Column One: A tale of two hostages

Ingrid Betancourt's statement, that "only the Israelis can possibly pull off" a miltary rescue mission such as the one in which she was liberated, made thousands of Israelis wince.

Exalting at her liberation by the Colombian military last week, former hostage Ingrid Betancourt exclaimed, "This is a miracle, a miracle! We have an amazing military. I think only the Israelis can possibly pull off something like this." Betancourt's statement made thousands of Israelis wince. Held hostage in the Colombian jungles for six years by the narco-terror group known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, Betancourt, a dual Colombian-French citizen who was a Colombian senator and presidential candidate at the time she was abducted, obviously had not heard the news about the "new Israel." Her statements were based on her memories of the "old Israel." She didn't know that the "new Israel" doesn't fight terrorists. The "new Israel" views fighting terrorists as an exercise in futility. Its leaders and military chiefs alike repeat endlessly the mantra that there is no military victory to be had, only a political accommodation. She didn't know that the week before she was rescued, the "new Israel" made a deal with Hizbullah to release five senior Lebanese terrorists, an unknown number of Palestinian terrorists and hundreds of bodies of dead terrorists in exchange for the bodies of IDF reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, who were murdered by Hizbullah two years ago. The "new Israel" is the Israel that maintains one-sided "cease-fires" with Hamas and is poised to make a deal with Hamas by which it will release up to a thousand Palestinian terrorists in exchange for IDF hostage Gilad Schalit. No, Betancourt, was thinking of the "old Israel" - the Israel that electrified the world when it sent its commandos thousands of kilometers to free its hostages in Entebbe 32 years ago. It was that memory of Israeli heroism that doubtless gave hope to Betancourt and her fellow hostages as they languished in FARC captivity in the jungle, malnourished, ill-treated and terrorized. The Entebbe rescue allowed them to fantasize that one day, they too would be rescued and their tormentors would be brought to justice. And last week, their dreams came true. Betancourt had reasons beside her plight as a hostage to associate Colombia's struggle with Israel's. At the time she was abducted, both countries faced similar political and military challenges, and at the time both countries seemed to be embarking on similar paths to surmount them. When Betancourt was kidnapped in April 2002, Colombia had just disavowed a failed strategy of appeasing FARC. To bring FARC to the negotiating table, then-president Andres Pastrana agreed to transfer control over a swathe of Colombian territory the size of Switzerland to FARC. Rather than reciprocate this peace-offering with one of its own, FARC used the safe haven to increase its recruitment of terrorists and intensify its kidnapping campaign and drug trafficking operations. For nearly four years, Pastrana refused to disavow the phony "peace process" in spite of repeated FARC attacks. It was only in February 2002, after FARC hijacked an airliner and kidnapped its fifth lawmaker in a year, that Pastrana finally repudiated his appeasement drive. Similarly, in 2002, Israel was in the grips of an unprecedented Palestinian terror campaign with suicide bombings going off almost daily. Then-prime minister Ariel Sharon had been elected the previous year to replace the discredited Ehud Barak as premier after the latter's appeasement strategy at Camp David had failed and Israel's eight-year-old Oslo appeasement strategy had fallen apart. When Betancourt was taken prisoner, Sharon had just launched Operation Defensive Shield with the express purpose of defeating the Palestinian terror networks in Judea and Samaria. WHAT BETANCOURT didn't know was that since her abduction, Israel and Colombia have gone their separate ways. Under President Alvero Uribe, who was elected after her capture, Colombia has moved steadily toward full victory over FARC. On the other hand, Israel has abandoned victory as a strategic concept for contending with its enemies. Israel's abdication of its struggle against its terrorist enemies was as swift and unmistakable as it was inexplicable. Rather than following up Israel's military defeat of the Palestinian terror machine in Judea and Samaria in 2002 with a similar operation in Gaza or with a political offensive against the PLO that Defensive Shield exposed as the central engine behind the Palestinian terror war, Sharon opted to withdraw from the fight and return to the discredited policy of appeasement that Israeli voters had twice rejected. First Sharon accepted the so-called road map to peace in 2003. Predicated on the false assumption that the Palestinians are interested in peace with Israel and can be appeased into accepting statehood and Israel's right to exist, the road map precludes any Israeli option for victory. When the Palestinians refused to end their support for Israel's destruction in spite of the road map, Sharon abandoned appeasement-for-peace and opted instead for surrender-for-quiet. His unilateral surrender of Gaza demoralized Israeli society, weakened Israel's democratic institutions and propelled Hamas and Iran to power in Gaza. Rather than recognize that the move had been a strategic catastrophe that called into question Israel's ability to act as an ally in the US-led war on terror, Sharon launched Kadima as a new political party dedicated entirely to appeasement and capitulation. After Ehud Olmert replaced Sharon as premier, he brought Kadima to victory in the March 2006 