The Schalit deal may go down as the most disastrous miscalculation since the decision not to mobilize the reserves in 1973.
“Prisoner releases only embolden terrorists by giving them the feeling that even if they are caught, their punishment will be brief….[B]y leading terrorists to think such demands are likely to be met, they encourage precisely the terrorist blackmail they are supposed to defuse.”
– Binyamin Netanyahu, Fighting Terrorism(1995)
“There will be no negotiations to release prisoners. The government of Israel will not give in to extortion by the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas government, which are headed by murderous terror organizations. – Ehud Olmert, official statement (2006)
Here is virtually a whole nation acting as one irrational parent…[in a way] that transcends reason – David Suissa, Jewish Journal (2011) It is now a fait accompli. Gilad Schalit has been freed. All the Israeli government – and people –can do is wait – and brace themselves for the consequences.
The preceding citations aptly encapsulate the dramatic disintegration of national resolve and the ascendency of sentimentality over rationality that has overtaken the country in the wake of the 2006 abduction.
Since the announcement of Schalit deal, numerous writers have observed that lives (and limbs) of many Israelis are likely to be endangered by the release of over 1000 terrorists as the quid pro quo for his freedom.
Given past precedents, there is little reason to believe that considerable death and injury will not ensue as a result of the government’s decision.
However, how can the risk be quantified?
The theory of probability 101
The following simple–and wildly optimistic– calculation will suffice for a rudimentary order-of-magnitude estimate: Suppose 1000 terrorists are about to be released. Suppose the security services can guarantee that there is a 99% chance that each individual terrorist will not engage in any lethal terror-related activities following his/her release.
Then, given the arguable assumption that each released prisoner’s decision is independent of that of other released prisoners, the probability that none of them will engage in lethal terror-related activities is 0.99 – less than one half of one hundredth of one percent.
In other words, there is over a 99.9999% chance of least one lethal attack resulting from the release –as close to statistical certainty as you can get.
Now of course it is possible to critique this simple–some might say, simplistic–calculation. However, it does provide an idea of the size of the gamble the government has taken with the security of its citizens and its willingness to play Russian roulette with their lives. It makes little difference if different assumptions yield estimates of 98%, or 95% or 90% chances of a lethal release-related event. Whichever way you cut the numbers or shuffle the odds, the future prospects seem ominous–even under extremely benign presumptions.
Catastrophic craven capitulation
The Schalit decision has been has been lauded as a commendable display of “courageous leadership.” It is neither.
In fact, quite the converse is true. It was a craven retreat from positions of moral imperative, because those charged with their defense had neither the depth of intellect nor strength of spirit to hold them. This reflects neither courage nor leadership.
It was a decision that involved little political risk. It, therefore, required little political courage.
There was negligible opposition from within the coalition or from the opposition, so no internal challenge had to be withstood or overcome. There was no resistance from the professional echelons, since the newly-appointed heads of the military and security services consented to capitulation.
The media aggressively promoted it, the bon-ton celebrity opinion-makers clamored for it, and – if polls are to be believed – the general public supported it overwhelmingly.
Under such conditions, surely it would have been more “courageous” to resist than to acquiesce?
Moreover, “leadership"–as it is commonly understood–involves persuading others to follow you, not your following others. It involves the “leader” convincing others to adopt his/her perspectives, not the leader embracing the perspectives of others. So it hardly seems a demonstration of “leadership” to be swayed from long-held principles and to abandon them for the antithetical “populistic” positions of others. That appears more “follow-ship” and “leadership.” The Schalit deal will have incalculably grave ramifications for the nation and the sustainability of Jewish political sovereignty.
While to some this might sound an overdramatization, it is sadly no exaggeration.
Unless drastic and timely corrective measures are undertaken, its corrosive consequences will soon be upon us.
It will undermine Israeli endeavor in many fields and on many fronts–both domestically and internationally. It will go down as one of the most disastrous miscalculations in the annals of the nation – comparable to the decision not to mobilize the reserves on the eve of Yom Kippur in 1973.
Product of a puerile, perverse and perfidious press
“We reached the point where we conduct our national affairs like children – without wisdom, without morality and without mature responsibility” confessed a well-know Ha’aretz columnist in what seems to be a flush of retroactive remorse, having just a week previously hailed the exchange as “a victory for old-fashioned Israeli solidarity.”
Some have characterized the Schalit episode as a case of “heart prevailing over head”. It certainly was a triumph of media-mania over mind, a victory of rating over rationality.
For it could never have played out as it did without the press–both print and electronic– promoting the mantra of “no price is too high", with little regard for the consequences.
Any thought of wider national issues was subordinated to the playing up the more newsworthy personal anguish. Any consideration for the long-term impact was swept away by a puerile – but profit-worthy – penchant for instant gratification that brooked no delay.
Any regard for national interests was trumped by the commercial interests of the media corporations and the careerinterests of the media personalities. The any vestige of the ethical was overwhelmed by the avarice of cynical.
Although there are belated signs of second- thoughts by some commentators, now expressing hesitant ex-post reservations they lacked the nerve to express exante, the genie is regrettably out of the bottle.
