The Schalit precedent

Let us hope and pray that our boys are returned home as swiftly and safely as possible, but through the kind of colossal operation for which Israel used to be famous.

Gilad Schalit arrives from captivity 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Handout )
Gilad Schalit arrives from captivity 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Handout )
The most pressing issue in Israel right now is locating Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-Ad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah – the teenagers abducted on Thursday, June 12, by Hamas terrorists – and (hopefully) rescuing them from the clutches of their captors. With each passing hour, there is a growing fear that the country is about to enter into a situation similar to that which followed the kidnapping of Gilad Schalit in 2006.
For five years after Schalit’s abduction, the Jewish state was caught in a trap – understanding that negotiating with terrorists sets a dangerous precedent, yet unwilling to forfeit the life of a young soldier who had become a household name.
His parents, of course, begged then prime minister Ehud Olmert, and subsequently Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, to do everything possible to return their son in one piece. They pitched a tent outside of the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem, where they lived full-time, other than when they took trips abroad to make appeals on their boy’s behalf. They also enlisted the local and foreign media, and rallied the pubic at large.
The greater the success of their campaign at home, the more jubilant grew the jihadists around the globe. The cheer in Gaza over bringing the “Zionist enemy” to its knees was immeasurable.
Even Operation Cast Lead at the end of 2008 – during which the IDF first sent leaflets into Gaza to warn innocent civilians to steer clear of the fighting, and then wreaked havoc on the terrorist and other infrastructures there – did not result in Schalit’s rescue.
One reason for the extreme precautions taken in relation to him was the failed mission to rescue 19-year-old Nachshon Wachsman. Wachsman was a soldier who had been abducted by Hamas in 1994. Six days after his capture, he and another Israeli soldier were killed during the raid undertaken to save him.
This was not the only collective memory that caused much of the public to pressure the government to give in to the terrorists’ demand for massive Palestinian prisoner releases in exchange for Schalit. Another was that a few such deals with the devil had been made in the past. Why should Schalit not be given the same consideration as others before him? In 1970, for example, an Israeli night watchman was abducted by the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The “ransom” Israel paid a year later was the release of a single PLO prisoner. In 1979, an Israeli soldier captured in Lebanon was released in exchange for 76 PLO terrorists. But it was in 1985 that the floodgates opened with what came to be called the “Jibril Deal”: three Israeli soldiers who had been held by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (headed by Ahmed Jibril) were exchanged for 1,150 terrorists.
The move was extremely controversial at the time, as the Israeli public grasped not only that dangerous murderers were being let loose, but that the terrorist organizations were incentivized to commit kidnappings.
In 2004, there was another such swap, and it was even more problematic: 430 terrorists in exchange for the dead bodies of three Israeli soldiers who had been abducted four years earlier, and a businessman with a dubious reputation.
The Schalit family’s campaign was thus utterly understandable. Had I been in their shoes, I cannot imagine that I would have behaved differently.
But I was not in their shoes. I was among the rest of the population whose children were put in jeopardy by the government’s handling of the whole affair. And though I wept with joy when Schalit was finally released, my tears, like those of many Israelis, were as bitter as they were sweet.
And then came the latest release of terrorists, this one in exchange for absolutely nothing. Just a fantasy on the part of the Obama administration that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would agree to come to the negotiating table for the purpose of establishing a Palestinian state.
The Frenkel, Shaer and Yifrah families are now being forced to bear the brunt of these travesties.
Meanwhile, missiles keep flying into Israel from Gaza, and the IDF is busy retaliating. This has spurred Israel detractors in the international community to revert to their default position of telling “both sides” to exercise “restraint.” It has caused Israel’s friends to reiterate that the new unity government between the PA and Hamas should be disavowed. And it has elicited warnings from Netanyahu to Hamas.
What it has not seemed to do, however, is lead anyone, including Netanyahu, to cease separating the PA from Hamas, as though the former were any more moderate than the latter.
Abbas may not be responsible for the kidnapping of the three boys. He may not even be happy that it happened so soon after the formation of the unity government. But make no mistake: His media, ministers and populace are celebrating the event with a vengeance.
Let us hope and pray that our boys are returned home as swiftly and safely as possible, but through the kind of colossal operation for which Israel used to be famous – not by spending the next several years kowtowing to kidnappers.
The writer is the author of To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’