Clueless on Gaza
This newspaper cannot understand why Israeli intelligence has been unable to locate a captured soldier being held a 90-minute drive from Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv.
Friends and supporters of Gilad Schalit have erected a protest tent at the corner of Balfour and Aza Streets, near the Prime Minister's Residence, where they are maintaining an around-the-clock vigil. A sign displays the number of days Schalit has been a Hamas captive: 901. He was seized on Sunday, June 25, 2006, which means our serviceman has now been held for 2 years, 5 months and 17 days.
As the 900-day milestone passed, calls intensified to "Free Gilad Schalit." Today, demonstrators will be assembling outside Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office, demanding he "return Gilad" before he steps down.
Such protests aimed at our government are misdirected. The campaigners should, instead, focus their efforts on putting Hamas under pressure. To its credit, the kibbutz movement has been protesting outside the offices of the Red Cross in Tel Aviv, demanding that it keep insisting on access to Schalit. Others have been campaigning to halt family and Red Cross visits to Hamas inmates in Israeli prisons until Schalit is granted this same humanitarian right.
In addition, many Israelis are questioning the wisdom of their government's having permitted Thursday's transfer to Gaza of NIS 100 million in currency from Palestinian banks in the West Bank.
OUR government, alas, appears to have no coherent policy on Gaza, and this, predictably, has had a spillover effect on its ability to decide what to do about Schalit. Olmert has vowed to continue to work for his release even as his tenure winds down. The triumvirate of Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, which makes key security decisions, cannot agree on a larger Gaza strategy. So Israel has been treading water.
When a modest calibration of policy is necessary - for example, closing the crossing points into the Strip while Hamas is lobbing mortars and rockets - Barak takes the lead. We know he vehemently opposes a bruising confrontation with Hamas. We don't really know where Olmert and Livni stand.
Given Israel's election-period leadership vacuum, it has been left to pundits in the Hebrew tabloids to pull at the public's heartstrings by setting the "Free Gilad" agenda. They want Israel to capitulate to Hamas's blackmail and let loose 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the soldier. Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar chimed in Thursday to say that a deal could be struck within a day "if an Israeli government brave enough to release life prisoners is formed."
The "life prisoners" Zahar wants most are those who masterminded or facilitated some of the most monstrous atrocities of the 2000-2005 intifada: bus bombings, the Sbarro, Moment CafÃ© and Dolphinarium attacks; and the Netanya Pessah Seder massacre.
There were 26,000 attacks during those six years, resulting in over 1,000 killed and 6,000 wounded. By bringing Schalit home on Hamas's terms, we would surely be opening the door to another ghastly wave of bloodletting.
IT WAS significant to hear Livni say Thursday that "We all want Gilad to come home, but... it isn't always possible to bring everyone home." That sober message, rather than the populist chatter about "freeing Gilad," needs to be echoed by Barak and by Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu.
We are not passing judgment on how the Schalit family has lobbied for their son's release. In their place, which of us would act differently?
Those with broader responsibilities, however, must not pander to populism.
On that morning, 900 days ago, when the enemy breached our border and kidnapped Schalit, they also killed St.-Sgt Pavel Slutsker and Lt. Hanan Barak. Those who engage in emotional blackmail should reflect on what those soldiers' parents would give to switch places with the Schalits.
This newspaper cannot understand why Israeli intelligence has been unable to locate a captured soldier being held a 90-minute drive from Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv. Nor why the IDF has not been ordered to target one Hamas leader after another up and down the military and political chain of command to hammer home this point: Your demands regarding Schalit are way, way too high.
Such an approach, however, would have to be part of a larger strategy and require a cabinet with the fortitude to carry it out.