The World from Berlin 'Israel's Enemies Are Celebrating'

Israel managed to bring two of its soldiers home on Wednesday. But even still, praise for the prisoner exchange with Hezbollah has been scant. Israel, say German commentators, has allowed itself to be blackmailed.


Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah helped his followers celebrate the prisoner swap. Israeli's were busy mourning.
AP

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah helped his followers celebrate the prisoner swap. Israeli's were busy mourning.

It didn't take long for the critics to find their voices. On the afternoon of the same day that Israel sent five Lebanese militants -- the brutal murderer of a four-year-old Israeli girl among them -- and the bodies of 199 Arab fighters to Lebanon in exchange for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers, many slammed the deal for encouraging hostage taking.

"What we've done now has made kidnapping soldiers the most profitable game in town," Martin Sherman, an Israeli security expert, told the Associated Press on Wednesday. "There is absolutely no reason why Hezbollah should not invest huge resources now, along with Hamas, in the next kidnapping."

The two dead soldiers Israel received in the exchange, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, were captured by Hezbollah militants in July 2006 near Israel's northern border with Lebanon. The raid touched off a month-long war which saw Israel advance into southern Lebanon in an attempt to clear Hezbollah out of the region. The war, by all estimations, was a failure.

Many are particularly skeptical of Israel's Wednesday release of Samir Kantar, who was serving three life terms for killing an Israeli man in front of his four-year-old daughter before bludgeoning her to death with his rifle butt. The release violates the long-held principle in Israel of not releasing any prisoners who have blood on their hands -- a high price to pay, say many, for two soldiers who many had assumed were dead before the swap took place.

"This is a very dangerous precedent," Yuval Steinitz, an Israeli parliamentarian from the Likud Party, told the AP. "We are telling them that they don't have to do their utmost to keep captive soldiers alive, to save them if captured."

Many in both Lebanon and in the Palestinian Territories spent Wednesday celebrating the swap as a major victory for Hezbollah and for the militant group's leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah. German commentators on Thursday fear that their view of the prisoner exchange -- that of a major defeat for the Israelis -- is the correct one.

The center-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"The macabre Israeli-Lebanese deal, which saw living Lebanese prisoners being swapped for the bodies of Israeli soldiers, is a major success for the Shiite militia…. The prisoner exchange shows who really has the power in Lebanon and who can force archenemy Israel to make concessions: It is Hezbollah, it is Nasrallah. That elevates the radicals' image in Lebanon, in the Arab world and in the Muslim world."

"Nasrallah and his militia were able to achieve everything that the Lebanese government would never have been able to accomplish. Israel cannot be pleased by this state of affairs. After all, Hezbollah is not just a dangerous and unpredictable enemy on the Israeli-Lebanese border. Rather the group is also allied with Iran, another enemy of Israel."

"The spectacular prisoner exchange only makes sense for Israel if it was part of a larger deal being negotiated behind the scenes to solve the Middle East conflict. If, for example, the deal was a decisive move in Israel's preliminary peace talks with Syria; if Iran was thus put at risk of losing its allies in Damascus; and if Hezbollah approves of such a development. Then the macabre back-and-forth of the coffins and prisoners would be an indication that the situation is fundamentally changing. That, though, is not guaranteed."

The conservative daily Die Welt writes:

"That Hezbollah is celebrating the macabre deal as a triumph is understandable -- but it is also psychopathic. It shows that human suffering doesn't count in the fight against Israel and that murder pays. In such an atmosphere, how can one hope for peace -- and for the trust necessary for an agreement? Hezbollah uses the fight against Israel to gain power in Lebanon, with the approval of both Syria and Iran. At the same time, Hezbollah hopes to gain international standing through its deal with Israel."

"The problem is not just that the unequal prisoner swap allows Hezbollah to fudge its designation as a terror group by becoming a recognized party to a war. Rather, it means that terror, kidnapping and murder can be profitable. This situation weakens the Israeli deterrent, rewards abductions and provides imprisoned terrorists with the hope that they might soon be freed."

The business daily Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"When it comes to prisoner exchanges, there was one aspect that was always seen as non-negotiable by the Israeli government: Israel never frees a terrorist who has blood on his hands, no matter what is being offered in return. A country under threat like Israel cannot get around upholding this convention. Nevertheless, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has now abandoned this principle by freeing a prominent terrorist in order to secure the remains of the two Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah. What the prime minister wants to present as a triumph of negotiation, is in truth a sign of weakness: Israel can be blackmailed, kidnappings are worthwhile."

"If Olmert, who is facing mounting domestic difficulties resulting from ongoing corruption investigations, had expected applause for this prisoner swap, he was wrong. Instead, it is Israel's enemies who are celebrating."

The left-leaning daily Die Tageszeitung writes:

"The image of a country that will do anything to bring its soldiers home, dead or alive, has been restored. That is vital for the morale of Israel's army, because who would like to be sent to fight in a foreign country if there was a risk that he or she would be forgotten there? Nevertheless, the unequal trade has made Israel more vulnerable. The government in Jerusalem has shown that it can be coerced."

"The only way to reduce the dangers for those soldiers currently stationed on Israel's northern border is settling the conflict over the Shebaa Farms, that disputed area of land at the point where Syria, Lebanon and Israel meet. As long as the Islamic extremists find a reason to fight against Israel, it is only a matter of time until the next soldier is abducted there."

-- Charles Hawley; 12:15 p.m. CET

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