Haggai HubermanThe author is a noted military correspondent, a veteran reporter for Arutz Sheva and regular columnist in the Hebrew weekly BeSheva.
If I were a cabinet minister, I would vote for the deal to ransom Shalit, not because it is a good one, which it most definitely is not, but because for once, just this once, this is a deal that we can live with – barely.
The choice in this case is not between a good and a bad deal. The cabinet ministers had to choose between a terribly bad deal and one that is the least terrible. And this deal is the least terrible of them all.
I wish to examine the deal from one aspect only – the security aspect, not the moral or the political aspect – as those deserve separate consideration.
Hamas gave in on two significant points – it is important to remember that Hamas has agreed to leave the most hardcore terrorists in jail, such as the commander in chief of terror in Judea and Samaria, Marwan Barghouti, the Hamas commander there, Ibrahim Hamid and his operations officer Abdallah Barghouti.
Abbas al-Sayed who carried out the 2002 Netanya Park Hotel massacre on Passover, Ahmed Sa'adat who was responsible for the murder of MK Rehavam Ze’evi Hy”d [may G-d avenge his blood, an expression used for victims of anti-Semitism ed.], the Hamas chief officer in Gaza Hassan Salameh and others, will remain imprisoned.
The ISA’s agreement to the deal was not based on “how many they murdered” but on “how many they will be able to murder once freed”. The fear was that releasing commanders would lead to a renewed awakening of terror in Israel. If the commanders remain in jail, the danger of that, while not completely eliminated, is much less likely.
I harbor no illusions. The terrorists who are to be freed will attempt to kill again, to commit more attacks. That’s what happened in the past, that’s what the future holds. The ISA (Shin Bet) will have to work even harder than it does now.
Add to that the second issue on which Hamas gave in: expulsion. Until last July, Hamas adamantly refused to agree to the expulsion from Yesha (Judea and Samaria) of the 450 terrorists who will be freed in the first stage. They insisted that they be allowed to go to Yesha, not to Gaza, Jordan, or anywhere else – only to Yesha. They were adamant at first and they backed down. The 203 terrorists who were Yesha residents will be sent to Gaza or out of the area, a number that Hamas did not imagine agreeing to, until four months ago. 110 will be allowed to return to their homes in Yesha and East Jerusalem.
Is this an ideal situation? It most certainly is not. But it is one which we can manage. It is not easy to plan terror attacks on Israeli soil when in Gaza or out of the area.
These changes in Hamas’ position put paid to the criticism leveled at Netanyahu for waiting five years, or three years, to agree to this deal. This is precisely the reason: Netanyahu, in standing firm to his declaration to Hamas that there would be no deal that includes freeing the terrorist leadership and the most vicious terorists, and that there would be no deal that does not include freed terrorists leaving the country – succeeded in getting Hamas to back down from some of its principles. Let us not belittle that accomplishment.
Other changes in our area have helped, such as Mubarak’s downfall (now we realize just how much he torpedoed the contacts with Hamas) and the chaos in Syria that has weakened hardline Halad Mashaal’s status in Hamas.
In return for this change, Netanyahu also retreated from some of his principles, and agreed to release Israeli and East Jerusalem Arabs. This is highly problematic morally and politically, but not more problematic from the security aspect.
I harbor no illusions; the terrorists who are to be freed will attempt to murder again, to carry out terror attacks. That’s how it has been in the past, that’s how the future will look. The heads of the ISA will have to work harder now. I tend to think that the ability of the terrorists to return to terrorist acts will be more difficult, given the present situation in Yesha.
After all, the Hamas in Yesha has not stopped attempting to perpetrate terrorist acts for one minute. However, because the ISA intelligence is free to operate in all of Yesha today, and because there is cooperation with the PA security forces against Hamas since it is furthers their interests as well (in preventing a Hamas takeover a la Gaza), none of these attempts succeeded.
The Shalit deal, under these conditions, creates a renewed challenge for the ISA and the IDF, but one which I feel they can meet. This would not have been the case had the previous deal been accepted, the one calling for the freeing of terrorist leaders and for allowing them to remain in Yesha.