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Backgrounder for Israelis, Kidnapping of Soldiers Has Proven Traumatic — and Costly

Three Israeli soldiers have been kidnapped since late last month; with the abductions arrive the familiar demands from the terrorist groups that hold the captives. On Wednesday, Ehud Goldwasser, 31, and Eldad Regev, 26, were abducted by Hezbollah during a raid over Israel’s northern border, shared with Lebanon. The soldiers, both students and reservists, were taken alive. Eight of their comrades were killed by Hezbollah ambushes that day.

The Lebanese terrorist group immediately demanded that security prisoners in Israel be released. Israel was hosting concerns Thursday that Hezbollah, which is backed by Syria and Iran, would attempt to spirit the captive soldiers to Iran.

Less than three weeks before the Hezbollah incident, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, 19, a baby-faced soldier with large, round glasses, was taken hostage in Gaza after being lightly wounded during a Palestinian cross-border raid. Two other soldiers in his tank unit were killed in the battle.

Hamas and two smaller groups claimed responsibility for the attack and now reportedly are calling for the release of Palestinian women and youths from Israeli prisons in exchange for information on the soldier.

The specter of soldiers being kidnapped is one of the greatest fears in Israeli society, reminding the country of its own vulnerability. For years, terrorist groups have sought to abduct soldiers, believing they can be used as bargaining chips.

Shalit, Goldwasser and Regev have joined the ranks of Israeli soldiers captured in battle in recent years. Other cases include:

October 2000 — Benny Avraham, Adi Avitan and Omar Souad, three soldiers patrolling the Lebanese border by jeep, are ambushed, killed and dragged across the border by Hezbollah guerillas. Three years of negotiations mediated by Germany lead to an agreement to return their remains to Israel, along with kidnapped Israeli businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum in exchange for the release of hundreds of Arab prisoners.

October 1994 — Cpl. Nachshon Wachsman, 19, is captured by a Hamas cell in the West Bank which asks for the release of Palestinian prisoners. A botched commando raid leaves Wachsman, a commanding officer, and several hostage-takers dead.

October 1986 — Capt. Ron Arad, an Israeli air force navigator, parachutes out of his damaged warplane over Lebanon and is taken hostage. Israel says Arad is captured by Lebanese militiamen connected to Iran, but no concrete information is available on his whereabouts or his condition and years later he remains unaccounted for, amid speculation that he is dead.

Raphael Israeli, a Hebrew University history professor who specializes in Islamic history and its fundamentalist movements, said kidnappings strike deeply at the Israeli psyche.

A soldier killed in battle is not an unexpected event, he said, “but when one is captured and helpless it immediately brings up the image of the Holocaust, where Jews did not have the opportunity to fight or resist,” he said.

Furthermore, the drama of a kidnapping creates a wide audience, especially, he said, in a small country where “we are very few and therefore everyone counts. When something like this happens, everyone is worried.”

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