- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 16, 2008

NAHARIYA, Israel | Retired Brig. Gen. Yosi Tsachor pulled back his shirt to reveal scars across his chest - bullet wounds that almost ended his life nearly three decades ago as he chased terrorist Samir Kantar through this coastal town near the Lebanese border.

Kantar had just dragged an Israeli man and his 4-year-old daughter onto the beach, then fatally shot the father in front of the little girl before smashing her skull and killing her as well.

With Kantar set to be freed Wednesday in a swap of five Lebanese prisoners for two Israeli soldiers who are probably dead, Gen. Tsachor can only cringe.

“Once we pay the same thing for living and dead it endangers soldiers in the future,´´ the retired general told The Washington Times on Tuesday.

Israel´s Cabinet gave a final green light for the prisoner swap with the Iranian-backed Hezbollah.

Israel expects to receive the bodies of reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, whose kidnapping triggered a monthlong war two summers ago.

Kantar will go home to a hero’s welcome. Southern Lebanese towns will be bedecked with flags and banners for a convoy of freed prisoners plus the coffins of nearly 200 Lebanese bodies included in the swap.

From Gen. Tsachor’s perspective, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah has bested Israel once again and his militia grows ever stronger.

“Nasrallah is the smartest person in the Middle East. And we´re strengthening him,” the retired general said.

“[Nasrallah] said two years ago that he would get back Kantar and he´s getting him back. He´s said that he wouldn´t give any information on the kidnapped soldiers and he hasn´t. He´s a man of his word. We are strengthening him. We aren´t getting anything.”

Gen. Tsachor added: “Nasrallah is toying with the people of Israel and torturing the families of the kidnapped soldiers.”

His comments reflect the sentiment shared by many other Israelis two years after fighting Hezbollah: that Israel ended up the loser.

Despite the national angst about releasing Kantar, many Israelis think they have no choice but to pay the steep price for the return of captured soldiers, whether alive or dead.

One reason is the memory of failed negotiations to release Lt. Col. Ron Arad, the air force navigator taken captive in Lebanon in 1986.

Col. Arad disappeared several years afterward, and Hezbollah´s report on his fate - also part of the prisoner swap - failed to satisfy Israel. Hezbollah released several pictures and diary excerpts from Col. Arad, but said it did not know what became of the airman.

Advocates of the deal argue that because Israel has a compulsory draft, it has a moral obligation to soldiers and relatives to recover all captives, dead or alive, no matter what the price.

“We need to be able to have faith in the government,´´ said Tom Fischer, a 17-year-old Israeli activist about to go into the army who has pressed the government for the release of the soldiers.

He campaigned by managing an Internet site about the two Israelis kidnapped by Hezbollah in 2006 and Cpl. Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped by Hamas militants and remains captive in the Gaza Strip.

After the Cabinet approval, Israeli President Shimon Peres late Tuesday issued an official pardon to Kantar, allowing the release to proceed.

The prisoner swap survived an eleventh-hour court petition by the relatives of Eilyahu Shachar, the Nahariya policeman who was killed by Kantar and three other Lebanese infiltrators.

The Israeli Supreme Court declined to intervene in what it called a diplomatic policy decision by the government.

An Israeli court convicted Kantar, who was 16 years old at the time of the 1979 attack and is now 45, of fatally shooting Danny Haran and killing his daughter.

Mr. Haran´s wife, Smadar, hiding in the apartment during the kidnapping, smothered their baby.

Israel´s secret services opposed the prisoner swap. To critics, the deal reflects the mirror-image political fortunes of Hezbollah and the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert since the war.

Hezbollah, which recently secured a de facto veto in Lebanon’s government, was in a stronger position to dictate the terms.

In contrast, Mr. Olmert remains dogged by multiple criminal investigations and lingering criticism for his handling of the war. Widely considered to be in the final weeks of his tenure, he bowed to public calls for the release.

“Hezbollah is in the stronger position,” said Yitzhak Reiter, a political science professor at Hebrew University. “Because the government is weak, it is strongly influenced by the public, which is strongly in favor of the return of the soldiers. No government should comply with public pressure if it believes national security is in the balance.”



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