nasrallah good 298.88 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was right to describe Monday's limited swap with Hizbullah as "reasonable" - in relative terms, of course.
Israel still paid in excess of what it received, but at least it didn't release hundreds of potentially active terrorists. The body of a drowned Israeli civilian, which accidentally washed up on a Lebanese beach, was purchased for "only" the bodies of two Hizbullah fighters and one low-ranking mentally-ill Lebanese prisoner.
The very fact that the body of an incontrovertible noncombatant had to be ransomed at all, however, is exceptionally telling. Too many Israelis see it as a fact of life - almost an acceptable rule of our absurd Middle Eastern game - that our enemy may exact payoffs whenever any sort of an opportunity falls into its hands, even if it's the corpse of a hapless individual.
This same Israeli mindset, which acquiesces to such blatant exploitation, also discerns cause for hope in Hizbullah's ostensible "largesse." Instead of deploring the fact that Hizbullah charged any price at all for the return of a noncombatant corpse - something that even enemies often do on a humanitarian basis without recompense - our popular wisdom dictates that this is a goodwill measure, a harbinger of a broader deal in the offing.
If Hizbullah were truly out to build confidence, of course, it would have returned Gavriel Daweet's body "free of charge," and released information gratis about abducted reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.
As members of a non-state, terrorist organization, Hizbullah fighters do not qualify for protections accorded lawful combatants under the Geneva Convention. This, of course, does not stop them from demanding such protections, even though they refuse to comply with the most basic requirements of allowing access to and sharing information regarding Israeli prisoners. Hizbullah's "goodwill" is that of ruthless pirates.
Unless or until concrete evidence to the contrary is received, speculation on future deals should be seen as guesswork. There is not much upon which to base most of what has been written and opined since Monday evening, when news of the exchange interrupted scheduled broadcasts and commandeered the agenda.
One thing, though, is clear: The excessive prattle and competition to erect castles in the airwaves aggrandizes Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah and plays directly into his hands. He is again accorded center-stage, just when he acutely needs it, and is made to appear a crucial player.
Unfortunately, it is more likely that Monday's low-level exchange signifies nothing than that it marks the first hint of an extensive transaction of the sort all Israelis would like to believe possible.
In fact, when viewed soberly, the mini-swap may even indicate that a larger follow-up is uncertain. Contrary to his braggadocio, Nasrallah's political fortunes are at a low-ebb in his bailiwick. Regev and Goldwasser are his trump cards and it may not be in his interest to divest himself of them, be their condition what it may.
Nasrallah derives power and prestige from the very fact that he captured and holds Israelis. He is courted by foreign governments and their liaisons and can manipulate the regional agenda via these captive "assets."
Still, there is increasing pressure on Nasrallah to facilitate the return to Lebanon of prisoners held in Israel. Nasrallah is in a bind. His strategy to diminish the pressure may have been to do a minor deal and thereby temporarily loosen one inconsequential safety valve.
In other words, we must take into account the possibility that this exchange was nothing but a clever diversionary tactic. In the long-haul, it may signal nothing regarding the two abductees and even less vis-a-vis Ron Arad, even if something he had written too many years ago to matter has been handed over.
The cruel likelihood is that Nasrallah made another adroit poker move, without jeopardizing his ace in the hole. Much as it may go against our national grain, it might thus be highly advisable for Israelis to lower expectations.
Our excited wishful thinking itself may be harmful considering the psychological context in which our enemies operate. In the Levantine bazaar, the less the overt alacrity to strike a bargain, the better the eventual outcome... and vice versa.