It’s virtually unanimous: everyone from Hassan Nasrallah to Mossad Chief Meir Dagan seems to agree that Israel’s prisoner swap deal with Hezbollah marks a significant strategic setback for the Jewish state.
After all, in exchange for two captured soldiers who are likely dead, Israel has agreed to release Samir Kuntar, a notorious member of the Palestine Liberation Front who crushed a 4 year-old girl’s head on beach rocks after killing her young father in 1979. As Kuntar has long been among Israel’s most coveted bargaining chips in previous prisoner swap negotiations with Hezbollah, Israel is paying a high price for the bodies of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev in releasing him. And, as my CONTENTIONS colleague Emanuele Ottolenghi has noted, Kuntar is merely the latest cost that Israel has accepted in its bid to rescue these two soldiers–adding to the 130 Israelis who died during the 2006 Lebanon War.
Still, one might expect Israel’s political leadership–which overwhelmingly approved the deal yesterday–to declare that Israel is achieving some sort of strategic benefit through the prisoner swap. After all, a prisoner swap only becomes a strategic liability when the adversary believes that it could achieve the release of more prisoners–and all the political benefits that come with it–through future kidnapping raids. For this reason, leaders typically spin prisoner swap deals as somehow enhancing their states’ strategic outlook, aiming to undermine support for future raids among the enemy’s constituency.
Yet Ehud Olmert is hardly your typical leader. Indeed, rather than making any argument for Israeli strength in the aftermath of the prisoner swap, Olmert has declared total failure, saying:
There will be much sadness in Israel, much humiliation considering the celebrations that will be held on the other side.
Israeli “humiliation”? “Celebrations” among Hezbollah’s supporters, perhaps broadcast on satellite television across the Arab world? Quite literally, Hezbollah would kill for these prizes. With these words, Olmert has guaranteed that this latest prisoner swap will be a substantial strategic liability, with Hezbollah gunning for more Israeli “humiliation” as soon as it senses an opening.