Front pages across the world on Tuesday are all dedicated to the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit from captivity. He arrived home following a prisoner exchange operation involving thousands of Palestinians imprisoned in Israel. The decision of the Israeli government to make a deal with the Islamist Hamas party to free prisoners, many of whom were serving life sentences for terrorism and murder, has received a mixed response.
According to a Dahaf Institute poll, 79% of Israelis support the Shalit deal. Meanwhile, the Israeli media and blogs are overflowing with outraged tirades by opponents of the exchange, some of which are family members of those who were killed by the freed prisoners. The Supreme Court of Israel has received dozens of lawsuits from these families, who are demanding that the murderers are kept behind bars.
Why did you let these killers go, Bibi?
Both opponents and supporters of the prisoner swap fear that the deal may lead to new abductions.
Gilad Shalit, a soldier of the Israeli Defense Forces, was captured by Palestinian militants in June 2006. To secure his freedom, the Islamists demanded the release of over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli prisons, including their leaders who are serving long terms, as well as female and underage prisoners. On October 11, the Israeli government and Hamas leaders came to an agreement to exchange Gilad Shalit for 1,027 Palestinians.
Death for hundreds of Israelis
The risks for such a deal are obvious. Firstly, the Islamists are now aware of the concessions that Israel is prepared to make for the sake of saving one soldier, and so they may set out to organize new kidnappings. Secondly, nobody can guarantee that the Palestinians who are freed from Israeli prisons will not return to terrorism.
This is the reason Israel was so slow in making a decision on the Shalit deal. Yuval Diskin, former chief of Shin Bet, Israel's internal security service, has stressed more than once that the release of so many criminals poses a serious threat to national security. Former chief of the Mossad intelligence agency, Meir Dagan has said that the deal would signal the victory of opposition forces in the Arab world.
This fear is shared by many in Israel. Popular Israeli bloggers who are trying to wrap their minds around the swap emphasize that these are terrorists who are being released from prisons, and that as soon as they are free they will carry on killing Israeli people. "Before anything else, I would like to say good bye - to the dozens of people who will soon die. They are here with us today, laughing and planning for the future. But the government has condemned them to death a week ago," Gabrielle Wolfson, a journalist with the Cursor news agency, wrote in his blog.
Yevgeny Satanovsky, President of the Institute of the Middle East, agrees. "Statistically, around 70% of terrorists who are freed through exchanges such as this return to terrorist activities and continue killing people," the expert told RIA Novosti. "So today's good news [Shalit's return] means certain death for hundreds of Israelis in the future."
"The release of these terrorists neutralizes all the effort and risk involved in their capture and arrest. It is a mockery of the trials and the ostensibly harsh verdicts," wrote Yaakov Kedmi, former chief of the Nativ liaison organization, in his blog.
The value of life? A thousand Palestinians for one Israeli.
There are legitimate grounds for these concerns. On Monday, a source in the Palestinian administration announced to the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, that it is only a matter of time until more Israeli soldiers are abducted in order to be exchanged for imprisoned Islamists.
An unequal exchange?
The exchange of over a thousand Palestinian prisoners for Gilad Shalit means Israel has lost the war with terrorism, says Yevgeny Satanovsky. He believes that the deal with the Islamists was based solely on the political ambitions of Israeli officials.
"At such a historic moment, these people are promoting their careers based on populist considerations. The prime minister, the president and the defense minister are seeking higher ratings. This will certainly ensure their high ratings - but only in the short term, until the next terrorist attack," the expert said.
Political observer Jacob Schauss of the newspaper, Vesti has an entirely different view. He believes that the decision was dictated by the state ideology which assigns the ultimate value to every human life. The motives behind Netanyahu's government, which agreed to strike a deal with Hamas, are perfectly clear. Israel has always seen the ultimate value [in a human life], as the cornerstone of their national values: a human life is placed above all other considerations, he said.
The soldier comes home.
The instability of the situation in the Middle East demanded a prompt decision with regard to Shalit's freedom. "Nobody knows what will happen with terrorist organizations such as Hamas in the future," said Schauss. That is to say, there are circumstances that speak to an unsafe future for Gilad Shalit, and the possibility of a similar deal in the future. I think the Israeli government made a reasonable decision, realizing that if they had not done so there might never be another opportunity.
People wonder why Israel is risking so many lives for the sake of one soldier. "Has it not occurred to anybody that normally, soldiers risk their lives for the safety of the citizens, while we are becoming a state where the people are paying for the life of a soldier?" Gabrielle Wolfson wrote in his blog.
The blogger's fears are perfectly reasonable. This deal is nothing new in Israeli history. The most well-known deal is the 1985 Jibril agreement between Israeli government and Ahmed Jibril, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command. Three prisoners were exchanged for 1,150 imprisoned Islamists. Two years later, the First Intifada in Palestine was organized by militants who were released in 1985, Jacob Shauss recalls. "Sixty percent of the former prisoners again became involved in terrorism," he told RIA Novosti. Nearly a hundred Israelis were killed by those militants.
The Israeli officials promise that history will not repeat itself, while the heads of the security services claim they are prepared for any act of provocation that may come about as a result of Shalit's exchange for the more than one thousand Islamists. The Israeli people do not find relief in such claims.
The views expressed in this article are the author's and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.