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Ron Ben-Yishai
The speech we won’t hear
Ron Ben-Yishai drafts the post-swap speech that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert won’t be delivering
Citizens of Israel,

 

This is a sad day for us; for all of us. It is a sad day for the families of the captives who lost their sons and the last glimmer of hope; it is a sad day for the families of the victims of murderer Samir Kuntar, who has been released to a hero’s welcome; it is a sad day for the State of Israel, which will now bury two of its fighters while sustaining another humiliation at the hands of a Lebanese terror leader. However, in a very different way, this is a sad day for you too, Nasrallah.

 

Even your foolish followers know that the Kuntar festival, which is taking place now in Beirut, is another classic media spin meant to retroactively justify the disaster brought upon Lebanon by your misjudgment and arrogance. This is just like the billboard campaign you launched across Lebanon following the war, at a cost of millions. “Divine victory,” the signs screamed, while you moved from one hideout to the next and tried to explain your actions to the Shiites, to the Lebanese people, and to the Iranians, all upset at your provocation against Israel, which sowed ruin and devastation across large parts of Lebanon.

 

No celebration or rally and no impassioned speech will cover up the deaths of more than a 1,000 Lebanese civilians and hundreds of your loyal and skilled men, who were killed in this needless war, which ultimately benefited Israel no less than damaging it.

 

Thanks to you, Nasrallah, we learned how unfit Israel’s top defense officials are and how unprepared our ground forces were for an all-out war. You may have replenished your rocket and missile arsenal, but you can be certain that the IDF has realized by now what needs to be done so that the next round won’t end in an embarrassing tie like the previous round. I also believe that whoever replaces me soon will not be preoccupied with corruption probes and would be able to dedicate his attention to facilitating genuine improvement in our decision-making processes and quality, so that in the future we will not need a document empty of all substance, like Resolution 1701, in order to end the war.

 

You, on the other hand, will apparently remain a virtual leader for a long while; the kind who speaks to his people through television screens and complies with the orders of the supervisor sent by the Revolutionary Guards in Tehran to make sure you don’t do more foolish things.

 

And you are trying to tell us that you prompted all this in order to free Samir Kuntar? After all, you could have received the bodies of your people anyway through a dignified inquiry with the United Nations, and the four collaborators captured by Israel after your organization’s fighters abandoned them during the war would not need to be freed at all had you not kidnapped Goldwasser and Regev to begin with. So as it turned out, all the deaths and devastation you sowed was for the sake of a war criminal who deliberately murdered a little girl with the butt of his gun and shot helpless civilians.

 

Media, family pressure overwhelmed us

Nasrallah, when looking at who your hero is, we know who you are and who your people are. But then again, there is no need to ruminate this question too deeply. It is quite clear that a body parts trader, a human scavenger who turned the exploitation of body parts into an art form, and the murderer of children, are soulmates. What is surprising is the respect the two of you command in large parts of Arab society and media.

 

With your permission, I would like to add something personal. From the start I believed that in exchange for our soldiers’ bodies we should give back enemy bodies and no more than that. Past swaps where Hizbullah received living terrorists in exchange for the bodies of our soldiers served as an incentive for further abductions, including the kidnapping of Goldwasser and Regev. These deals, ranging from the Jibril swap to the Tannenbaum deal, made it clear to the enemy that it should not make an effort to keep our captives alive or treat them well. It also learned that it doesn’t need to provide information regarding their fate, as required by international law.

 

For that reason, all our captives, with the exception of drug dealer Tannenbaum, were returned to us in coffins. I thought this sequence should end, and what’s more, the Shin Bet and Mossad directors warned me that a deal involving living terrorists headed by Kuntar in exchange for the bodies of our soldiers will prompt Hamas to toughen its position in the talks on Gilad Shalit. Therefore, even when the intelligence information we possessed did not unequivocally indicated that Goldwasser and Regev are no longer alive, I ordered government representative Ofer Dekel to engage in tough negotiations and insist on receiving information about their fate.

 

Standing up for our principles proved itself: At first Nasrallah demanded the release of more than 1,000 Palestinian and Arab prisoners in addition to the four Lebanese ones and Kuntar. Yet over the past two years he gradually lowered the price. It was clear to us that he needs this deal no less than we do, in order to prove that the war was not in vain. Therefore, the threat that we shall declare Goldwasser and Regev as casualties whose place of burial is unknown pressed him to show more flexibly. As a result, the price paid by Israel Wednesday is the lowest any terror group exacted from us since the Jibril deal 24 years ago. It is even possible that we could have traded bodies in exchange for bodies, yet the pressure exerted by the families and media overwhelmed us.

 

Word of advice to Kuntar

Nasrallah learned over the years how to turn abductions into an ongoing psychological attack that undermines the public’s willingness to fight and our soldiers’ motivation. The media and families helped it in doing so even if they did not intend to do it. One should not be jealous of the army chief, defense minister, and prime minister who are slammed by the families and reserve soldiers for not doing enough to bring back the soldiers they sent to battle.

 

Therefore, even though we recently acquired credible information that Goldwasser and Regev are no longer alive, the government decided, on my recommendation, to approve the deal and ignore the warnings issued by the Mossad and Shin Bet chiefs. Had the Second Lebanon War ended in clear victory, had the Winograd Commission not criticized my conduct, and had my public and moral status not been eroded in the wake of the Talansky affair, I may have acted differently. Yet in my current status, I had no choice.

 

The lesson for the future is clear: We need to prevent situations whereby the frustration of the families, media campaigns, and political considerations prompt the government and its leaders to make decisions that contradict logic, their conscience, and Israel’s security interests. We can reach such situation if, for example, the handling of captives will be handed over, by law, to a committee comprising High Court judges, former army chiefs, ex-negotiators, and intelligence and medical experts. Such committee, which will work under a heavy veil of secrecy that would neutralize public pressure, will direct intelligence gathering efforts, guide our negotiators, and dedicate all its time and energy to this matter. Only once the committee reaches clear conclusions, it will present them to the government. The defense minister and army chief believe that this, more or less, is the way to handle the issue and they are already working to implement it, with my approval.

 

And on a final note, a small word of advice for Samir Kuntar. Ask you comrades in the PLO and Hizbullah what was the ultimate fate of various killers of Israelis and Jews years after they thought their actions were forgotten; for example, what happened to the killers of our athletes in Munich and their masterminds – the last of them died in unnatural circumstances 24 years after that horrific massacre. So learn from the past and draw your conclusions.

 

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