The long wait in Lebanon

Precedent is not on the side of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. The reservists and their families have to hope that negotiations for their release fare exceedingly better than the previous times that Israel has arranged to bring soldiers home from captivity in Lebanon. Last month's deadly attack on IDF troops patrolling the northern border near Moshav Zar'it, in which Hizbullah captured Goldwasser and Regev, was strikingly similar to the Islamist group's attack on an IDF post near Mount Dov on October 7, 2000. That raid left St.-Sgts. Benny Avraham, Adi Avitan and Omar Sawayid in the hands of Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah - where they would stay for three and a half years. Raising the stakes in a deal for the return of the three captured soldiers was the fact that, within weeks, Hizbullah also managed to kidnap Israeli businessman and reserves colonel Elhanan Tannenbaum. Also adding pressure was the announcement in May of 2001 by Beirut's Daily Star newspaper that the soldiers, all known to have been wounded in the original attack, were still alive. A year after the young soldiers were first taken, Israel revealed that it knew the young men were already dead - information that denied Nasrallah considerable leverage in the talks. But the negotiations stalled, despite intensive mediation efforts on the part of Germany. By 2003, US Congressmen asked President George W. Bush to pressure Syria to help affect the soldiers' release, and even Kazakhstan asked Iran to use its influence over Hizbullah to bring the situation to a resolution. The end would only come, however, on January 29, 2004. In exchange for Tannenbaum and the bodies of Avraham, Avitan and Sawayid, Israel freed more than 400 Palestinian prisoners without "blood on their hands" and more than two dozen other prisoners from Lebanon and other Arab countries, as well as the bodies of some 60 Lebanese killed in fighting with the IDF and the South Lebanon Army before Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon. Released into German custody were Sheikh Karim Abdul Obeid and Mustafa Dirani - Israel's chief bargaining chips for Lt.-Col. Ron Arad, who was shot down over Lebanon and captured in 1986. Following the swap in 2004, Hizbullah was to provide Israel with information about Arad's fate and hand over three Israeli soldiers missing in action since the Battle of Sultan Yacoub in 1982; it has not yet done so. Israel did not release Samir Kuntar, a Lebanese Druse who in 1979 led a Palestinian terror squad on a murderous raid in Nahariya. Nasrallah has promised, ever since, to force Israel to return him to Lebanon.