Barak takes a tough line

The brilliance and zigzags of Israel's grandmaster of strategy are sometimes too clever by half.

ehud barak 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
ehud barak 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
The first time Noam Schalit's photograph appeared in The Jerusalem Post was on June 27, 2006, two days after his son Gilad was taken by Hamas. Our headline quoted him as saying: "We are hoping for good news." Noam and his wife, Aviva, together with their other children, Yoel and Hadas, have been waiting three agonizing years for these hopes to be fulfilled. Periodic reports in the Arab or German press, relayed in the Israeli media, have hinted at momentum in the circuitous negotiations between Israel and Hamas: something Khaled Mashaal or Mousa Abu Marzook said, or that Osama Hamdan didn't say. Talk of momentum has been inspired too by sightings of Ahmed Ja'abari or Mahmoud al-Zahar in Cairo. The latest rumors claim Israel gave Hamas a new list of 450 prisoners it is willing to release, to be followed by 550 additional "humanitarian cases" set free down the line, ostensibly unconnected to the soldier's ransom. There are stories that Hamas is insisting on including Israeli Arab prisoners in any deal; and that it wants Fatah "redeemer" Marwan Barghouti included. Other accounts have Hamas sticking to its demand that the masterminds of the Sbarro, Moment Cafe and Dolphinarium attacks, and of the Netanya Pessah Seder massacre, be included in any exchange. Rumor has it that Israel will try to save face by deporting these evil men upon their release, the tacit understanding being that many will eventually slither into Gaza. WHAT MAKES us think that the government of Binyamin Netanyahu really is close to a deal is, paradoxically, the hard line we've been hearing lately from Defense Minister Ehud Barak: "We are taking and will continue to take every possible and proper action in order to bring him back quickly to his family. I emphasize: Every possible and proper action... but not at all costs. Not at all costs." Noam Schalit responded - as any father would - by saying that in these days of repentance leading up to Rosh Hashana, all he cared about was having Gilad home. But the defense minister's eminently reasonable stance unleashed a deluge of biting criticism. One pundit retorted: It's not like we're being asked to exchange Schalit for the Golan Heights or east Jerusalem. "We are talking about a certain price... more or less several hundred (sic) terrorists… some with blood on their hands, some... who will resume terrorist activities immediately upon their release. This is the price." In other words: Let's go for it. Other advocates of meeting Hamas's demands grant that some of the released terrorists will plan a new wave of bus bombings, drive-by shootings and the occasional assassination of a government minister, but they find solace in the hope that the overwhelming majority of the freed prisoners will be content to serve as quiet role models to a new generation of Palestinians. ISRAELIS DESPERATELY want to see an end to the Schalit family's ordeal. But the one thing even more important than bringing Gilad home is doing so in a way that does not give the enemy an incentive to try again. Were Netanyahu to cave in to the emotional blackmail instigated by those in the populist media, he would be broadcasting to Iran and Hizbullah, not to mention the Palestinians, that for all his braggadocio, he has no stomach for confrontation; no patience for victory. If the government grants Hamas essentially what it has been asking for all along, no amount of subterfuge will camouflage the truth. This brings us back to Barak - Israel's grandmaster of strategy, whose brilliance and zigzags are sometimes too clever by half. Forgive us for wondering if Barak doth protest too much, if his "not at all costs" rhetoric is actually a Machiavellian scheme concocted together with the premier to bring the Schalit saga to closure - largely on Hamas's terms. Having now established himself as courageously prepared to take flak for opposing a deal that goes too far, Barak positions himself to validate any deal he does embrace as good for Israel. Hebrew speakers would call such a ploy hafuch al hafuch. We might simply call it deceitful.