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SGT. Gilad Shalit - The Day After

Israel Embraces Sgt. Gilad Shalit As Brave Hero

Sgt. Shalit Salutes Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu & IDF Chief Of Staff Benny Gantz

IsraCast Assessment: Israel Must Now Adopt Different Policy Toward Future Palestinian Kidnapping Attempts To Cope With New Raids Promised By Hamas

Silad Sahlit and his father Noam

 Israel has welcomed Sgt. Gilad Shalit with a massive outpouring of love and relief while also bracing for a new wave of Hamas terror attacks. In the Palestinian camp, the return of 1027 terrorists for one Israeli soldier is being viewed as a 'glorious victory' and a precedent for gaining the release of some 5,000 other terrorists now serving time in Israeli prisons. Prime Minister Netanyahu's government will likely consider a different, more tougher, approach that could not be adopted while Shalit was being held in a Hamas dungeon.

 Since Palestinian gunmen captured then Corp.Gilad Shalit over five years ago, Hamas had Israel over a barrel when it came to the terms of a prisoner swap. Israel was made to pay the price:more than 1,000 terrorists many with blood on their hands for murdering Israeli children, women and men. For example a young Israeli, whose three brothers and two parents were murdered in the bombing of a Jerusalem pizza parlor, angrily spray-painted Yitzak Rabin's monument after he had learned that one of the terrorists involved was being released. But in this excruciating dilemma between justice and saving a soldier, Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government opted for what is part of Israel's DNA; if there is absolutely no other choice, Israel will pay the price of the terrorists.

Gilad Shalit and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Ganz

In this case, there was no other way to bring Shalit home. Moreover, Netanyahu and his supporters contend that Hamas actually moderated its demand demand to free all of the top terrorist 'symbols'. Not so, retorted former Mossad Chief Meir Dagen to bereaved relatives of terror victims; the final deal was actually worse for Israel than the one proposed by Hamas two years ago. And the debate will continue over whether it was possible to reach the terms of the present swap much earlier. What is certain is that Israel cannot endure another situation similar to the Shalit affair in which hundreds of thousands of Israelis demanded their government do whatever it took to retrieve Shalit, regardless of the security risk.

After the soldier's return, the government appointed commission headed by a former Supreme Court president Meir Shamgar, is expected to publish its long awaited guidelines for government policy in future kidnapping cases. According to unconfirmed reports, it recommends that Israel publicly declare that she will never again agree to such a lopsided swap but will negotiate only on the basis of a one-for-one prisoner exchange. However there is another school of thought that argues this is unrealistic because the Israeli public will never tolerate a captured IDF soldier being left to die in terrorist captivity. This is fresh in everyone's mind; airman Ron Arad went missing in action over Lebanon where he was taken prisoner and disappeared forever. In fact, Netanyahu said this was a consideration in releasing 1,027 terrorists for Shalit.

Gilad Shalit and Binyamin Netanyahu

So, what's to be done? There is no question that freeing such a large number of hard-core killers poses a severe security threat to Israel. They were arrested after exhaustive and dangerous security operations, then tried and sentenced in an open court of law. Past experience has shown that over 50% of young terrorists set free are recidivists who later murder and maim more Israeli civilians.

Obviously, every measure must be taken to prevent soldiers from being kidnapped. Surprisingly, this was not exactly the rule. Several months before the kidnapping of Shalit, IDF intelligence had expressly informed the Knesset Affairs & Defense Committee that Hamas was plotting to kidnap soldiers to use as bargaining chips for imprisoned terrorists. However an internal IDF enquiry later discovered failures in the deployment of Shalit's unit; two of his comrades were killed when the kidnappers dragged Shalit from their tank. As strange as it sounds, the message did not reach Northern Command because three weeks later two more IDF soldiers were abducted in a Hizbullah ambush from Lebanon. Since then the IDF has tightened up security measures and foiled a number of similar terrorist raids aimed at capturing more soldiers. In the event of a kidnapping attack, a rapid response operation activates other IDF combat units in the region involved. In the case of Gilad Shalit, a soldier in a nearby position spotted the attackers fleeing with Shalit but he refrained from opening fire for fear of wounding him.

Gilad Shalit calling his mother Aviva

That has now changed. IDF forces have express orders to open fire on any escaping Palestinian kidnappers, even at the risk of hitting their Israeli captive. The other obvious threat is to civilian residents of Judea & Samaria, whom the terrorists could possibly target. But until now, the Palestinian Authority's security forces have kept a tight rein on their Hamas rivals by cracking down on terror suspects. If the Palestinians now applaud Hamas for achieving what Abbas failed to do, will there not be pressure on Abbas to ease up his pressure on terrorists in the West Bank?

After Shalit's return, Netanyahu warned that 'blood will be on the heads' on any released terrorists who revert to terror activity. That warning speaks for itself. There is no question that the prisoner exchange will energize Ahmed Jabri, the Hamas military chief in Gaza, and his men to launch fresh raids. And if they manage to survive and are taken prisoner they can anticipate being released in a future swap. In this vein, the Shabak security service, which tracks down terrorists, has enforced a long time policy of trying to capture them alive. The idea is they can be interrogated and information gathered on the bigger network and other attacks in the pipeline. Could there also be a shift in this Israeli approach? And if Hamas succeeds in another kidnapping attack, Israel could consider the American style Osama Bib Laden operation to eliminate the Hamas 'terrorists in suits' and not just the killers they dispatch.

Then there's the death penalty? Israel has never executed terrorists no matter how many Israelis they murder. For example Marwan Barghutti, a West Bank ringleader, who Israel refused to release, is serving five life sentences. That means he sent five suicide bombers that killed Israelis. Transport Minister Yisrael Katz has proposed that one of two terrorists be sentenced to death for slaughtering five members of the Foegel family, including slitting the throat of a four year old infant, in the settlement of Itamar. The killer has declared he was proud of what he did and would do it over again, if given the chance.

A former Mossad director Ephraim Halevi and some commentators have raised the possibility that the indirect contacts between Israel and Hamas in Cairo could open the door to a future dialogue. Halevi contends that Hamas represents a majority of Palestinians whereas Abbas does not. Even if Abbas cut a deal with Israel, it would be worthless without the approval of Hamas. Although this is indeed the reality on the ground, Hamas still declares its intention to kidnap more Israeli soldiers and eventually annihilate Israel. If Hamas agreed to put its ultimate goal on the back-burner for a while in return for a cease-fire and Israel's acquiescence in improving Gaza's sagging economy maybe an interim deal could be worked out. But as things stand, today's mutual celebrations in Gaza and Israel more likely to be a one time thing.


David Essing

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