It is a genie that will wreak havoc on both morality and morale, both in principle and in practice. And rebottling genies is a hazardous, costly and largely unproven disciple.
Sentimentality not morality
Despite mighty media endeavors to portray the decision as a reflection of respect for life–it is if anything, precisely the opposite. For unless we attribute immature denial and gross ignorance to the nation’s decision-makers, their working assumption must have been that it will precipitate greater loss of life than it prevents. Yet this did not deter them.
As such, it is a decision that can make no claim to the moral high ground. For unless there is some intrinsic reason why Schalit’s fate is significantly more important than that of the yet-to-determined victim(s) of his release, the deal is little more than a surrender to sentimentality that ill-befits those charged with task charting the course of a nation.
After all, if securing the fate of a single combatant can justify imperiling the lives of numerous civilians, the entire purpose of the military – and the very rationale for service in the IDF – is in effect voided.
Indeed, this grossly perverts – even inverts – the fundamental logic underpinning the relationship between the martial and civilian sectors of society.
This is not a matter of mere philosophical significance. In the post-Schalit era, every Israeli citizen is in greater danger, every Israeli tourist (especially those in cities with terror-complicit embassies) in greater jeopardy.
Assurances by senior security officials – the very individuals unable to devise a military option to rescue a single abductee, adjacent to the country’s borders – that the released prisoners will not constitute a future threat, are neither comforting nor convincing.
Risible protestations that the deal will not exacerbate terror, because terrorists will perpetrate the nefarious deeds anyway, should be dismissed out of hand. Conventional theory on counter-terrorism holds that terror is a function of motivation and operational capabilities.
Only the blind or the blatantly biased would contest that Israeli compliance in Schlalit deal comprises a gigantic fillip for the morale of the terrorists. Such resounding success will necessarily not only enhance their motivation to duplicate it, but will probably enhance their operational capabilities through greater largesse of benefactors impressed with their accomplishment.
Shattered international credibility and moral authority
But the Schalit debacle will not only undermine the security of Israel/Israelis at home and aboard. It will also impair the conduct the country’s foreign policy and its international stature.
Once international astonishment and disbelief at the staggering disproportionality of the deal subsides, and awareness of its significance begins to sink in, the consequences will soon follow. Israel will find that:
• Its capitulation has shattered its credibility in any future negotiations with its adversaries. For them the plausible working assumption must now be that if they hold fast long enough, Israel will yield–no matter how resolute it appears at the outset.
• It has thus virtually guaranteed that it will now be faced with ever-increasing demands, made with ever increasing intransigence, with ever increasing expectation for capitulation.
• It has lost any moral authority it may have had in demanding that other countries resist extortion–whether by state or non-state actors. After all, Israel itself has now supplied them with the archetypical example of surrender to such extortion.
• It can now expect intensified international pressure to make further far-reaching concessions to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, to help resurrect his status that has been so dramatically undermined by the Schalit deal.
Coercive not consensual
Clearly, Schalit should not have been abandoned to rot in captivity. Yes, the IDF and the other security services must maintain an organizational esprit de corps which instills the belief in all combatants that, should they taken by the enemy, extraordinary efforts will be made to secure their release. And indeed extraordinary efforts ought to have been made to extricate Schalit from his captors.
But his liberation should have been achieved by coercive means, not consensual ones. It should have be imposed on his abductors because his continued incarceration involved penalties too onerous to bear; not agreed to because his release involved rewards too tempting to pass up.
A clear message must now be conveyed: Any future abduction will bring unbearable retribution.
In this regard the aversion to “collective punishment” must be overcome. In collective conflicts, collective punishments are entirely appropriate, unavoidably necessary, and frequently imposed.
The US-led, UN-sanctioned embargo against Iraq reportedly led to more infant deaths than in Hiroshima. Doesn’t get much more collectively punitive than that!
Then there are the tens of thousands of NATO-inflicted civilian casualties in Afghanistan, the NATO high-altitude bombing raids in the Balkans, hitting hospitals, old-age homes, buses, trains, refugee columns fleeing the fighting. The Israeli leadership has a duty not to shrink from the pot calling the kettle black.
Submission and surrender of sovereignty
The Schalit debacle is yet another example of the ongoing erosion of national sovereignty.
In Lebanon in 2006 and in Gaza in 2008/9, Israel demonstrated it did not have the resolve to impose its will on small lightly-armed militias. In 2011, it demonstrated that it did not have the resolve to prevent lightly-armed militias imposing their will on it.
In its ignominious submission, it is clearly failing to demonstrate that it can operate as a sovereign entity. As such it is beginning to lose the very point of its existence: The expression of Jewish political independence.
This is a process that must be reversed with out delay–with uncompromising resolve. Anything less would be a dereliction of duty.
The Israeli leadership must resign itself to the unpalatable fact that Israel is unlikely to win international affection. The most it can realistically hope for is to be grudgingly respected, the least it must unequivocally ensure is to be greatly feared.
Those who cannot grasp this are unsuited to lead.