Israeli cabinet gives final approval to ill-advised prisoner swap

Tuesday, July 15, 2008 |  Israel Today Staff

Israel's cabinet on Tuesday voted one last time in favor of conducting a prisoner exchange with Lebanon's Hizballah terrorist militia, despite urging by Israeli military officials to reconsider the decision.

Defense officials present at the cabinet meeting reportedly recommended calling off the deal because Hizballah had failed to fully satisfy its commitment to provide information regarding the fate missing Israeli airman Ron Arad. The defense officials argued that going through with the exchange would solidify in the Arabs' minds that they can offer little and expect to receive much from Israel.

Cabinet ministers later said that it was with a heavy heart that they approved the swap of five Lebanese terrorists for two Israeli reserve soldiers believed to already be dead. The exchange is scheduled to take place on Wednesday morning at the Rosh Hanikra border crossing at the western extreme of the Israel-Lebanon border.

Earlier in the day it was reported that the Israeli army had begun preparing military funerals for Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, though family members continued to express hope that the two reservists abducted in a 2006 border raid are still alive.

Lebanese media reported that one of the soldiers had indeed died during the abduction, but did not provide any further details regarding his identity or the well-being of the second soldier.

Ehud Goldwasser's father, Shlomo Goldwasser, told Israel's Ynet news portal that if Israel is presented with two coffins on Wednesday, the army should immediately be given the order to strike Hizballah and kill those who had kidnapped, tortured and murdered his son.

The brothers of one of the Israelis killed by Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar in 1979 made a last ditch effort to prevent Kuntar's release as part of the deal with Hizballah. Kuntar and his terrorist cell killed two Israeli police officers and brutally murdered an Israeli man and his four-year-old daughter after infiltrating the Jewish state via the sea.

The relatives of murdered Israeli policeman Eliyahu Shahar argued before Israel's Supreme Court on Tuesday that it was inconceivable to free a killer like Kuntar in exchange for corpses. They said that the families of Kuntar's victims would suffer considerable mental anguish by seeing Kuntar given a hero's welcome by Lebanon.

And that is just what Hizballah and the Lebanese authorities are planning.

Hizballah has erected triumphal arches across southern Lebanon and has adorned the coastal highway with flags and large posters. In Beirut, where Kuntar and the four Hizballah fighters captured in the Second Lebanon war will arrive by helicopter, mass celebratory events will be held at the airport and in the neighborhood where Hizballah has its headquarters.

Meanwhile, the Israeli army continued to prepare for the possibility that Hizballah will renew hostilities against northern Israel after the exchange. Hizballah has previously promised the avenge the February assassination of its operational chief in Damascus, which the group insists Israel's Mossad carried out.

Israeli army officials this week said Hizballah could try to abduct more Israeli soldiers, and could launch raids against border towns.

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