Is The Gilad Shalit Deal Good For Israel?
By Morton A. Klein and Daniel Mandel
Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier kidnapped in 2006 and held captive in Hamas-controlled Gaza, has been freed. This is a joyous day for him, his family and world Jewry. However, is the price Israel paid – the freeing 1,027 Palestinians prisoners, including hundreds of convicted, blood-soaked terrorists – too high?
Freeing jailed terrorists boosts the standing of the Hamas terrorist group which negotiated the deal. It encourages further kidnapping of Israelis for the purpose of extorting the release of still more terrorists. It gives unimaginable pain to the families whose relatives were murdered by these freed terrorists. It turns the freed terrorists into Palestinian heroes. It erodes deterrence to vanishing point when the most bloodthirsty murderers can realistically contemplate an early release, making a mockery of justice. And, above all, it results in the subsequent murder of additional Israelis by terrorists freed under such deals.
The evidence for the latter is powerful. The Almagor Terrorist Victims Association (ATVA) disclosed in April 2007 that 177 Israelis killed in terror attacks in the previous five years had been killed by terrorists who had been previously freed from Israeli jails. An earlier ATVA report showed that 123 Israelis had been murdered by terrorists freed during the period 1993-99. Former Mossad Chief Meir Dagan has observed that the terrorists released in the 2004 Elhanan Tenenbaum prisoner exchange deal caused the death of 231 Israelis. That’s why Israel’s Vice-Premier and former Israel Defense Forces Chief-of-Staff, Moshe Yaalon, one of the ministers who voted against the deal, said, “My heart says yes, but my head says no.”
Little wonder that Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal has declared that the freed terrorists “will return to armed struggle … This is a national achievement.”
Accordingly, much as we are heartened for Gilad Shalit and his family, Israel cannot buy the freedom of an innocent citizen at the cost of practically ensuring that many more innocent citizens are murdered.
When not under relentless pressure, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has demonstrated that he understands the dangerous consequences of such a deal. Writing in his 1995 book, Fighting Terrorism: How the West Can Defeat Domestic and International Terrorism, Netanyahu observed that refusing to release terrorists from prison was “among the most important policies that must be adopted in the face of terrorism … by leading terrorists to believe that their demands will be met, they encourage precisely the terrorist blackmail they are supposed to defuse.” In 2008, when the previous Olmert government also concluded a deal that involved freeing jailed terrorists, then-Opposition leader Netanyahu rightly said that, “This weakens Israel and strengthens the terror elements.”
The appeals to put ourselves in the shoes of the families of the kidnapped are deeply moving and understandable, but cannot be the basis for such decisions. The duty of the state is to protect its citizens. It follows that the most important consideration must be preventing the loss of further innocent lives to terror. By sacrificing this imperative, it is obvious that on this issue, regrettably, the Israeli government has wilted in its resolve and shown dangerous weakness.
Some have tried to dress up this weakness as a virtue. It is even claimed that Jewish tradition puts no limits on what may be done to redeem an innocent captive. This is untrue. The Talmud and its numerous commentaries discuss the imperative of redeeming captives, but do not sanction paying a disproportionate price or increasing the likelihood of further kidnappings. The case of Rabbi Meir of Rothenberg (1215-1293), who was kidnapped and imprisoned in 1286, is instructive. Rabbi Meir himself ruled against paying the large ransom that was demanded for his release. Removing any incentive for further such kidnappings was the decisive consideration.
In the case of Gilad Shalit, where the price for his freedom is not mere money, but the lives of future victims, the argument against such a deal is even more compelling.
One of the terrorists to be released is Tamimi Ahlam, the first woman to join Hamas. Tamimi drove the suicide bomber who carried out the August 2001 attack on the Sbarro pizzeria, which killed 15 and wounded 140 others. Ahlam has stated that “I’m not sorry for what I did … I will get out of prison, and I refuse to recognize Israel’s existence.” Hearing during an interview that eight children had been murdered in the attack, Ahlam smiled.
Other terrorists being released include Nasser Yataima, who planned the 2002 Passover Seder suicide-bomb attack on the Park Hotel in Netanya, in which 30 people were killed and 140 were wounded; and Abed Alaziz Salaha, who gleefully participated in the October 2000 murder of Israeli reservists in the Ramallah police station and who famously held his bloodied hands aloft to the applause of the Palestinian mob outside.
If a U.S. soldier was kidnapped by terrorists in Afghanistan who demanded the release of hundreds of terrorists from Guantanamo, who believes that the U.S. government would agree? And if it did agree, who would be prepared to say this was anything other than a victory for the terrorists? And who would deny that, as a result, more U.S. soldiers were likely to be kidnapped, or killed by freed terrorists returning to the fray?
It may feel good in the present to take the decision Israel took, but it will feel very bad in the future if innocent Israelis are killed by the freed terrorists.
Morton A. Klein is national president of the Zionist Organization of America. Dr. Daniel Mandel is director of the ZOA’s Center for Middle East Policy and author of H.V. Evatt and the Establishment of Israel (London: Routledge, 2004).