Friday, June 27, 2008

Another Israel-Hezbollah Prisoner Swap?

P. David Hornik

A lot happened in Israel this week: the Olmert government again scraping through, at least till September, with an eleventh-hour deal between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak; the government’s ceasefire with Hamas already blasted by mortar and rocket firings from Gaza. At the center of public attention, though, were three hostages of terrorist organizations and their fate.

It was two years ago on Wednesday—June 25, 2006—that Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was abducted into Gaza by Hamas. On Thursday Israeli negotiator Ofer Dekel was again in Cairo for talks on a deal for Shalit that still appears elusive. And it was on July 12, 2006, that Israeli reserve soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser were abducted into Lebanon by Hezbollah. In this case a deal is said to be within reach and the Israeli cabinet is supposed to vote Sunday on a framework agreement for a prisoner exchange with Hezbollah.

Reports vary as to the terms of the agreement. But according to what could be called the dominant version, Israel is supposed to hand over the notorious Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar, four terrorists captured during the 2006 war, and the remains of eight others who were buried in Israel. Hezbollah is supposed to hand over Regev and Goldwasser, whose kidnapping prompted Israel to go to war in a failed attempt to retrieve them.

Hezbollah is also supposed to provide information on Ron Arad, the Israeli air force navigator who was shot down in Lebanon in 1986 and whose fate has been unknown since 1988, though it’s believed he was transferred to Iran and is most likely dead.

If it sounds surprisingly close to a fair exchange after Israel’s past lopsided deals with Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations, the hitch is that Regev and Goldwasser, according to Israeli intelligence, are definitely dead. Reportedly all three branches—the Mossad, the Shin Bet, and Military Intelligence—reached that conclusion in separate investigations and conveyed it to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert last June 3.

So the imbalance is there after all—especially considering that Samir Kuntar is supposed to be part of the deal.

In 1979, in the course of a terrorist attack in the Israeli coastal town of Nahariya, Kuntar and others took 28-year-old Israeli civilian Danny Haran and his four-year-old daughter Einat down to the beach as hostages. There Kuntar shot Danny Haran dead and killed Einat Haran by smashing her head on rocks and with the butt of his rifle.

Since then Kuntar has been jailed in Israel with a life sentence. Last February the assassination of terrorist leader Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus prompted him to send a letter—reprinted in the Palestinian Authority daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida—to Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah in which he wrote: “Peace be unto…Imad Mughniyeh…. My oath and pledge is that my place will be at the battlefront…and that I shall continue down the path, until complete victory.”

For Nasrallah, eager to shore up his newly enhanced standing in the Lebanese political scene, freeing the child-killer is high-priority. Kuntar’s inclusion in the prospective deal, though, has led Mossad chief Meir Dagan and Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin to raise objections to it. Dagan and Diskin are particularly concerned that, after paying such a price, Hezbollah could “reciprocate” with information on Ron Arad that’s of little worth and sheds little light.

Dagan and Diskin’s objections are reportedly what has caused Olmert to have second thoughts and order the army’s chaplaincy corps to declare Regev and Goldwasser KIA—killed in action—which some have interpreted as Olmert's attempt to dampen support for the deal.

Some observations:

1. Israel has itself to blame for making the kidnapping of Israelis a key objective of terrorist organizations. Israel’s previous severely asymmetrical deals are infamous, not least in Israel itself; the most egregious case is the 1985 Jibril Deal in which—sparking public outrage—Israel traded 1150 terrorists for three soldiers held by Ahmed Jibril’s PFLP. Now, reportedly, teams have been formed to draft a new policy for such situations. Earlier the Winograd Committee, set up to investigate the failures in the 2006 war in Lebanon, called for an end to what it called “crazy deals.” Clearly, continuing to make such exchanges means inviting further kidnapping attempts since Israel’s enemies have so much to gain from them.

2. The value of retrieving the bodies of dead soldiers is very real; Israel is dealing with ghoulish enemies who won’t hesitate to exploit families’ natural desire for the closure afforded by a funeral and a gravesite. Trading live terrorist prisoners for corpses, however, gives terrorists a message that they have nothing to lose: they can kidnap the Israelis and, even if they kill them, still reap a high price for them. Israel’s January 2004 deal with Hezbollah, when it freed 435 terrorists in return for the shady businessman Elhanan Tanenbaum and three corpses of soldiers, may possibly have been a death warrant for Eldad and Goldwasser since Hezbollah had little incentive to keep them alive.

