The following is a guest post by Aaron Zelinksy, a member of the Yale Law School Class of 2010.
Wednesday marked the historic transfer of Israeli and Hezbollah prisoners at the Lebanese border. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, proclaimed that he was “very much encouraged by the exchange of prisoners” and that he hoped it would be the “beginning of many to come.”
Unfortunately, Secretary Ban is wrong. Wednesday’s exchange marked a sad day for Israel, the United Nations, and the international rule of law. There was nothing encouraging about it. Rather, the scene at Rosh Hanikra symbolizes an abject failure of the international system, and undermines the power and credibility of Secretary Ban and the United Nations.
Israel was presented with a heartbreaking decision it never should have faced: whether to exchange live terrorists for her kidnapped soldiers’ bodies.
First, some facts. On Wednesday morning, Israel received the bodies of two reservists, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, whose 2006 kidnapping in a cross-border raid by Hezbollah triggered a thirty-three day war. In exchange, Israel returned over a hundred bodies of Hezbollah and Palestinian militants. More importantly, Israel transferred five individuals to Hezbollah, including Samir Kuntar, a Lebanese man serving four life sentences in Israel for murdering an Israeli police officer and three civilians in 1979. According to testimony at his trial, Kuntar killed civilian Daniel Haran in front of his four-year old daughter, Einat. Afterward, Kuntar brutally murdered the girl, crushing her skull against a rock. Kuntar received a hero’s welcome in Lebanon, complete with a red carpet and a meeting Lebanese Prime Minister Sinoura in Beirut.
There are four aspects of this exchange which should trouble Secretary Ban.
First, Hezbollah’s kidnapping of Goldwasser and Regev, and their subsequent incommunicado detention, violated the laws of war. U.N Resolution 1559 clearly delineates the international border between Israel and Lebanon, which was unlawfully breached in an act of aggression by Hezbollah. The use of the soldier’s bodies as bargaining chips further supports Hezbollah’s violation of international law.
Second, Hezbollah’s demands for the release of Kuntar and his fellow terrorists in exchange for the bodies of Goldwasser and Regev violated U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which calls for the “unconditional release of the abducted Israeli soldiers.” Wednesday’s release is far from “unconditional.” In return for two bodies, Israel has released an unrepentant terrorist. The authority of the U.N. Security Council has been weakened by its inability to see its own resolutions enforced.
Third, the exchange encourages additional kidnappings of military personnel in order to secure the release of terrorists. Others are already already taking note. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri declared that the exchange “proves that a useful way to liberate prisoners from the jails of the occupation is to capture Zionist soldiers.”
Fourth, the exchange further empowers Hezbollah and its leader, Hasran Nasrallah. Hezbollah continues to rearm and strengthen its positions in Lebanon, in blatant violation of numerous U.N. Security Council Resolutions. Estimates indicate that Hezbollah is now more heavily armed than it was prior to the start of the 2006 conflict.
Wednesday’s exchange displays Israel’s admirable commitment to bringing every soldier home. Making the exchange was no fault of Israel’s, but rather the result of a failure of the international system.
Secretary Ban hopes that this swap is the “beginning of many to come.” Let’s hope he’s wrong.