A nightmare that began on July 12, 2006, now draws to a close. That was when Hizbullah launched an unprovoked assault across the border from Lebanon, killing three IDF soldiers and capturing Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser. In the course of the war that followed, 156 Israeli soldiers and civilians were killed. Our country was largely unprepared and, as the Winograd Committee determined, poorly led. Hizbullah's Hassan Nasrallah announced the war had been unleashed to obtain the release of Lebanese inmates in Israeli prisons, foremost among them Samir Kuntar, and hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. The IDF did not follow through on its threat to turn Lebanon's clock back 20 years unless Regev and Goldwasser were returned. Yet hundreds of Hizbullah gunmen were killed and millions of dollars of damage was done to Hizbullah's infrastructure. No wonder that in May 2007, Nasrallah admitted that had he known the price Lebanon would have to pay for kidnapping Regev and Goldwasser, he would have thought twice. SHORTLY BEFORE 4 p.m. on Sunday, the cabinet voted 22 to 3 to accept a deal far more modest than Nasrallah first demanded, which will see the two soldiers finally brought home. The hearts and minds of Israelis were focused on the cabinet room, where the mood was solemn, and where everyone was given a chance to speak. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert wanted this to be a collective decision. When it was his turn to talk, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter read a letter from Smadar Haran, who lost two children and a husband to Kuntar's brutality in 1979. Haran did not advocate Kuntar's release, far from it, but she wrote that she didn't want her suffering to sway the ministers from doing what was best for the country. Later, she remarked that until Dichter informally solicited her opinion, no Israeli official had ever bothered to make inquiries. At the outset of the cabinet meeting, Olmert announced that as far as Israel knows, Regev and Goldwasser are no longer alive. Though the news does not come as a bolt out of the blue, family members were nevertheless shattered by the manner in which it was delivered - via the media. The deal requires Israel to free Kuntar and four other Lebanese; return the bodies of dozens of terrorist infiltrators; provide information to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on four missing Iranian diplomats; and, following the implementation of the agreement, to release an unspecified, but presumably modest, number of Palestinian prisoners. THIS NEWSPAPER opposed the release of Kuntar for the remains of Regev and Goldwasser because of the heinous nature of the crime he committed and because it will likely strengthen Nasrallah in his efforts to show Hizbullah's concerns transcend his own Shi'ite community (Kuntar is Druse and was a Palestine Liberation Front operative). We also opposed a trade because Kuntar has become an important symbol throughout the Arab world; because of previous government commitments made to the family of IAF navigator Ron Arad (missing since his plane went down over Lebanon in 1986) not to release Kuntar without a quid pro quo; and because trading Kuntar for the remains of two dead soldiers will likely complicate the price we will have to pay for the return of Gilad Schalit from the Gaza Strip. This latter warning was echoed by the Mossad and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), which opposed the deal. But the cabinet has spoken and its stance is supported by most Israelis, much of the media and IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, who told the ministers that he feels himself responsible for all IDF soldiers - the fallen included. All of us must now respect the decision. Israel's body politic has gone through a traumatic chapter. What we must now ensure is that we emerge from it stronger and better prepared for the battles ahead. And Hizbullah might want to remember that by taking on Israel - even when we were admittedly not at our best - it got far more than it bargained for.