mia2b.jpg (4487 bytes)

Copyright 2003 Jerusalem Post
September 29

HEADLINE: Analysis: The cost of the swap

BYLINE:Matthew Gutman

It is a tale of two lieutenant colonels. One is a distinguished airman who landed in captivity after bailing out of his maimed jet into the hands of Shi'ite Lebanese militia before a horrified Israeli public watching the footage on TV. The other is a high ranking reservist who goes by the nickname "Jeans," kidnapped in a Gulf State while conducting what foreign reports called "shady" business deals.

The families of both Ron Arad, captured in 1986, and the second, Elhanan Tannenbaum, kidnapped in 2000, desperately want them back.

Two schools of thought project very different prescriptions of what Israel should do. One states that the Israeli government must leave no stone unturned to bring each of the "boys" home, whatever the cost, whether they are alive or dead. Bringing home hostages that are known to be alive is a greater moral imperative; hence the focus on the ailing Tannenbaum, the only hostage whose whereabouts and condition are known.

The other school focuses on the cost and the target of the swap. Defense Ministry sources have grumbled of late that Tannenbaum is "not at all a saint." They wonder whether the release of hundreds of Palestinian terrorists and Lebanese, Syrians, Jordanians, and Egyptians is a price too high to pay for a man some among them call "a criminal." Had the government been ready to fork over so much for Arad, he might have been home by now, they say.

Furthermore, this group asks, is it moral to risk the lives of other Israelis by freeing hundreds of terrorists for the life of one man and the corpses of three others? The answer is yes, according to Prof. Asa Kasher, chair of Professional Ethics and Philosophy of Practice at Tel Aviv University.

Kasher, who authored the first version of a code of ethics for the IDF, observed that a democratic state has obligations to its citizens and soldiers that are unrelated to the cost of bringing them, or their remains, home.

However, the state, which knowingly sends soldiers on hazardous missions, knowingly endangering their lives, owes more to them than to its citizens.

Israel must work to release those it can when it can, said Kasher, basically following the line of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who reportedly said of Tannenbaum, "First we'll bring him back, then we'll see." He adds that the prisoners must be freed independently of each other. To hinge one's life on the possible freedom of another is immoral, regardless of the price. Israel can feel free to give up Mustapha Dirani, Arad's captor for 18 months, and Sheikh Omar Karim Obeid, because it has other cards in its hand, Sharon has said.

But moral clarity has clouded over the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, Tanzim boss Marwan Barghouti possibly among them.

Israel must secure guarantees that the Palestinians it releases into the open arms of Hizbullah remove themselves "from the cycle of violence," said Kasher. This is a highly dubitable gambit, say others, mindful that Hizbullah has played a leading role as a puppeteer of Palestinian violence. After all, they say, the 415 Hamas members exiled to southern Lebanon were not rehabilitated but taught bomb-making skills and guerrilla warfare, and above all were given connections to other terrorist leaders.

But if Israel is going to include Iran, Hizbullah, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and the Palestinians in the deal, not to mention the possible contribution of England and Germany, it might as well work to get everyone back, says Danny Grisaro, of the International Coalition of Missing Israeli Soldiers.

"It is impossible to put a price on a human, but to give away Dirani and Obeid for Tannenbaum and the remains of the three kidnapped soldiers is shameful," he said. He believes Israel should work to bring back all the hostages including the three soldiers kidnapped after the Sultan Yakoub battle in the 1982 Lebanon War in one enormous swap, leaving its pockets empty. Otherwise, Israel will be forced to pay too much.

That is precisely what the Arad family, which has sued Dirani for NIS 100 million in the hopes of throwing a wrench in the works, has been saying.

Yet while Tannenbaum, the three soldiers kidnapped in October 2000, and Ron Arad, whose family established a $10 million fund for information regarding his fate, figure prominently in Israeli consciousness, others have slipped from view.

Among them are the three soldiers kidnapped during the Sultan Yakoub tank battle during the Lebanon War in 1982.

They are rarely mentioned in news reports, even though Yona Baumel, the father of Zecharia Baumel, says he has fresh information indicating his son is alive. The IDF has refused to designate the younger Baumel as "fallen," but according the father has done too little to try to retrieve him after 21 years of captivity.

But Kasher observed that regardless of the outcome or the cards on the table, negotiations are by nature thorny, and inherently costly.

"Negotiations with the enemy are not a day at the shuk. Everything that my enemy wants I don't want to give him."

Return to Archive