ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | Exchange With Hizbollah Directed at Europeans 22.2.04

Exchange With Hizbollah Directed at Europeans

02 February 2004

By Yisrael Ne'eman

Last Thursday was a very difficult day. Not only did Israel release over 400 Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners in return for the bodies of three soldiers and kidnapped civilian Elhanan Tanenbaum, but already by 9AM there was a major bombing in Jerusalem (#19 bus), killing eleven.

While Palestinian terrorism is random, Hizbollah initiatives of whatever type are not. Sec. General Hassan Nasrallah clearly thinks out every step, whether he is exchanging prisoners and bodies with the “Zionist entity”, abducting soldiers or firing rockets into the northern Galilee. Former Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Lau considers Nasrallah the embodiment of evil or the new “Goebbels” (Nazi minister of propaganda) as do most Israelis. Nasrallah refused to announce whether the three soldiers, who were wounded and abducted over three years ago, were alive or dead, leaving their loved ones in the clutches of uncertainly until the last moment. Nasrallah put on a spectacular media show and the world media responded with glee. He furthermore became a hero to many Lebanese, Palestinians and members of the Moslem/Arab world, at the expense of moderate, western leaning leaders.

While concentrating on the suffering Israeli families and the celebrations in the Arab world, the media missed the point. According to Mideast historian and analyst Dr. Guy Bakhor, the Iranians pulled the strings, setting up Hizbollah as the front organization. Tehran wants to improve ties with the west and thereby used German negotiators to ensure the deal. Nasrallah knows he is a puppet but played the part of rubbing Israel’s face in the dirt while enhancing his status in the Arab/Moslem world. The fact the deal went through was to Iran’s credit.

Israel did not even manage to get sorely sought after information on captured air force navigator Ron Arad who is thought to be in Iran. Whether he is alive is another question. Those released by Israel were at the very end of their jail sentences or were of no use keeping in jail any longer (such as Mustafa Dirani and Sheikh Obeid who were being held to trade for Arad).

Most Israelis felt they got nothing from the exhange, except for standing on the principle of always retrieving its soldiers and citizens. But half say they would not have made the deal in any event.

Israel gained from the deal, but not from the Arab/Moslem world. By appearing flexible, the Sharon government improved its international image, especially in Europe. With the Germans as mediators, the Americans were shunted aside and for a moment the Europeans could present themselves as “honest brokers” and compete with Washington for the spotlight in some sort of Mideast negotiations.

Whether the European mediation pays off for more than a week or so will only be tested with the EU reaction to the next targeted removal of a Hamas leader.