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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

An Unbalanced Deal

Yesterday, Israel and the Hezbollah executed an "hostage swap" deal. Hezbollah returned two dead soldiers - Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser - whose kidnapping two years ago triggered the Second Lebanon War). Israel released five terrorists from jail and almost 200 bodies of dead terrorists. There are no right or wrong answers to the difficult questions surrounding the issue of such deals but here are some observations:

1. The debate in Israel around the return of living or dead soldiers from captivity is an irrational debate. The decisions of the government are influenced to an unhealthy degree by the families and the press.

2. Paradoxically, Israeli society is more vulnerable to loss of soldiers compared with civilian losses. During the last war, every injury and every casualty were reported almost in real time, with dramatic and overblown coverage. Terrorist attacks against civilians receive much less attention.

3. The media coverage of yesterday's events (and today's funerals) is nauseating. The need to fill hours of live coverage with nothing much to report led to total disrespect for privacy and an unrelenting stream of hyperbole. Three soldiers died in the kidnapping attack; four more died shortly thereafter in the tank that pursued the kidnappers; and more than a 100 died in the Second Lebanon War. None received the media attention of these two dead soldiers.

4. Given the history of such deals, the price paid for the two dead bodies (and remains of other casualties from the war) is more than reasonable. Those who cry foul that this deal sets a dangerous precedent - releasing living terrorists in exchange for bodies - are conveniently ignoring the fact that ten years ago Israel released 60 terrorists (and 40 bodies) for the body of one Israeli soldier: Itamar Ilya. So the precedent has already been set.

5. Having said that, the practice of releasing living terrorists for bodies must stop. It is a recipe for getting back only dead bodies, as the other side has no incentive to keep kidnapees alive.

6. These deals will forever be unfair and Israel will always end up paying a higher price. This is an inevitable outcome of the fundamental differences between the two sides: a democratic country vs. a terrorist organization, and a life-loving culture vs. a death-sanctifying one. Fairness will never be part of the equation when dealing with people who make a hero out of a terrorist that killed a 4-year-old girl by smashing her head in with the butt of his rifle.

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