UPDATE: Arab media is now reporting that the concession Russia demanded of Israel in order to return an Israeli citizen from Syria was that the Jewish state pay for millions of Russian-made COVID vaccine doses for Syrians. Assuming the report is accurate, it is not yet clear how many doses of the Sputnik V vaccine Israel agreed to purchase or for how much, nor is it known why Moscow was intent on keeping this part of the exchange under wraps.
Israeli media initially speculated that the Israeli public would be in an uproar over this detail, and they’re probably right. Israel doesn’t have a budget surplus, so that money is going to have to come from somewhere – either the budget of one of our cash-strapped ministries, or in the form of a tax hike.
For now, Syrian media is denying that Israel will be financing the country’s COVID vaccine drive. It will be interesting (again, if the Arab media report is accurate) to see if the Syrians ultimately accept vaccines provided by the Israelis.
A young Israeli woman who was taken into custody by Syrian authorities earlier this month has been returned to the Jewish state. But Israeli media is now reporting that Jerusalem paid an unprecedented price for her release.
Details of the full Russian-brokered agreement remain classified and under a strict military gag order. What is known is that Israel sent two Syrian shepherds who had wandered into Israeli territory back to their country. Jerusalem had also agreed to pardon two Arab security prisoners who had been convicted for aiding Syria and Hezbollah. But the two refused to be deported to Syria, a development that nearly scuttled the entire deal just as Israeli emissaries arrived in Moscow to collect their own citizen.
Given the scale of past prisoner exchanges, it all seemed suspiciously too easy, and too cheap. Israel has previously released hundreds of jailed terrorists in exchange for a single captive Israeli, or even the remains of long-deceased Israelis. Surely Syria, and the Russians, knew they could get a lot more out of the deal than two wayward shepherds.
As for the secret elements of the deal, Israel’s Channel 12 News described them as “unprecedented” and certain to spark widespread controversy were the details made public. There is concern that whatever Israel gave or gave up will provide the Russians with too much leverage against Jerusalem in the future.
The young Jewish woman in question is now being investigated over her actions. It turns out she has attempted to cross into Gaza, Jericho and Jordan in the past. Many Israelis would find it unacceptable to set free even a single jailed terrorist in return for someone who behaves so recklessly. But in an interview with Radio 103FM on Friday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that “our Jewish-Israeli character forbids us to leave anyone behind. Even when its inconvenient or frustrating [to retrieve them].”