‘In the name of Allah! We have captured an officer in the Zionist entity,” the
spokesman proudly declares. “And we will hold her as a prisoner until all our
demands are fulfilled.”
In Israel – shock and frustration. Here we
Assuming that lack of intelligence information renders a rescue
mission unfeasible, this imaginary scenario could result in years of on-and-off
negotiations, disinformation and spins, rumors and leaks, public campaigning by
the family, and a nationwide movement to “return the child.”
In a few
years a touching return ceremony will be conducted, after Israeli compliance to
most of the terrorists’ demands.
Why raise the issue of abductions now?
The reason is that enough time has elapsed since the return of Gilad Schalit,
and the next abduction hasn’t occurred yet. This is exactly the time to talk
Make no mistake – another soldier, or soldiers, will be
abducted. We have exposed our prime weakness, so our enemies will focus their
attention and resources to achieve another strategic success and bring us to our
In recent deals, the terrorists certainly prevailed. Their
greatest achievement was not the release of terrorists from Israeli prisons, but
prolonged resonance for their agenda, and worldwide recognition as a legitimate
We are a strong nation. We have withstood hardships and
challenges throughout our history. We know we must fight for our survival and
send our soldiers to the battlefield knowing that not all of them will
return. Yet, when a soldier is abducted, we lose our resolution and
resilience, and focus on personal suffering instead of national strategic
All we want is for “the child” to return safely to his mother.
Some even claim that this is worth it “at any cost.” We should refrain
from referring to soldiers as “children.” They are not children anymore (except
to their parents) and using this term is inappropriate and manipulative. The
term “at any cost” is dangerous and outrageous. Certainly no one can possibly
think that a soldier is worth any price. To emphasize this, let’s assume that
the terrorists demand that we all leave Israel and migrate to
What are the red lines that must not be crossed? What is a
reasonable price for a soldier? Should we exchange only accomplices without
“blood on their hands” or maybe only those who vow to refrain from terrorism?
Maybe we should revert to our famous position from the 1970s of never
negotiating with terrorists? It seemed to have worked quite well back
Binyamin Netanyahu explained in his book Terrorism – How the West
Can Win (1986), why it is crucial never to give in to terrorists’ demands:
“Governments must persist in their refusal to surrender. First and foremost, it
is their moral obligation to the general public, for only such a decisive
refusal can drastically reduce the cases in which citizens will become hostages
in the future.”
Simple logic: Terrorists will not abduct soldiers if it
doesn’t promote their goals, and if we grant them their goals, we are promoting
Some 25 years later, under the heavy burden of office and
widespread public pressure, Prime Minister Netanyahu paid a painful price for
the release of tank gunner Gilad Schalit from the Gaza Strip.
One of the
mistakes we made in the Second Lebanon War in 2006 was that we were
oversensitive to casualties to a point where it hurt and even dominated
operational planning. “Minimal loses” is not an objective but a consideration
and the same goes for the prevention of abductions and for our conduct once they
We should not rule out dialogue and agreements, even with the
worst of enemies, but only from a position of strength and only if it promotes
long-term strategic interests.
It is wrong to judge the Schalit deal by
only evaluating the direct impact in the past year. Negative ramifications may
unfold in the coming months and years. The IDF and the Shin Bet regularly thwart
terror attacks under way and literally stop “ticking bombs.” It is unrealistic
to claim that these mass-murderers can all go free without us incurring serious
security risks. Next time, we might not catch them in time.
by our political leaders, especially by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, stress a
need for drastic change in policy. Although they were withheld from public
debate, it is reasonable to assume that most of the recommendations made by the Shamgar
Committee on guidelines for future abductions were adopted.
totally renouncing negotiations, we should at least limit the swap ratio and
prohibit the exchange of live terrorists for bodies or information.
Organizationally, all efforts should be managed by the Defense Ministry, under
strict secrecy. Viable operational options should always be executed, even at
great risk, and other forceful measures and forms of pressure should be
We apparently have a complex cultural atmosphere and
sensitive internal dynamics. Cultural change is gradual and sometimes almost
impossible, so I believe that in this case, change must be immediately and
The government should address the public and explain
what is to be expected the next time we are challenged. Also, other elements of
our democratic society should be engaged, such as the media, which should
reevaluate its conduct and try to “tone things down” and demonstrate
There can be no complaint or argument with parents who demand
the release of their son. They have no choice but to proclaim only one goal –
his safe return. We cannot expect loving parents to have strategic
considerations, but at the same time, strategic considerations should not to be
influenced by worrying parents.
We must separate between our emotions and
what is right in a national context.
As a father, I was devastated when
Gilad Schalit was abducted, visited his family at their protest tent and
rejoiced when he returned, but I still call for toughening our national
It is a delicate balance that our leaders must achieve, but it
seems that we have long since slid down the slippery slope of surrendering to
The question is, will the government define and firmly implement
new red lines, and moreover – will we, the Israeli people, allow them to do so
by demonstrating resilience and strength?
Unfortunately, we may soon find
The writer is a former Israel Air Force pilot and founder of
Cross-Cultural Strategies Ltd., which facilitates bridging cultural gaps in
promotion of international cooperation.