Liberated after six years of jungle captivity, Franco-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt exclaimed: "I think only the Israelis can possibly pull off something like this." If only.Gone are the days of Entebbe. That was way back in 1976, remember. Somewhere along the way, that has become a memory--instead, Israel bargains for the return of her soldiers with the release of terrorists, regardless of whether the soldiers are alive or dead.
Indeed, now Hamas is demanding a deal similar to Hizbollah for the return of Gilad Shalit. Despite Israel's initial protestations to the contrary, is there any reason to doubt that Hamas will get their way--and that we will see more of this in the future?
Israel's predicament is a self-inflicted wound. In 2004, Israel released some 400 prisoners, including Hezbollah cause célèbres Abdel Karim Obeid and Mustafa Dirani, in exchange for the remains of three Israeli soldiers and a living former army colonel named Elhanan Tannenbaum, described in press reports as a "businessman." It later became public that Mr. Tannenbaum's business was drug dealing.It was clear what was coming next.
And the implications for the new policy that Israel has now become known for reach beyond Israel:
This is more than just a problem for Israel. With its July 1976 raid on Entebbe, Israel demonstrated there was an alternative to negotiating with terrorists. That didn't mean that every hostage rescue attempt would end happily. But it did offer the possibility that, eventually, hostage takers would realize they're in a bad business.Instead, business has boomed.
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Maybe it's par for the course that European governments should act this way: The notion of moral hazard is nearly as alien to them as that of national honor. It's a different matter when Israel behaves the same way, not only because it is the prime target of attack, but because, in the face of terrorism, Israel still defines the standard of democratic courage by which the rest of the free world must, sooner or later, measure itself.
If Israel is no longer prepared to hold the line, will America be far behind?
The release of Betancourt is a stark reminder of what Israel used to stand for, and of what Israel and the rest of the world has come to.