Is there any strategic argument for doing this? Israel’s followed through on these insanely lopsided prisoner swaps before, but the supporting rationales never seem to get much more compelling than “we can’t leave a man to rot in a jihadi dungeon” and/or “it’s a small country so every missing soldier is a lost family member.” (Given how small it is, every potential terrorist released is proportionally that much more dangerous, no?) Sympathy is wonderful, but sympathy doesn’t usually compel states to take enormous security risks. So to repeat: What’s the strategic angle here? What does Israel gain by securing the return of one citizen and in the process putting many, many others in danger?
Note well: We’re not talking about releasing common criminals either.
According to the agreement framework presented by Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen, the deal Netanyahu brought before the cabinet included, at first, the release of 450 Palestinian prisoners, including 280 with life sentences…
According to the deal, 131 Gaza residents will be released back to the coastal Strip, many of whom are reportedly top Hamas operatives. Another 203 prisoners will be expelled from the West Bank, 40 of whom will be deported overseas and the rest to Gaza.
In addition, 6 Israeli Arab prisoners who have been serving for many years will also be released to their homes. The deal also specifies the release of 27 female inmates: terrorists Ahlam Tamimi and Amna Muna will be deported, with the rest of the female inmates are expected to be released to their homes.
The scene in Gaza tonight after the deal was announced is just what you’d expect: “An hour after the news began circulating in Gaza, Palestinians had begun pouring onto the streets of the city center to celebrate. Young men piled into cars and trucks to drive up and down the streets, Palestinian flags and Hamas banners, honking their horns and shouting victory slogans.” That’s also what happened in Lebanon after child-killer Samir Kuntar was released as part of Israel’s last unfathomable prisoner swap. Terrorists going free is always cause for a party in Gaza and southern Lebanon. Anyway, I can think of two reasons why Israel might have been willing to pull the trigger on this deal, horribly imbalanced though it was. One: Egypt brokered it. After last month’s embassy attack and the sectarian madness between Muslims and Christians this week in Cairo, Israel may figure that building goodwill with the Egyptian army is more valuable to their security interests at this point than keeping Hamas degenerates behind bars. Two: Handing Hamas a propaganda victory over the Zionist enemy might be Israel’s way of punishing Abbas and the Palestinian Authority — Hamas’s rivals — for their statehood bid at the UN. That would be an extremely risky play, but maybe Netanyahu thinks Hamas is sufficiently discredited and isolated in Gaza at this point to give them an ephemeral boost if it means Abbas being less aggressive about a Palestinian state. Beyond that, I’m stumped. What am I missing here?