On the eve of an apparent cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, the terrorist group that rules Gaza, the chatter in Israel already has moved onto another subject: Israel’s other threatening neighbor, Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The New York Times reports that Israel is willing to engage in peace talks with Lebanon about “all issues,” including a disputed piece of land on the Israel-Lebanon border called Shebaa Farms. But what Israel is most interested in is the return of its two captive soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, who were kidnapped by Hezbollah in the deadly incident that sparked the 2006 Lebanon war.
The families of the two soldiers met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s negotiations chief on Wednesday, and Israel reportedly is discussing the outline of a prisoner swap deal with Hezbollah. A deal likely would include the return to Lebanon of Samir Kuntar, a Lebanese Druse man who snuck into Israel in 1979 and murdered an Israeli man and his 4-year-old daughter, along with two Israeli policemen. This release of Kuntar is a cause celebre among many Lebanese, Palestinians and others who mistake the murder of a little girl and her young father for an act of heroism.
Nevertheless, Ha’aretz’s Uzi Benziman says repatriating Kuntar for Goldwasser and Regev would be a price worth paying, even if politically unpopular. Echoing that sentiment, Ynet’s Sima Kadmon says waiting might result in the Regev-Goldwasser captivity turning into that of Ron Arad, the Israeli airman who went down over Lebanon in 1986. Arad survived the fall and was captured, but he has not been heard from in some 20 years. His whereabouts remain unknown, and Israeli intelligence officials privately say it is highly unlikely he is still alive.
Arad’s family, however, say such a deal is not worthwhile.
On the Gaza front, Israel and Hamas continued to trade fire on Wednesday, with some two dozen rockets fired into Israel from the Palestinian strip.
Ynet’s Alex Fishman writes that the Hamas-Israel cease-fire deal
is taking shape for one reason: The two weak governments on both sides of the Gaza fence have an interest in seeing the deal succeed. Only one element has an interest in sabotaging this deal: The Iranians. They will make an effort to unravel it through the Islamic Jihad organization. This is where Hamas will be tested: Is it indeed an Iranian satellite, or does it only exploit Tehran for its own needs?
So everything that has happened and will happen in the day before the truce is a game: Who will emerge as “the man,” who will deliver the last blow, and who will fight to the last moment for its truce terms? This is what Hamas is doing, and this is what we’re doing as well.