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Daily Israel Report

Recording of His Heroic Brother Puts PM on Defensive

Netanyahu faces tough questions on anti-terror policy as he listens to a long lost recording of his brother, Yoni, who was killed in action.
By Gil Ronen
First Publish: 5/5/2014, 9:36 AM

Yoni Netanyahu
Yoni Netanyahu
Flash 90

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu faced tough questions on Israel's anti-terror policy Sunday, as he listened for the first time to recordings of his late brother, Yoni, 42 years after they were made.

The recordings are of a debriefing held by the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit, after an operation codenamed Argaz 3, which took place in southern Lebanon in 1972. The commandos successfully abducted five senior Syrian officers, in order to use them as bargaining chips for the return of three IAF fighter pilots who were being held captive by the Syrians since 1970.

In the recording, Yoni can be heard describing the course of the operation, which he commanded over. He explains where he chose to locate the fighters and what his tactical considerations were. Also participating in the debriefing is Ehud Barak, then-commander of Sayeret Matkal. Binyamin and Iddo Netanyahu, Yoni's younger brothers, were members of Sayeret Matkal at the time, and also took part in the raid.

The recording recently reached Channel 2's Ronny Daniel, who was invited to the prime minister's office with his camera crew, to play the recording for Binyamin and Iddo Netanyahu, who sat side by side and listened to it. The report was timed for Memorial Day.

After asking about their emotions on first hearing the recording – the only one that exists of their brother's voice, except for one television interview – Daniel had more questions for the prime minister.

"We used to behave differently, in order to bring back pilots who fell captive,” stated a pensive Daniel. “We abducted, we did things, we blew things up... today it is different. So what has changed? Them? Us? Reality?”

"In those places where we can act, we do act,” replied the prime minister. “Believe me, we also take action in many things that are not known, and may not become known in another 42 years, either.”

Daniel was not convinced. “Yes, but we still release all sorts of murderers from the jails, in order to set a soldier free, and we do not do all sorts of aggressive things in order to make them set him free – taking Gilad Shalit as an example.”

"If you knew, you'd take action. Our main problem is that we did not know,” retorted the prime minister, hinting that Israeli intelligence did not supply the necessary goods for a raid that would free Shalit.

Daniel was not satisfied. “When you hear Yoni describing an operation like this, don't you feel that something has changed in us, somehow?”

"Look,” answered Netanyahu. “First of all, it is good to have this standard, because it tells you – 'if you can take action, do so'...”

“For instance,” suggested Daniel, “in the matter of abducting a senior Palestinian, who would bring back Gilad Shalit as his 'price,' is that something that came up in the mind, in planning, in thoughts?”

Netanyahu was evasive, and said that “many ideas came up.” He confirmed, however, that an abduction had been considered “not once, and not twice.”

The point Daniel raises is one that Israelis have been grappling with for a long time. The IDF ethos used to be one of non-negotiation with terrorists. Over time, this resolve has apparently weakened. The fact that Israel negotiated with Hamas to reach understandings at the end of Operation Pillar of Defense is a well-known one. Time and time again since the mid-1980s, Israel has agreed to release terrorists, including mass-murderers, in exchange for abducted soldiers or even for bodies of soldiers. 

Critics of this apparent change often point to the way Yoni Netanyahu was killed, while he commanded an operation to free hostages who were held in Entebbe Airport, in Uganda, as symbolizing the spirit that is missing in today's leadership. That daring raid was undertaken because Israel refused to negotiate with the terrorist kidnappers of an Air France passenger jet. Binyamin Netanyahu of 2014, the critics charge, appears all too willing to negotiate with terror groups and to free terrorist murderers, even if it is only because the United States wants him to make "a gesture" toward the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Netanyahu did, however, refuse to release the final tranche of terrorists due for release as a "goodwill gesture" to the Palestinian Authority, after it became clear that the PA had no intention of continuing negotiations beyond the April 29 deadline, and was only continuing them until then in order to free more terrorists.