3. The terrorist organizations’ behavior in these situations is a display of human evil at its coldest and most sadistic. Hezbollah has kept conveying shifting versions of the terms it will accept while refusing to disclose if Eldad and Goldwasser are dead or alive. The terrorists use the pain of the soldiers’ families, and the pressure they inevitably exert on the Israeli government, as part of their arsenal. Although Shalit has been allowed to send his parents three letters, neither he nor Eldad and Goldwasser have been seen by a third party, visited by the Red Cross, let alone visited by a relative. Both Hezbollah and Hamas have exploited the case of Ron Arad—vanished for twenty years—by threatening that the current hostages’ fate will be similar if Israel doesn’t pay the demanded prices.

For Israel it’s a disconcerting experience of staring evil in the face, but an experience from which Israel has to learn. If it ends up paying an exorbitant price for Shalit, or for the remains of Goldwasser and Regev plus inadequate information on Arad, it has to make clear that this is the last time. Expecting such clarity and resolve from Israel’s current government, however, is excessively optimistic.
P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Tel Aviv. He blogs at He can be reached at

1 comment:

JeffMichell said...

The Murder of Jewish Toddlers!

On July 12, 2006 Lebanese Hezbollah militants crossed the border with Israel in an operation dubbed "Operation Truthful Promise," which was aimed at nabbing Israeli soldiers in exchange for Lebanese prisoners. Hezbollah succeeded in the operation and successfully took hostage two Israeli soldiers, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser. During the operation, eight Israeli soldiers were killed. This ignited the sequence of events which led to the Israel/Lebanon summer war. The story goes further back than July of 2006. It really began in April 1979! On Sabbath day, April 22, 1979, Danny and Smadar Haran met up with a monster named Samir Kuntar. Danny and Smadar were a loving Israeli couple. They had everything they could ever hope for... love, marriage and two precious daughters, Einat, 4 and Yael, 2. That day Smadar was home anticipating Danny's return from work and preparing for the Sabbath. She had just picked up their two toddlers from day care. Danny, on the other hand, was looking forward to nothing more than getting home and spending time with his wife and his two young daughters.
Traditionally, the Sabbath is the most special day of the week, the day the family gets to spend time together and celebrate their bond to Judaism. It was especially important for Danny who, as a young father, had to work extra hard in order to provide for his wife and young children. Little did Smadar know that this would be the last Sabbath she would celebrate with her family because of a man named Samir Kuntar. Around midnight the nightmare began! (Samir Kuntar; also spelled: Sameer Kuntar, Kantar, Qantar, Kintar, Quntar, Qintar, Cantar)
What's the deal with Samir Kuntar? Since April 22, 1979 Samir Kuntar has been incarcerated in an Israeli prison. Samir Kuntar, a Druze from the Lebanese mountain village of Aabey , who currently holds the dubious distinction of being the longest held Lebanese prisoner in Israeli jails. Kuntar is currently ONE of THREE Lebanese prisoners still serving time in Israeli jails. Kuntar was convicted and sentenced to a 542 years prison sentence by the state of Israel . Israel even almost tried to pass a bill to have him executed! What did he do? What was his crime? The crime Kuntar committed was one of the most sickest, heinous, barbaric crime ever committed on Israeli soil. The crime took place on April 22, 1979 when Kuntar led a group of 3 other terrorists, all members of Abu Abbas PLF (Palestinian Liberation Front), infiltrated the Israeli coastal city of Naharya and broke into the Haran family apartment and took Danny Haran and his 4 year old daughter Einat Haran hostage. When Kuntar and his gang broke into the apartment, the wife, Smadar Haran and her 2 year old daughter Yael, were also present in the apartment. Smadar managed to find a crawl space into which she, her younger daughter, 2 year old Yael, and a neighbor all hid. To prevent Yael from crying and giving away their hiding place, Smadar covered the child's mouth with her hand.
Kuntar and his group took Danny and little Einat down to the beach. At the beach Kuntar shot Danny in the back. Danny survived the gun shot but moments later was drowned personally by Kuntar. All this was witnessed by the young daughter. Kuntar forced her to watch her father's murder so that [in Kuntar's words] "his death would be the last sight she would ever see." Kuntar then laid the little toddler down on a rock and smashed her head with the butt of his rifle. She didn’t die right away, so Kuntar beat her with his rifle repeatedly, over and over again (all this done, while she was screaming and crying), to ensure that she was dead. Meanwhile in the apartment, Smadar's attempt to muffle her daughter's whimpering proved fatal. Yael was accidentally suffocated and died within the hiding space. And on July 12, 2006, the ONLY reason why Ehud Goldawasser and Eldad Regev were kidnapped by Hezbollah, was to force Israel to release/surrender Samir Kuntar. Now the dilemma is, should Israel release Samir Kuntar in order to gain the release of Goldwasser and Regev? Unfortunately Kuntar might be freed in the next couple of days in exchange for these two soldiers, or their caskets, since there hasn’t been even one sign of life since their kidnapping on July 12th. For those who didn’t know, Samir Kuntar was the only reason that’s been holding back the release of Goldwasser and Regev, for almost a year and a half.
