'Keep fighting as long as there are prisoners'

Former general says Israel must not accept ceasefires while terrorists still hold any Israelis captive.

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Shimon Cohen,

Ma. Gen. Levin
Ma. Gen. Levin
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Maj. Gen. (res.) Amiram Levin, a member of the Labor Party, spoke with Arutz Sheva about the criticism leveled at Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman by the families of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, as well as their criticism of the entire Cabinet following the resignation of former chief negotiator for prisonoers' release Lior Lotan.

IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul were killed during Operation Protective Edge in 2014, Thei bodies have been illegally held by the Hamas terrorist organization for the last three years.

The Goldin family accused Liberman and the government of abandoning them and Hadar and Oron following Lotan's resignation. Maj. Gen. (res.) Levin noted that he himself is not familiar with the negotiation details "and that's fine," he says, "but it is clear that our hearts are with the families and with every family that loses its son."

"On the other hand," Levin continued, "despite all the difficulties, we have to be tough and cunning when dealing with Hamas. We have a hard and cruel opponent who does not behave according to the accepted rules [of diplomacy or combat]. We do not want to descend to this level, but it is therefore more difficult for us to lead this war against Hamas, which is contemptuous of humanitarian law. This is the framework under which we have to operate."

Gen. Levin said that Israel cannot accept any ceasefires while any soldiers or civilians are held by an enemy terrorist organization. "Because there is the incidence of IDF operations and even wars from time to time, like the one in which [Hadar and Oron] both fell and were captured, I think that the way to break this endless cycle is to end such operations only when there are no prisoners and missing soldiers. This is the main point. We stop only when the prisoners are returned, and that must be part of the ceasefire. That's a condition for the end of the fighting."

Levin viewed this approach as a mutual principle applying to both sides: meaning that even if Israel captures 180 prisoners in an operation or war, it will return them, and if Hamas holds a soldier's body or one missing Israeli, they must return them to Israel. As long as this mutual exchange does not take place, the fighting should not stop."

"During Protective Edge there were negotiations on a ceasefire. We offered a ceasefire a number of times, but Hamas was the one who refused to accept it. We are strong, and we do not have to agree to ceasefires without setting the condition of prisoner return. We called a ceasefire without accounting for the return of the prisoners.

"Protective Edge did not have to end with us leaving our people on the other side. We were stronger and had the upper hand. We did not have to leave them there," Levin said.

When asked if Israel should not use its economic leverage to pressure Hamas in Gaza to release all Israelis it holds captive, Levin said "I'm sure they're doing that."

"One of the most important things would be if we were able to harness a country such as Egypt or Saudi Arabia that has influence over Hamas, perhaps Qatar or Kuwait. We have to look for every way to get to them. But I don't think that there's no price for the return of our people. There is a price, and though it hurts, we must discuss it.

"The crisis between Liberman and the families is not about the conditions but about trust and attitude, and leaders need to know how to face the families even when the decisions are difficult."