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Any Hostage Swap Would Be a Terrible Mistake for Israel

An Israeli soldier keeps guard next to an entrance to what the Israeli military say is a cross-border attack tunnel dug from Gaza to Israel, on the Israeli side of the Gaza Strip border near Kissufim, Jan. 18, 2018. Photo: REUTERS/Jack Guez/Pool

Until the end of the 1970s, Israel’s policy on hostages, prisoners, and missing persons was based on national considerations. The Entebbe Doctrine permitted no negotiations with terrorist organizations that involved comprehensive deals for the mass release of prisoners, because doing so would amount to a surrender to terror.

Israeli hostages would be released either through operational means, local negotiations, or prisoner exchanges after fighting was concluded. But over the past four decades, ever since the Jibril Agreement of 1985, there has been a change in Israel’s policy on this matter, to involve wholesale prisoner releases. This has caused Israel profound strategic damage.

Negotiating with Hamas for the release of the hostages in Gaza through comprehensive, all-inclusive deals mediated by Qatar (“everyone for everyone”) would undermine Israel’s strategy in the Swords of Iron war. It’s time to make a fundamental change in Israel’s policy on this issue and readopt the Entebbe Doctrine, which can save the lives of the current hostages and prevent the taking of more in the future.

Before I address this difficult issue, I want to make clear that my heart goes out to the hostages in Gaza and their families.

Decisions affecting human lives that are made on the national level have to be based on risk management. Thus, decisions about safety measures, COVID lockdowns, the prevention of deadly infections in hospitals, medication availability, the combating of crime, and others are all based on risk assessments. Public opinion and political pressures factor into these assessments, but they are not usually the predominant factors.

Not so in security. In recent decades, a “shadow principle” has entered Israeli security theory that prioritizes the minimizing of casualties and the creation of “absolute security” above all other considerations. This principle represents a shift from national security to personal security.

The Israeli security organizations obsessively focused on preventing any casualties, and a public discourse requiring “a thorough investigation of every casualty” was enforced. All of this transformed security thinking into straw thinking that was centered on local and tactical risk, making it difficult to see the holistic broader picture.

This kind of thinking collapsed on October 7, and a clear shift back in the direction of national security doctrine is evident.

However, on one critical issue, there hasn’t been sufficient change in the management of security risks: the issue of hostages and missing persons. Ever since the Jibril Agreement of 1985, the obsessive national focus on captives and missing persons has undermined the national security foundations of Israel.

The Second Lebanon War began due to Hezbollah’s kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers and killing of three others, and Operation Cast Lead was launched in part to secure the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who had been in Hamas captivity for five years. Israel released 1,027 security prisoners in exchange for Shalit, including 280 who were serving life sentences for terrorism against Israeli targets. In addition, the prisoners who were released as part of the Jibril deal were active in the first intifada.

The issue of captives and missing persons has become the Achilles’ heel of Israel’s national security. It makes us vulnerable in the eyes of our enemies, weakens our regional status in the eyes of potential allies, and is baffling to our international and regional partners, particularly the Americans.

There are many reasons why it is bad for the nation to negotiate the release of captives as part of a comprehensive deal:

