Slippery slopes and red lines

Will the government define and firmly implement new red lines, and moreover – will we, the Israeli people, allow them to do so by demonstrating resilience and strength?

Gilad Schalit at Bastille Day fete in Jaffa 370 (photo credit: GIL SHEFLER)
Gilad Schalit at Bastille Day fete in Jaffa 370
(photo credit: GIL SHEFLER)
‘In the name of Allah! We have captured an officer in the Zionist entity,” the spokesman proudly declares. “And we will hold her as a prisoner until all our demands are fulfilled.”
In Israel – shock and frustration. Here we go again.
Assuming that lack of intelligence information renders a rescue mission unfeasible, this imaginary scenario could result in years of on-and-off negotiations, disinformation and spins, rumors and leaks, public campaigning by the family, and a nationwide movement to “return the child.”
In a few years a touching return ceremony will be conducted, after Israeli compliance to most of the terrorists’ demands.
Why raise the issue of abductions now? The reason is that enough time has elapsed since the return of Gilad Schalit, and the next abduction hasn’t occurred yet. This is exactly the time to talk about it.
Make no mistake – another soldier, or soldiers, will be abducted. We have exposed our prime weakness, so our enemies will focus their attention and resources to achieve another strategic success and bring us to our knees.
In recent deals, the terrorists certainly prevailed. Their greatest achievement was not the release of terrorists from Israeli prisons, but prolonged resonance for their agenda, and worldwide recognition as a legitimate player.
We are a strong nation. We have withstood hardships and challenges throughout our history. We know we must fight for our survival and send our soldiers to the battlefield knowing that not all of them will return. Yet, when a soldier is abducted, we lose our resolution and resilience, and focus on personal suffering instead of national strategic thinking.
All we want is for “the child” to return safely to his mother. Some even claim that this is worth it “at any cost.” We should refrain from referring to soldiers as “children.” They are not children anymore (except to their parents) and using this term is inappropriate and manipulative. The term “at any cost” is dangerous and outrageous. Certainly no one can possibly think that a soldier is worth any price. To emphasize this, let’s assume that the terrorists demand that we all leave Israel and migrate to Alaska.
What are the red lines that must not be crossed? What is a reasonable price for a soldier? Should we exchange only accomplices without “blood on their hands” or maybe only those who vow to refrain from terrorism? Maybe we should revert to our famous position from the 1970s of never negotiating with terrorists? It seemed to have worked quite well back then.
Binyamin Netanyahu explained in his book Terrorism – How the West Can Win (1986), why it is crucial never to give in to terrorists’ demands: “Governments must persist in their refusal to surrender. First and foremost, it is their moral obligation to the general public, for only such a decisive refusal can drastically reduce the cases in which citizens will become hostages in the future.”
Simple logic: Terrorists will not abduct soldiers if it doesn’t promote their goals, and if we grant them their goals, we are promoting abductions.
Some 25 years later, under the heavy burden of office and widespread public pressure, Prime Minister Netanyahu paid a painful price for the release of tank gunner Gilad Schalit from the Gaza Strip.
One of the mistakes we made in the Second Lebanon War in 2006 was that we were oversensitive to casualties to a point where it hurt and even dominated operational planning. “Minimal loses” is not an objective but a consideration and the same goes for the prevention of abductions and for our conduct once they occur.
We should not rule out dialogue and agreements, even with the worst of enemies, but only from a position of strength and only if it promotes long-term strategic interests.
It is wrong to judge the Schalit deal by only evaluating the direct impact in the past year. Negative ramifications may unfold in the coming months and years. The IDF and the Shin Bet regularly thwart terror attacks under way and literally stop “ticking bombs.” It is unrealistic to claim that these mass-murderers can all go free without us incurring serious security risks. Next time, we might not catch them in time.
Declarations by our political leaders, especially by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, stress a need for drastic change in policy. Although they were withheld from public debate, it is reasonable to assume that most of the recommendations made by the Shamgar Committee on guidelines for future abductions were adopted.
If not totally renouncing negotiations, we should at least limit the swap ratio and prohibit the exchange of live terrorists for bodies or information. Organizationally, all efforts should be managed by the Defense Ministry, under strict secrecy. Viable operational options should always be executed, even at great risk, and other forceful measures and forms of pressure should be considered.
We apparently have a complex cultural atmosphere and sensitive internal dynamics. Cultural change is gradual and sometimes almost impossible, so I believe that in this case, change must be immediately and drastically imposed.
The government should address the public and explain what is to be expected the next time we are challenged. Also, other elements of our democratic society should be engaged, such as the media, which should reevaluate its conduct and try to “tone things down” and demonstrate restraint.
There can be no complaint or argument with parents who demand the release of their son. They have no choice but to proclaim only one goal – his safe return. We cannot expect loving parents to have strategic considerations, but at the same time, strategic considerations should not to be influenced by worrying parents.
We must separate between our emotions and what is right in a national context.
As a father, I was devastated when Gilad Schalit was abducted, visited his family at their protest tent and rejoiced when he returned, but I still call for toughening our national stance.
It is a delicate balance that our leaders must achieve, but it seems that we have long since slid down the slippery slope of surrendering to terror.
The question is, will the government define and firmly implement new red lines, and moreover – will we, the Israeli people, allow them to do so by demonstrating resilience and strength?
Unfortunately, we may soon find out.
The writer is a former Israel Air Force pilot and founder of Cross-Cultural Strategies Ltd., which facilitates bridging cultural gaps in promotion of international cooperation.