This was a sad and difficult day for the Regev and Goldwasser families, for the IDF, and for the entire nation of Israel. At the same time, it is a day of moral strength and of solidarity with fighters who died in battle and are now returning to their families.
Today marks, in practice, the end of the Second Lebanon War; a war mostly prompted by the desire to bring our two abducted soldiers back home and hit Hizbullah hard. This war failed to achieve its objectives. The many reasons for that have already been identified, both by the Winograd Commission and through the ongoing public discourse.
Today, Udi and Eldad returned home; not the way we hoped and prayed they would return, yet nonetheless, they are home, where they will be laid to rest.
The special Jewish moral sensitivity of Israeli society to all matters pertaining to its responsibility for soldiers sent on a mission is especially prominent today in the face of the orchestrated cries of joy in Lebanon on the occasion of the return of Hizbullah’s “hero,” the despicable murderer Samir Kuntar.
The heartbreaking occasion at the border this morning was preceded by a sharp public debate; a legitimate and important debate. Yet one matter is beyond all else: The duty to do everything in order to locate our captives and MIAs and bring them home, even if the price is painful and outrageous. Under the circumstances, it was the right decision to proceed with this complex deal.
We must consider the same principles in our effort to bring Gilad Shalit back home. Gilad needs to be returned home, and the earlier the better. The dilemmas are well-known, the price will be high, and time is working against us. The difficult images of Ron Arad published earlier this week powerfully illustrate the need to get Gilad back home soon.
Time of self-reflectionThe prisoner swap, two years after the end of the Second Lebanon War, is a time of self-reflection for both sides. It appears that the IDF, under the leadership of Major General Gabi Ashkenazi, used the past two years for an in depth rehabilitation process in an effort to return to its roots and inspire its commanders and soldiers.
I am convinced that the IDF today is more powerful, better prepared, and more realistic with respect to the threats it faces. An IDF that is also aware of the limits of power and of the need to rely on broad strategic vision is the basis for the challenges we’re facing; it is the true basis for creating deterrence and preventing future abductions of troops and civilians.
The IDF has been and continues to be the most important security guarantee of the State of Israel’s existence. We must preserve and safeguard this asset in the face of any disagreements, because this is a life and death matter. This army must be nurtured as a unique component with great value.
Despite the “victory celebrations” held by Hizbullah at this time, and despite its attempt to present the return of our abductees as yet another “divine victory,” it is clear that the other side internalized some lessons as well. More than 1,000 casualties, immense destruction of Lebanon’s infrastructures, and an economy that has yet to recover were the price paid by Hizbullah in exchange for Samir Kuntar’s return. I estimate that Lebanon’s citizens do not seek another confrontation, and this has implications for the future.
The latest developments regarding Ron Arad obligate us to continue the effort to secure information about him, and about all our other MIAs. We must not lose hope. We must not close the case without unequivocal evidence and we must not declare that we exhausted all possibilities, because there is no such thing when it comes to securing the release of our captives. On this front, there can be only one bottom line: Bringing the boys back home.
Major (Res.) Eyal Ben Reuven served as the deputy Northern Command chief during the Second Lebanon War. Currently he serves as the director of the Born to Freedom Foundation