Analysis: A pawn called Nasim Nisr

Whoever is telling the truth, both sides have their reasons for telling a different tale.

Nisr waves 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Nisr waves 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
On January 19, Hizbullah leader Shiekh Hassan Nasrallah made a rare public appearance in downtown Beirut and claimed that his organization was in possession of body parts belonging to Israeli soldiers. "Zionists," he said, addressing hundreds of thousands of Shi'ite Muslims who gathered during the annual Ashura religious rally, "your army is lying to you and it has left body parts of your soldiers in our villages and fields." He went on to claim possession of a near-complete body. At the time, the defense establishment understood Nasrallah's announcement as a psychological ploy aimed at getting the Israeli public to pressure the government into making a deal with Hizbullah for the release of kidnapped IDF reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser. Talks over the release were in a jam and Nasrallah was trying to raise Israeli ire to get them back on track. In response to the announcement, official Israeli spokesmen unequivocally rejected Nasrallah's attempts to trade for body parts. It is no secret that body parts were left behind in the battlefield and on Sunday the IDF began calling up families whose children were buried incomplete to update them on the recent developments. The soldiers were mainly from tanks which were destroyed during the war by Hizbullah-fired anti-tank missiles. There was also the IAF Yasur transport helicopter that was shot down by Hizbullah on August 12, in the last days of the war. Before burial, the IDF informed all the families of the condition of the bodies. Despite this, Israel in January did not want to appear to be negotiating for body parts and top IDF officers had said that every soldier killed during the war was accounted for, identified and buried in Israel. On Sunday, however, that seemed to have changed and with the return of Hizbullah spy Nasim Nisr to Lebanon, Israel received a chest containing body parts which the guerrilla group said belonged to IDF soldiers. Spokespeople in the Defense Ministry immediately claimed that this was a surprise and was not coordinated. Hizbullah officials claimed that it was part of a deal reached by German mediator Gerhard Konrad with Israel. Whoever is telling the truth, both sides have their reasons for telling a different tale. Firstly, it is no longer a secret that Israel and Hizbullah are close to reaching a deal that would return Regev and Goldwasser to Israel. As reported extensively last week, Israel has offered to release four Hizbullah fighters captured during the war, the bodies of 10 killed fighters and Samir Kuntar, who has been in prison since 1979, when he led a terrorist attack in Nahariya that led to the deaths of Danny Haran, his two young daughters and policeman Eliyahu Shahar. Nisr is an interesting case, since he would have been released from jail on Sunday after completing his six-year prison term for spying on Israel regardless of the prisoner swap. The question is whether Israel would have been so eager to allow him to immediately return to Lebanon. He did renounce his Israeli citizenship but the defense establishment does have legal ways to keep people in Israel, as in the case of nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu. Nasrallah may have decided to use Nisr's release to create the impression that he was behind it and that from his new position in the Lebanese government he is the true leader of Lebanon and the only one who has the ability to bring Lebanese imprisoned in Israel back to their homes. This is why he released the body parts today: so that it would appear as if there was a swap. This might also explain the festive reception that Nisr received from top Hizbullah officials upon his return to Lebanon.