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Nahum Barnea
Israel's dilemma
Should Israel insist on information on Ron Arad at risk of losing Regev and Goldwasser?
Monday's exchange deal with Hizbullah has more to it than meets the eye. What meets the eye is one mentally disturbed Lebanese and three coffins - two on their way to Lebanon and one on its way home to Beer Sheba.

 

What doesn't meet the eye is the painful dilemma placed on the Israeli government's lap. Perhaps Hizbullah - via German mediation - did give Israel its explanations as to the disappearance of airman Ron Arad. If I presume correctly, what is prominent about these explanations is what they do not entail, not what they do. Nasrallah would not have handed over any substantial information in exchange for two corpses and one mentally disturbed person. He either has no information, or he is prevented from handing over the information he has.

 

Nasrallah prefers keeping his cards close to his chest: Namely, abducted IDF soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser. In exchange for them he wanted a long list of prisoners, headed by Samir Kuntar, the murderer of the Haran family in Nahariya in 1979.

 

The Israeli government can insist on clarifying that without Ron Arad there will be no further deals in the offing. Such a move must be premised on the assumption that Nasrallah is lying: Namely, that he knows more about Ron Arad than he is telling, and that he has the means to find out more. However, such a move also entails a terrible risk, i.e. what happened to Ron Arad may happen to Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser as well. They are likely to disappear somewhere in the Islamic fundamentalist expanse, between Beirut and Tehran.

 

The slim hope of finding out more about Ron Arad vis-à-vis the risk of losing Regev and Goldwasser is a cruel dilemma reminiscent of the Solomon trial. One should not envy the prime minister and his cabinet ministers called to task on this decision. Any decision that is made will be shrouded in uncertainty and will be painful, cruel and thankless.

 

Past experience is confusing: The Jibril exchange in May of 1985 created a sense that Israel gave away too much, that it damaged its security and power of deterrence; armed with this experience Israel refused to enter an extortive deal to release Ron Arad – and thus may have lost him for ever.

 

The decision will ultimately be made according to the parties' negotiating powers, their nerves, courage and their gut feelings. There is no point in giving advice, except perhaps for one minor tip: Such a decision should not only be backed by government ministers but also by heads of the opposition. This grim matter should be handled with as broad a front as possible, void of politically based accusations.

 

Nasrallah began negotiations with great pretensions. He though he would coerce Israel into a mass release of Lebanese and Palestinian terrorists. It appears that throughout the course of this year he has sobered up somewhat. He discovered that he too is being pressured by the families, and that this pressure is being transformed into political leverage.

 

Had Nasrallah insisted on his initial demands, it is doubtful whether there would have been room for any deal, not even the mini exchange deal we saw Monday.

 

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