The Roots of Israel's Capitulation

Gilad Shalit’s drama goes back to the Lebanon invasion of 1982, the first offensive military operation in Israel’s history and "first war of choice”.

Giulio Meotti

OpEds giulio meott
giulio meott
צילום: עצמי

What happened? When and why did Israel accept the idea of exchanging thousands of convicted terrorists for one soldier?

Gilad Shalit’s drama goes back to the Lebanon invasion of 1982, the first offensive military operation in Israel’s history and "first war of choice”.

In 1983, six Israeli soldiers were freed from Fatah captivity in Lebanon in exchange for nearly 4.500 prisoners in the Ansar camp and 100 more held in Israeli jails.

The released terrorists included those who had carried out the massacre in the Savoy Hotel in Tel Aviv; the killers of a group of worshippers returning from prayers in Hebron; the hijackers of a Sabena airliner and the perpetrators of other fatal acts of violence.

Another similar exchange came in 1985, when Israel traded 1.150 men for three soldiers. Under the agreement reached with Ahmed Jibril, the government released 167 Arabs convicted of the the coastal highway massacre of 40 Israelis, the murder of the Aroyo children in Gaza, the killing of 15 in Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem and the massacre of 27 at Ben Gurion airport.

800 of those terrorists were returned to their homes in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. It was they who formed the hard core of the First Intifada.

To mounting criticism, then defense minister Yitzhak Rabin said: “I want to ask every citizen here, if it were your son being held, what would you expect of me as defense minister?”.

It’s not by chance that we heard the same question about Gilad Shalit.

These two mass exchanges of terrorists, the Shalit deal and the return in 2006 of the coffins of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev in exchange for Lebanese butcher Samir Kuntar are both the direct result of the Lebanese war. 

According to Israeli statistics, since 1982 17.000 Arab terrorists have been freed in exchange for 17 Israeli soldiers. 

Israel’s bloody sojourn in Lebanon left an indelible mark on the Jewish nation. What Ariel Sharon imagined as a triumphal campaign that would change the map of the Middle East turned into what the Israeli Left called “Israel’s Vietnam”.

Actually, it was a victory for Israel and the Jews, since Yasser Arafat and thousands of his terrorists were driven out of Lebanon and forced to take refuge in Tunisia, although that victory was snatched from Israel.

But about 1,000 Israeli soldiers died in the conflict: a roll call of grief and loss that left few untouched in a country of six million people.

Israel’s basic security policy changed forever in 1982: Israel ceased initiating the fighting, it confined itself to responding to enemy attacks and the state accepted these new rules of negotiation with the terrorists.

The Lebanese war fractured the fabric of Israeli society, it eroded the morale of the IDF and since then bewilderment despair, anger and disillusionment haunted the faces of many Israelis.

An entire country was persuaded that it was morally urgent to withdraw from what was termed the “Lebanese mud”.

It was then that “Peace Now” gained in popularity, after more than a quarter-million people jammed Tel Aviv’s main square for a protest rally, termed the largest in the nation’s history.

It was then that “the Four Mothers” movement shaped the Lebanon pullout following a tragic helicopter collision in which 73 soldiers were killed.

It was then that the “Shministim” (12 th grader) objectors won popular support (even the historian Benny Morris refused to serve). About 3,000 reserve soldiers asked not to be sent to Lebanon, including 180 who went to jail for refusing to serve.

It was then that Jewish heroism and Israeli collectivism left the way to a Westerner individualism, self-criticism and hedonism.

When Israel left Lebanon, a thousand families were free to breathe, knowing that their soldier sons had finally come safely home. No more young soldiers weeping for comrades at military funerals, they hoped. No more wrenching videotape of mangled soldiers being flown from the combat zone.

In 2000 Brig.- Gen. Benny Gantz, who is now Israel’s chief of staff in the Shalit’s deal, locked the Fatma crossing gate to Lebanon.

The final troop pullout brought an enormous sense of collective relief. Yediot Acharonot ran a two-page listing the names of every fallen soldier, together with a poem by Israel’s national poet, Yehuda Amichai. “We have no unknown soldiers”, it was titled. It was a mystical event: there was an almost palpable release of tension, a great national sigh, as the metal border gate clanged shut behind the last tank to leave.

But thirty years later, Israel is still choked by the Lebanese mud: the Israeli public and politicians accepted the idea of Israel's having lost its sense of invincibility and righteousness in battle.

Now that another brave Jewish soldier is freed in exchange for another thousand mass murderers, it’s hard to believe that Israel, with its social fabric, army and politics, can really win a centennial war against an enemy ready to sacrifice all of its children in order to throw all the Jews into the sea. 

A life-obsessed society, built on the last thirty years of ongoing capitulation to Holocaust-enabler terrorists, can be defeated by a monstrous god of martyrdom.