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October 16, 2007
Israeli-Hezb'allah Body 'Swap'
Israel exchanged 1 live Hezballah fighter and two dead ones yesterday for the body of an Israeli civilian who had drowned at sea and washed up on Lebanon's shore.
Prime Minister Olmert tried to sound optimistic about the exchange leading to the release of the two IDF soldiers who were taken during the war with Lebanon in the summer of 2006, but most Israelis aren't holding out much hope that a break will come anytime soon:
Olmert, speaking in Ashdod at a conference on aliyah issues, said that the swap was "balanced, and at a price which Israel was authorized to bear." Bottom line: Israel doesn't trust Hezb'allah to keep their end of the bargain on any prisoner swaps so they are insisting that the deal be done in one step rather than two.
But he added that "For years, our enemies have been seeking to raise the price to be paid by Israel for scraps of information, abducted civilians and soldiers, or, heaven forbid, remains. "This is an ugly and cynical trade in feelings, and in the feelings of Israeli society. At times there is no alternative but to pay the painful price."
Israel said the swap was part of a larger negotiation process on the release of two of its soldiers abducted by the guerilla group in July 2006. Israel and Hezbollah have in recent months been conducting negotiations aimed at securing the release of captured Israel Defense Forces reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud (Udi) Goldwasser, whose abduction on July 12, 2006 sparked the war.
The negotiations are being conducted through United Nations-appointed German mediator Ernst Uhrlau. The major sticking point currently in the talks is Hezbollah's demand that Israel first release a large number of prisoners in exchange for information on the two trips, while Israel is insisting that the exchange be carried out in a single stage.
Hezb'allah is seeking the release of more than a thousand terrorists held in Israeli jails - many of them convicted of murdering innocents. And while the government has done deals with Hezb'allah in the past where they have released hundreds of terrorists for the bodies of their soldiers, it is unclear whether Hezb'allah has any intention of going through with such a deal this time. Hence, the caution.
This is a war waiting to happen. And with Hezb'allah resupplied and rearmed, inflitrating their fighters back into southern Lebanon and pressure being exerted on the UNIFIL force with increasing attacks on their positions, it may be just a matter of time before the talks on exchanging soldiers become irrelevant.