Come Again

Perhaps my brilliant blogging partner has been hitting the sauce too hard a little lately, for I fear he rushes too quickly to a specific conclusion from an otherwise solid premise. To whit…

“If there was any doubt as to the wisdom of Olmert’s intransigence it was erased overnight when the Lebanese-based Hezbollah launched an across border raid on an Israeli army post.”

The intransigence to which my esteemed colleague is referring is Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s refusal so far to negotiate for the release of Colonel Gilad Shalit, who was captured by Palestinian militants including members of Hamas on June 25th. Olmert has said he will not barter for Shalit’s freedom by acceding to the release of Palestinian prisoners, as Shalit’s captors demand. Personally, and in my capacity as self-appointed second-guesser of Israeli military decisions, I feel that Olmert’s intransigence on this matter is, broadly, the wiser course of action. But I don’t see quite how it follows that Hizbollah’s snatching of two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid yesterday vindicates Olmert’s refusal to negotiate with Palestinians for the release of Shalit.

If anything, critics could argue that the very refusal to negotiate for Shalit’s release led at least indirectly to Hizbollah’s capture of the two additional soldiers. And on that specific point, they’d be right – if Israel had done a prisoner swap for Shalit right away or had chosen to forgo retaliatory assassination attempts on Hamas leaders, Hizbollah probably wouldn’t have staged its abduction.

Then again, it may be that Hizbollah calculated that the possibility of Israel doing a swap for Shalit was a golden opportunity to gain some leverage for the release of its own imprisoned members and captured the soldiers in the hopes of taking part in some kind of grander swap further down the road. In which case, the very suggestion of a prisoner swap, and the reports that the Israeli government might have been considering it, are what encouraged Hizbollah to get grabby. But I don’t pretend to know the intricate workings of the Shiite fundamentalist mind.

What seems clear, however, is that acceding to kidnappers’ demands creates a greater incentive for them to kidnap again. Golda Meir apparently refused to release prisoners in return for Israeli athletes held hostage by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Olympics in Munich for precisely this reason. Of course it’s rather easy for us outside observers, tapping away at our keyboards, to counsel intransigence. I’m sure this would be a lot more difficult for me to say if my brother had been taken hostage by Hamas. Sometimes too a society makes compromises on its security for the sake of competing values – the safety of loved ones for instance, or the return of their remains for proper burial. But the broader calculus seems to me unassailable: you give in, they’ll take more. Some of those released will also be expert terrorists; kidnapping will have paid dividends.

This is not an isolated crisis; it is part of a war – low intensity no doubt, but a war nonetheless. Belligerence from Hamas is a given and will not stop with Israeli capitulation to the kidnappers’ demands. Vindication for intransigence may in fact be unattainable – how could refusal be ‘proven’ effective, except over the course of time and even then only by comparison to unknowable counter-scenarios? The alternative, however, is the vindication of abduction.

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2 Comments on “Come Again”


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