In Israel the picture is different. Tuesday last week, the day of Shalit’s return to Israel, set a record for Israeli TV watching with over three million viewers out of a population of less than eight million. But the joy felt by most Israelis that day has given way to some hard soul-searching about the “next kidnapping.”
The Israel Defense Forces reportedly views the threat of another kidnapping as “concrete” and is considering ways to prevent “the abduction of living soldiers…at any cost.” That includes, if necessary, risking an abducted soldier’s death by “opening fire at the abductors’ vehicle.” The “guiding principle” here is that “a dead soldier is better than a kidnapped soldier [for whom] Israel…will be forced to pay a heavy price….”
And soon the Shamgar Commission, set up in 2008 after Israel’s previous lopsided prisoner deal, is supposed to hand its recommendations to the government. A lively debate has already started about a possible legislated stipulation to keep future hostage deals to a 1:1 ratio. Skeptics say it won’t work because future governments would still succumb to the same sorts of pressures that led to the Shalit and other exchanges.
In the larger perspective, Israel is still in a process of learning how to live in a region where, to put it gently, universal values don’t always prevail. The laudable social solidarity, the profound concern for the individual soldier, that has produced the now famous—or infamous—prisoner deals has to be balanced with a more sober policy that can prevent or defeat extortion.
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