A Strategically Senseless Swap (A New York Times Column)

Room for Debate - A New York Times Blog

From a strategic perspective, freeing Gilad Shalit in exchange for hundreds of Palestinians makes no sense. The hundreds of prisoners now in Israeli prison were captured in dangerous operations, many of them at a cost of other Israeli casualties.

Despite security considerations, it’s almost unimaginable that Israel would turn down a deal for Shalit.

The outspoken opponents of the trade, who claim that the freed terrorists will return immediately to terrorist activity and may soon kill more Israelis, could well be right about that, too. So, too, are those who fear that paying such a high price for Sgt. Shalit will only induce Hamas and Hezbollah to try to capture more Israelis, both at home and abroad.

The Shalit case is also a reminder to all Israelis that that many of the once apparently inviolable red lines of Israeli foreign policy are now much more blurred. Despite Israel’s stated position that it will not negotiate with terrorists, Israel is clearly negotiating with Hamas.

And with Hamas still publicly committed to Israel�s destruction, Israelis are now being reminded of the limits of our ability to declare who is and is not a player in the Middle East. Making the trade would further blur those lines, opponents insist.

Despite all these considerations, however, it is almost unimaginable that if a deal is possible, that Israel will turn it down. Because despite the strategic mistake this might be, Israelis sadly know that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will end only when Palestinians recognize Israel’s right to exist, as a Jewish state. And that day, tragically, still seems far off.

Therefore, we need to be able to ask our sons and daughters to wage a war in which their own children might well also have to fight. We can ask that of them only if they know that if the unthinkable should happen, we will never rest until they are home.

That is the great irony of the Shalit case. On many levels, it makes no strategic sense. But with the conflict likely to persist, and with our sons and daughters asked to make extraordinary sacrifices to keep us safe, they need to know that we are no less devoted to them than they are to us. And on that level, the trade makes all the sense in the world.

About Daniel Gordis

Dr. Daniel Gordis is Senior Vice President and the Koret Distinguished Fellow at Shalem College in Jerusalem. The author of numerous books on Jewish thought and currents in Israel, and a recent winner of the National Jewish Book Award, Dr. Gordis was the founding dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism.

6 Comments on "A Strategically Senseless Swap (A New York Times Column)"

  • Judy says

    I think that Daniel has this one right (as usual). Still – it is the kind of gut-wrenching decision that makes one happy not to be in public office.
    This morning I heard on the radio that the Obama administration is opposed to the deal, since they are afraid that Israeli negotiations with Hamas will strengthen Hamas at the expense of Fatah….Now, how ironic is THAT? In Hebrew we call that “hafuch al hafuch”.

  • Steven says

    Hey Daniel,

    I have wanted to write to you for a while, since you have written some powerful articles that speak so loudly to me.

    With regards to this article though, yes we are in a long war, and if we make this “strategic mistake” we can guarantee more Gilad Shalit’s. The only choice is to completely refuse such a deal. How can we expect our sons and daughters to fight for our safety if as soon as Hamas kidnaps someone we trade murderers as if they were being held as political prisoners.

  • David says

    Can anyone help me on this?

    What are conditions like for the Palestinians in Israeli jails? I don’t mean physically. I’m sure their circumstances are humane. Do Israeli jails become Terrorist U, where experienced murderers mentor their juniors and where secrets of the black arts are swapped? This is not disingenuous; I’m truly curious.

  • Marc says

    I served in the Israeli army. A constant refrain was “we do not leave our soldiers – alive, wounded, or dead – on the battlefield”. This soldier deserves to come home. His suffering and that of his family cannot be fathomed. We will meet the released terrorists on the battlefield again – and we shall have the upper hand. Operation Cast Lead will look like child’s play.

  • Jason Berg says

    Agree with Marc. Fight a war, bring the troops back home in the best condition possible. Then, fight another war. Repeat until they love their children and tire of losing over and over.

    The tragedy of Shalit is overpowered by the love I see for this young man. The damned Red Cross hasn’t lifted a finger, the UN has ignored the violations, and the US worries about precedents instead of principles.

    We are Jews and we must take care of each other not only because no one else will, it’s also the reason we exist. Shalit is our family.

  • Howard Stevens says

    Does Rabbi Gordis have an unfortunate blind spot? He writes passionately about the need for Israel to “make extraordinary sacrifices to keep us safe” but to me, the greatest danger to Israel’s security is NOT from the terrorist world, but from the “civilized” Western World.

    Israel is perceived as standing alone as a modern state that defines itself on the basis of religious and ethnic culture. This exceptionalism is hard to explain to the “melting pot” world society. One the results has been the infamous “Zionism is Racism” UN resolution.

    Israel was once the darling of the world. Post 1967 we see horrific anti-Israel reactions and propaganda. As the non-Muslim world loses sympathy for Israel the calls for Israel’s destruction grow louder as the “neutral” ears become deaf.

    Is it not apparent that the Occupation is entirely to blame for this? If Israel had not taken over Judea and Samaria and East Jerusalem, who would be the Arab prisoners in Israel’s jails today? Only folks who oppose the legitimate, lawful partition of Palestine. The fig leaf of fighting for freedom and raising the occupation would not be present. I believe Israel’s legitimacy would be much easier to defend.

    Israel MUST leave the “territories.” Israel MUST accept the propriety of a Palestinian presence in East Jerusalem. These are very hard choices. As the days proceed, the “settler” movement grows stronger and will strangle the political process.

    Of course, it is easy for me to preach withdrawal from the comfort of my home in the Galut. Rabbi Gordis is on the firing line and has much more at stake. But does his closeness to the situation cloud his judgment?

    I hope he seriously considers how the weakening of world opinion is a far more dangerous threat than are the rockets and bombs of the murderers. The rabbis of old did not assign physical power as the root cause of the destruction of Jewish sovereignty. They claimed sinat chinam (baseless hatred) was the cause. The wisdom of fixing a moral cause for the ancient calamity resonates today. Israel’s occupation is immoral, plain and simple. It violates the norms of law and results in external condemnation nearly everywhere. Internally, it is a corrosively destructive force. The Orr commission recognized the numerous injustices committed against Arab residents of Israel in its 2003 report, none of whose major recommendations have been implemented because of opposition from the right who painted its calls for justice as giving in to “post-Zionist” ideology. In my view, when justice becomes an object of scorn, there’s your modern sinat chinam!

    Because Rabbi Gordis is such a decent, intelligent, ardent, articulate and loyal Zionist – and an important voice in our ciommunity – I hope he will address the poison of the Occupation which I believe could ultimately destroy the Jewish state, G-d forbid.

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