MIAs to the fore, all of them

When Hizbullah refused to allow the Red Cross access to the prisoners, our government remained silent.

sultan yakub 298 (photo credit: )
sultan yakub 298
(photo credit: )
Lost in much of the discussion about the Lebanon war is the matter of the two missing soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, which is rather strange if one considers that the prime reason we went to war was that Hizbullah kidnapped them. All the other justifications for the war - to eliminate the threat of our northern towns and cities being rocketed, to drive Hizbullah north of the Litani River, to entice the Lebanese army to take control over southern Lebanon - were added as the fighting intensified. These additional reasons for our full-scale assault make infinite sense. But the main focus of any debate about what spurred this latest round of fighting has been placed on a back burner. This reality has become abundantly clear as all the demands for the establishment of committees of inquiries into to the war seem to have side-stepped the central issue of the war: retrieving our two missing soldiers. Then there's that other kidnapping - of Gilad Shalit in Gaza. There was a poignant moment shortly after Shalit was abducted: Yona Baumel, the father of Zachary Baumel, still missing from our first Lebanon war, was asked in a TV interview if he had thought of offering comfort to the Shalit family. Baumel replied: "Do you really think that the Shalits would want to hear from me, whose son has been missing for 24 years?" In a subsequent newspaper interview Baumel regretted that he had not been more forceful at the outset of his son's captivity, making greater demands of the IDF and the government to get his son back rather than trusting in what turned out to be, and may have been all along, their empty promises. DESPITE THE outcry in the country in the aftermath of the war, there seems little hope that our governmental or military authorities will make the return of our kidnapped soldiers an ongoing priority. It was not a condition for the cease-fire. The fear is that Goldwasser, Regev and Shalit will go the way of Zachary Baumel, Yehuda Katz and Tzvi Feldman, who together went missing on that fateful June 11, 1982 day in the battle of Sultan Yakub, as well as of Ron Arad and Guy Hever, who are also missing. The story is one of d j vu. Like the parents of Baumel, Katz and Feldman, the Goldwasser and Regev families are their own advocates for their sons and husbands. We see them meeting with representatives of foreign governments, directing their own media campaign and trying to make their case before the world. What we do not see is our foreign minister addressing the issue at every opportunity. Indeed, when Hizbullah refused to allow the International Red Cross access to our prisoners, not a word of protest was uttered by anyone in the government. Therefore, it is essential that a minister, not a bureaucrat, be designated to focus exclusively on the matter of the kidnapped soldiers. A person of official stature would elevate the cause of the missing soldiers to such an extent that the families would have easier access to foreign sources that could help. The minister could also pursue a public relations campaign pointing out the brutality of Hizbullah and Hamas, which defy humane norms by not providing minimum information about the kidnapped soldiers' condition; or, for that matter, whether they are dead or alive. More so, any negotiations over a prisoner exchange must include Gilad Shalit and Baumel, Feldman, Katz, Arad and Hever. This is particularly important because the newest missing soldiers should not take priority over the oldest missing soldiers. Sadly, once Goldwasser and Regev were kidnapped, Gilad Shalit, a household name for two weeks, disappeared from the public consciousness. If you Google "kidnapped soldiers," the first listing is sponsored by the IDF and focuses on Goldwasser and Regev as well as Shalit. You have to scroll down to get to the other MIAs. ANOTHER REASON for inclusiveness is that Iran and/or Syria, it is widely and reliably believed, have knowledge about the whereabouts of all our missing soldiers. It is probably safe to assume that their surrogates, Hizbullah and Hamas, know something about where they are (or were) as well. The minister who would lead the campaign to free all our missing soldiers must bring the issue to the attention of the United Nations, Amnesty International, the International Red Cross and any other NGO which deals with matters of human rights, calling these two rogue countries on the international moral carpet. Unfortunately, Hizbullah has succeeded in sweeping the abduction of Goldwasser and Regev under the rug; so much so that the world has forgotten that such an aggressive act justifiably served as a casus belli. But, we dare not let this issue get sidetracked. Baumel, Katz, Feldman, Arad, Hever, Shalit, Regev and Goldwasser could very well be our children and husbands, our fathers and brothers. Any commission of inquiry into the conduct and/or failure of the war should include, first and foremost, why we did not manage to gain an iota of information about all our kidnapped and missing soldiers, why we have not secured their release and, finally, why the issue is not at the top of our national agenda.