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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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UN Committee Says Not Enough Evidence to Declare a Famine in Gaza

Egyptian trucks carrying humanitarian aid make their way to the Gaza Strip, amid the ongoing conflict in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, at the Kerem Shalom crossing in southern Israel, May 30, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Amir Cohen

The United Nations Famine Review Committee (FRC), a panel of experts in international food security and nutrition, has cast doubt on the notion that the northern Gaza Strip is suffering through a famine.

In a report released earlier this month, the committee responded to a claim by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) — a US-created provider of warning and analysis on food insecurity — that a famine was likely underway in northern Gaza. FEWS NET said that northern Gaza began experiencing famine in April and projected that the embattled enclave would endure famine until at least July 31.

The FRC rejected the assertion that northern Gaza is experiencing famine, citing the “uncertainty and lack of convergence of the supporting evidence employed in the analysis.” The panel carries out evaluations of humanitarian conditions on behalf of the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), an international famine monitoring initiative. 

The FRC added that there is not sufficient evidence to confirm the existence of a famine within northern Gaza and called for more humanitarian access into the warzone, providing experts an opportunity to give an accurate assessment of the conditions. 

“The very fact that we are unable to endorse (or not) FEWS NET’s analysis is driven by the lack of essential up-to-date data on human well-being in northern Gaza, and Gaza at large,” the report stated. “Thus, the FRC strongly requests all parties to enable humanitarian access in general, and specifically to provide a window of opportunity to conduct field surveys in northern Gaza to have more solid evidence of the food consumption, nutrition, and mortality situation.”

However, the panel warned that Gaza is still enduring “extreme human suffering” and called for the “complete, safe, unhindered, and sustained” transport of aid into the enclave.

The report represents a course-reversal for the FRC, which claimed that Gaza likely surpassed the “famine thresholds for acute malnutrition” in March. The FRC now contends that civilians in Gaza are experiencing improved humanitarian conditions as a result of increased aid flowing into the war-torn enclave.   

“Since the FRC review conducted in March 2024, there seems to have been a significant increase in the number of food trucks entering northern Gaza,” the report read.

“The FEWS NET analysis acknowledges that humanitarian assistance in the area has increased significantly, finding that caloric availability from humanitarian assistance increased from 9 percent in February to 34 percent  to 36 percent in March and 59 percent to 63 percent in April. The opening of alternative routes to the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings, the authorization of commercial truck entry, as well as airdrops, allowed for an increase of food availability,” the report continued.

Several aid agencies, media outlets, and politicians, as well as pro-Palestinian activists, have repeatedly accused Israel of inflicting famine on Palestinians since beginning its military operations in Gaza following Hamas’ Oct. 7 slaughter of over 1,200 people throughout southern Israel. Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, accused Israel of using starvation as a “weapon of war.”

Despite these allegations, data produced by the United Nations showed that Israel allowed more than 100 food trucks to enter Gaza per day in March, an increase from the daily average of 70 trucks before the war. Moreover, many trucks transporting aid into Gaza have been hijacked and seized by Hamas terrorists, increasing the difficulty of distributing food to civilians.

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Hundreds rallied outside Toronto school board offices to protest a racism report that doesn’t mention antisemitism

Hundreds of people filled the lawn in front of the Toronto District School Board (TSDB) to oppose a proposed anti-discrimination policy being voted on by trustees that would include recognizing anti-Palestinian racism—while failing to acknowledge rising antisemitism in schools. The report, entitled Combating Hate and Racism: Student Learning Strategy, was received without any amendments by […]

The post Hundreds rallied outside Toronto school board offices to protest a racism report that doesn’t mention antisemitism appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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French President Denounces ‘Scourge of Antisemitism’ After 12-Year-Old Jewish Girl Raped

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a press conference in Paris, France, June 12, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday denounced the “scourge of antisemitism” and called on schools to hold discussions on racism and hatred of Jews after three boys were charged with raping a 12-year-old Jewish girl in a Paris suburb.

The young girl told police that she was approached by three boys who raped and beat her in the northwestern Paris suburb of Courbevoie on Saturday in an incident that French authorities have described as a hate crime. According to French media, the assailants called the victim a “dirty Jew” and uttered other antisemitic remarks during the brutal gang-rape.

A police source told AFP that one of the boys asked the young girl questions about “her Jewish religion” and Israel, citing the child’s statement to investigators.

The boys — two aged 13 and one 12 — were arrested on Monday and indicted on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Macron’s office said the president asked French Education Minister Nicole Belloubet “to organize a discussion in all schools on the fight against antisemitism and racism, to prevent hate speech with serious consequences from infiltrating schools.”

The rape of the unnamed 12-year-old girl has caused outrage throughout France and among the Jewish community.

Elie Korchia, president of France’s Central Israelite Consistory, told BFM TV that the girl was raped “because she is Jewish,” adding, “We have never seen antisemitism that extends so far in all areas of life.”

Courbevoie Mayor Jacques Kossowski echoed that sentiment in a statement released on X/Twitter, saying, “The rape was carried out with antisemitic intent.”

Eric Ciotti, leader of Les Républicains, also condemned the “rise of antisemitism” in France, which he argued was “fueled by the alliance of the far left.” He added that “we must act as a bulwark” against antisemitism.

Marine Le Pen, leader of the right-wing National Rally party, decried the rape on social media. She noted “the explosion of antisemitic acts” in France since Oct. 7.

The recent gang-rape came amid a record surge of antisemitism in France in the wake of Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel. Antisemitic outrages rose by over 1,000 percent in the final three months of 2023 compared with the previous year, with over 1,200 incidents reported — greater than the total number of incidents in France for the previous three years combined.

In April, a Jewish woman was beaten and raped in a suburb of Paris as “vengeance for Palestine.”

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