Defense Minister Ehud Barak talked tough on Tuesday as high school students demanded to know why kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit remains in captivity. “Don't whine, and don't lose your spine,” Barak said.
"I suggest that we all keep looking for ways to bring back Gilad Shalit. I do not suggest that every young person in the country start thinking in terms of whining and moaning and losing their backbone,” he added.
Barak's remarks were made during a visit to a school in Israel's south in honor of the first day of classes. During the visit, he was confronted first by a group of students, and then by several protesting mothers, regarding Shalit's situation.
One student suggested that Shalit's plight would cause potential soldiers to fear that the state cannot protect them. “Can the state guarantee my safety when I enlist, if I fall into enemy hands?” he challenged.
Barak's answer was blunt. “The state cannot even guarantee that you will stay alive in the army. The state of Israel is in a region where there is no pity for the weak and there are no second chances for those who cannot defend themselves... There are no guarantees.”
However, Barak said, “When you enlist in a combat unit, you'll be with those who, like yourself, are prepared to risk their lives to save you.”
The state of Israel is willing to do anything to free kidnapped soldiers – but not at any price, Barak said. “We will not bring [Shalit] back 'at any price,' but we will use any method,” he said. Israel is engaged in serious efforts to secure Shalit's freedom, he assured his listeners. However, he said, the state must take into account not only Shalit's circumstances, but the nation's future.
"I urge anyone who wants Shalit back 'at any price' to think that option through,” he added.
The Shalit family responded to Barak's talk with students with a statement urging “less talk and more action.”
An Entire State Falls Prey to Emotional Obsession
Also on Tuesday, Channel 10 reporter Raviv Drucker lamented over Israel's “emotional obsession” with Shalit. “There is no nice way to say it: we've gone crazy when it comes to Gilad Shalit,” Drucker said.
"An entire country has fallen prey to an emotional obsession. Our national agenda includes just one line – release Gilad, and to hell with the price,” he continued.
Drucker expressed sympathy with Gilad's family. “It's true that if I were Gilad's father, I'd be willing to overturn the entire country, but that's exactly the difference between the interests of a single family and the interests of a state.”
He rejected complaints that Israel has not done enough to free Shalit. “Don't talk to me about a state's responsibility to its soldiers. There's no country on earth that has invested more than Israel invested in trying to return Shalit.” As a comparison, he said, “I can guess what the American president would say if Al-Qaeda kidnapped a soldier and demanded that the September 11 terrorists be released.”