'Prisoner exchange deals put us on slippery slope'

Barak receives Shamgar recommendations, says now that Schalit is home, the time has come for more rigid protocol on prisoner exchange deals.

Barak receives Shamgar reccomendations 311 (photo credit: Ariel Harmoni/Defense Ministry)
Barak receives Shamgar reccomendations 311
(photo credit: Ariel Harmoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Thursday that following the return of Gilad Schalit the time has come “to end the slippery slope we find ourselves on” in regard to the ever-steepening price of returning abducted soldiers.
Barak made the comments upon receiving the recommendations of the Shamgar Committee, tasked with setting out guidelines for dealing with the abduction of soldiers.
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The details of the report were not revealed, but the panel was expected to recommend that Israel avoid conducting large-scale prisoner swaps for abducted soldiers like the Schalit exchange in October, in which 1,027 Palestinian prisoners were released.
The Shamgar Committee was established by Barak in July 2008 after the bodies of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were returned to Israel in exchange for terrorist Samir Kuntar, four Hezbollah fighters and the bodies of nearly 200 Lebanese and Palestinians.
The government held up publicizing the committee’s recommendations until after a deal for Schalit was reached.
If accepted and approved by the security cabinet, the panel’s recommendations will limit the government’s ability to conduct such swaps in the future.
“In the area in which we live... we can’t act effectively to secure our long-range interests and the interests of our citizens if we don’t change the rules, the results or the reality as they have existed in the exchange deals we’ve made in the last 25 years,” Barak said.
He said that although he supported the Schalit deal, Israel had freed larger and larger amounts of prisoners in its exchange deals and must now act to make difficult decisions as to how it negotiates for abducted soldiers in the future. Speaking in an Army Radio interview, Barak cited the US, Britain, Australia and New Zealand as countries that have much tougher rules about negotiating for the release of captives. He said that while it would be difficult for Israel to implement more rigid protocols for dealing with abducted prisoners, it was possible and in Israel’s best interest long-term.
Barak said that a public discourse and a government discussion of the issue were possible now that emotions are not running as high as they were when Schalit was being held captive. He said that such a discussion could prepare Israel to deal with decision- making in future abduction situations.
The defense minister said the government would study the Shamgar Committee’s recommendations on intelligence, operational and organizational aspects of abduction situations as well as guidelines for dealing with a negotiation situation.