'Prisoner exchange would strengthen Hizbullah'

Expert: Releasing Kuntar, who is Druse, would show that Nasrallah cares about all Lebanese citizens.

Hizbullah march 224.88 (photo credit: )
Hizbullah march 224.88
(photo credit: )
A deal with Hizbullah to exchange Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar for captured IDF soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev would be bad for Israel, according to Dr. Mordechai Kedar, a researcher at Bar-Ilan University's Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and former chief of the Syrian desk for IDF Intelligence. "Presumably, [Goldwasser and Regev] are not alive," said Kedar. "We're exchanging a killer for two corpses; its inappropriate." The worst effect of the exchange, according to Kedar, would be the strengthening of Hizbullah's image in Lebanon. The organization recently gained veto power over Lebanese governmental decisions. "It would show that [Hizbullah] is the real party in charge, not the government," said Kedar. "Lebanon is already governed by Hizbullah. It's been like that for years and the world is asleep." Kedar said that the release of Kuntar, who is Druse, would show that Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah cares about all Lebanese citizens, not just his Shi'ite followers. "Nasrallah will take Samir Kuntar on a tour around Lebanon to show that he released him," said Kedar. "[Nasrallah] will use him as leverage to promote his own status and image as the one who can save Lebanon from all of its problems." The real motivation for the exchange, Kedar suggested, is Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's desire to divert attention from his possible indictment for bribery in the Talansky affair. Kedar charged that Olmert was compromising Israel's strength for his personal gain. "The prime minister is looking for anything that will release him from the investigation," he said. "We have a problem with weakness at the [top] of the government. This comes out with Hamas on one side and Hizbullah on the other side. They read our weakness and they squeeze him." Kedar added, however, that the release of Lebanese prisoners would not mean that the government would conduct a similar exchange with Hamas for captured soldier Gilad Schalit, in part because the government would find it too difficult to release Palestinian prisoners. "There is not necessarily a connection between the cases," he said. "[Although] Israel may succeed in doing this, the Palestinians are separate." Nor does Kedar see a connection between negotiations with Hizbullah and the indirect talks with Syria that began last week. Though the Syrian government funds Hizbullah, Kedar said that Hizbullah had become the stronger of the two entities. "Nasrallah gets more and more independent from the Syrian influence," he said. "They do want they want to do. They need Syria, but these days Nasrallah is looking at [Syrian President Bashar] Assad from above." Kedar also said that the exchange would encourage Hizbullah to capture more Israeli soldiers as leverage. "Next time [Nasrallah] will say, "Let's kidnap Israeli soldiers to achieve anything,'" said Kedar.