Israel and Hizbullah have consummated a secret deal: The bodies of two Hizbullah terrorists, and a live but ill Hizbullah fighter, were returned to Lebanon Monday afternoon, in exchange for the body of an Israeli who drowned and was swept away to Lebanon.
Hizbullah also reportedly provided Israel with information connected to a "different case" - possibly that of IAF navigator Ron Arad, missing since 1986 - that will be investigated later.
The captured soldiers Udi Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were not included in the deal. Analysts say that today's "little deal" could signify the first signs of possible cooperation between the sides for a future "big deal" in which Regev and Goldwasser will be freed. No guarantees have been given, however, nor was such a deal mentioned as a condition for today's exchange.
Israel's government did, announce, however, that the deal is the first step of a "comprehensive process."
Israeli citizen Gavriel Abbabahu Dweit of Be'er Sheva, born in Ethiopia, was 27 years old when he drowned over two years ago in northern Israel. He had been considered missing since that time, and was only recently discovered to have been swept away to Lebanon. Gavriel was not married; his sister and other family members were on hand to receive their long-lost brother's body.
The exchange occurred at Rosh HaNikra, the Mediterranean Coast border crossing between Israel and Lebanon, at approximately 5:30 PM.
The families of Regev and Goldwasser said they were kept abreast of the developments, and were told yesterday of today's exchange. Eldad's brother Benny Regev, speaking with Channel Two television shortly after the exchange, said, "We hope that this will lead to a future release of Eldad and Udi, and we call upon the government to do whatever it can to obtain their freedom." He did not express disappointment that the three Hizbullah "cards" were freed while his brother is still in captivity.
Karnit Goldwasser, Udi's wife, said today she does not believe this week's Arab media reports that her husband and Eldad Regev have been transferred from Lebanon to Iran. The Prime Minister's Office has also denied the reports.
Regev and Goldwasser were kidnapped in July 2006 by Hizbullah terrorists in the incident that kicked off the Second Lebanon War. Eight soldiers were killed during or immediately following the attack. Two weeks earlier, Corp. Gilad Shalit was taken captive by Hamas terrorists in Gaza; two soldiers were killed at the same time.
Shalit has been heard from only once since being taken captive, and the others have never been heard from; there have been reports that one or both of them are no longer alive. Hizbullah refuses to allow the Red Cross or other international elements to visit their two prisoners.