The Illogic of Asymmetrical Prisoner Exchanges
It makes no sense. Israel has traded five brutal militants for the bodies of two dead soldiers and the assorted body parts of other Israeli soldiers. I am in Israel now teaching with a Whittier/Pepperdine study abroad program and coverage of the prisoner exchange is ubiquitous. I attended a special class session with our students of a presentation by Major Aharon Mor, an Israel Defense Force spokesman, to try to understand the logic. But it fails me. When asked why Israel would make this trade, Mor quoted his superiors as saying, "We have a responsibility for all of our soldiers, those who are alive and those who are dead." But it is patently obvious that if Israel will exchange the likes of Samir Kuntar for the bodies of soldiers, then this plays directly into the hands of Israel’s enemies. It creates little incentive for Hezbollah to keep other prisoners alive. And if there is any incentive, it is to up the ante of any future exchange. If you can get five militants for two bodies, how many can you get for a real live captured soldier? That will be the question Israel will now face with demands for more prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit, who is being held in Gaza. Hamas is demanding "thousands of prisoners" in exchange for Shalit.
In an editorial in the Jerusalem Post today, Herb Keinon writes that "no other country in the world would have made such a deal." He argues that the exchange really is about the Holocaust and the the communal obligation of doing everything possible to protect a Jew in danger. But in reality it only encourages Israel’s enemies to place Israeli soldier’s in greater danger. This asymmetrical exchange emboldens Israel’s enemies and makes Israel appear to be a weak negotiator. It just makes no sense.