Banners hung just over the border in Lebanon said it all as Israel on Wednesday swapped five live Lebanese terrorists for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers: "Joy in Lebanon" - "Pain in Israel".
As Lebanon prepared to celebrate the triumphal return of four Hizballah fighters captured in the last war and a Lebanese member of a Palestinian terror group jailed in 1979, tears flowed in Israel as television images of two black coffins confirmed that Israeli reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser were dead.
Taken alive and returned in coffins, Israelis could only imagine the horrors that their soldiers had endured at the hands of their captors.
Regev and Goldwasser were abducted in a 2006 cross-border raid by Hizballah that sparked the Second Lebanon War. The Lebanese terror group had violated international law by keeping their captives' fates secret until the moment of the exchange, a tactic that inflicted tremendous anguish on the families of the two soldiers.
While the agony across Israel following the moment of truth was palpable, most remained confident that the difficult decision made by the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was the right one. Even if the soldiers came back dead, they needed to come back. That was the sentiment of most Israelis who spoke to the media during long hours of special coverage.
But some, including top army officials, continued to warn that the swap would ultimately harm Israel. In particular, the pardoning and release of Samir Kuntar elicited was seen in a generally negative light.
Kuntar was jailed in 1979 after leading a cell of Lebanese and Palestinian Arab terrorists who infiltrated northern Israel via the sea. After arriving in the Israeli coastal town of Nahariya, Kuntar killed a police officer and then brutally executed Danny Haran and his four-year-old daughter Einat on the beach outside their home.
Observers fear that Kuntar's release and hero's welcome in Lebanon will only encourage more Arabs, both Lebanese and Palestinian, to join the campaign of terrorist violence against the Jewish state.
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