Not that bad a deal

Israel has consistently entered into negotiations for the release of hostages.

hizbullah welcome 224 88 (photo credit: AP)
hizbullah welcome 224 88
(photo credit: AP)
Daniel Pipes is a distinguished Middle East scholar. Yet even the most penetrating eyes can ignore painful truths, and the contents and tone of his latest article, "Samir Kuntar and the last laugh" (The Jerusalem Post, July 21), are patronizing and insulting, overlooking as they do the fact that the government and public have the right to decide for themselves to which of the conflicting principles and values that arise in blackmail situations they will adhere, and to shoulder the resulting price. When terrorist organizations seize soldiers or citizens, the Israeli government, perhaps more than others, is faced with a severe dilemma. On the one hand, concerns arise that negotiating with a terrorist organization will only encourage it and others like it to revisit this tactic in the future. On the other hand, to fail to do the utmost to rescue any citizen or soldier who falls into enemy hands would shatter one of the basic precepts of Israeli society. This could very well degrade the willingness of future generations to take up arms in their country's service. One might expect that a man in Pipes's position would be aware of the nuanced manner in which Israel has navigated between these two principles over the last 40 years and would judge its latest swap with Hizbullah through that lense. Action in these situations may be divided into three tracks: On the first, in domestic cases, Israel took a stern policy of exploring all potential means of affecting a military rescue. Any negotiations into which it entered at this point were strictly tactical, designed only to stall for time as it explored operational venues. On the second track, pertaining to international cases, it maintained an equally stern principle of an exhaustive search for any military means to rescue hostages, as in the Entebbe hijacking, here too using negotiations here only as a stalling device. It is worth noting at this point, given that Pipes points to Israel's conduct during the Entebbe crisis as an example of its former glory, that before the prerequisites for a military operation presented themselves, the government was on the brink of capitulating and entering into negotiations. On the third track, when soldiers and citizens were held captive in Arab states and the government had determined that no real operational opening had presented itself, the Jewish nation consistently entered into non-tactical negotiations, whose purpose was minimizing the painful price it was aware that it would eventually have to pay for the lives of its citizens. BY PIPES'S criteria, then, one could say that the country has undergone a series of embarrassing defeats since the late 1960s. In reality, however, when faced with hostage situations, the government officials that Pipes so offhandedly denigrates as "corrupt, shortsighted mental midgets," have simply chosen, with the support of the majority of the nation, to maintain this bedrock value and leave no stone unturned in its efforts to return hostages home. It is this mutual guarantor that has enabled generations of parents to send their children into service at the risk of their lives. Pipes's article is all the more surprising given that, relatively speaking, the recent exchange with Hizbullah came at a cheap price. It is debatable whether Kuntar's release granted any kind of moral victory to Hizbullah - much as it is debatable whether the withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, and the Second Lebanon War in 2006 constitute victories for Hizbullah, despite the fact that Pipes so readily identifies them as such. While the sight of Hizbullah's celebrations certainly turn stomachs, this will not corrode Israel's resolve to defend itself to any measurable extent. This article is also inopportune, given that the country is faced with a much more problematic and agonizing bargain for the life of Gilad Schalit, wherein the stakes of releasing prisoners are much higher. In the face of these upcoming negotiations, the government and its people should not have to be peppered with calls from armchair quarterbacks to live up to standards which, while supposedly objective, take only one side of the counterterrorism equation into account. It would perhaps be best then, if before he holds forth again from his secure haven thousands of miles away, Pipes revisited the history discussed above in depth and adopted a somewhat less combative and judgmental stance in matters pertaining to heart-rending dilemmas that almost never can be happily resolved. The writer is the director of the Terrorism and Low Intensity Warfare Project at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies and was a member of the prime minister's special task force that looked for the Israeli MIAs.