Gilad Schalit has been in Palestinian captivity for almost 2 years. Typical of Israeli POWs in Arab hands, almost nothing has been heard from him, save for one recording, nobody outside of his captors has been permitted to visit him even once and also typically, the demands to exchange him border on the ludicrous with Hamas asking for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners including terrorists and terrorist abetters.
The code phrase is “blood on their hands.” Some terrorists who have been directly and indirectly involved in attacks on Israelis, particularly Israeli civilians, are considered to be un-freeable. There are some reasons for this beyond political considerations, namely the concern that they will revert to their previous terrorist activities even if they sign a promissory document that they won’t. The political sensitivity is no less of an issue because any Israeli PM willing to sign off on a deal that appears too generous will have to contend with appearing to be weak and with an even greater price for the two Israelis in Hizbullah’s captivity.
Hanging over the entire difficult enterprise is the Ron Arad story. Ron Arad was a navigator who ejected from his plane in Lebanese territory in the mid-80s and was captured alive. He is still suspected to be alive 22 years later, but has not been seen and outside of a couple of old videos, not been heard from for two decades. Nobody wants to be responsible for another Ron Arad. The Arad story also brings into relief the other concern here which is that when you have a conscript army and any soldier could be kidnapped or taken hostage, you have to take steps to reassure your population that such soldiers will not be left behind and that the military and government will attempt to bring them back with an understanding that the price will be high.
Gilad Schalit’s father, Noam, is a mild-mannered, intelligent man who has been watching his son’s fate play out to the conflicting needs of Israel and its politicians as well as Hamas and its militants. He has been getting more and more vocal over time, perhaps feeling desperation about his son’s circumstances. He lashed out a couple of days ago at Olmert and the IDF. He challenged them to do more and berated them for an inability to make tough decisions and to protect their soldiers, respectively. He asked why his son, Gilad, was the only “fryer” – roughly translating to “sucker” – to pay a price for the IDF’s incompetence. Specifically, why was nobody else in the chain of command punished for their incompetence in the Shalit kidnapping.
This is a good question and one that I asked in June of 2006 when Shalit was captured. At the time, I was concerned that even with forewarning about the pending attack, the IDF still couldn’t get its soldiers to protect themselves. The entire kidnapping scenario was a fiasco, with intelligence available that indicated where the attack was likely to come, but somehow with Shalit’s force putting its resources in the direction opposite that from which the Hamas attack came. It was amateur hour at best, and at the time I expressed concern that the IDF leadership may simply not be up to par. A couple of months later, the second Lebanon war showed us that what happened near Gaza with Shalit was symptomatic of a much deeper problem in the IDF.
The Jerusalem Post is reporting that yesterday a group of bereaved parents of fallen Israelis who were killed by terror responded angrily to Noam Shalit’s comments and criticism.
In a statement released by the Almagor terror victims organization the parents said that “For the first time since the Second Lebanon War they are aligning themselves with Prime Minister [Ehud Olmert] and rejecting Schalit’s demand that convicted Palestinian murderers be released in exchange for his son.”
“Your son is not the only sucker in the country and isn’t the only one who pays the price for its security,” the bereaved father wrote. “Our son Aviad fell in Gaza while pursuing terrorists and I am willing to trade places with you at any moment. Give me back my son and I’ll promise that I won’t demand that others be murdered for his sake.”
The letter goes on to warn that any prisoner exchange deal that included the release of prisoners “with blood on their hands” would “not only hurt the bereaved families but will lead to more bereaved parents and more parents of kidnapped soldiers.”
The letter claimed that “Previous such deals have caused the killings of 180 Israeli citizens over the past five years.”
Oy! Hamas must be enjoying the spectacle and the division among Israelis.
Sometimes, there are fewer tougher jobs than being Israel’s PM. This is one issue where I wouldn’t want to be sitting in Olmert’s chair.