Germans chide Israel over unwise Hizballah prisoner swap

Sunday, July 20, 2008 |  Israel Today Staff

Major German newspapers at the weekend harshly criticized Israel for conducting a lopsided prisoner exchange with Hizballah that will only serve to further entrench and empower the Lebanese terror group.

Last Wednesday, Israel swapped five living Lebanese terrorists, including celebrated killer Samir Kuntar, and the bodies of 199 Lebanese and Palestinian militants for the corpses of two Israeli reservists abducted at the start of the 2006 Second Lebanon War.

Ironically, it was a German mediator, Gerhard Konrad, who brokered the deal that concerned Israeli officials warn will greatly encourage terror groups across the region and the world to kidnap Israelis.

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

But it was other important negative consequences of the exchange that German commentators took issue with, reported leading German news magazine Der Spiegel.

"The prisoner exchange shows who really has the power in Lebanon and who can force archenemy Israel to make concessions: It is Hizballah, it is [Hizballah leader Sheikh Hassan] Nasrallah," wrote the center-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung. "That elevates the radicals' image in Lebanon, in the Arab world and in the Muslim world."

Conservative daily newspaper Die Welt worried that the celebrations of terrorism that the swap engendered had killed any prospects of peace. "In such an atmosphere, how can one hope for peace -- and for the trust necessary for an agreement?"

Business daily Financial Times Deutschland criticized Prime Minister Ehud Olmert personally for failing to uphold Israel's policy of never releasing terrorists with blood on their hands, and confirming that the Jewish state can in fact be blackmailed.

"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."

Another left-leaning daily, Die Tageszeitung, similarly noted that while Israel's readiness to do anything to bring its soldiers home was commendable, the unequal exchange "has shown that [Israel] can be coerced," thereby lessening the chances of peace.

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