The Hostage-Exchange Lesson (Extract)

Extract of an article in Issue 7, July 21, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. Attorney and prisoner release negotiator Amnon Zichroni gives his take on the prisoner swap deal with Hizballah The kidnapping of IDF reserve soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev by Hizballah, in a cross-border raid two years ago, sparked the Second Lebanon War. On June 29, the cabinet voted 22-3 in favor of a controversial deal that would finally bring home Goldwasser and Regev - whom Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declared to be dead - in return for the release of notorious Lebanese prisoner Samir Kuntar as well as four other Lebanese and the bodies of eight members of Hizballah. Kuntar had served almost 30 years of a multiple life term for a 1979 terror attack in Nahariya in which he killed four people including a father and his 4-year-old daughter, crushing her head with a rock. Since he was first appointed by then prime minister Menachem Begin in 1978, human rights activist Amnon Zichroni has been involved in negotiating the release of Israelis prisoners, among them, navigator Ron Arad, who has been missing since his plane crashed in Lebanon in 1986, and the soldiers missing in action from the 1982 Battle of Sultan Yaakov. Zichroni also serves as the Ministry of Internal Security's representative charged with monitoring the conditions of security prisoners. Just hours before the fateful cabinet vote on the deal, Zichroni visited Kuntar in the Hadarim Prison. Zichroni spoke to The Report about the deal and its implications. The Jerusalem Report: What was Kuntar's mood like when you visited him in prison? Amnon Zichroni: He was confident he would be released - even before the cabinet vote - and he had taken steps to appoint a replacement, a new leader of the Palestinian security prisoners. Why is Kuntar so important to Hizballah leader Nasrallah? Kuntar is from an important influential Druse family. He has sat in an Israeli jail longer than any other Lebanese prisoner and has turned into a symbol in Lebanon. Nasrallah repeatedly committed himself to freeing Kuntar so that there was a matter of credibility. He says that Hizballah kidnapped the soldiers in 2006 in order to bring about Kuntar's release. One objection to releasing Kuntar is that he is our last bargaining chip to extract information on Ron Arad's fate. In return for his release, Israel is to receive a report on Arad. Is it possible that Hizballah knows something that it has withheld until now? The defense establishment knows that there will be nothing new in that report. It will be of little use in finding out about Arad's fate. But holding on to Kuntar would not have brought us any closer either. If anyone could have given us information on Arad it was Mustafa Dirani and Sheikh Abdel Karim Obeid - two Lebanese guerrilla leaders whom Israel kidnapped as bargaining chips for information on Arad - who were later released in prisoner swaps. We gave up Dirani (who at one point held Arad) and Obeid when we became convinced that they, too, no longer knew Arad's fate. Israel is freeing a terrorist, who committed particularly grisly murders as well as other living prisoners, in return for what Olmert has already said are the corpses of Goldwasser and Regev. Is this a "good" deal? There are no "good" deals - only essential ones and non-essential ones. This is an essential deal. It is the only way to get back the bodies of the soldiers and put an end to the terrible suffering of the families. If we had had intelligence information on where they were being held, that might have broadened our options, but we didn't. There is no way Hizballah would have returned them without Kuntar; there was no lower price. Extract of an article in Issue 7, July 21, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.