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A Strategically Senseless Swap (A New York Times Column)

November 25, 2009

Room for Debate - A New York Times Blog

From a strategic perspective, freeing Gilad Shalit in exchange for hundreds of Palestinians makes no sense. The hundreds of prisoners now in Israeli prison were captured in dangerous operations, many of them at a cost of other Israeli casualties.

Despite security considerations, it’s almost unimaginable that Israel would turn down a deal for Shalit.

The outspoken opponents of the trade, who claim that the freed terrorists will return immediately to terrorist activity and may soon kill more Israelis, could well be right about that, too. So, too, are those who fear that paying such a high price for Sgt. Shalit will only induce Hamas and Hezbollah to try to capture more Israelis, both at home and abroad.

The Shalit case is also a reminder to all Israelis that that many of the once apparently inviolable red lines of Israeli foreign policy are now much more blurred. Despite Israel’s stated position that it will not negotiate with terrorists, Israel is clearly negotiating with Hamas.

And with Hamas still publicly committed to Israel´┐Żs destruction, Israelis are now being reminded of the limits of our ability to declare who is and is not a player in the Middle East. Making the trade would further blur those lines, opponents insist.

Despite all these considerations, however, it is almost unimaginable that if a deal is possible, that Israel will turn it down. Because despite the strategic mistake this might be, Israelis sadly know that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will end only when Palestinians recognize Israel’s right to exist, as a Jewish state. And that day, tragically, still seems far off.

Therefore, we need to be able to ask our sons and daughters to wage a war in which their own children might well also have to fight. We can ask that of them only if they know that if the unthinkable should happen, we will never rest until they are home.

That is the great irony of the Shalit case. On many levels, it makes no strategic sense. But with the conflict likely to persist, and with our sons and daughters asked to make extraordinary sacrifices to keep us safe, they need to know that we are no less devoted to them than they are to us. And on that level, the trade makes all the sense in the world.

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