Prisoner ‘Exchange’ With Hezbollah Contrasts Values

Sometimes, headlines tell the whole story. It’s often the case with the harsh reality of “prisoner exchanges” between the democratic State of Israel and terrorist groups like Hamas, Hezbollah and Fatah.

“ISRAEL WILL FREE TRIPLE-MURDERER IN SWAP” was last Wednesday’s headline in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, atop an Associated Press story describing the disturbing and harsh terms that Israel accepted to recover the remains of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. The two Israeli soldiers were kidnapped in 2006 by Hezbollah terrorists in a cross-border raid from Lebanon.

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That kidnapping, along with another by Hamas from Gaza of Gilad Shalit, who is believed to be still alive, triggered a 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah. In exchange for Goldwasser’s and Regev’s bodies, Israel released Samir Kantar, who was responsible for the cold-blooded murder of three Israeli civilians in the coastal town of Nahariya. Kantar received a “hero’s welcome” in Beirut when he returned to Lebanon. Kantar brutally shot to death Daniel Haran in front of his four-year-old daughter, and smashed the child’s skull against a rock with the butt of his rifle. The attack is described by the Associated Press as “one of the most notorious attacks in Israeli history.”

In addition to freeing Kantar, who had to be pardoned by Israeli President Shimon Peres to make his release “legal,” Israel agreed to release four other Lebanese prisoners and hand over the bodies of 199 Lebanese and Palestinian fighters killed in clashes over the years. The deal was extremely painful for Israel, especially for the families of the slain soldiers. Worse, it provided a major propaganda victory for Hezbollah, which has gained veto power over the weak new government in Lebanon. The Lebanese government announced that last Wednesday would be national holiday “to celebrate the liberation of prisoners from the jails of the Israeli enemy and the return of the remains of martyrs.” Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, delivered a major speech at what was a “massive celebration in the group’s stronghold south of Beirut,” the AP reported. Hezbollah has boasted that the original motive for the kidnapping of the two Israeli soldiers was to obtain the release of their “hero” Samir Kantar.

Reports say the prisoner “swap” was brokered with the help of a German secret agent, who worked 18 months to facilitate the exchange.

It is more than distressing that Israel, which places the highest value on recovering its captured soldiers or their remains, once again found it necessary to free vicious, cold-blooded terrorists, only to be confronted with the reality that the true heroes, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, were dead. A full investigation must be launched into the cause of the soldiers’ deaths. The families of the two dead Israeli soldiers have not gained anything like “closure” in the exchange, other than having final confirmation that their sons and husbands are no longer alive, and could receive decent burials.

In a previous exchange in 1985, Kozo Okamoto, the Japanese Red Army terrorist responsible for killing 26 people at Ben-Gurion International Airport in 1972, was freed, along with 1,050 Palestinian terrorists, in exchange for the release of three Israeli soldiers.

We don’t expect the United Nations Security Council, which frequently approves resolutions condemning Israel for any alleged infraction, to adopt or even consider a resolution condemning the government of Lebanon for officially declaring a “national celebration holiday” to welcome home the terrorist responsible for one of the most horrific acts of terrorism in the history of the region.

It has always been, and always will be, Israel’s policy to make every effort to obtain the release of its captive soldiers, or their remains, even if it has to agree to absurdly harsh terms. The Jewish State is guided by the value in the Talmud that “to save a single life is as though one is saving the entire world.” The Israel Defense Forces’ policy has always been to never leave soldiers or their remains behind, and when they are captured to make every effort to free them. In this instance, as in previous cases, the price Israel had to pay was extreme.

We can only hope that the families of the Israeli soldiers will start a healing process. We also recognize and deeply regret the fact that Israel’s value of recovering its soldiers allowed Hezbollah to once again get away with murder.