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First Fruits of Shalit Deal: Egypt Joins the Hostage-Taking Party

The ink on Israel’s ransom deal for Gilad Shalit is barely dry, but already, the first fruits are visible: Hamas’ success in obtaining 1,027 terrorists for one kidnapped soldier convinced Egypt to enter the hostage-taking business as well.

Today, Israel’s cabinet is set to approve freeing 25 Egyptian prisoners in exchange for Israeli-American Ilan Grapel. Though the exact prisoner list hasn’t yet been released, Egyptian press reports say all are suspected or convicted of crimes like murder, drug smuggling and human trafficking; an Israeli group says half were involved in terror.

Grapel was arrested in Cairo on June 12, when Egypt, which was deeply involved in brokering the Shalit deal, already knew how much Israel was willing to pay. That he was seized purely as a hostage is obvious from the sheer ludicrousness of the charges. He was originally accused of espionage, but as his classmates at Emory University noted, it would take an extraordinarily incompetent spy to post Facebook photos of himself in his Israeli army uniform: If he were really spying for Israel, highlighting his connection with its army is the last thing he’d do. At some point, even Cairo realized this, so it added new charges, like firebombing Egyptian police stations during the revolution. But it never produced any evidence for those, either.

The motive is equally obvious. As Egypt’s Foreign Ministry noted, the families of Egyptians jailed in Israel began demanding their release the minute they learned of the Shalit deal; the government undoubtedly predicted this reaction and prepared in advance. After all, its status among the post-revolutionary masses is already shaky; it can’t afford to be seen as less capable of extorting the hated Zionists than Hamas.

Granted, these 25 prisoners don’t compare to the hundreds of high-level terrorists freed for Shalit, but the principle is the same; Cairo’s hostage was simply much less valuable. Not only are Grapel’s American parents incapable of
waging the superb Israeli PR campaign conducted by Shalit’s Israeli parents, but someone who traveled to Egypt to work for a legal aid organization and then enthusiastically joined Egypt’s revolution (see photo) can’t compare with an on-duty soldier kidnapped from Israeli soil: While few Israelis could imagine their son in Grapel’s shoes, almost all, in a country where military service is near-universal, could imagine their son in Shalit’s place.

That Egypt’s post-revolutionary government is behaving like a terrorist organization is disgraceful, but hardly surprising: It already showed its contempt for the norms of civilized international behavior last month, when it stood idly by as Israel’s embassy in Cairo was sacked and a mob threatened to lynch the Israeli personnel inside (it finally intervened only at the last moment in response to a phone call from Barack Obama, presumably explaining that if the Israelis were killed, Egypt could kiss its $2 billion a year in U.S. aid good-bye).

Nevertheless, it’s deeply worrying that even a country technically at peace with Israel now feels no qualms about treating it the way Hamas does. It’s hard to imagine better proof of just how badly the Shalit deal undermined Israeli deterrence.