Israel has a well-earned reputation for being tough on terrorism—witness its punitive raids and targeted killings of terrorists going back to the 1950s and beyond. But there is another side to Israeli policy—a softer side. Israel is not only one of the biggest killers/jailers of terrorists but also one of
the biggest releasers of jailed terrorists. As I noted in an op-ed in The Daily a few months ago:
A study published in 2008 by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs concluded that since 1985, Israel had “freed over 10,000 Palestinians who were serving prison sentences for hostile activity or terror actions.” Some were let go in massive deals with groups such as Hezbollah wherein a few Israeli hostages — or, in some cases, nothing more than Israeli corpses — were exchanged for hundreds of imprisoned militants. Others were freed as a “goodwill” gesture to Israel’s negotiating partners in the Palestinian Authority.
Whatever the case, a large number returned to terrorism. Israel’s Defense Ministry later determined that out of 238 releasees in a 1985 deal, 114 subsequently engaged in terrorist acts.
Now, Israel may be poised to enact a similar deal with Hamas, potentially giving up hundreds of imprisoned terrorist suspects in return for the freedom of Staff Sgt. Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped in 2006. At least such a deal would result in the return of a living soldier—rather than, as in some deals in the past, a corpse. And Israel is of course to be commended for its devotion to the well-being of its soldiers, which includes doing everything possible to win their release from captivity—and thus helps to keep up morale among its forces. But Israel’s continuing willingness to enter into hostage deals inevitably creates an incentive for more hostage-taking in the future and generally undermines the credibility of its anti-terrorist deterrent by creating an image of Israeli “softness.” This gives hope to jihadists of the “you love life, we love death” camp.