[Image of Einat Haran]
[Image of Yael Haran]
According to Smadar Haran, her last memories of Danny and Einat, that day, were when they were being led away at gun point by Kuntar. She could hear from her closet space Danny telling Einat, "Don't be scared, my baby, it will be alright" and Einat replied to him in her little voice, "Dad, where is Mommy? I want Mommy." Smadar's last memory of her 2-year-old daughter, Yael, was when her little daughter was taken to the apartment hiding space. Right before Yael had her mouth covered by her mother, she asked her mother "Where is my little pacifier." There was no time to search for the pacifier. Minutes later Smadar covered Yael's mouth to keep her from revealing the hiding space. Smadar soon felt her daughter's tiny tongue licks and lip sucking on the palm of her hand. She didn't know what to make of it at first but hours later was told by doctors and paramedics that the reason Yael was licking her palm while she covered her mouth was because she was gasping for air. A Sad Gruesome Reality After drowning Danny in the sea in front of little Einat, Kuntar, the brave Lebanese freedom fighter, then turned his attention towards the frightened little 4-year old. He took his rifle and then swung it across the little toddler's head, knocking her to the ground. As little Einat was knocked to the ground, she was screaming and crying hysterically "mommy daddy help me," while thrashing her little legs around in the sand. But unfortunately Einat was alone, and no one was there to save her. Kuntar then dragged the little toddler a couple of feet to the closest rock he could find, this was while she was begging him not to hurt her. Kuntar, then laid her head down on a rock, with the intention of crushing it with the butt of his rifle. Einat, instinctively covered her head with her little arms, Kuntar struggled with the little toddler until he finally managed to clear her arms out of the way so that he could aim for her head. Once her arms were out of the way, Kuntar proceeded on beating her on the head over and over with the butt of his rifle, and repeatedly stomping on her little body as hard as he could as well, until blood rushed out of her ears and mouth, and her little cries faded away as she was knocked into unconsciousness. Then, to ensure she was dead, Kuntar continued on beating her over the head, as hard as he could, several more times until her skull was crushed and she was dead. The nerve of Hezbollah to honor a child killer like Kuntar. The nerve of Hezbollah to kidnap two Israeli soldiers in order to force Israel to release a child murderer from jail! This is what Hezbollah is all about. The July 12, 2006 abduction was originally named "Operation Freedom Samir Kuntar," by Hezbollah. But days before the kidnapping Hezbollah changed the name of the operation to "Operation Truthful Promise," due to the fact that Nasrallah made a true promise to the family of Samir Kuntar to have him freed from jail. In September 2000, three Israeli soldiers were kidnapped by Hizbollah, along with an Israeli businessman, Elhanan Tennenbaum. Nasrallah immediately demanded Israel release all its Lebanese prisoners INCLUDING Samir Kuntar. In 2004 Israel was holding a TOTAL of 26 Lebanese prisoners. That same year, 23 out of those 26 prisoners were released, in order to secure the release of those 3 IDF (Israeli Defense Force) soldiers as well and Elhanan Tennenbaum. This prisoner exchange also had a second phase, which involved Hezbollah providing solid evidence on the fate of Ron Arad (the Israeli pilot who went missing in Lebanon in 1986) and in exchange, Israel would release the 24th Lebanese prisoner, Samir Kuntar! Hezbollah failed to deliver the information on Arad, and the deal was off. In 2006, when Goldwasser and Regev were kidnapped Israel was out of bargain chips, its only choice in order to gain information on the fate of these two soldiers is the release Samir Kuntar. Who even knows if Goldwasser and Regev are alive! Let’s not forget, the four years prior to the "infamous Israel-Hezbollah prisoner exchange of 2004," Israel had no idea on the fate of their soldiers until the day of the exchange. Only on the day of the exchange Israel found out, they would receive 3 caskets instead of 3 soldiers.
It is beyond sickening, a man who beat to death a little toddler is celebrated for his glorious deed. Kuntar has been dubbed by some parts of the Arab world as the "Dean of World Prisoners." Who would imagine? Hezbollah crossing the border into Israel, killing four Israeli soldiers and kidnapping 2 more, going through all this trouble, JUST to free a child killer!
