Wednesday, July 16, 2008

"Why Does Israel Keep Agreeing To Prisoner Exchanges?"

That is the question that Shmuel Rosner, who blogs on Haaretz's website at Rosner's Domain, tries to answer on Slate, starting off by pointing out that Entebbe is the exception--not the rule:
The problem is not that the current deal creates a new precedent but, rather, that it reinforces a well-established weakness: When it comes to the return of hostages, Israel tends to throw all strategic considerations out of the window. The famous example of Entebbe—when Israeli commandos raided a Ugandan airport 32 years ago and liberated dozens of hostages in one of the most heroic forays of the Israel Defense Forces—was the exception, not the rule. The truth is that in most cases, Israel will pay any price to get its soldiers back.

For better or for worse, this is mostly a product of the Israeli psyche. Its force was too strong for Olmert, the struggling, soon-to-be-ousted, leader to resist—but it was also stronger than popular, commanding Ariel Sharon. Sharon once agreed to an outrageous deal in which an Israeli colonel, who also happened to be a drug dealer, returned home in exchange for the release of 450 Lebanese prisoners.

The leaders can hardly claim that the public will not support them. The heartbreaking fate of the families tends to overwhelm more hard-to-define long-term strategic considerations.

...Israel is a society in which everyone knows everyone, in which every soldier's fate matters to every citizen. It is a society that demands that every young man and woman perform military service, a society in which a state of war is a 60-year habit, in which national solidarity is always an existential question. For such a society, looking into the eyes of the father or wife of a kidnapped soldier and telling them that the price is just too high is something no leader is able to do. So, in the case of Israel—a country with a never-ending need for public trust in the military—the "emotional" can be the most "calculated" approach of them all.
Read the whole thing.

But now that Hizbullah has latched onto that approach, with indications that Hamas intends to follow suit, how much longer can Israel continue to deny the possibility that the time has come to reevaluate whether Israel can afford to pay that price.

[Hat tip: Hot Air Headlines]

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