Today is Gilad Shalit’s 26th birthday, the first one he is celebrating as a free man since he turned 19 in 2005. Although I organized and joined demonstrations for Shalit during his captivity, I admit that I still balked at the cost of setting him free.

But then I heard Benjamin Netanyahu’s official statement when Shalit was released:

 …we believe in the sanctity of life. We sanctify life. This is the ancient tradition of the Jewish people.

Powerful words, indeed, intended to offset criticism about his controversial decision to agree to such a lopsided deal and free so many terrorists; a decision that might well put Israeli lives at risk in future. What mattered above all, the prime minister said, was that one life could definitely be saved.

How, then, can we square these admirable sentiments with what we read almost daily about Netanyahu’s determination to press ahead with an attack on Iran in full knowledge that he will be condemning at least 500 (to take Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s own estimate) Israelis to death?

Don’t those as-yet-unknown victims matter?

The home front will bear the brunt of an imminent war, but anyone who recalls what life was like for citizens in northern Israel during the Second Lebanon War wouldn’t wish that terrible time on the country again. Thousands of Israelis fled their homes and their woefully inadequate shelters. Many of the evacuees came to stay in my hometown of Raanana. At a moment’s notice, the city did a fantastic job: residents opened their homes to complete strangers, and volunteers helped turn a couple of local schools into temporary boarding houses, providing food and lodging for scores of traumatized men, women and children.

Today we are told that our enemies’ missiles and rockets can hit all of Israel’s major cities. Are arrangements in hand to evacuate citizens if we do attack Iran? If so, where are they going to go? Will they be sent out of Israel, as children were sent from Europe in 1938/9? Is that what the prime minister has in mind when he repeatedly compares our current situation to the Holocaust?

Nothing but a numbers game? An Iranian Shahab 3 missile (photo credit: CC BY sajed.ir, Wikipedia)

Nothing but a numbers game? An Iranian Shahab 3 missile (photo credit: CC BY sajed.ir, Wikipedia)

Netanyahu and Barak seem to believe that an attack that could leave 500 dead now will prevent millions of fatalities in future.

But last year they didn’t believe they could leave just one Israeli in captivity to save an untold number from being killed by the terrorists they were going to release.

So do we, or do we not, sanctify life? Just as we still don’t know the true impact of freeing Gilad Shalit, we can’t know the long-term consequences of not attacking Iran.

But we do know that right here and now, 500 lives will be saved.