There is another point worth mentioning. Hezbollah has never claimed that Kuntar was innocent or that he may have been framed. They only demand his release as if he were being held unlawfully and that Israel had no right to imprison him. Kuntar is probably the most hated person by the Israeli public. He is known as the "killer of Nahrya" instead of "terrorist of Nahrya." And to think that this person is being released under the context of threat, extortion, and blackmail! If it wasn’t for kidnapping of soldiers, Kuntar would have continued to serve out his sentence.
Israel has an extensive history of releasing prisoner with blood on their hands, it has been done in the past and most expect that, it would happen again. This time with Kuntar. It is important to keep in mind that prisoners who are in Israeli jails are serving time for something. Israel is not a "gangster" or "lawless" state that imprisons people based solely on a whim. Every prisoner was charged, stood trail, convicted and properly sentenced. They were not kidnapped simply because they were Arabs. Hence, there is no justification in comparing the kidnapped Israeli soldiers to Samir Kuntar. There is a fine line between a humanitarian release of prisoners or releasing prisoners for the sake of peace AND knuckling under to unadulterated extortion. There is also a huge difference between someone with hatred in his head and he who has blood on his hands! Nobody expects that someone like Kuntar who is released will become Lovers of Israel! But someone and others like Kuntar who have committed murder or collaborated in the planning of that murder should be considered an unacceptable risk. It goes beyond forgiving terrorism. It becomes an abetting in any future terrorism carried out by those released. Israel will viewed as a weak state that can be brought to its knees by extortion. If Israel was to release Kuntar it would be the biggest thing they ever surrendered! The Sinai Peninsula, Israel gave back under negotiations, the West Bank and Gaza Israel also gave back under negotiations of the Oslo Accords. In 1985 during the famous "Ahmed Jibril Exchange" Israel released 1200 prisoners for the release of 3 IDF soldiers, some of those prisoners who were released had blood on their hands including Kozo Okamoto who killed 22 Israelis. BUT even all those 1200 prisoners put together, cannot compare to the savage murderous act committed by Samir Kuntar. Israel also currently holds 10,000 Palestinian prisoners, some of which have been incarcerated for conspiring, carrying out, and masterminding murderous terrorist attacks (suicide bombings, shootings, etc…), which targeted Jewish civilians in Israel. BUT even all those 10,000 prisoners put together cannot compare to Kuntar.
Kuntar could have shot little Einat or blown her up, but instead he took his loaded gun and just bludgeoned her on the head repeatedly for several minutes until she was dead! Lets not also forget, the fact, that several minutes prior to murdering Einat, Kuntar drowned her father in front of her, and forced her to watch.
Anyone, who reads this article and does not shed a tear, is not a human being. What kind of country is this to release a child murderer from jail under the context of threat and extortion? If we release Kuntar, we know what message it sends to Hezbollah and other terror groups like Hamas, etc… But what obscene messages does it send to the families of those Israeli murdered, especially Smadar Haran whose daughter was beaten to death by a man who hates Jews. What Kuntar did was not only a terrorist act but should also be considered a criminal act. And what demoralizing message does it send to the Israeli troops and security services who risked their lives in order to capture and arrest the terrorists? There is no doubt that Goldwasser and Regev need to be unconditionally released from Lebanon, Syria, Iran or from wherever they are now being held. Olmert's "good will gesture" has disaster written all over it. Appeasement didn't work with Hitler and it will not work with Hezbollah. "Negotiations" will not work either for over what exactly is there to negotiate? How far will Israel go to assure its own disappearance? There will be nothing positive coming out of the release of Kuntar. There is no worst context of releasing prisoners than under the context of threat. But today October 15, 2007 there is chatter within Israel to drop the demand for Ron Arad for the exchange of Kuntar.
The Official Website of Samir Kuntar Israel moots Kuntar prisoner swap
(AL-JAZEERA 9/17/2006) Free the monster Samir Kuntar
(Haaretz article 09/04/2006) Plot to free terrorist (Kuntar) may have led to fight
(Washington Times 8/8/2006) Nasrallah says no deal without Samir
(9/12/2006 BBC article "Nasrallah Demands Militant Free") "Hizballah Wants Israel to Free Child-Killer"
(Cybercast News Service, 7/18/2006) More than 25 years later, militant still atop Hezbollah's list for swap
(Seattle Times 8/16/2006) Why Hezbollah Attacked Israel
(Mens News Daily 8/09/2006) Samir Kuntar to be released very soon
The Jerusalem Post 1/6/2007 of an interview with Smadar Haran on CBC
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