The burden of decision, in the end, was borne by Prime Minister Netanyahu. It was his responsibility, he recognized, to balance “the need to return home someone whom the State of Israel has sent to the battlefield” with “minimizing the danger to the security of Israel’s citizens.” Acknowledging “the pain of the families of the victims of terrorism,” he settled for “the best agreement we could achieve.”
In his letter to bereaved families, Netanyahu wished that they “will find solace that I and the entire nation of Israel embrace you and share your pain.” But that offered little consolation to the families of terror victims, whose organization, Almagor, responded: “Your letter is a mockery to us…. There is no victory here, but a major disaster and a humiliating surrender.”
Following a prisoner exchange five years ago, Jerusalem Post columnist Michael Freund noted that three decades after the daring Entebbe mission, when 102 hostages were rescued from a hijacked airplane and all the hijackers were killed, “Israel has gone from being a country that frees hostages to one that frees terrorists.”
Comparing the Shalit exchange with Entebbe, Ben Caspit wrote in Maariv that the failure to launch a rescue mission for Shalit, imprisoned only a few kilometers across the Gaza border, was “one of the worst intelligence and military failures in the country’s history.” Indeed, Noam Shalit revealed that his son was located “in proximity” to where the IDF was fighting during Operation Cast Lead and “heard the noises of the war clearly.”
By effectively holding itself hostage, Israel has paid a high price that is likely to endanger its citizens once the released terrorists have absorbed the lesson of their freedom. As Wafa al-Bass, imprisoned for trying to smuggle an explosive vest into Israel and now a free woman, declared defiantly: “I expect that kidnapping soldiers to swap them for security prisoners is the best way to clear the prisons.”
The final cost of the Shalit exchange is yet to be calculated, but it surely will be higher than its defenders seem prepared to acknowledge. Hamas promises to kidnap Israeli soldiers until all imprisoned terrorists are released – and more Israelis surely will be murdered along the way by those who have now been given another opportunity to kill. In Israel’s war against Palestinian terrorism the reward for surrender is not likely to be victory.
“On us, the young men of Israel,” 22-year-old Yonatan Netanyahu wrote to his parents, “rests the duty of keeping our country safe.” Commander of the elite commando unit Sayeret Matkal, he would sacrifice his life at Entebbe to rescue Israeli hostages.
Twenty years later, in a book entitled Fighting Terrorism, an Israeli author firmly reiterated: “Prisoner releases only embolden terrorists by giving them the feeling that even if they are caught, their punishment will be brief. Worse, by leading terrorists to think such demands are likely to be met, they encourage precisely the terrorist blackmail they are supposed to defuse.”
Those were prescient words, indeed – written by Benjamin Netanyahu, Yonatan’s brother.
There was a time when an Israeli soldier would risk his life to save civilians. Now the lives of Israeli civilians are placed at risk to save a soldier. It is a discomforting inversion.