A Hell To Pay
Benjamin Netanyahu is a known Churchill buff. It is fortunate; he doesn’t need to dig too deep in his library or memory to find a suitable description of himself and a deal with the Devil. He has made one to free Gilad Shalit.
The record-breaking agreement to set free more than one thousand Palestinian terrorists, 450 of them killers, mostly of Jewish civilians in exchange for one soldier is no Munich, in a sense that it does not give away any territory. Yet in terms of weakening the nation’s spirit, emboldening its enemies and destroying its deterrence it is sufficiently awful to merit the famous quote from Churchill’s indictment of the appeasement, pronounced on October 5th, 1938:
“We have sustained a total and unmitigated defeat, …a disaster of the first magnitude. We have sustained a defeat without a war, the consequences of which will travel far with us along our road; we have passed an awful milestone in our history.”
From the national interest’s point of view, there’s absolutely nothing to say for this deal. It undermines the very essence of the Israeli policy against Hamas – if Israel can make deals with the entity supposedly devoted to its destruction, why can’t Western democracies at least attempt negotiations with the Palestinian Islamists? If Israel admits that Hamas had shown pragmatism, why can’t it be induced to join the peace process? If Shalit is now free, why does Israel still restrict movement from and into the Gaza Strip?
To make the deal possible, Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak has issued an apology to Egypt for the killing of Egyptians during a murderous terrorist attack against Israeli civilians on August 18th. Israel had nothing to apologize for – according to all published information, the terrorists were mostly Egyptian, wore Egyptian uniforms and sought shelter with the soldiers who were then killed by Israeli helicopter strike. Now in Ankara they must ask themselves: If Israel can forfeit its national honor and the honor of its soldiers to kowtow to a foreign power, maybe the Turks aren’t pushing hard enough?
At the international arena, Israel’s claim to an equal membership in the global front against terrorism will now ring more hollow than ever. The United States of America cherishes the lives of its soldiers, too, but it abides by the rule of non-negotiation with their captors and abductors. Israel, and especially Benjamin Netanyahu, had also preached steadfastness – but they don’t practice what they preach. Sooner or later, Israel’s irresponsible and selfish behavior is bound to open the same debate in America and the rest of the countries which now resist the temptation to bargain with terrorists.
Explaining his decision to repudiate everything he proclaimed throughout the years, Netanyahu tried to seize the higher ground. In his favorite faux-Churchillian manner he declared that “leadership must be examined at moments such as this, being able to make difficult, but right, decisions”. What he didn’t explain was how giving to the shortsighted, maudlin, impatient public exactly what it wants counts as a “difficult decision.”
The Israeli government is presenting the deal as a vindication of its stance and as a result of some hard bargaining, since it managed to get Hamas to agree to partial deportation of the released murderers and to leave the leading lights of Palestinian Jihad behind bars. In fact, both of those “achievements” played into Hamas’ hands.
Neither the “political” leaders of Hamas abroad nor the Islamist “government” in Gaza have any desire to share power with the arch-killers who could claim not only Jewish scalps but also the long years of incarceration as credentials in the scramble for political authority and access to hard-won Iranian cash. Israel’s demands gave Hamas an opportunity to achieve its goals under perfect cover. On the one hand, Hamas can claim that it sacrificed the freedom of the most celebrated jihadists, so it can stick to the record number – a thousand for one – and to bring home the “foot soldiers of the resistance,” who did most of the actual work of killing Jewish civilians. On the other hand, Hamas can claim, credibly, that those who will go to exile will be safe from the possible persecution by the Palestinian Authority.
If there was any hope of achieving a compromise with the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah in order to scrap its UN bid and return to negotiations, it’s gone now. Israel, which refused to allow Abbas even the largely meaningless victory in the United Nations, has delivered a tangible success of historic proportions to Hamas, who is determined to overthrow them both. More than 200 liberated killers of Jews, spread throughout the West Bank and surrounded by fame and popular adoration, will serve as a daily reminder of Hamas’ success and Fatah’s failure, glory of Jihad and the ignominy of compromise.
The only way forward for Abbas and those who hope to succeed him is to adopt even harsher language and even harder positions. Since force is the only method Israel appears to bow to, the Palestinian Authority will be even more determined to engage in the diplomatic analogue of the “resistance”, which will bring it more symbolic victories at no cost (since the Obama administration is determined to undermine any attempt to hold Abbas accountable).
In the absence of a death penalty, the Shalit deal has exposed the meaningless travesty of the Israeli “justice” system and its insistence on treating ideological murderers of Jews as common albeit very violent criminals, for whom incarceration is a proper tool of “punishment.” Even before the new deal, terrorists regarded Israeli jail as a vacation opportunity, paid for by their victims’ relatives and friends. Now, it is a clear win-win proposition: you kill a Jew, you go to jail for a decade, tops, where you eat, sleep and get better education than at home at Israel’s expense while your family receives a PA stipend financed by American aid. One thing can be said for this arrangement – it sure takes away the motivation for becoming a suicide bomber!
If there’s one thing that can be said for Netanyahu in this hour of calamity, it’s that he’s not the only guilty party. Indeed, the main share of the blame rests with the Israeli security officials. Amid calls for cuts in the defense budget, it is truly impossible to understand, how the vaunted Israeli intelligence services had failed to locate Shalit a few miles from Israel’s border, among the population long-penetrated by informers, in a territory so well-known. The former heads of Mossad and SHABAK made up for their failure by opposing the exchange in opposition to public opinion. The Army leadership was too craven even for that, covering its ineptitude in populist slogans about the “sacred trust between the country and its soldiers”.
But the real culprit in this tragedy, which will undoubtedly result in a weakening of Israeli deterrence, new abductions, murders and perhaps war, are the Israelis themselves. In the end, the democratically elected leader can withstand only so much pressure from his voters. Despite the attempts of the courageous souls in the Knesset and the media to further the discussion about the terrible price to be paid for Shalit’s freedom, the total majority of the public continued to support the exchange which will set free hundreds of determined Jew-killers.
Regardless of political persuasion, Israelis embraced the image of a soldier (who took an oath to protect his country at any cost for himself) as everybody’s child who must be ransomed in accordance with the commandment of “Pidyon Shvuyim”, as if the independent and armed Jewish nation should behave like the Jewish communities of Medieval Europe. Of course, when the consequences of this irrational folly will begin to pile up, Israelis won’t blame themselves – they’ll blame Netanyahu. Both possible contenders for the leadership of the Right – Avigdor Lieberman and Moshe (“Bugi”) Ya’alon voted against the Shalit deal. This vote may come in handy even sooner than they themselves think.