As the search for three Israeli teenagers abducted in the West Bank threatens to drag into its second excruciating week, Israelis are finding their frustration and despair tinged by a terrible sense of déjà vu.
Israeli believes that the three teens — Eyal Yifrach, 16; Gil-ad Shaar, 19; and Naftali Frankel, 16 — were snatched by Hamas last Thursday night while hitchhiking home from their religious schools in Gush Etzion. The motivation: a toxic combination of terror and a desire for leverage in the nation’s increasingly lopsided prisoner exchanges.
Ever since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu okayed the release of 1,027 Palestinian security prisoners in exchange for a single staff sergeant, Gilad Shalit, in 2011, his opponents have been warning that further kidnappings were simply a matter of time. (The freeing of 78 Palestinian terror convicts, many of them murderers and architects of notorious terror attacks, in the framework of the recent nine-month peace talks only exacerbated the criticism.) Last Friday, as Israelis media outlets confirmed what had already been circulating on social media for hours, that three young men had indeed been abducted in the West Bank, it looked as if that horrible prophecy had proved itself.
But was the Shalit exchange really a watershed for Israeli prisoner swaps? Was it, in fact, so lopsided that it marked a new era of horror and leverage for Hamas and its cronies?
A look at the history says otherwise. Here, we take a look at the most lopsided prisoner swaps in Israeli history, before the Shalit deal:
1) All the way back in 1955, the nascent State of Israel agreed to set free 40 Syrian soldiers who were being held in Israel on varied charges, in exchange for four soldiers who had been captured patrolling the Golan Heights. Those soldiers were returned alive, along with the body of their comrade, Uri Ilan, who had hanged himself in captivity after being subjected to horrific interrogation. Hidden inside the lining of Ilan’s clothes was a note that read, “I didn’t betray my country. I committed suicide.”
2) In 1983, six Israeli prisoners being held by the PLO were released in exchange for a whopping 4,700 Arabs. Among those released in exchange for the Israelis were both Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners, but only about 100 of them were considered to be “security prisoners,” or those with significant terror convictions on their records. The six — Eliyahu Abutbul, Dani Gilboa, Rafi Hazan, Reuven Cohen, Avraham Motevaliski and Avraham Kornfeld — had been captured while manning an IDF outpost in southern Lebanon. Two other soldiers had been captured along with them, and those two men — Yosef Grof and Nissim Salem — were held separately and released in a later swap, which brings us to…
3) The Jibril exchange in 1985: Known as the first real prisoner swap in which Israel agreed to release some of the most notorious murderers in its prisons, this deal saw Grof and Salem returned to their families, alongside a third soldier, Hezi Shai, in exchange for 1,150 Palestinian prisoners. The swap, which was held on May 21, 1985, included the release of Japanese-born Muslim convert Kozo Okamoto, one of the gunmen who killed 26 people in the 1972 Lod Airport massacre.
4) In 2004, Israel released more than 400 Palestinian prisoners and some 30 Lebanese prisoners, including members of the Hezbollah leadership, in exchange for one civilian captive, Elhanan Tannenbaum, and the bodies of three IDF soldiers: Adi Avitan, Benny Avraham and Omar Souad.
5) In perhaps the most gut-wrenching of all Israeli prisoner exchanges, in 2008 Israel released Samir al-Quntar, a Lebanese terrorist who in 1979 brutally destroyed an entire Israeli family, for the bodies of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. Goldwasser and Regev were captured in the July 12, 2006, cross-border raid that sparked the Second Lebanon War. Prior to the swap, Israel had no concrete information on the soldiers’ status and was still holding out hope that the two men would be returned alive. In addition to the release of Quntar, who during his terror attack was seen bashing in the head of four-year-old Einat Haran with rocks, Israel also set free an additional four Hezbollah fighters and returned the bodies of some 200 others.