Defense minister says soldier will be freed but "not at any cost;" Noam Schalit: "Less talk, more action."
By YAAKOV KATZ, TOVAH LAZAROFF, JPOST.COM STAFF
"Don't whine," Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in response to an 11th-grade student who asked on Tuesday whether the state could ensure his safety if he fell captive as an IDF soldier like Gilad Schalit.
Barak spoke to students in the Eshkol Regional Council as he toured southern border schools on the first day of classes.
"I don't recommend that you, or any youngster in this nation, think in terms of whining. Nor should you doubt the state's direction and its commitment to society," said Barak.
Most of the students Barak met have survived close to eight years of rocket attacks by Palestinians in Gaza.
Barak told sixth-graders in Sha'ar Hanegev and 11th- graders in the Eshkol region that while the state would do its utmost for them, it would not always be able to protect them.
To the 11th-grade student who worried what would happen to him, as a future IDF soldier, if he was kidnapped, Barak said, "The state cannot even guarantee your life when you're in the army."
To high school students soon to be drafted he explained that they were entering adulthood in a very dangerous corner of the world.
"The State of Israel exists in a region that shows no mercy for the weak. There are no second chances here for those who do not know how to defend themselves. Although it is not desirable, a society that is not willing, when necessary, to risk or sacrifice lives won't endure and won't survive. This is not Western Europe or North America," Barak said.
He spoke just four days after kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit turned 23 and endured his fourth birthday in captivity in Gaza.
As Gilad's friends, family and supporters rallied last week and called for his release, rumors circulated in the media that progress had been made toward securing a deal with Hamas for his release.
Channel 1 reported Tuesday that an Egyptian newspaper had said a deal was so close that chief of Egyptian intelligence Omar Suleiman would arrive in Israel soon in hopes of finalizing the details. But at the same time a Hamas representative in Lebanon cautioned that there were still many details to be worked out before Gilad would be released.
In speaking with the students earlier in the day, Barak assured them that everything possible was being done, including risking lives, to bring Gilad home.
Should the students be taken captive while serving in the IDF, they could rest assured that all steps would be taken to free them, Barak said.
"But not at any price," warned Barak.
"All those who say, 'yes' [to securing the release of kidnapped soldiers] at any price should think through what the full implication of that really means," suggested Barak.
"I tell you once again, [Gilad] will not be [released] at any price," he said.
He rejected a suggestion by a student to hold a referendum on a prisoner swap for Schalit.
"You don't need a referendum to know that everyone wants Gilad back home. I suggest that we refrain from turning the issue into a contest over who worries more about Gilad, who is more sensitive toward his fate and who wants him home more," said Barak.
Barak called the negotiations for Gilad's release "difficult and sometimes brutal."
"It's about the future of murderers who, if anyone hears their names and where they murdered, will remember them," he said. "We also need to think about the future and opportunities that will present themselves in the future."
In response to Barak's comments, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that the defense minister should have expressed himself differently when speaking to youngsters.
"He needn't have told them that here in the Middle East, you need to take risks. They know that. But by coming after three years and using the term 'whining,' he managed to insult the numerous Free Schalit activists," Lieberman told Army Radio.
"The defense minister would gain a lot more by speaking less," continued the foreign minister.
"In my next meeting with him, I'll tell him to hold his tongue, and as an educator, I will tell him that some things just shouldn't be said to our youth, who are prepared to sacrifice themselves and join combat units."
Lieberman added that it wasn't about securing Schalit's freedom "at any cost," since such a cost had no limits. "There are more straightforward remarks, like the fact that we need to bring Gilad Schalit home, and do everything we can," he said.
Gilad's father, Noam, responded to Barak's statement by saying that his family "expects less talk, fewer statements and more actions."
Barak was not the only politician to speak of Schalit while touring a school on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyhu said Gilad would be returned "only when it becomes feasible."
Separately, on Monday French President Nicolas Sarkozy released a letter that he sent to Gilad's parents on Friday in honor of the young man's birthday. Gilad's grandmother is from France and although he was born in Israel, he is a dual citizen.
Sarkozy told Gilad's parent to "rest assured that France and the French have not forgotten Gilad and that we will continue to work without rest" for his liberation.
He praised the parents' "courage and tenacity."
Abe Selig and AP contributed to this report.
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