Our incoming leadership must make it clear that they are determined to bring an end to a situation in which our neighbors take for granted that kidnapping Israelis will benefit them. They must understand that committing such acts will only inflict suffering on their own people. Our new leaders must act swiftly so as to ensure that the new US Administration does not begin to take the Schalit status quo for granted.

The tragedy of Gilad Schalit

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Observing the response of our dysfunctional leaders since Gilad Schalit was kidnapped in June of 2006, we become increasingly frustrated and infuriated. We cringe as we recollect the repeated empty threats and promises expressed by Prime Minister Olmert and Defense Ministers Peretz and Barak, all of whom vowed never to capitulate to hostage blackmail. Their blunders, lack of resolve and failure to formulate any strategy in this heartbreaking imbroglio amounts to monumental incompetence.

The Second Lebanon War erupted over the abduction of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. Yet shamefully, after bloody battles and tragic loss of life, we accepted a flawed truce with Hizbullah in which the fate of the abducted remained unresolved.

But worse, two years later, despite being aware that both soldiers were dead, our leaders fell to a new level of capitulation to emotional blackmail by trading Samir Kuntar, the most vicious killer in captivity, in return for two corpses. Besides providing an extraordinary victory for the Jihadists, the release of this monster in exchange for bodies may encourage terrorists to conclude that there is little merit in keeping Israeli hostages alive when their objectives can be achieved with corpses.

These blunders were compounded by the decision to unconditionally enter into a truce with Hamas despite GSS warnings that their objective was merely to regroup and obtain more sophisticated weapons from Iran. In this context, the betrayal of the vow not to reach any accommodation with Hamas without the release of Schalit was utterly incomprehensible.

This act of folly has already exacted a bitter price. It squandered whatever leverage we had with Hamas and whetted its appetite for extorting yet more exorbitant ransoms. Hamas upped its initial demands for the release of 450 terrorists to 1400 and, exploiting the precedent of Kuntar, insisted that terrorists with blood on their hands – hitherto excluded – also be released. If these demands are granted, aside from providing an enormous psychological boost for Hamas, we will be enabling the most seasoned and bloody minded murderers to resume their killing sprees.

Prior to the Oslo Accords, with few exceptions, Israel prided itself on refusing to negotiate with terrorists. In contrast, today it is hard to visualize any country displaying such weakness in the face of terrorist blackmail. Over the past few months the Olmert government even went to the bizarre length of unilaterally freeing imprisoned terrorists. Today as Acting Prime Minister, Olmert has taken it upon himself to release another 250 Palestinian prisoners as a “goodwill gesture,” knowing full well that such action merely encourages Hamas to make greater demands for the release of Schalit.

Our irresponsible media has a major responsibility for creating a climate of surrender to the most insane terrorist demands by indulging in emotional demagoguery and calling on the government to do “anything” to achieve the release of hostages. They are backed by public demonstrations and interventions by left-wing intellectual elites who also encourage capitulation at any price. In turn, this inspires terrorists to raise their extortions yet higher. None of our leaders, especially now prior to elections, have the backbone to resist this emotional onslaught and warn the people that irresponsible concessions to terrorists will inevitably result in greater disasters.

What can be done?

If the situation remains unresolved until the elections, the new government should immediately proclaim that unless Hamas reaches a “sensible” agreement to release Schalit in return for an exchange of prisoners “without blood on their hands,” the policy of capitulating to terrorist extortion is over and tough measures will be implemented against a neighboring rogue entity engaged in kidnapping our citizens.

In the absence of real progress, the government should impose a cordon sanitaire on the entire Gaza strip. No funds whatsoever should be transferred for any purpose. Communications should be cut off.Supplies of electricity and fuel would also be denied entry through Israeli ports.

The IDF should seek out and apprehend additional senior Hamas officials and incarcerate them until such time as Schalit is released. The families of Hamas prisoners should be denied all contact or access to those currently in Israeli prisons until such time as Hamas provides the International Red Cross and the Schalit family access to Gilad.

Inevitably there will be a vast global outcry that we are breaching international law and inflicting inhumane collective punishment on innocent people. We should stand firm and remind everyone that today Hamas, the kidnapper of Schalit, is not a terrorist group but was chosen by the citizens of Gaza in a democratic election and exercises total authority in the area under its jurisdiction.

We should tell critics to spare us hypocritical preaching and ask whether they would contemplate releasing 1400 killers to redeem one of their citizens kidnapped by a neighboring terrorist state. They should be urged to direct their humanitarian concerns to Hamas who, by releasing Schalit, would immediately ease the suffering of their people.

Is this being too tough? Hardly. We live in one of the cruelest environments in the world and must defend ourselves. No other self respecting nation would stand by and carry on business as usual with a terrorist neighbor abducting its citizens. Anyone who accepts the premise that the prime requirement of a government is to provide security for its citizens, cannot challenge our right to defend ourselves and deter future kidnappings.

Should Hamas not respond to these pressures, I predict that instead of Israelis holding public rallies calling on the government to make further concessions to obtain Schalit’s release, the shoe will soon be on the other foot. Palestinians in Gaza will be demonstrating and demanding that Hamas take steps to make their lives more bearable by releasing a solitary Israeli hostage. And if Hamas is aware that this will be our standard response, it may well deter them from future kidnappings.

There are obvious risks in such a course of action, such as Hamas retaliating by further punishing Schalit himself. But just as the lives of IDF combatants are at risk, we cannot enable our enemies to exploit hostages to the point of undermining our basic security. We should emphasize that any harm to Schalit will result in instantaneous IDF targeting of Hamas leaders.

If we continue capitulating to ever-growing terrorist blackmail we will be sinking into a bottomless pit. We will experience more kidnappings, more Israelis will be murdered and maimed and terrorists will continue to wear down the morale of the nation.

Our incoming leadership must make it clear that they are determined to bring an end to a situation in which our neighbors take for granted that kidnapping Israelis will benefit them. They must understand that committing such acts will only inflict suffering on their own people. Our new leaders must act swiftly so as to ensure that the new US Administration does not begin to take the Schalit status quo for granted.

ileibler@netvision.net.il

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