election by pledging to expand Sharon's "capitulation for quiet" strategy to Judea and Samaria. When Israel's neighbors responded to that agenda with war from Lebanon and Gaza, Olmert and his colleagues were forced to return to their previous appeasement-for-peace agenda. But their refusal to countenance the option of victory over Israel's implacable foes remains the order of the day. In contrast, the Uribe government in Colombia has never veered from its single-minded goal of defeating FARC both militarily and politically. With US assistance, Uribe has rebuilt Colombia's military into a highly competent counterinsurgency force. His counterinsurgency has brought both defeat and demoralization to FARC's doorstep. FARC's guerrilla force, which numbered 18,000 just a few years ago, has been reduced by an estimated 50 percent. Busy with their own survival, FARC's remaining forces have been unable to conduct any sustained operations against the Uribe government or rank and file Colombians in recent years. Restored security has brought economic growth and prosperity. And both have stabilized the Uribe government. Like the Palestinians, FARC enjoys the support of the international Left and leftist governments. In FARC's case, Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez has been the terror group's primary military, financial and political backer. Ecuador, led by Rafael Correa's Chavez-allied leftist government, has also become a major sponsor of FARC. In March, Uribe risked regional war to defeat FARC by raiding a FARC base on the Ecuadorian side of the border. The raid was immensely successful. FARC's deputy commander Raul Reyes was killed and his computers - carrying massive intelligence information - were seized. As Ecuador cut off diplomatic relations and Chavez deployed troops to his border with Colombia, Uribe stalwartly defended the raid. He defended the operation even as the French government attacked him, claiming that Reyes had been their negotiating partner in their quest to secure Betancourt's release. Israel's governments have systematically prevented the publication of information regarding Fatah's leadership role in the terror war, and its ties to Iran and Syria. They have also refused to take any action against Israeli organizations and politicians bankrolled illegally by foreign governments. In contrast, Uribe moved quickly to use the information exposed by Reyes's computers to discredit Chavez, FARC and their Colombian and foreign sympathizers. Reyes's files showed that neither FARC nor Chavez nor pro-Chavez Colombian Senator Piedad Cordoba were negotiating Betancourt's release in good faith. Understanding that she was their most powerful bargaining chip against the Uribe government, in their internal discussions, all three attested to their opposition to her release. Uribe's release of the information decreased French pressure for a deal. Chavez was further discredited and Bogota's prosecutor opened a criminal probe against Cordoba on treason-related charges. According to media reports, the Ecuador raid also provided the Colombian military with actionable intelligence it needed to move forward with its plans for last week's rescue mission. That is, each successful raid paved the way for the next achievement. THE ISRAELI media's response to the Colombia rescue mission has been to inflate the "Israeli role" in the mission. Numerous reports have been published in the local press about the fact that the Colombians hired retired IDF generals Yisrael Ziv and Yossi Kupperwasser to help them build up their counterterror capabilities. Far from obscuring the yawning gap between Colombia and Israel, these reports bring Israel's abandonment of the fight into sharp relief. They show clearly that Israel's decision to capitulate has nothing to do with an inability to fight to victory. It is a failure of will rather than a failure of capacity that has brought Israel to its current cowed and humiliated condition where its media argues over how many terrorists should be exchanged for Schalit and ignores completely the very notion that he can be rescued. And Israel could attempt to rescue him. While success is never assured, it is a fact that just as Colombia was able to find and rescue Betancourt and her fellow hostages in the jungle, so Israel could, if it dared, conduct a competent operation aimed at rescuing Schalit in Gaza. Like Colombia it could acquire the intelligence necessary to plan and carry out such a raid. Like Colombia, its forces are competent to succeed in such an endeavor. Until last week's raid, one of the main sources of pressure on the Uribe government was Betancourt's family. Her mother and children met frequently with Chavez and railed against Uribe in their eagerness to see her released. Speaking of her experience and of her rescue in Paris this week, Betancourt, who over the years tried to escape five times, was clear that she preferred freedom to slavery, even if it came only in death. As French philosopher Andre Glucksmann wrote in City Journal, it was freedom, not life, that she held most sacred. And while she understood her family's actions, she clearly did not embrace their pacifism as she praised Uribe for rescuing her despite the risk that the mission would fail and she and her fellow hostages would be killed. It is hard to imagine that as a soldier, Schalit feels any differently. Why should we assume that he prefers to live as a slave rather than to die in a quest for freedom? It is a travesty that in their inexplicable abandonment of honorable struggle against murderous foes in favor of dangerous appeasement, Olmert and his colleagues have denied Schalit the respect due a warrior and have denied the IDF the right to fight for Israel's freedom.