The deal that brought Gilad Shalit back home was unavoidable from an internal-political standpoint and it is probably also reasonable in relation to the security risks it poses.
However, in its essence and strategic meaning it was a capitulation to extortion of a radical Islamic terrorist organization, which exposed the soft spot of the State of Israel that was struck with cruelty and perseverance until it received almost everything it had asked for.
But Israel not only capitulated. It also celebrated a humiliating festival that the IDF helped orchestrate.
Capitulation is not a word that cannot be uttered. Sometimes, it is an unavoidable act in a lengthy war with a determined, fanatically-driven enemy. Although it is a humiliating act, it can be tolerated so long as it does not create an irreversible situation.
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That is, as long as this act does not endanger our physical existence as a nation and as a people, while enabling us to preserve our strength ahead of the next round of violence, there is a good chance we would be victorious in the next round.
The Shalit deal is a capitulation of this kind, the tolerated one, because the IDF and the Shin Bet have the tools to successfully deal with its security-related ramifications, and because it allows us to preserve our strength. To be more exact – it boosts the motivation of IDF soldiers and Israeli citizens as a whole, to fight and deal with the threats we are facing, while recognizing that mutual camaraderie is not some empty slogan in Israeli society.
Mutual camaraderie, to those who have forgotten, is not just the notion that a state and its citizens would do anything to free someone who is kidnapped. That is only one side of the coin. The other side is that the Shalit deal helped highlight the internal recognition by each of us that in Israel every citizen counts.
But this fact, important as it may be to our future and national might, is only one part of the picture. A realistic estimate of what is expected here must take into account the impact and ramifications of the deal on the other side. Not only on Hamas, but on all of Israel’s enemies, from Iran and Hezbollah to the most extreme Arab Israelis.
Kidnappings pay off
Judging from the reactions to the deal, it can be determined that it further demonstrated to our enemies that Israeli society knows how to withstand losses up to a point but cannot deal with emotional and psychological dilemmas.
Not only abductions – any use of violence that Israel does not have a good military answer for, creates in Israeli society a sense of helplessness and hysteria and is therefore an effective measure that brings about tactical capitulation over time and perhaps even strategic downfall of the Jews and their state.
In fact, the Shalit deal provided a renewed validation to Hassan Nasrallah’s “spider web” theory. He believes Israeli society embodies a spider web, which is easy to untangle by inflicting emotional damage, while taking advantage of the humanitarian values of Western society that force Israel to restrain its response – while not directly confronting the IDF’s superior military power.
As far as Nasrallah is concerned, the IDF’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon is proof of this theory, while Hamas reached the same conclusions after Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip.
According to this theory, kidnappings are almost always worthwhile, and should be continued, whether dealing with bodies of Israelis or living Israelis. This is proved by Hezbollah’s only achievement in the Second Lebanon War – the deal in which hundreds of prisoners – including the heinous murderer Samir Kuntar – were released in return for the bodies of two IDF soldiers.
Such a deal, including the Tennenbaum one, shows the masses in the Arab world just how right the Islamists are, whether Sunnis or Shiites, when they claim that “Israel only understands force”.
As such, it is obvious that the Shalit deal strengthens Hamas and the armed struggle it believes in, while weakening Abbas, who chose the non-violent path that aims to make Israel surrender to international pressure.
Hamas’ success forces Abbas to harden his positions and highlights his need to promote the reconciliation with Hamas. But even if the Hamas leadership in Gaza is leaning towards some sort of arrangement with Israel, as some experts claim, the released prisoners will not allow it to moderate its stance. At least not in the near future.
Many of them enjoy great prestige and influence over the movement’s political leadership and its armed wing, and would do anything to foil an arrangement with Israel. The Shalit deal, therefore, makes an Israeli-Palestinian agreement even more unlikely in the foreseeable future.
However, there are some positive aspects to the deal from Israel’s standpoint. It created a much-improved relationship with Egypt. The success of the Egyptian mediation made it clear to the nation’s new rulers – the Supreme Military Council – that the connection with Israel is valuable.
The agreement orchestrated by Egypt also allowed its military leadership to prove to the Egyptian and Arab Street that it knows how to look out for the Arab-Palestinian interest, and even bend Israel if necessary.
The deal also enabled Egypt to prove to the US and Europe, in addition to moderate Arab states, that it is a moderating force in the region that knows how to defuse regional mines. Egypt’s prestige as a leader in the Middle East has been given a major boost, which also supports Cairo’s demand from the US to provide it with much-needed economic aid.
However, the deal also brought Egypt and Hamas closer. It is likely to assume that this growing association would make it difficult for Israel to take action against Hamas in the future.
Another positive aspect pertains to the deal’s terms. The deportation of dozens of mass murderers to Gaza or foreign countries not only minimizes the security threat they pose, it is also heavy punishment for the deportees.
Disconnecting them from their families and environment results in psychological hardship, which not many can overcome. Experience proves that many view the deportation as a kind of social isolation, which humiliates them for an extended period of time.
One more point that has positive ramifications has to do with the Israeli government, or Benjamin Netanyahu to be exact. Anyone who claimed that the Israeli prime minister is unable to be pragmatic or make painful concessions must admit he was wrong. Pay attention, Abbas, the American administration and European leaders.
The red lines
It is now pertinent that Israel learn its lessons from the Shalit affair. It can be assumed that the next kidnapping is already on its way and therefore this process must be carried out rapidly.
The main lesson is that after an abduction Israel must immediately take action on three fronts: first, establish a special intelligence task force whose only mission would be to deal with all the aspects of freeing the kidnapped citizen, starting with the gathering of intelligence on his whereabouts, through developing operational options to free him, to support and consultations on negotiations.
This task force must immediately be manned by IDF, Shin Bet and Mossad personnel. For instance, if an Israeli is kidnapped overseas, the Mossad would lead the task force, while the IDF and Shin Bet would take the lead in other instances.
The second lesson is that the IDF, with the help of the intelligence community, must carry out operations that would put pressure on the kidnappers. Had the IDF, immediately after Shalit’s kidnapping, entered Gaza and divided it up into three parts while informing Hamas that the condition for leaving would be to free the kidnapped soldier – perhaps the negotiations would have been easier and faster.
Instead, the IDF entered the Strip and carried out a series of operations with no clear purpose, which did not create any effect. A targeted assassinations campaign would probably have resulted in a more desired outcome had it been properly planned and had Israel not feared rocket salvos fired at southern Israel. These operations would not only help secure the kidnapped person’s release, it would also boost the deterrence ahead of future abductions.
In addition, Israel must establish in advance its “red lines”, which the government will not cross unless they are backed by legislation. It needs to be stressed that these red lines must be realistic and take into account the precedents set in previous deals and Israeli society’s sensitivity to the lives of its people. But they must be established after prolonged, meaningful public discussion. The other side must have full knowledge of these red lines too.
The fourth lesson is that Israel must stand behind its statements and threats. If the prime minister said after Shalit was released that the prisoners who return to terrorist activity would be eliminated, he, and those who follow him in office, must live up to this threat.
If Israel takes decisive steps to implement these lessons and proves it to the families of those who were kidnapped, the extensive media festivals that prolonged Shalit’s captivity and upped his price could be avoided in the future. They would also make the disgraceful capitulation festival that we witnessed, produced by the PM’s bureau and the IDF, irrelevant.
A capitulation deal should be accepted with restraint as one accepts a bitter outcome that is unavoidable. Only in Israel does humiliation turn into a celebration, without considering how it is perceived on the other side and the damage it may cause.
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