Damage to Israeli strategy: Israel’s strategy in the Swords of Iron war is based on the collapse of the Hamas organization in Gaza and the neutralizing of its leadership and military capabilities. These goals cannot coexist with a mass prisoner exchange negotiation, which would constitute a continuation of Israel’s recognition of Hamas as a force on the ground and a legitimate entity.
Damage to Israeli military operations: The IDF faces a tough and sophisticated enemy that has been preparing for this conflict for many years. Only military actions that maintain their strength and pace, effectively destabilizing the enemy and putting it off balance, will lead to the achievement of Israel’s goals with the lowest possible casualty count. Hesitation, delay, or a cessation of military action resulting from prisoner negotiation would likely have operational consequences.
Damage to moral clarity: Hamas, which has committed crimes against humanity and has genocidal aspirations similar to those of the Nazis, has disqualified itself as a legitimate partner for negotiations. By agreeing to conduct negotiations with them anyway, Israel would, in effect, be restoring their international legitimacy and negating Israel’s claims against other countries around the world, such as Russia, on this matter. The release of those involved in the operation on October 7 in an exchange deal would also damage the argument that they had participated in crimes against humanity. Those terrorists, as well as those captured in Gaza, should be brought to trial, with the death penalty hanging over their heads.
The erosion of the positions of Israel and the US in the Middle East: After the events of October 7, the collapse of Hamas is essential for the restoration of Israel’s position – and, consequently, the standing of the United States — in the Middle East. It forms the basis for Israel’s continued partnerships with Saudi Arabia and moderate states. The realization of a comprehensive mass prisoner-exchange deal would adversely affect both.
Hamas doesn’t really want a deal: Hamas understands that its very existence is at stake. Its continued hold on the hostages has one object: to use endless negotiation in order to undermine the dismantling of its political and military power.
There is no “everyone for everyone”: Hamas has only partial knowledge of which hostages are located where in the Gaza Strip and what condition they are in. For Hamas to organize the exchanges, it would need several weeks of quiet organization to locate them all. Israel cannot allow this for the reasons mentioned. Moreover, prisoners who subsequently fell into Hamas’ hands as the fighting continued would open the question of negotiations all over again. There will be no end to this unless Israel puts a stop to it. On top of these considerations, the mass release of Hamas prisoners would have significant and obvious security implications of its own.
A strict ban on joining the humanitarian effort: The humanitarian effort is a condition for Israel’s strategic ability to undermine Hamas politically and militarily. Connecting it to the issue of the hostages must be avoided.

For all these reasons, continuing negotiations for a deal for the hostages that includes the release of Hamas prisoners would be a serious strategic mistake on Israel’s part. In the management of national risks, there is no logic justifying the continuation of negotiations like this, which goes against all the above considerations.

Israel can create a historic change in the issue of captives and missing persons. A clear approach has the potential to fundamentally alter this area by achieving these goals:

Sending a vital message to Israel’s allies: Israel would be sending this message: “We are a Western and liberal nation committed to the welfare of our citizens as well as the citizens of other countries. We have conducted an examination of all the options available to rescue the hostages. We understand that this issue is being used as a strategic card against us to divert us from our main goal of the complete military and administrative dismantling of the Hamas organization, which commits crimes against humanity against us and against others. From this point forward, we will not engage in comprehensive negotiations for the release of captives with such an organization as it has disqualified itself as a legitimate negotiating partner.”
Enhancing international and Israeli pressure on countries engaging in dialogue with the Hamas leadership to secure the release of the hostages, with an emphasis on foreign nationals, civilians in general, the elderly, women, and children.
Spurring on-the-ground activity to promote the release of hostages.
Encouraging local deals for the release of hostages.
Promoting a process for locating hostages and conducting prisoner exchanges with the new regime in Gaza after the war is over.

This new approach by Israel would amount to a long-term strategic shift regarding the issue of captives and missing persons and a reversal of the ongoing serious damage caused by extensive deals with terrorists. The old approach caused Israel considerable harm. The new one has the potential to rescue the current hostages and prevent new cycles of abductions.

Col. (Res.) Shay Shabtai is a senior researcher at the BESA Center, an expert in national security, strategic planning and strategic communication. Cyber defense strategist and consultant to leading companies in Israel. Shay is about to finish his doctorate at Bar-Ilan University. A version of this article was originally published by The BESA Center.

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Protester Sets Self on Fire Outside Israeli Consulate in Atlanta

Illustrative. Anti-Israel protesters demonstrate outside AIPAC President Michael Tuchin’s vacation home in Los Angeles, Nov. 23, 2023. Photo: Screenshot

i24 NewsA protester was in critical condition on Friday after setting themself on fire outside the Israeli consulate in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. authorities said. A security guard who tried to intervene was also wounded.

