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July 23, 2008

Israel should stop compromising with terrorism - argues Brendan Simms

Posted by Brendan Simms

Brendan Simms - Professor in the History of International Relations at the Centre of International Studies at the University of Cambridge - takes issue with the Israeli government's decision to release Samir Kantar in exchange for the bodies of two Israeli servicemen.

Nearly thirty years ago, sixteen-year old Samir Kantar landed by rubber dinghy on the beach of the Israeli coastal town of Nahariya. There he shot Danny Haran, in front of his four-year old daughter; then he smashed the child's head in with his rifle butt. Meanwhile, Haran's wife Smadar inadvertently smothered their youngest child while trying to hide from the raiders. Kantar was captured almost immediately and spent the next twenty-nine years in an Israeli jail. He never showed any remorse for his actions, and became something of a hero to Arab and Palestinian popular opinion.

Last week, Kantar was released along with others prisoners in return for the bodies of the two soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah in July 2006. It was this incident which sparked the Israeli invasion of south Lebanon, the death of more than one hundred Israeli troops, a smaller number of Israeli civilians, and many more Lebanese, both military and civilian. Kantar was welcomed with a brass band and red carpet amid scenes of great rejoicing.

To most in the west, this behaviour is inexplicable, and rightly so.

It is one thing to take pride in "resistance" against Israeli security forces: there is no gain-saying that Hezbollah have been good at that. One can go further and maintain that many military operations unavoidably endanger civilian lives, and neither Israeli nor the west can cast the first stone in that regard.

It is even possible to claim, as so many terrorists do, that adult Israeli society, male and female, is so militarised that all civilians are effectively combatants, and thus legitimate targets. But one can only wonder at a political culture which celebrates the release of a man who deliberately murdered a small child who posed no immediate threat to him or his cause. Is it that the rejoicing crowd really believes in the complete annihilation of Israel's Jews, or at least their comprehensive expulsion, including children? It would appear so, at least to judge by some of the reported remarks at Kantar's homecoming. As one waiting Lebanese wife said:

This is only the beginning today. We still have the Shebaa Farms to liberate. And after that we will turn our eyes to liberating Jerusalem.
What this will mean in practice can be imagined, and it cannot be explained as an act of self-defence. Kantar, it should be remembered was captured not during the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon from 1982, but some years before while attacking sovereign internationally-recognised Israeli territory.

I was one of those who believed that while the 2006 operation was a military draw - in effect an Israeli defeat - Hezbollah had paid a heavy domestic political price for their adventurism. It was heavily criticised by Sunni, Christian and Druze groups for endangering Lebanon's fragile recovery. But last week, the Israeli government handed Hezbollah a completely gratuitous victory weakening those who had confronted Hezbollah during the past eighteen months. One wonders how Kantar will be welcomed back among his fellow Druze; and what he will make of the radical Islamism of his new friends in Hezbollah.

Israelis are proud of the policy of leaving no man behind, with its implied asymmetry of value in the trading of living enemies for their human remains. But should they be? Is that policy not a standing invitation to further kidnapping? It is no accident that in his welcoming speech for Kantar, Hezbollah's Sheikh Nasrallah threatened more actions until all the prisoners had come home.

And next time another Kantar murders another child, will Hezbollah prise him out through another kidnapping, not even bothering to keep their hostages alive? Israel must know that it is in a deadly spiral here, in which it loses its competitive advantage and allows the very strength and decency of its society to be turned against it.

Contrast the Israeli policy with that of the other great democracies, Britain and the USA. They too have the slogan "No man left behind". In America's case, this has sometimes embroiled her armed forces in tactically unwise situations, for example during the recovery missions in Vietnam, or the Iran hostage rescue fiasco, or the case of the Rangers at Mogadishu. So far as I am aware, neither government entered individual bilateral deals to trade individuals held in return for the release of their own servicemen.

We have no right to demand that Israel compromise its vital interests in pursuit of a chimerical peace settlement. But we can request that it should not break ranks to negotiate tactical deals with terrorist organisations. Of course, peace is possible, and desirable, even with organisations who have used terrorist violence. Northern Ireland is an example. But there prisoner releases - controversial enough as they were - were embedded in a settlement. The British government never seriously considered ad hoc exchanges. There would have been no end to IRA hostage-taking if they had.

If Hezbollah really are just a local resistance organisation and a lasting agreement can be reached, and there is no evidence whatsoever that it is, then it will be right to release all their detainees s a goodwill gesture. But not before.

Dr Brendan Simms is Professor in the History of International Relations at the Centre of International Studies at the University of Cambridge and co-President of the Henry Jackson Society.

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For an Egyptian view on the situation:

Posted by: Robert H. Olley at July 26, 2008 02:12 PM

Should Palestinians stop comprimising with Isreal after Isreali terrorism?

Posted by: Jonathan Lee at August 26, 2008 02:27 PM
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