After an emotional five-year campaign, kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit came home in exchange for a total of 1,027 Palestinian terrorists who had been incarcerated in Israeli jails. Those released included the architect of the 405 bus attack that claimed the lives of 16 people, Nachshon Wachsman ‘s killers, the murderers of yeshiva student Haim Kerman, Amana Muna, – who lured 16-year-old Ophir Nahum via Internet chats to his murder in Ramallah – and many more.
Israeli MIAs have been a serious sticking point since the establishment of the modern State of Israel, as they force the Jewish state to deal directly with terror groups, thereby giving such groups more credence than they deserve. This moral dilemma pits the need to maintain a qualitative military edge against staying true to the tenets of Jewish law. Unfortunately, the two cannot co-exist.
Jewish law literally pulls rank. The notion that no soldier is to be left behind is an IDF dogma that’s ingrained at all levels of the military and society. Hence, when Israeli soldiers are kidnapped by radical Islamist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, Israel is blackmailed because of its desire to bring Jewish soldiers home.
There may be those in the international arena who would question whether Israel is wise to put such a premium on one life when the exchange may endanger so many others. Yet the Israeli ethos that evolved throughout the years holds that the state should be willing to make such sacrifices for any individuals whom it expects to make the same sacrifices for the state of Israel.
Moreover, due to Israel’s policy of universal enlistment a captured soldier could be anyone’s son, which is the reason public pressure on the matter has been so vast.
The enormity of this awful moral dilemma for the Israel’s government is painstaking without a doubt, on the one hand bringing Shalit safely home while on the other giving Hamas the upper hand, rewarding terrorism and inhuman cruelty. Even worse, kidnapping Israelis and holding them for ransom has proven to be a lucrative proposition. The incentive for repeat acts could hardly be clearer.
Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades spokesman Abu Obeida has already declared that “Zionist soldier Gilad Shalit would not be the last as long as the Zionist occupation kidnaps our prisoners.” He added that the Brigades are committed towards each and every prisoner behind bars.
Furthermore, the Hamas narrative has viewed the discussions that led to the deal as an indication Israel would ultimately conduct talks with the Hamas leadership without the need to alter the group’s charter, which calls for the Jewish state’s destruction.
The bigger issue is the legitimization of Islamist terrorist groups, something that Israel faced back in 2004 under then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who was also forced to negotiate with Hezbollah for Elchanan Tannenbaum and the bodies of three IDF soldiers.
In sum, while Israel greatly values human life in comparison to the groups it is coerced to talk to, we must recognize that the lopsided logic that plays out in MIA exchange deals has compromised Israel’s policy of regional deterrence.
Photo By Ralf Lotys (Sicherlich) (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons