It was not a fun day on Israeli media. From early morning until late in the evening, all of the major stations carried live the various stages of exchanging bodies and sending back Lebanese prisoners. It culminated with the identification of Israeli soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, and the travel of family members to the army base where they could be alone with the coffins. We also saw the celebrations in Lebanon for the return of their hero, and further declarations of Hizbollah's victory in the 2006 war.
Included in the coverage were interviews with politicians, military personnel, and commentators about the importance of the exchange, the errors made in the negotiations, the high price paid for two bodies, and how the interviewees would have done better if they were in charge.
It was a day to revisit the war that began two years ago, and to look forward to what several of the experts are certain will be further rounds in the conflict. For the families of the soldiers returned, it was a day to end a long period of not knowing for sure their condition, hoping for the best, but hearing that they probably died during, or soon after their capture. It was not until the middle of the morning that the Lebanese produced two coffins, and thus indicated that the soldiers were no longer alive.
In recent months we saw an escalation of the campaign led by the families to pressure the government to reach an agreement for their return, against those who opposed paying Hizbollah's price of Samir Kuntar, responsible for the death of a father, his two children, and two police officers in 1979. Families of the victims were divided. The mother and widow of three victims urged Kuntar's release, while other family members went to court in order to stop his release.
Goldwasser's young wife was prominent in the campaign, and the considerations of the government. They married only a few months before his capture, and her status as a widow was not clearly established. Without evidence of his death, she could not get on with her life. Also in the air were sentiments that soldiers be brought home from war, dead or alive.
We saw the father of Gilad Shalit. He is managing his own campaign to keep pressure on the government with respect to his son, taken into Gaza shortly before the onset of the was in Lebanon. On this occasion, he resisted the efforts of media personnel to interview him, and emphasized his concern to show support for the Goldwasser and Regev families.
While the mood on the Israeli side of the border was somber, there was celebration in Lebanon. Kuntar and four lesser returnees flew to Beirut for a celebration with the president and prime minister, plus thousands of others. Kuntar received congratulations from President Abbas of Palestine. If Abbas' standing in Israel is anywhere above zero, it might fall a bit lower as a result of that move.
Hassan Nasrallah provided the keynote address. It was another occasion for him to declare victory over Israel. Not prominent in the ceremony was an accounting for the damage in Shiite neighborhoods in Beirut and towns in southern Lebanon, and the thousand or so Lebanese who died in the war. The day's transfer involved two Israeli bodies moving south, and almost 200 Lebanese bodies moving north.
Nasrallah came to the celebration under heavy guard. He remained on the platform for a few moments, and then disappeared. His victory speech came on a large television screen, photographed somewhere where he is secure. We do not know if the Israeli government has marked him for liquidation. It does not announce such things. The man credited with planning the capture of the two soldiers, and several other actions went to his paradise via an explosion in Damascus earlier this year. Israel did not claim credit.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Home tel: 972-2-532-2725
Cell phone: 054-683-5325