Photo: Gabi Menashe
Following the approval of the swap with Hizbullah in Sunday’s government session, we can cautiously say that Hizbullah won again, although it won by points, rather than by knockout.
First, in the immediate future, Hizbullah and Nasrallah will deliver on what they promised – securing the release of Samir Kuntar, who killed the Haran family. However, this was not done in the way Hizbullah hoped. Initially, Nasrallah demanded the release of many Palestinian prisoners, as well as Arab-Israeli ones. He will not get most of it (Israel will only release a very small number of Palestinian prisoners.)
However, the principle has been maintained: Nasrallah looked into the cameras a few times and promised to Kuntar that he shall be released. The operation to abduct the IDF soldiers was called “the promise that was kept.” What can we say; this promise at least was indeed kept.
Lebanese organization holds up prisoner exchange deal approved by cabinet as testament of its strength. Samir Kuntar's brother says Hizbullah to marshal festivities for his return while Kuntar's attorney says after his release he may start a family
Another achievement is the price. We are talking about a relatively modest price for Israel, yet according to the prime minister’s statement at least, our two captives are no longer alive. Getting Kuntar in exchange for two dead soldiers is a pretty good bargain.
Thirdly, the question of “bargaining chips” – whether we like it or not, Nasrallah has methodically been able to take away the bargaining chips held by Israel. At this time Israel no longer holds any meaningful prisoners, and the Ron Arad affair will remain a mystery.
Fourthly, this is an achievement for Nasrallah’s approach. The way Hizbullah sees it, this is further evidence that their modus operandi is working. The first goal was to remove the IDF from south Lebanon – and it happened. Then came the issue of the prisoners – and this too has been achieved now. The next issue is the Shebaa Farms. Here too, Prime Minister Olmert recently declared that Israel is willing to discuss the issue in the framework of peace talks with Lebanon. Hizbullah ignored the second half of this sentence and went out to celebrate – “Israel’s withdrawal from the Shebaa Farms is a victory for the way of resistance,” they have been saying in the past two weeks.
Fifthly, this is a domestic Lebanese victory: While Nasrallah’s rivals have been struggling for a long time now, he boasts yet another victory. After he managed to enforce his will on Lebanon’s political establishment in the form of the “Doha Agreement” (or as it’s popularly known, the “capitulation agreement”) that gave him veto power on government decisions, he has another reason for celebration – he managed to enforce his will on Israel as well. Nasrallah gains a significant and morale-boosting achievement at a time when the political crisis in Lebanon is still alive and kicking.
Struggle to go on
Is the price we paid Hizbullah proper? This is a subject for debate within Israeli society, rather than Lebanese society. For Israel as well, the picture is not wholly dark. First of all, this is not the price Hizbullah demanded at the outset. Nasrallah is not the same confident Nasrallah he was before the war, but rather, a leader of an organization who is hiding somewhere in Lebanon and not moving around freely – moreover, it is doubtful whether Kuntar’s release would prompt any of Nasrallah’s rivals to support him. Still, in Shiite eyes in Lebanon this is a morale victory on Israel and this is no small matter.
And a final matter: Many in Israel, including myself, waited with great interest in the years 1999-2000 to see what Nasrallah will be doing if the IDF indeed withdraws from southern Lebanon. Will he end his armed struggle against Israel or will it continue, and what will be the excuse this time around? The answer came soon after: Several months before the IDF withdrew from southern Lebanon, Nasrallah started marking the next target: Liberating the Shebaa farms. This is the place to note that almost nobody in Lebanon heard about these “farms” and nobody thought of demanding them.
Nasrallah, after digging through the archives, managed to identify a plot of land that was shrouded in controversy from the days of the French Mandate. Ever since he came up with the idea, his television network was instructed to air countless broadcasts regarding the “occupied Lebanese territory,” even though it’s Syrian territory. For the time being, Syria is refusing to renounce it. A Syrian source even said so explicitly this week. This is not the issue. It is very possible that within a short period of time Nasrallah will accomplish his mission both on the issue of prisoners and, who knows, on the Shebaa Farms question.
So what will be the next step? Will he stop his armed struggle against Israel? When it comes to Nasrallah, predictions are dangers, but we can cautiously assume that abductions of soldiers will not be his top priority at this time. It would be a shame to jeopardize such successful statistics for him and risk a furious response from Israel.
Yet you can count on Nasrallah to find a new target for slamming Israel. Perhaps the Palestinian prisoners or Israel Air Force flights over Lebanon, or perhaps the “seven Lebanese village” in the north, which he already mentioned in the past. The struggle, regrettably, won’t end this time, for the simply reason that this is the Shiite militia’s raison d’etre.