Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Thursday said Israel should start kidnapping senior Hamas members to gain leverage in its bid to secure the release of two Israeli civilians and two bodies of IDF soldiers held in the Gaza Strip.
The Jewish Home party leader has been strident in his criticism of the government’s failure to bring back the remains of Lt. Hadar Goldin and Sgt. Oron Shaul, and voted against a rapprochement deal with Turkey that was criticized for not guaranteeing pressure from Ankara on Hamas.
“My policies are consistent over the years,” he said in a Radio Darom interview on Thursday, “complete opposition to disproportionate deals to free terrorists, and certainly in exchange for bodies.
“Once, in a situation like this, we would go and kidnap from the other side,” said Bennett, a former commando, apparently suggesting the kidnapping of senior Hamas officials.
In the past, he added, Israel would kidnap Syrian officers in order to gain diplomatic bargaining chips. Bennett said the military shouldn’t sit on its hands and “wait for the release of prisoners. We need to be aggressive and operate for ourselves.”
Bennett was an officer in the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit, which abducted two senior Lebanese terrorists — Abdel Karim Obeid in 1989 and Mustafa Dirani in 1994 — in order to use as bargaining chips to trade for missing Israeli Air Force serviceman Ron Arad.
“We need to create leverage in order to free the bodies of our soldiers, and not release terrorists,” he said.
Bennett opposed the deal to reestablish diplomatic ties with Turkey, which stipulated Israel would pay $20 million in compensation to the families of 10 Turks killed in an Israel Defense Forces raid on a ship attempting to run the blockade on the Gaza Strip in 2010.
“Reconciliation with Turkey is important at this time and is in the interest of the State of Israel,” Bennett said before the cabinet voted on the deal at the end of June. “But at the same time, paying compensation to the perpetrators of terrorist acts is a dangerous precedent that the State of Israel will regret in the future. Israel must not pay compensation to terrorists who tried to harm the IDF.”
The rapprochement agreement faced sharp criticism from the families of the Israeli soldiers whose remains are held by Hamas in Gaza, as well as the families of two Israeli citizens believed to be captive in the coastal enclave.
The parents of Shaul, killed in Israel’s 2014 war in the Strip and whose body is being held there, and the family of Avraham Abera Mengistu, who disappeared into the Strip later in 2014 and who is believed to be still alive, had long petitioned for the agreement with Turkey to included a demand that their loved ones be returned to Israel. The parents of Goldin, also killed in the 2014 war and whose body is also help by Hamas, have joined the protest against the deal.
The father of Hisham al-Sayed, the second Israeli held in Gaza, has called on the other families to cease their campaigns to pressure the government.
Bennett has recently called for aggressive measures to crack down on Palestinian terrorism in the wake of last week’s deadly terror attacks in the West Bank.
Suggestions included in his plan, he said, were the imprisonment or expulsion of terrorists’ families; the arrest of all Hamas operatives in the West Bank; the destruction of thousands of illegally built homes in the West Bank; the complete closure of the villages of assailants; resumption of full military activity in West Bank areas that are under the control of the Palestinian Authority; the prevention of Palestinian vehicles from traveling on Route 60 — the West Bank’s main north-to-south road; and disabling the internet in the entire Hebron region.