sense that something fundamental has changed in the ethos of Israeli society. In the past, soldiers risked their lives to save the lives of their comrades; in recent years, however, soldiers have been sent to recover the body parts of other soldiers, while putting their own lives at risk. Who can forget the scenes of soldiers, on their hands and knees, searching for body parts on the Philadelphi Route in 2004?

From the very first day, Israel's intelligence services believed that Goldwasser and Regev were killed during the kidnapping. It is hard to understand why they did not say so out loud. By ignoring the military's assessment that the soldiers were dead, the government created an illogical equation between Gilad Shalit and Goldwasser and Regev, and the cooperation between the three families made it impossible to differentiate between who it was still possible to save and who was beyond help.

In one of the special broadcasts that dominated our television screens yesterday, the former chief rabbi of the IDF, Israel Weiss, spoke in terms of sanctity and purity about the coffins that were waiting for Goldwasser and Regev. He said he felt a sense of relief that, after seeing the black coffins in which Hezbollah repatriated the remains, he knew that they would soon be replaced by holy coffins covered in white prayer shawls and Israeli flags.

Regev and Goldwasser were not abandoned to their fate, despite the claims made on the billboards as part of the public campaign on their behalf. Five soldiers were killed in the failed attempt to rescue Goldwasser and Regev immediately after the attack, and, for more than two years, Israel negotiated to alleviate the doubt that haunted the families.

We should remind ourselves, again and again, that negotiations for the return of a captive soldier are only being conducted in the case of Gilad Shalit. It is wrong to draw any sort of comparison between the two deals, just as it is wrong to confuse the living and the dead. At the end of the day, that is what our emotions and our logic dictate.