PM: No one fights over life like Israel does

Olmert hails cabinet's approval of prisoner swap; Barak: Deal motivated by "moral obligation."

barak gaza border 224  (photo credit: Defense Ministry)
barak gaza border 224
(photo credit: Defense Ministry)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Monday that he was proud of the government's decision to approve a prisoner swap deal with Hizbullah, adding that no country knew how to fight over life like Israel. "As you know, yesterday the government made a decision that was neither simple nor easy, to return our two captured soldiers, Udi Goldwasswer and Eldad Regev, who were kidnapped on the first day of the Second Lebanon War on July 12, 2006. In no way can I say that this was a good decision; this isn't a good issue; this is a painful issue," said Olmert. Speaking during a Kadima faction meeting, Olmert emphasized that the decision stemmed from considerations not limited to the calculated measure of the State's best interests. "As you know, this is an issue that didn't leave us over the course of two years, that we discussed every day, sometimes for long hours. The photos of Udi, Eldad and Gilad are on my desk all day, and I haven't forgotten them for one second, nor did I forget the horrible pain of these prisoners' families, the Goldwasswer and Regev families. Of course, I saw Karnit's distress and pain. I met with her many times, as I did with [captured IDF soldier Gilad] Schalit's family, and every time we exerted great efforts," he said. Olmert made a point of commenting that the moral dilemma which Israel, through its elected officials, faced on Sunday was still relevant, with Schalit still held by Hamas in Gaza. He also hinted that the future might bring Israel to similar situations. "You also know this isn't the end of the road, that we're facing tough decisions and similar situations in the future, of soldiers that are in the hands of their captors. We need to manage that and discuss it, and it breaks my heart... It's true that in an unequivocal way, the negotiations came to a point where we couldn't go on anymore, and Ofer Dekel appealed to a secret service committee and asked them to give an evaluation according to the intelligence we had of whether the soldiers were still alive," he continued. At the beginning of June, Olmert said, the committee made the decision to ask OC Chaplaincy Corps Rabbi Avichai Ronsky to look into declaring the soldiers KIA, and sent it to the chief of staff. He said that although it was very probable that this decision made Hizbullah speed up negotiations to force Israel to clear up issues with the group before the decision was publicized, there was no direct connection between the decision to declare the soldiers killed in action and reaching a deal. "The decision [to declare the soldiers KIA] was not made by political factions but rather by military and security divisions," he said. Regarding the Schalit issue, Olmert said, "Right after the decision to enter into a cease-fire agreement [with Hamas], I held a long discussion with the president of Egypt to examine this question. I talked to the head of Egyptian intelligence, Omar Suleiman. I sent Ofer Dekel into a discussion with Suleiman in order to advance those negotiations." He said the negotiations were progressing toward a solution, which would not be "simple, easy, or fast." The prime minister expressed hope that the nation would prove that Israel can stand up to the pressure and pain that such decisions create even when Israel's enemies "dance in the streets with happiness as if they have won tough concessions from us." Olmert went on to say that Israel devotes everything to the saving of one life and has a moral strength that none of these other states have. Those states, said Olmert, "know how to kill, how to ransom, and how to spill blood, but not how to fight over life in the way that the state of Israel does." Also Monday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak echoed similar sentiments, saying that the government's decision to accept a prisoner exchange deal with Hizbullah on Sunday was motivated by a responsibility to bring Goldwasser and Eldad back to Israel. "The deliberations yesterday were long, important, heavy and serious," he said. "We have a moral obligation to return our soldiers from a mission whether they are alive or unfortunately dead. That's what guided the government's decision." Speaking at a Labor faction meeting, Barak also commented on progress in talks with Hamas to bring kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Schalit back to Israel, saying that he hoped that "the cease-fire would help intensify the negotiations."