BY EXECUTING the so-called prisoner swap with Hizbullah on Wednesday this week, the Israeli government concluded its shameful role in shirking its responsibility for the two Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hizbullah almost two years ago.
Far from being a fulfillment of the government's obligations, the deal is both a chillul Hashem (desecration of God's name) and the completion of Hizbullah's victory in the war it began with Israel in the summer of 2006.
This long episode in disgrace began when two soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, were kidnapped in northern Israel on July 12, 2006 by Hizbullah, shortly after another soldier, Gilad Shalit, was kidnapped in the South by Hamas terrorists from Gaza on June 25.
Prior to the kidnappings, Hizbullah leader Hasan Nasrallah declared that he would use captured Israeli soldiers as bargaining chips to obtain the release of Samir Kuntar, the sole surviving member of a PLO cell that in 1979 infiltrated Israel and killed three Israelis.
One of the three murdered was a policeman, Eliahu Shachar. The other two were Danny Haran and his daughter Einat. During a shootout with Israeli forces, Kuntar shot Danny in the back and drowned him to make sure he was dead, all while Einat watched. Kuntar then smashed Einat's head against some rocks and broke her skull with his rifle.
All the while, in a Holocaust-like scenario, Einat's mother, Smadar Haran, accidentally smothered her other infant daughter while attempting to quell her crying as the two hid from terrorists who were searching their apartment.
Following the 2006 kidnappings, the Olmert-led Israeli government launched poorly-devised military operations against Hizbullah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.
Up until the kidnappings, Olmert had been promoting his "convergence" plan, which was essentially the Gaza Disengagement to be carried out in Judea and Samaria.
Conforming to this policy, the army had been spending its time training to expel Jews from their homes instead of preparing for war like the one thrust upon it by Hamas and Hizbullah.
Israel's military operations ended in failure when Olmert bowed to international pressure in mid-August 2006 without obtaining the release of the Israeli soldiers or breaking either Hizbullah's or Hamas's hold on Lebanon or Gaza.
After the cease-fire, the Israeli government took no action to bring the kidnapped soldiers home.
For two years the soldiers' absence constantly hung over their families, as well as the entire Jewish people, many of whom included special prayers for the soldiers in synagogues around the world.
Now Israel has finally acted, approving a deal in which murderous terrorists will be released in exchange for the soldiers. The Olmert government thus broke Israel's latest lowest standard in negotiating with terrorists by agreeing to release prisoners with "blood on their hands."
One of those with "blood on his hands" to be released is Samir Kuntar. Shimon Peres, as president, was set to officially pardon Kuntar on Tuesday night.
Thanks to an outwitted and out-negotiated Israeli government, Hizbullah's leaders can now claim "mission accomplished" as they have achieved their final war aim: Kuntar's release.
Hizbullah Executive Council chief Hashem Safieddine characterized the deal as "proof that the word of the resistance is the most faithful, strongest and supreme."
According to the deal, the government will also free four other Hizbullah terrorists whom Israel captured during the war. (Hizbullah released a report on long-captured airman Ron Arad, but Israeli intelligence officials reportedly are not satisfied with the information it contains.)
Perhaps worst of all, the Olmert government did not demand proof the soldiers were still alive; in fact, Israeli officials had concluded the soldiers were already dead. Olmert told the cabinet before it voted on the deal, "As far as we know, the soldiers Regev and Goldwasser are not alive."
What the deal really means for Hizbullah is that in exchange for killing Israeli soldiers, more of theirs will go free.
This is not only bad strategic policy, it's a failure of Israeli justice. Those who commit the ultimate crime know there is a high likelihood that even if they get caught, they will eventually be freed.
Yoram Shachar, the brother of Eliahu Shachar, the police officer murdered by Kuntar, thus petitioned the Supreme Court to stop the deal, stating, "This isn't supposed to be my personal problem . . . this problem belongs to all of the people of Israel…."
Dr. Aryeh Bachrach a representative of the Almagor Terror Victims Association, which sponsored Shachar's petition, added, "We think this is an example of the collapse of the justice system, of the government."
And it's no secret what these liberated terrorists will do after their release.
Shachar predicts that "Kuntar is going to become even worse than just the right hand of Nasrallah . . . .This isn't just any terrorist. When he is in charge of a new terror organization, we'll say we're sorry that we didn't listen to the Shachar family."
Kuntar actually promised this to Nasrallah, in a letter published in the Palestinian Authority's daily newspaper al-Havat al-Jadida on May 30:
I give you my promise and oath that my only place will be in the fighting front soaked with the sweat of your giving and with the blood of the shahids, the dearest people, and that I will continue your way until we reach a full victory. I send my best wishes and promise of renewed loyalty to you, sir, and to all the Jihad fighters.But a more immediate consequence of Israel's policy may be the conclusions Hamas, which is still holding Shalit, will draw.
If Israel will make deals for dead soldiers, there is no reason for Hamas to keep Shalit alive. Alternatively, if Shalit is kept alive, Hamas knows Israel will be willing to pay more for his release since it was willing to pay so dearly for the release of dead soldiers.
And Hamas has definitely drawn conclusions. The Jerusalem Post reported that Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar called Israel's decision
a major development . . . .Israel has agreed to release prisoners who it saysSo why, after two years of doing nothing and having officially concluded that the soldiers were dead, did the Israeli government now act so hastily as to allow -- perhaps without realizing it -- Hizbullah to accomplish the specific war aims it proclaimed openly two years ago? And why would the government trade five terrorists for two dead soldiers?
have blood on their hands. We must therefore seize the opportunity and seek the release of our prisoners . . . .There should be no difference between the case of Shalit and the case of Kuntar.
Politics, of course.
No doubt the underlying reason for the deal was the desire to dispose of the political liability of having kidnapped soldiers still held captive during election season.
Olmert will face challengers in primaries within his own party as early as September. Shortly thereafter he and his Kadima party will face a general election in which, all polls indicate, they will lose handily to Likud leader and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The way Olmert no doubt sees it, his having finally taken some sort of action on the matter of the kidnapped soldiers will make it harder for Netanyahu to hammer away at the prime minister for his inaction.
Hopefully, however, Netanyahu will not be deterred by what amounts to yet one more failure on the part of Olmert and his colleagues.
This article was originally published in The Jewish Press, July 16, 2008.