A Palestinian flag found at the scene was part of the protest, Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum said at a news conference. He added that investigators did not believe there was any connection to terrorism and none of the consular staff was ever in danger.

JUST IN: A pro-Palestine protester is in critical condition after they set themselves on fire in “political protest” outside of the Israeli Consulate office in Atlanta.

The protester was reportedly draped in a Palestine flag.

The protester has severe burns and unfortunately, a…

— Collin Rugg (@CollinRugg) December 1, 2023

“We do not see any threat here,” he said. “We believe it was an act of extreme political protest that occurred.” Everyone inside the consulate building was said to be safe.

Anat Sultan-Dadon, Consul General of Israel to the southeastern U.S., said: “We are saddened to learn of the self-immolation at the entrance to the office building. It is tragic to see the hate and incitement toward Israel expressed in such a horrific way.”

“The sanctity of life is our highest value. Our prayers are with the security officer who was injured while trying to prevent this tragic act. We are grateful to the city of Atlanta’s law enforcement and first responders for all they do to ensure safety.”

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Released Israeli Hostages Call for Captives to Be Freed

Relatives and supporters of hostages kidnapped on the deadly October 7 attack by Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, rally for their release, after a temporary truce between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas ended when the terrorist group broke it, in Tel Aviv, Israel, December 2, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Israeli hostages released in the past week by Hamas in Gaza called on Saturday for the immediate release of fellow captives left behind, a day after a temporary truce that had allowed scores to come home broke down.

Tens of thousands gathered at a rally in Tel Aviv outside Israel‘s defense headquarters, where they cheered Yelena Trupanov, 50, standing on a stage just two days after being freed.

“I came to thank you because without you I wouldn’t be here. Now we must bring back my (son) Sasha, and everyone. Now.”

Similar pleas from other released hostages were shown on video.

A seven-day truce, during which Hamas had released more than 100 hostages, collapsed on Friday after Hamas breached the ceasefire.

Israel said on Saturday it had recalled a Mossad intelligence agency team from Qatar, host of indirect negotiations with Hamas, accusing the Palestinian faction of reneging on a deal that would have freed all children and women held hostage.

More than 240 people – Israelis and foreign nationals – were abducted to Gaza on Oct 7. by Hamas terrorists who burst through the border with Israel and killed 1,200 people.

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IDF Foils Stabbing Attack Near Nablus in West Bank, Eliminates Terrorist

Illustrative. Palestinian attacker near Nablus hurls stones towards Israeli troops during clashes at a riot in support of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails, May 5, 2017. Photo: Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90.

i24 NewsThe Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reported thwarting a stabbing attack on Saturday afternoon against reserve Battalion 7037 at the X junction near Nablus in the West Bank.

According to the IDF spokesperson, the event unfolded when the forces at the roadblock became suspicious of an individual approaching the barricade.

During the questioning process, the suspect suddenly drew a knife and advanced towards the IDF personnel.

ניסיון פיגוע דקירה אירע לפני זמן קצר לעבר כוח צה”ל במילואים מגדוד 7037 שפעל בחסם בצומת האיקס סמוך לעיר שכם שבמרחב חטיבת שומרון.

הכוח חשד במחבל שהגיע לחסם והחל לתחקר אותו, המחבל שלף סכין והחל להתקדם לעבר הכוח.
הלוחמים חתרו למגע והגיבו בירי לעבר המחבל שחוסל. אין נפגעים לכוחותינו.

— דובר צה״ל דניאל הגרי – Daniel Hagari (@IDFSpokesperson) December 2, 2023

The soldiers, faced with the threat, engaged in contact procedures and ultimately responded by opening fire on the assailant. The spokesperson confirmed that the attacker was neutralized due to the IDF’s action.

It was also noted that there were no casualties among the IDF forces involved in the incident. According to the spokesperson, the situation at the X junction has stabilized, and IDF continues to maintain vigilance in the area to prevent further attacks.

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