Let’s learn the lessons

The security establishment has an immediate responsibility to learn its lessons and to bridge the intelligence gaps as much as possible.

Schalit Netanyahu Barak Gantz 311 (photo credit: Ariel Harmony / Defense Ministry)
Schalit Netanyahu Barak Gantz 311
(photo credit: Ariel Harmony / Defense Ministry)
Afew years ago, I got a call from Zvi Schalit, Gilad’s grandfather. He was upset by a radio interview I had given that morning. At the time, I was chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and I detailed the “red lines” of the security and political establishment over a prisoner exchange with Hamas.
Zvi Schalit sought to persuade me that the state should not draft tougher principles on negotiating with terrorists until his grandson was safely returned to his family.
I couldn’t agree, but my heart went out to the grandfather’s plea. At his request, I pledged not to worsen the family’s pain by making my position public. And I kept my word.
Obviously, though, during my five years as chairman of the committee, I expressed my personal opinion in closed sessions with the prime minister, defense minister and various security officials.
Now, finally, I can describe my feelings about the prisoner exchange: understanding, disappointment, concern, happiness and prayer.
I understand the prime minister, even though David Ben- Gurion once said: “I don’t know what the people want; I know what the people need.”
This statement reflects not only the strength required of true leadership, but also the danger of an arrogance contrary to the spirit of democracy.
When a clear majority of the public is prepared to face the personal consequences of releasing multiple murderers, the prime minister must take the public sentiment into account.
I am disappointed by the prime minister’s decision to give up on several criteria adopted by the previous government – and by his own government until a year ago – that prisoners with blood on their hands would not be freed. Cruel murderers should never see the light of day. A murderer who forced a bus to crash into the abyss, causing misery to 16 families, must rot in jail until his last day.
This applies even more to so-called “Hamas symbols,” who for us represent Satanic evil.
If this was, in fact, “the best deal that could be reached at this time,” we should have stuck to our principles.
Such is the position I expressed at the time to our decision-makers. I recall the government decision in November 2003 to release many murderers for the return of Elhanan Tannenbaum and the remains of three IDF soldiers by Hezbollah in Lebanon.
I opposed the deal then, and informed the prime minister that I could not support it when it came up for a vote.
Ariel Sharon, who was then prime minister, informed me of several facts connected to the most sensitive security issues, which I still can’t reveal. His explanations swayed me to support the deal, which the cabinet approved by just one vote.
In the ensuing months and years, several dozen Israelis were murdered in terrorist attacks carried out by prisoners freed in the Tannenbaum deal. The lesson I learned was that one can’t ignore the inherent danger involved in releasing fanatic terrorists from jail, even when there are other weighty considerations.
I am concerned about the limitations of the intelligence community exposed by this whole affair. As someone who is aware of the amount of resources allocated by the state to locating Gilad Schalit in Gaza, to allow for a military option, I am very disturbed by the thin results of such great efforts.
This failure stands out even more in light of the long list of achievements by IDF Military Intelligence, the Mossad and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) during the years in which Gilad’s whereabouts remained a frustrating mystery.
The security establishment has an immediate responsibility to learn its lessons and to bridge the intelligence gaps as much as possible.
I am happy – for all of us – but especially for Gilad, Aviva, Noam, Zvi, Yoel, Hadas and all the members of this special family, who have been so un-Israeli in their conduct, not raising their voices or losing their cool, and in the process, deeply touching the hearts of so many Israelis.
Above all, I pray. I pray that the worst-case scenarios stemming from the prisoner release, based unfortunately on countless precedents, don’t come true this time. I pray that we will now be wise enough to hold an internal dialogue to strengthen our society, to allow us to stand together more firmly if we are forced to face such crises in the future.
The writer is a former Kadima MK who served as chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.