In a deal brokered by Germany, the government of Ehud Olmert has turned over to the terrorist organisation Hizbollah the bodies of around 200 Lebanese killed during the 2006 war, plus four still living Hizbollah terrorists currently held in Israel, and the convicted murderer Samir Kuntar.
In return, Hizbollah handed over to Israel the bodies of Israeli soldiers killed during that war, including the remains of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, whose abduction at the hands of Hizbollah triggered the 2006 conflict. Hizbollah has also provided information as to the fate of Israeli airman Ron Arad, who was captured by Lebanese Shiites in October 1986 and subsequently — perhaps — “sold on” to Iran.
This is a thoroughly bad agreement from Israel’s point of view, and it is a scandal that Mr Olmert’s government could even have considered sanctioning it.
In Israel and the wider Jewish world the agreement was being promoted and defended as a grand humanitarian gesture. Israel has always prided itself on securing the return of its fallen soldiers, and I can well understand the anguish that the families of Regev and Goldwasser must have suffered and must still be suffering — not to mention the families of other IDF personnel whose mortal remains are still in the hands of Hizbollah. I say this with all the more sincerity because my late mother had a brother who was shot down over Germany in 1944, and who has no known grave. I witnessed the grief that she and my grandparents experienced, and I know that to have been able to bury his remains in a Jewish grave would have comforted them and brought some solace.
But I am equally certain that they would never have blessed an agreement that gave them back the body of Flight Sergeant Henry Landau in return for the freeing of Nazi murderers.
That — in essence — is what the German-brokered agreement with Hizbollah amounts to.
Samir Kuntar is a convicted murderer. A Lebanese Druze who was a member of the Palestine Liberation Front, he entered Israel illegally in 1979 and murdered three Israeli civilians — a policeman, a 28-year-old man and his 4-year-old daughter; another young daughter was accidentally smothered by her mother in an effort to prevent her crying out.
The murders were brutal and deliberate. Kuntar has shown not the slightest remorse following his trial and conviction. His liberation has long been the ambition of Islamist groups such as Hizbollah, who regard his crimes as acts of unmitigated heroism.
Indeed, it was to try and secure his release that, in 1985, the PLF seized the Italian cruise liner Achille Lauro and murdered the wheelchair-bound American Jewish passenger Leon Klinghoffer by throwing him overboard. And there is some evidence that the abduction of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser two years ago was part of yet another attempt to free Kuntar from his Israeli gaol.
It seems to me that, albeit after a 24-month delay, this plan has succeeded, with the blessing of the Israeli government. It amounts to a grossly immoral miscarriage of justice. More than that, it will only encourage further acts of terrorism both by Hizbollah and by other anti-Jewish terrorist groups.
Israel has released Kuntar and other Palestinian terrorists. In return Israel received some corpses and information — that may or may not be accurate — about another. You may think me brutal and insensitive in putting the matter thus. But that is, I believe, an accurate summary of the agreement.
I stress again how mindful I am of the sufferings of the families of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser. But what about the sufferings of the families of those butchered (literally) by Samir Kuntar? What about the sufferings of the family of Leon Klinghoffer? And — again I am sorry to put it this way but I can think of no other — what about the wider, longer-term consequences of the deal that has been done?
In return for two dead soldiers Hassan Nasrallah, the Hizbollah leader, will have pulled off several coups. He has secured the release of Kuntar and others. His prestige will therefore have increased immeasurably. And he will have forced Israel to negotiate with kidnappers, and to have acknowledged that kidnapping pays.
Kidnappers must never be permitted to profit from their crimes. It’s a great pity that Mr Olmert and his government were determined to ignore this golden rule.