Analysis: 'Disproportion has always been the name of the game'

Trading Samir Kuntar for captured IDF reservists Goldwasser and Regev is important even if the two soldiers are no longer alive, expert says.

Trading Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar for captured IDF reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev is important even if the two soldiers are no longer alive, Yoram Schweitzer of the Institute for National Security Studies said on Wednesday, as the deal was apparently moving through its final stages. "Disproportion has always been the name of the game," Schweitzer said, alluding to the possibility that the government wasn't negotiating with Hizbullah for the soldiers themselves, but for their remains. He is a senior research fellow and director of the Program on Terrorism and Low Intensity Conflict at the institute. But the prospect of such a deal raises questions as to how the Israeli public will respond if the two IDF soldiers are dead, adding a heartrending tone to this final chapter of the Second Lebanon War, which was waged to bring them home in the first place. "Even if they are dead, which I hope they're not," Schweitzer continued, "we will give two families knowledge of the fate of their loved ones, and I wouldn't underestimate that fact. I think we should go through with the deal, and we'll get over the ramifications." Schweitzer said Kuntar had already served what amounted to nearly a life sentence and wasn't getting off easy, but agreed that releasing him would bother many people. "I'm sure bitter feelings will be felt by the families [of Kuntar's victims] and Hizbullah will have their victory party," Schweitzer said. "But you have to remember that Hizbullah also demanded the release of a large number of Palestinian prisoners, which did not happen, and I think that Israel did well by reducing this price." Schweitzer added that with Kuntar free, Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah will have used up one of his last reasons to continue fighting Israel. "Now he will only have Shaba Farms [Mount Dov] as a reason to fight," Schweitzer said. But Ephraim Kam, a principal research fellow and deputy director of the Institute for National Security Studies, said Kuntar's release would provide a significant boost for the Shi'ite militia while giving Israel little in return. "The return of Kuntar is very important for Hizbullah because they have a commitment to the families [of prisoners held in Israel] to return them home," Kam said. "Nasrallah wants to fulfill this commitment, and if it takes place, he will get what he wanted." Others were less forgiving of the situation. "There is an unwritten agreement between soldiers and the state that says we will protect the borders if you bring us back inside those borders," Maj.-Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan said. "I think Goldwasser and Regev did their part, and the government did not." Dayan emphasized that Israel should have pressed for "signs of life" from Hizbullah while negotiations were under way for UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which effectively ended the Second Lebanon War. "If a sign of life is not a prerequisite or a precondition of negotiations," Dayan continued, "it endangers the lives of the soldiers. If you assume that they are dead, Hizbullah has no reason to keep them alive." Kam also said that if Goldwasser and Regev were no longer alive, Israel would not gain much from the exchange, but admitted that this was in-line with Israel's negotiating methods. "We always give much more than we get," Kam said. "Because of our commitment to bring soldiers home, Hizbullah uses our human sensitivity to their advantage."