This is not an easy article for me to write. As someone who served in a unit that operated well beyond the frontlines, the chances of me falling into enemy hands were far from negligible. My fate could well have been that of Corporal Gilad Shalit. Nonetheless, matters must be made crystal clear, however harsh they may sound:
If the terrorists on the Hamas-dictated list are not released, Shalit's position will be uncertain and undoubtedly, far form secure. However, the entire point of enlisting Corporal Shalit – or any other combat soldier – into the IDF is for them to protect the civilian population even if this involves putting their own life at severe risk. Past experience shows beyond any shadow of doubt that the release of convicted terrorists, even those without the proverbial "blood on their hands," results in numerous civilian casualties - by the very hand of those set free. Indeed, research shows that since 2000, released terrorists have been responsible for almost 200 Israeli deaths.
Clearly then, there is no reason to assume that freeing of the terrorists demanded in exchange for Shalit will not jeopardize the lives of yet more civilians, whose protection was the raison d'etre for Shalit's military service. It therefore follows that the release of convicted terrorists – especially those responsible for the deaths of many Israelis – would not only render Corporal Shalit's service worthless, but would undermine the very rationale of IDF service itself. For if the securing the fate of a single combatant can justify endangering life and limb of numerous civilians, the entire purpose of the military is annulled and the relationship between it and the civilian sector becomes grossly perverted – indeed inverted. For if anyone knew that Shalit's release would result in a further 200 deaths, would they still insist on it? And if it was 100 deaths? 50, 20…??
It is of course true that the IDF and other security services must foster an organizational ethos, an esprit de corps which instills the belief in all their combatants that, should they be taken by the enemy, extraordinary efforts will be made to secure their release. But these "extraordinary efforts" must involve only actions which impinge on personnel of the security forces and not on the civilian population as a whole. They cannot and should not include far-reaching capitulation to enemy demands. They cannot, and should not, include measures which nullify – indeed make a mockery of – the equally extraordinary efforts of fellow combatants, who through their daring, and determination, their willingness to risk to life and limb, brought about the capture and conviction of those who aspired to sow murder and mayhem among Israeli civilians.
Pressure general population
Fatuous remarks such "what would you do if your own son or brother was held hostage" should carry no weight with policy makers. Of course, private individuals who have had loved ones seized and carried off by cruel brutes will, understandably, be willing to make exorbitant demands to secure their freedom; but private individuals do not have public responsibility, and their private pain and anguish cannot be allowed to dictate national policies, especially if doing so is highly likely to cause equally great pain and anguish for other private individuals.
This does not mean that Israeli prisoners should be abandoned. Quite the opposite! There is a whole range of assertive, pro-active measures that can and must be employed not only to secure the release of abductees, but to convey to the other side that future kidnappings are likely to be highly unprofitable enterprises. These would include vigorous intelligence efforts to locate the whereabouts of the abductees, and to mount operational plans for their forcible rescue; retaliatory abductions of prominent personalities on the Palestinian side to use as bargaining chips to secure the release of Israeli hostages, and collective penalties on the population in whose "national interest" the abduction was purportedly executed and intended to promote.
As to failed efforts to free our captives via counter-abductions and rescue attempts, they should not be taken as a sign they will not be successful in the future. Indeed, it may only indicate that they should be conducted with greater vigor and skill, and that the IDF and other security services should invest greater time and resources in honing abilities to deal with such contingencies. Moreover, such measures can, and should, be combined with pressure on the general Palestinian population, who according to virtually all public opinion polls widely supports armed action against Israel, and should not be spared the consequences of this support.
Such steps should include the systematic reduction – and even eventual termination - of services to the Palestinian public like electrical power, water, postal services, fuel and communications, until the hostage is released. For it must be brought home in the most tangible manner that abducting IDF personnel is unacceptable to Israel and will produce intolerable consequences for the Palestinians.
Extraordinary efforts must indeed be made to extricate Shalit from his Palestinian captors. But his liberation must be a coercive one, not a consensual one. It must be imposed on the Palestinians because his continued incarceration involves penalties that are too high for them to pay; not agreed to because his release involves rewards too tempting for them to pass up.