Reaping what the Gilad Shalit deal sowed

The exchange of 1,027 terrorists for one soldier bolstered Palestinian motivation for more kidnappings. Tomer Hazan may be only the first to pay the terrible price

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Gilad Shalit on the day of his release from Gaza (photo credit: Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry/Flash90)
Gilad Shalit on the day of his release from Gaza (photo credit: Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry/Flash90)

This weekend’s kidnapping and murder of 20-year-old Sgt. Tomer Hazan is not the first attempt to kidnap Israeli soldiers or civilians in the two years since the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange deal. Unfortunately, it also won’t be the last.

Since the deal, about which many of Israel’s security heads expressed reservations, calls for kidnapping a “second Gilad Shalit” have been heard repeatedly from terrorist organizations. Though the motivation for such kidnappings existed before Shalit’s release, there is no doubt that freeing 1,027 prisoners, many of whom were convicted murderers, in return for one hostage soldier, gave a meaningful push to actual attempts to create another “bargaining chip” in order to secure the release of additional prisoners.

On the day of Shalit’s release, October 18, 2011, thousands of Hamas operatives took to the streets of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The slogan shouted by Palestinian youths that day, especially prisoners’ family members, was that the Palestinians needed “another six Shalits” in order to empty out Israel’s prisons.

The Benjamin Netanyahu government, which approved the deal, created this situation with its own hands. And it was clear even then that the next kidnapping was already in the works. Indeed, dozens upon dozens of kidnapping attempts have been thwarted since October 2011.

These attempts are not the sole property of one organization in particular. Though most come from the Hamas workshop, there are also others by Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

In some of the cases, terrorist squads were caught inside Israel, searching for a victim. Several of them had hideouts prepared weeks in advance — caches and basements built especially to hold a kidnapped Israeli. Sometimes it was only luck that prevented a murder like that of Hazan.

The heightened motivation and inspiration to kidnap soldiers are not the only negative consequences of the Shalit deal. It turns out that most of the kidnapping attempts have been orchestrated by terrorists, primarily from Hamas, who were released in the October 2011 Shalit exchange. Not the ones who were released to their own homes in the West Bank, but those who were exiled to Gaza or abroad, and are now setting up terrorist networks there, based on their connections with operatives in the field.

Since the details of Hazan’s murder were released, politicians on the right — including government ministers — are again denouncing the current phased release of prisoners and negotiations with the Palestinians.

These ministers are doubly mistaken. First of all, PA security forces are responsible for disrupting a significant portion of kidnapping attempts. Terrorists involved in these attempts sit in PA prisons today. Second, there is no comparison between a prisoner release in exchange for a kidnapped soldier and a release in the framework of political negotiations. Every Palestinian child in the territories knows this.

The problem is that the equation until now is undeniably skewed in the direction that Hamas proposes. A kidnapped Israel soldiers equals 1,027 released prisoners. Political negotiations equal, to this point at least, only 26.

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