- - Monday, January 15, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ISRAEL AND ISLAMIC TERROR ABDUCTIONS, 1986-2016

By Shaul Shay

Sussex Academic Press, $94.95, 234 pages

Since the 1960s, Israel has been extorted by Palestinian terrorist organizations holding Israeli soldiers and civilians hostage, with Lebanese terrorist groups joining in the kidnapping-for-ransom epidemic of Israelis, including Westerners and other nationals in the early 1980s.

Today, this kidnapping epidemic by terrorists is especially flagrant in conflict-ridden regions such as Afghanistan-Pakistan, Syria, Somalia, North Africa, and elsewhere where numerous journalists, humanitarian aid workers, as well as a few American soldiers, have been kidnapped, leading to the controversial and still unresolved question of whether or not to pay exorbitant ransoms for their release — including exchanging them for al Qaeda, Taliban or ISIS prisoners being held in places such as Guantanamo Bay.

In the case of Israel, which is the focus of this important book, this threat remains unceasing, with several Israelis currently being held hostage by the Palestinian Hamas in the Gaza Strip (whether they are alive or not is unknown), with the remains of several Israeli soldiers who were killed in the July-August 2014 Israel-Hamas war, also being held hostage. One of the triggering events leading to that war was the kidnapping a month earlier of three Israeli youths who were hitchhiking in the West Bank by Hamas terrorist operatives. They were later killed.

For Israel, as Mr. Shay points out, kidnapping strikes to the bone because of “the dominant Israeli conviction that the nation cannot abandon a victim in the hands of his captors without doing everything possible to release him.”

The goal of never abandoning citizens in captivity has been achieved over the years at great cost to Israel, with Israel releasing some 7,500 Palestinian and Arab prisoners in deals with the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and the Lebanese Hezbollah “for the return of 14 living Israeli soldiers and civilians and six bodies.”

In the largest of such prisoners for hostages deals, in 1985 in what was known as the ‘Jibril Deal’ with the PFLP-GC Palestinian terrorist group, Israel released 1,150 Palestinian prisoners convicted of terrorist offenses, including Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder of Hamas, in exchange for three Israeli soldiers.

In January 2004, in a ransom deal with Hezbollah, 435 Palestinian terrorist prisoners were exchanged for Elhanan Tannenbaum, a rogue Israeli businessman and army reserve colonel (who was kidnapped by Hezbollah in Dubai), and the bodies of three Israeli soldiers.

In the final significant ransom deal, in October 2011 Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who had been kidnapped by Hamas operatives across the Israeli border in June 2006 and held in a secret location in Gaza, was returned to Israel in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian terrorist prisoners.

With Israel’s terrorist adversaries using kidnapping of its soldiers and citizens as pawns to extort the release of their convicted terrorist prisoners, this book analyzes these challenges and the nature of effective responses.

It begins by explaining the objectives of terrorists’ kidnapping campaigns, which are primarily politically-driven and intended to extort the release of their prisoners; how terrorists’ objectives differ from criminals’ primarily “for-profit” kidnapping goals, although terrorist groups and criminal organizations at times join forces in kidnapping operations and then share the financial ransoms that are paid; and the involvement of states, such as Iran, in kidnappings by its proxies, such as Hezbollah, with such terrorist proxies used to hide the role of states in such abductions.

Following a discussion of milestones in the history of terrorist-driven kidnappings in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from 1964 to 2016, including the construction of underground tunnels by Hamas across the Gaza border into Israel to evade the border fence and surprise their victims (which is how Gilad Shalit was kidnapped in 2006), the account shifts to an insightful assessment of how Israel should respond to such abductions.

According to Mr. Shay, it boils down to whether conceding to terrorists demands will lead to further kidnappings, thereby reducing a government’s deterrent capability, and if the released terrorist prisoners are likely to return to terrorist activity. As he observes, “the problem is that this [a policy of no negotiations] is easier said than done, and the government will have difficulty explaining to the family of the next abducted soldier why it is not willing to negotiate the release of their son.”

In what is termed the “Hanibal Protocol,” should Israeli soldiers attempt to prevent such abductions when they are underway by attempting to kill the abductors and their victims in order to avoid the consequences of having to exchange hundreds of terrorist prisoners? The author explains that this controversial protocol was canceled by the current IDF chief-of-staff, and is being replaced by a new directive “to better match the types of situations that soldiers are likely to encounter.”

As Mr. Shay concludes, “there is no ‘magic formula’ for the resolution of the issue of abductions but there is no doubt that international action involving the formulation of a treaty defining terror abductions as ‘crimes against humanity’ (which in fact they are), and bringing the perpetrators and the leaders of the organizations behind these acts to justice would certainly contribute to the eradication of this phenomenon.” Abduction is a grievous weapon in the terrorist arsenal, and this book shows why.

Joshua Sinai is a senior analyst, specializing in counterterrorism and homeland security studies, at Kiernan Group Holdings (KGH), in Alexandria, Va.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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