Israel Captures, Releases and Kills a Terrorist

Samir Quntar, one of the most odious men on the planet, was blown to bits by the Israeli air force on Sunday in Damascus, Syria. We ought to cheer this development, and the Israeli airmen who braved advanced Russian antiaircraft missile systems to reach him (though whether the systems were active or not is unknown.) However, the fact that Quntar was alive and living free in Syria is very troubling.

Quntar was an incredibly vicious murderer. In 1979 at the age of 16, he led a four-man Palestinian terror team (all the other participants were older) that infiltrated the northern Israeli town of Nahariya by boat. The heavily-armed terrorists killed a policeman and attacked an apartment building intent on capturing several Israeli civilian hostages, and returning with them to Lebanon. 

The terrorists moved through the building and attacked the apartment of Charles Shapiro, who shot one of the terrorists dead with a .22 magnum revolver. The group retreated and attempted to take a father and his two small daughters hostage but the man and the girls escaped in the darkness and confusion. Finally, the terrorists broke into the apartment of the Haran family (Danny Haran, his wife Smadar and two small daughters Yael aged 2 and Einat aged 4.) Smadar and Yael managed to hide in crawlspace, but the panicked mother accidently suffocated the child to quiet her.    

Quntar seized Danny and Einat and fled to the beach with the other members of his terror team. There they were stopped by Israeli soldiers and police who shot and killed a second terrorist. Quntar shot Danny Haran dead in front of his daughter, and then smashed the young girl’s head against the rocky beach with the butt of his rifle, killing her too. Then he and the other surviving terrorist, Ahmed Assad Abras, surrendered.     

Quntar and Abras ought to have been executed, either on the spot by the soldiers and police or by the Israeli judicial system, but that did not happen. Israel doesn’t execute terrorists, no matter how vicious, and so Quntar and Abras were sentenced to four life sentences each, but that was meaningless. In 1985 Israel released Abras, along with more than 1000 other militants and terrorists as part of a controversial prisoner swap for three soldiers captured during the First Lebanon War. In 2008 Israel released Quntar and another great gaggle of militants and terrorists in a swap with Hizb’allah, in return for the bodies of two Israeli reservists killed at the outset of the Second Lebanon War. 

Arguably, releasing Quntar gave Israel the chance to finally “legally” kill him, but at what cost? Quntar returned to Lebanon and was celebrated as a hero. He returned to a life of terror, and actively and effectively organized terror gangs on the Golan Heights. In fact, it is not entirely clear that the primary reason Israel assassinated Quntar was because of his crimes in 1979, as opposed to the continuing threat he posed as a terrorist leader. In response to the assassination, reportedly Hizb’allah (or other terrorists acting under their wing) fired rockets into northern Israel, driving thousands of Israelis to shelters and threatening a wider conflict. 

The refusal of Western nations like Israel and the United States to promptly and justifiably execute convicted terrorists is a security and moral outrage. By keeping these cruel unrepentant criminals alive, we not only devalue the lives of the people they kill or injure, but incentivize other terrorists to free them in hostage swaps. Israel’s practice in part served as justification for the swap of Taliban terrorists for Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl. Other terrorists being held at Guantanamo, who ought to have been buried six feet under (after trials by military tribunals) will almost certainly go free, either as part of future swaps, or for nothing as Obama empties the facility without regard to American security or justice. 

Most hypocritically, both Israel and the U.S. regularly engage in targeted assassination of terrorists, who die without trial in commando raids, or air/drone strikes. I have no qualms about such action, but what is disturbing is the moral preening by politicians like Obama, who regards Guantanamo as a moral stain, while he selects terrorists to die by drone with his disposition matrix during commercials on ESPN Sports Center. 

Unlike Israel, we do have a federal death penalty in both the civilian and military systems, though cumbersome procedures and protections render the sanction mostly toothless. There is nothing moral about allowing coldblooded murderers like to Samir Quntar to live on unrepentantly in jail, or even worse, freeing them, especially in return for dead bodies. I’m glad that he is finally dead, but it is a moral disgrace that it did not occur 36 year ago.