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POW Talks with Hizballah: A Strategic Mistake

From Ma’ariv (Internet Version) in Hebrew 29 Sep 03

Translated by FBIS

The Sharon Government is about to make a strategic mistake. If the prisoner-exchange deal now being worked out comes to fruition, Hizballah will be strengthened politically, psychologically and, in the final analysis, strategically, too. It will strengthen Hizballah inside Lebanon, in the Palestinian arena, and in the Muslim world, and thereby turn it into a model for admiration and imitation.

The prisoner-exchange deal in May 1985, in which 1,150 prisoners were freed in return for 3 captive soldiers, was the first of the steps (it was followed by the “night of the hang gliders” and the Bus 300 affair) that led to the loss of Israeli deterrent capability in relation to the Palestinians and the outbreak of the first intifadah.

It is hard to understand the Israeli Government’s agreement to include hundreds of “heavy” Palestinian prisoners in the present prisoner exchange given the government’s refusal to award the same “prize” to the government of Abu-Mazin [Mahmud Abbas] — a move that would have offered a good chance of boosting relative quiet in the territories, and that would have spared many casualties in attacks that would have been prevented. What will now happen is that the Palestinians will view Hizballah, not any Palestinian government that is set up, as the address for the fulfillment of their demands.

The proposal to deport hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in the knowledge that they will return to the territories at some stage is also a dangerous one. Let us not forget the 415 HAMAS and Islamic Jihad members whom the High Court ordered to be brought back from southern Lebanon after the Rabin Government expelled them in 1992. They underwent training as terrorists in Hizballah’s camps and with Iranian aid, and when they returned to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, they launched a wave of suicide attacks that caused the terrible bloodletting from 1994 to this day, and also sabotaged all progress toward a possible settlement with the Palestinians.

If Hizballah is so eager to free Palestinians, they should be advised to turn to their friends, the Syrians, who are holding, without trial, according to data from human rights organizations, some 600 Palestinian prisoners who fell into captivity during the battles at the time of the civil war in Lebanon in 1976 and after the Syrian Army’s battles with Fatah in 1983.

At the moral level, it is not only the Arad family that has been hurt by the deal now being put together; the entire Air Force family and basic IDF values have been hurt, too. It is hard to understand why we are hearing about the activities of the reservist pilots who are protesting against attacking targets in the territories, but not hearing about pilots, both reservists and regulars, coming together in order to ensure that Ron Arad, who was ordered to go on a national mission, is not abandoned and forgotten.

The issue here is not the pain and suffering of the families of the most recent kidnap victims as opposed to the pain of the Arad family, but as opposed to the entire Air Force family and the families of the next kidnap victims in line. Because there is no doubt that the deal with Hizballah will merely increase the desire and appetite of all the Palestinian organizations and Hizballah itself to carry out kidnappings in Israel and abroad, in the same way as suicide attacks turned from a model for imitation into our daily lot.