Killer's welcome has shown Hezbollah's true colours
IT is easy to conclude that Israel has paid a diabolical price to honour the Jewish state's unbreakable promise to its citizens that soldiers will never be left stranded on foreign soil, even in death. The return of prisoners to the Iran-backed group, Hezbollah, in exchange for the corpses of two young Israeli soldiers who were kidnapped on Israeli soil offends the accepted wisdom that negotiating with terrorists only invites further acts of terror.
For those people who are preoccupied with false arguments about moral equivalence in the long-running Middle East conflict, the terms of the latest exchange illustrate just how lopsided things are. To secure the return of the remains of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, army reservists whose seizure by Hezbollah sparked the 34-day conflict in Lebanon, Israel released a terrorist serving a life sentence for the deaths of four Israelis as well as four other Lebanese prisoners. Samir Kuntar was sentenced to three life terms for killing an Israeli man in front of his four-year-old daughter, then killing the little girl by smashing her skull with his rifle butt.
Despite his crimes, Kuntar was welcomed back to Lebanon as a hero by the President, Prime Minister and Speaker of parliament. A public holiday was declared to mark the agreement and yellow Hezbollah flags were flown to leave no doubt about who was responsible for the exchange. By contrast, there were no public celebrations in Israel. Only tears at the final confirmation that the two young soldiers were dead and deep soul-searching about what would come next. Lebanese politicians openly said the swap proved the only successful way to free prisoners was by kidnapping Israeli soldiers. Worst of all, hostage-takers are open to conclude that in negotiations with Israel, even dead bodies have a value. This calculation overlooks the fact the original kidnapping sparked a 34-day war between Israel and Lebanon that left more than 1200 Lebanese and 157 Israeli soldiers dead.
Hezbollah may rejoice that it has had a propaganda win at home. But for the rest of the world, the way in which it rolled out the red carpet -- literally -- for a criminal guilty of such a heinous crime has shown the group for what it is. The Australian remains an outspoken supporter of the state of Israel and of efforts to find a peaceful two-state solution to the Palestinian conflict. In this instance, we have no doubt that Israel has paid a terrible price to secure the return of the bodies of two kidnapped soldiers. Palestinians and Lebanese citizens have also paid a high price because of the conflict that was sparked by the kidnappings and they continue to do so because of the proxy war being fought on their soil by Iran, through Hezbollah, against Israel.
The best that can come out of the sorry episode is the hope that a dialogue has been opened that, rather than more kidnappings and killings, will prove useful in negotiations for lasting peace.