Israel is due to receive Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, captured two years ago, in the next two weeks in return for five Lebanese prisoners and the bodies of 10 Hizbollah fighters.
The cabinet voted this Sunday in favour of the plan despite Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warning that the two soldiers are presumed to be dead.
Mossad Chief Meir Dagan and Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin both opposed the deal with Hizbollah on the grounds that Israel would be setting a bad precedent by exchanging live prisoners for bodies. One of the prisoners to be released is convicted murderer Samir Kuntar, who killed three Israelis in 1979. Kuntar was supposed to be exchanged only in return for conclusive information on the whereabouts of navigator Ron Arad, whose plane crashed in Lebanon 22 years ago. Instead, Israel will make do with a dossier detailing Hizbollah’s unsuccessful efforts to locate Mr Arad, who they claim is dead.
Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah confirmed the deal and mocked Israel, saying that it “has no clue as to the fate of the two soldiers… everything that has been published is conjecture”.
Mr Olmert’s aides were at pains to emphasise that the deal was worthwhile.
A source in the Prime Minister’s Office told the JC that while the Israeli public will be told that the deal is reasonable, “we will giving a different line to the foreign media. Since Hizbollah will fete Kuntar as a freedom fighter, we will remind them that he is a bloodthirsty killer who smashed a young girl’s skull with a rock. We will also remind the Arabs that Israel went to war over these two soldiers and we will exact a heavy price for our people.”