Former prime minister Ehud Olmert knew that one of the two soldiers captured in the July 2006 cross-border raid by Hezbollah - the same raid that triggered the month-long Second Lebanon War launched to retrieve the POWs - died in the incident, even as he vowed to parliament that the army would “bring the boys back home.”
The revelation was made in a television report by Channel 10’s top political commentator, Raviv Drucker, who also interviewed the other two major principals in the Israeli decision-making echelon - Amir Peretz, who was Olmert’s defense minister; and Dan Halutz, the former army chief of staff.
On July 12, 2006, a contingent of Hezbollah guerillas assaulted an IDF patrol on the Israeli side of the fence that stretches along the border with Lebanon.
The Shi’ite group claimed at the time that it had successfully taken hostage two soldiers. Later that evening, the Israeli government mobilized its troops and set out for a wide-scale military operation that would come to be known as the “Second Lebanon War.”
In 34 days of fighting, 119 soldiers and 45 Israeli civilians died, while the Israeli home front was bombarded by an unprecedented number of rockets - an estimated 4,000 - that paralyzed the part of the country that stretched from Haifa and Afula northward. The government and the army high command came under fierce criticism for, among other things, a last-minute ground operation that was launched just moments before a cease-fire was to go into effect.
After the war had ended, it was deemed a failure for the State of Israel, and those who were held responsible received the lion’s share of the blame - Olmert, Peretz, and Halutz.
In the nine years since that ill-fated war, the frontier area in the North has been largely quiet. Hezbollah used that period to turn into an even stronger military force possessing thousands of missiles that could reach any point in Israel.
On July 17, 2006, five days into the war, Olmert took to the podium in the Knesset. In his first public remarks since the outbreak of hostilities, he spoke of the objectives of the war.
“We will fight for the return of the boys [Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser] back home,” he said.
In the interview with Channel 10, which aired earlier this week, Olmert said that he knew at the time he made that statement that the picture was quite different.
“I’ll tell you exactly what I know,” he told Channel 10. “In the reports that I received from the military high command, it was said that one of the soldiers was certainly killed, while there was a good chance that the other was alive. The vest of one of the soldiers showed that there was something other than a bullet that penetrated, so it was clear to us that at least one of them was dead.”
“Using the kidnapping of Udi Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, of blessed memory, was certainly a legitimate thing to do under those circumstances," he said. "That's because I knew that under no circumstances would I follow in the footsteps of my predecessor [Ariel Sharon], who because of [kidnapped Israeli businessman Elhanan] Tannenbaum and three other dead soldiers released hundreds of terrorists."
In 2004, then-premier Sharon authorized a swap in which Israel released over 400 Palestinians and 30 Lebanese prisoners - in addition to the remains of 59 Lebanese men - in exchange for Tannenbaum and the bodies of Adi Avitan, Benny Avraham, and Omar Souad, three soldiers killed in the Har Dov region by Hezbollah in 2000.
Just weeks prior to the Regev-Goldwasser capture, another IDF soldier, Gilad Schalit, was taken prisoner in a cross-border raid by Hamas. Just like in Lebanon, Olmert was in no hurry to enter negotiations for a prisoner swap.
"Just as I didn't jump the gun with Goldwasser and Regev, I also wasn't in a hurry to make a swap for Gilad Schalit, despite the fact that I could have done so under terms that were immeasurably more favorable than the ones that Bibi Netanyahu agreed to [in 2011]."
In 2008, Olmert agreed to a German-mediated deal in which Israel freed five Lebanese prisoners, chief among them the convicted terrorist Samir Kuntar, in exchange for the bodies of Regev and Goldwasser.