A very incisive and thought-provoking essay is published in Jewish Ideas Daily. It details the history of kidnappings by the PLO – starting in the mid-1960s and continuing until today with the abduction of Gilad Shalit. The essay discusses the pros and (mainly) cons of prisoner exchanges, and reveals how the ransom price has grown astronomically, and comes to the conclusion that the ‘kindest” of all solutions would be to reinstate the death penalty for terrorists in order to prevent future kidnappings.
These abductions put Israel’s government, no matter of which party, in a heart-rending dilemma. There is no guarantee that their decision will prevent the kidnappings forever, and whichever decision they make, certain sections of Israeli society will be unhappy. Certainly there is no one decision that can possibly please everyone and bring a satisfactory conclusion.
The PLO’s first attack on Israel came in 1965, when Mahmoud Hijazi and five other terrorists attempted to bomb a water-pump station in southern Israel. Once captured, Hijazi received the second death sentence ever handed down in Israel (Adolf Eichmann‘s being the first). Though his sentence was later overturned, the story was far from over.
A new chapter began on January 1, 1970, when Fatah terrorists crossed into Israel from Lebanon and kidnapped a guard stationed in the border town of Metulla. That man, Shmuel Rosenwasser, was brutally tortured by his captors for over a year, until the Israeli government exchanged Hijazi for Rosenwasser’s release: a one-for-one deal. Nine years later, the terms had already shifted, and the price for prisoners skyrocketed. In exchange for an Israeli soldier who had been abducted in Lebanon by Ahmed Jibril’s especially murderous branch of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Israeli government released 76 PLO operatives, 20 with “blood on their hands.”
In 1985, Israel agreed to the infamous “mother of all prisoner exchanges,” again with Jibril’s PFLP, trading 1150 Palestinian prisoners for three Israeli soldiers. The exchange came in for harsh criticism, with Haaretz‘s veteran military analyst Ze’ev Schiff writing at the time that with each successive agreement, Israel was “conceding more and more to the terrorist organizations” and thus demonstrating greater and greater weakness.
Schiff passed away in 2006, before Israeli concessions reached a previously unthinkable acme in a 2008 prisoner swap with Hizballah. In that exchange, Israel freed five terrorists, including the notoriously savage Samir Kuntar, plus 200 bodies, in exchange for the bodies of two IDF soldiers. It was the first time that Israel traded live terrorists for corpses.
…however compelling the personal arguments for ransoming captives (and the military conscription of all Israeli citizens makes the arguments unavoidably personal), Israel ignores at its own peril the unintended—but at this point undeniable—consequences of such a calculus. By paying “any price” to bring Israelis home, Israel undermines the sacrifices made by soldiers sent to free captives—especially those soldiers who end up giving their lives during rescue operations. By rewarding terrorists, Israel weakens Arab moderates and harms Israel’s deterrence efforts; and by trading living terrorists for dead IDF soldiers, Israel undermines the captors’ motivation to keep Israeli POWs alive, not to mention healthy and safe.
Most perversely, by paying exorbitant ransom prices—as Israel has done in the past and as public pressure overwhelmingly favors—Israel gives terror organizations an incentive to kidnap more of its citizens. But since that situation is already in play, is there anything Israel can do to stem the tide of its children taken into captivity, and to reduce the terror groups’ motivation?
I highly recommend you read the whole essay.