The liberation of Gilad Shalit on the eve of Sukkot, after five cruel years of incarceration was the outcome of a major conflict between the heart and the mind in which turbulent emotions triumphed. The end of the nightmare created waves of euphoria and relief throughout the nation. Each of us, including those bitterly opposed to the agreement consummated with Hamas, identifies with Shalit not so much as a hero, but as though he were our own son.
It epitomizes pidyon shvuim – the freeing of ransomed captives – that was traditionally regarded by Jews as a priority. It reflects the humanity and concern for one another that has personified the Jewish people over years of persecution and isolation. No other country would conceivably act in this manner and it reveals the compassion Israelis share and the lengths they will go to not to forsake its sons in the battlefield.
The popularity of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu – in the short term – will undoubtedly rise dramatically. Despite vociferous critics, the deal was enthusiastically endorsed by the vast majority of Israelis whose emotional frailties, had been incessantly flayed by our irresponsible media. Ironically, Netanyahu who previously, repeatedly warned of the disastrous consequences of capitulating to terrorist demands, crossed the very red lines he himself had drawn and vowed never to breach. He inherited the problem from Ehud Olmert who at one stage had conceded most of the ground to Hamas but at the last moment, got cold feet and backed out, leaving the painful decision for his successor. Nobody can envy the agonizing ordeal which Netanyahu must have undergone before making such a fateful judgment which ran diametrically counter to his basic principles.
Although we universally rejoice and celebrate the end of this long and painful national trauma, as in so many aspects of life in Israel there are bitter as well as sweet aspects to the outcome, not the least being the unbearable agony inflicted on the families of those murdered as they witness the unrepentant vile butchers of their loved ones being “liberated” and hailed as heroes.
If we are to undertake remedial steps to avert future similar situations which could inflict even more severe dilemmas of this nature, we must first be willing to face up to the consequences of this capitulation to Hamas.
The exchange of 1027 terrorists, including the most cruel and barbaric serial killers and masterminds of major terrorist attacks plus six Israeli Arab terrorists, in return for one Israeli soldier, is not merely a stunning victory for Hamas and global terrorism. It also conveys a number of other disconcerting messages that will undoubtedly return to haunt us.
Firstly, Hamas can now justly demonstrate that murder and terror are infinitely more effective than negotiations in achieving their objectives. The exchange will embolden terrorists throughout the world and encourage them to intensify their efforts. Indeed, former Mossad chief Meir Dagan has repeatedly stated that past precedents demonstrate that the release of these killers will have deadly future consequences and undoubtedly facilitate the murder of many other Israelis. In fact Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal explicitly boasted that “those released will return to armed struggle. It is a great national achievement”. The full effect will only impact on us in the weeks to come, when the world will be subject to Hamas-sponsored victory celebrations in which the murderers will be paraded in the streets as heroes.
Secondly, by exposing the “soft” side or ‘Achilles heel” of an otherwise tough Israeli adversary, Hamas (and Fatah) share a clear incentive to exert every effort and sacrifice to kidnap additional Israeli hostages in order to impose new demands.
Thirdly, it will be much easier to recruit terrorists when they are encouraged to believe that no matter how many Israelis they kill, if apprehended, there is every likelihood that they will be released.
Fourthly, Hamas has undoubtedly displaced the PA and demonstrated that it was able to force Israel and other states to negotiate and thus provide it with legitimacy. Indeed, Hamas, which remains adamantly committed to terrorism and the total destruction of Israel, has now emerged as the dominant face of a future Palestinian state. This is something that we need to take into account.
Fifthly, this was also a victory for the Moslem Brotherhood, the creator of Hamas, which is emerging as the principal powerbroker in Egypt. The new Egyptian government will therefore impose far greater pressure on Israel in relation to Hamas than was the case during the Mubarak era. And Israel must also factor Turkey, which in addition to Iran has now emerged as a vociferous supporter of Hamas.
Fortunately, the IDF has sufficient deterrent power to discourage direct hostilities. But there will be greater diplomatic pressures and a rejuvenated Hamas and other terrorist groups can be expected to invest enormous efforts into intensifying their war against us at all levels.
In such an environment the government must gird itself for the future. We must never again permit the deliverance of one Israeli – either soldier or citizen – to jeopardize our national security. We must revisit the judicial committee initiated by former Supreme Court President Meir Shamgar in mid-2009 which called for regulations designed to ensure that future hostage deals do not become prey to the passions and media frenzy that drove this deal. The findings had been shelved because of the emotions surrounding Shalit. Now would be an appropriate time to try to formulate these principles in a more objective and rational environment and if possible have them institutionalized as law by the Knesset.
We must recognize that the concept that “we must pay any price” is unsustainable. A State under siege must not allow itself to be subjected to blackmail and extortion by terrorists. There is simply no end to such behavior. The lust for blood by these barbarians is insatiable and continuing to capitulate to their excessively disproportionate demands will inevitably culminate in greater disasters.