Monday, July 21, 2008

Samir Kuntar and the last laugh

Samir Kuntar and the last laugh

Jul. 20, 2008

Israel has lived the past 60 years more intensively than any other
country. Its highs - the resurrection of a 2,000 year old state in 1948,
history's most lopsided military victory in 1967, and the astonishing
Entebbe hostage rescue in 1976 - have been triumphs of will and spirit
that inspire the civilized world. Its lows have been self-imposed
humiliations: unilateral retreat from Lebanon and evacuation of Joseph's
Tomb, both in 2000; retreat from Gaza in 2005; defeat by Hizbullah in
2006; and the corpses-for-prisoners exchange with Hizbullah last week.

An outsider can only wonder at the contrast. How can the authors of
exhilarating victories bring such disgrace upon themselves, seemingly
oblivious to the import of their actions? One clue has to do with the
dates. The highs took place during the state's first three decades, the
lows occurred since 2000. Something profound has changed. The
strategically brilliant but economically deficient early state has been
replaced by the reverse. Yesteryear's spy masterminds, military geniuses
and political heavyweights have seemingly gone into hi-tech, leaving the
state in the hands of corrupt, shortsighted mental midgets.

How else can one account for the cabinet meeting on June 29, when 22 out
of 25 ministers voted in favor of releasing five live Arab terrorists,
including Samir Kuntar, 45, a psychopath and the most notorious prisoner
in Israel's jails, plus 200 corpses? In return, Israel got the bodies of
two soldiers murdered by Hizbullah. Even The Washington Post wondered at
this decision.

PRIME MINISTER Ehud Olmert endorsed the deal on the grounds that it "will
bring an end to this painful episode," a reference to retrieving the
bodies of war dead and appeasing the hostages' families demand for
closure. In themselves, both are honorable goals, but at what price? This
distortion of priorities shows how a once-formidably strategic country has
degenerated into a supremely sentimental country, a rudderless polity
where self-absorbed egoism trumps raison d'.tre. Israelis, fed up with
deterrence and appeasement alike, have lost their way.

Appalling as the cabinet decision was, worse yet is that neither the Likud
nor other leading public institutions responded with rage, but generally
(with some notable exceptions) sat quietly aside. Their absence reflects a
Tami Steinmetz Center poll showing that the population approves the swap
by a nearly 2-1 ratio. In short, the problem extends far beyond the
official class to implicate the population at large.

On the other side, the disgraceful celebration of baby-murderer Kuntar as
a national hero in Lebanon, where the government shut down to celebrate
his arrival, and by the Palestinian Authority, which called him a "heroic
fighter," reveals the depths of Lebanese enmity to Israel and immorality,
disturbing anyone concerned with the Arab soul.

THE DEAL has many adverse consequences. It encourages Arab terrorists to
seize more Israeli soldiers, then kill them. It boosts Hizbullah's stature
in Lebanon and legitimates Hizbullah internationally. It emboldens Hamas
and makes a deal for its Israeli hostage more problematic. Finally, while
this incident appears small compared to the Iranian nuclear issue, the two
are related.

International headlines along the lines of "Israel mourns, Hizbullah
exults" confirm the widely held but erroneous Middle Eastern view of
Israel as a "spider's web" that can be destroyed. The recent exchange may
give the already apocalyptic Iranian leadership further reason to brandish
its weapons. Worse, as Steven Plaut notes, by equating "mass murderers of
Jewish children to combat soldiers," the exchange effectively justifies
the "mass extermination of Jews in the name of Jewish racial inferiority."

For those concerned with the welfare and security of Israel, I propose two
consolations. First, Israel remains a powerful country that can afford
mistakes; one estimate even predicts it would survive an exchange of
nuclear weapons with Iran, while Iran would not.

Second, the Kuntar affair could have a surprise happy ending. A senior
Israeli official told David Bedein that, now out of jail, Israel's
obligation to protect Kuntar is terminated; on arrival in Lebanon, he
became "a target for killing. Israel will get him, and he will be
killed... accounts will be settled."

Another senior official added "we cannot let this man think that he can go
unpunished for his murder of a four-year-old girl."

Who will laugh last, Hizbullah or Israel?

The writer is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished
visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.

This article can also be read at
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