Friday, July 18, 2008

Israeli Prisoner Swap

Samir Kuntar celebrating his release in Beirut

This week saw the extremely controversial prisoner swap between Israel and the Lebanon where Israel exchanged five Lebanese militants for two Israeli corpses. The Arabs must really be brilliant hagglers because it just doesn't add up. Furthermore one of the Lebanese militants released is the infamous Samir Kuntar, sentenced in 1979 for the murder of three Israelis including a four year old girl. On Wednesday this man, a hate figure in Israel, was released and paraded around Beirut as a hero. This has proved very painful for Israel.

I have always argued that the biggest flaw in the Good Friday Agreement on this island is the release of all "political prisoners" regardless of the nature of their crimes. I always believed that the early release scheme should not have applied to individuals that deliberately targeted innocent civilians as a tactic. I believe the same should have applied here. Israel made a mistake by releasing Kuntar. They have taken the "no soldier behind" philosophy a bit too far and in doing so have encouraged Israel's enemies to commit more kidnappings.

On April 22nd 1979 Samir Kuntar, a member of the Palestine Liberation Front, along with three other militants landed in a dinghy on a Northern Israeli beach. They had set out from across the border in Lebanon. Once ashore they stormed up the beach where they were confronted by a policeman. They shot him dead. In the confusion that followed Kuntar ran to a random apartment complex nearby were he held Danny Haran and his four year old daughter Einat hostage. Also in the apartment but hiding in the attic was Smadar Haran, the wife and mother, and her two year old daughter Yael. Tragically Smadar held her hand over her daughters face to muffle her cries and in doing so accidentally smothered her to death.

After a long stand off with the police 17 year old Kuntar negotiated his way back down to the beach with the two hostages in an attempt to escape. After a shoot out with police Kuntar shot 28 year old Danny at close range killing him. He then crushed four year old Einat's skull with his rifle butt killing her. He was taken into custody shortly thereafter. Samir kuntar is now a free man.

Samir Kuntar being being led away by the Israeli army after the shootout at the beachfront in Northern Israel

It is difficult to know how his release could lead to anything other than extreme bitterness for Israelis. Perhaps there is another element here with which we are unaware. A behind the scene deal that will reap future dividends. The two Israeli bodies returned as part of the deal were that of IDF soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev who were kidnapped in July 2006 in the incident that sparked off the month long war between Hezbollah and Israel. Israel's stated objective for going into southern Lebanon in July 06 was to retrieve the two missing soldiers. They have now done so. Maybe it was a pride thing for the Israelis all along. They claimed in July 06 that they would bring the soldiers home at all costs. It appears the cost may have been Samir Kuntar's freedom.

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