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Israel's bum deal with Hizbollah


I could not bring myself to comment last week about the Hizbollah prisoner exchange, during the state-generated "festivities." A person at a funeral who points out that the hearse is dusty and the coffin is dented is guilty of grotesque bad taste.

Anyone of minimal sensitivity and sensibility stands in awe of the terrible sacrifice made by families of Israel's war dead. Who can bring themselves to say a bad word about the return of the bodies of three heros, or to detract in any way from the respect that is due to the Avitan, Avraham and Souwaid families and their honored sons, Avi, Benny and Omar? What greater patriotism can their be, than that of Ya'akov Avitan, father of fallen soldier Adi Avitan, who said that the IDF and the State, having returned the body of his son, no longer owe him anything? To sacrifice your son, and not to claim a debt!

However, we cannot ignore the rest of this story, for the sake of the living, and for the sake of the same Israeli patriotism for which these boys made their sacrifice. In plain English, Israel traded 429 live prisoners, many of them dangerous men and 59 bodies of Lebanese, for the bodies of 3 heros and a shady "businessman," Elhannan Tannenbaum, who went to Beirut for mysterious and probably criminal reasons. This was the bargain made by the Prime Minister and the government who declared that they would not negotiate with terrorists, and who remind us day and night of their national slogan, "We will not surrender to terrorism."

Morally, the bargain was repugnant. As statecraft, everyone recognizes that for Israel it was a disaster, and for the Hizbollah it was a great victory. It is not just loss of face for Israel. Everyone recognized immediately that the release of large numbers of prisoners in return for three dead bodies and a degenerate was an invitation to kidnap more Israelis, in order to extort bigger and better prisoner releases and more concessions. Israelis were not alone in recognizing it. Both the Hamas and the Hizbollah announced that such kidnappings are a possibility. The quaint custom of kidnappings is not new to the Middle East. It was revived by the Hizbollah and others in the 1980s when various Westerners were kidnapped to extort different concessions, and only went out of fashion temporarily on orders from Hizbollah's masters in Iran.

Except for Palestinians of the PLO and Fatah, who thanked the Hizbollah in reserved tones for extracting from Israel the prisoners that they were unable to extract, there was unreserved praise for Hizbollah and rejoicing throughout the Arab world. Al- Ahram crowed, "another notch in Hizbollah's belt."
A review of the Arab press compiled by the BBC is instructive. Some excerpts:

This is the second time that Hezbollah has achieved a victory against the enemy government, after it first forced the Israeli army to withdraw from southern Lebanon following painful resistance attacks.

Al-Watan - Saudi Arabia

The agreement to exchange prisoners between Hezbollah and Israel raises a number of major issues. The first is that this agreement has made Israel recognise the legality of national resistance.

Al-Mustaqbal - Lebanon

I have met and heard no Israelis who approved of this deal. Except for pro-forma "official" editorials on the day of the swap, I have seen little Israeli commentary that approved of this bargain with the devil. In Ha'aretz, Yoel Marcus called it "A Licence to Kidnap". It was condemned by the hawkish Jaffe Center as "Theater of the Absurd." Left-leaning Uri Avnery lambasted the government for dealing with the notorious Hizbullah religious fanatics, while refusing to make similar concessions to moderate Palestinians.

The shameful affair is not over. Even worse is to come, because Israel has consented to continue negotiating with Hizbollah in order to get more information about missing navigator Ron Arad, ignoring the last will and testament of his mother, Batya Arad, who asked that no live prisoners should be swapped for the body of her son. Already the grisly process has started. The Hizbollah sent Israel some bones that they claim were those of Arad. DNA tests showed they were not. So perhaps they will eventually release an ear in return for thousand more prisoners, and another ear in return for some land in the north, and maybe a hand in return for Israel conceding a major city. If Israel will not make any more concessions, they can always kidnap more Israelis and return bits and pieces of them.

Uri Avnery attributed the illogical deal to Israeli self-indulgence and false morality, but that is not a satisfactory explanation. To Avnery, the Israeli government is the Devil, and Zionism is the bible of Hell, but it is not sufficient to say "the Devil did a bad thing because the Devil is bad." For this deal was not just evil, it was bad strategy, and the Devil and Ariel Sharon are both known to be good strategists.

Elhanan Tennenbaum, the shady "businessman" (of the type described by Scott Fitzgerald, in "The Great Gatsby") was kidnapped while in Beirut. Apparently, he was negotiating a drug deal that would help pay for his gambling debts. This exemplary citizen handed the Hizbollah another present when he was interviewed for Hizbollah's Al Manara television and said, "I never considered the Hizbollah to be a terrorist organization" and claimed that they had treated him well, a claim contradicted by obvious signs of mental anguish evident in his debriefing. Tennenbaum is certainly a fine example of an officer and a gentleman. His family (or perhaps it was really the Israeli government?) succeeded in suppressing reports about his gambling debts and drug business and preventing their publication prior to conclusion of the prisoner deal, so as not to sway public opinion. We may never know if the swap was done in order to get back this one man, a reserve officer in the IDF who may or may not have some connection to Israeli intelligence, or whether it was done because of the irrational, but understandable pressure of distraught parents or whether it was just a dumb and inecplicable mistake - a glitsch in the decision process.

The problem is, that it is not done and over with. We shall be remembering the after-effects of this deal, like the after-effects of an indigestible meal eaten in haste, for a long time.

Ami Isseroff

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Replies: 3 comments

I would have taken everyone of the Moslem terrorists to the center of a large field...strapped confiscated suicide bombs on so called "exchangees," ...and blown them to hell...the event covered by "international" television and the press. It would have been an "object lesson" in what Israel thought of exchanges for any future kidnappings for Jewish dead and a degenerate.

Diana Wilson Ph.D.

Posted by Diana Wilson @ 02/04/2004 03:16 AM CST

I can't figure this out at all. This is basically legitimizing negotiations with terrorists, real terrorists. I suppose the government figured that by releasing a bunch of common criminals, they would be getting something for nothing, but this is particularly unprincipled, and I think it sums up everything that Ariel Sharon's government has become.

Posted by Michael Brenner @ 02/08/2004 12:45 PM CST

Rather convincing discourse from Ami Isseroff ... probably because the things are too obvious - the zigzag politics of expired zionist drive

Posted by George K. @ 02/10/2004 07:57 PM CST

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