The problem with refusing to negotiate with terrorists is that the only other option may be to allow the terrorists to continue to hold their captives or to even to murder them.
Israel has been extremely effective at countering terror in all its forms. During 2006 the IDF simply deconstructed the Palestinian terrorist organisations brick by brick until they could no longer function. In the West Bank at least. But it isn’t just wholesale uprisings Israel has effectively put down. When plane hijackings were all the rage Israel came up with both effective preventive measures as well as countering the attacks they couldn’t prevent with successful military operations. The most famous of which probably being Operation Yonatan, popularly known as the raid on Entebbe.
The phrase ‘Israel does not negotiate with terrorists’ no longer holds as much water as it did in the heady days of the 1970’s and 80’s. There has been a change in attitude among both Israeli politicians and the general public in this regard. The reason for this is simple. Unlike in Operation Yonatan and other less known military operations, today we find ourselves in a position where there often is no military option to fall back on.
And really the words that went without saying when Israeli politicians stated ‘we won’t negotiate with terrorists’ were; ‘as long as we have a military option.’ In the absence of such an option there is only negotiation or leaving hostages to the mercy of their captors.
Had we been able to send in elite commandos to rescue Gilad Shalit I have no doubt we would have done so. Clearly the intelligence to support such an operation just wasn’t there. Sometimes even when it is forthcoming the operation doesn’t succeed, such as with Nachshon Wachsman in 1994. The attempt to free him ended with both Nachshon and the officer leading the rescue operation killed by terrorists, who were themselves killed. At least in that instance we located the hostage and launched an operation that had a reasonable chance of success. Though even then it was a lack of tactical intelligence that saw the operation fail.
With regards to our three missing boys; Naftali Frankel, Gil-ad Shaar, and Eyal Yifrach we’re witnessing the military operation to free them right now. Like a wounded bear we’re lashing out in all directions in an attempt to both hurt Hamas and to extricate intelligence from the many prisoners we’ve arrested. Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t. If it does we’re likely to see a commando raid to secure the boys’ release.
If the intelligence we need never appears we’re going to be left with stark choices. To negotiate or not to. In the latter case the people holding Naftali, Gil-ad and Eyal may well kill them one by one. The government will have sent a message to terrorists that they won’t negotiate with them but they will also be telling Israeli citizens that if one of us is kidnapped they might do nothing to secure our release.
It’s entirely possible that the government is already preparing to negotiate for the release of our 3 boys. Undoubtedly one of the reasons so many Hamas members have been arrested is for leverage in any negotiations that may have to take place. This means that even while talking tough the government is preparing for a prisoner exchange.
There are many people arguing that there should be no prisoner exchange for Naftali Frankel, Gil-ad Shaar, and Eyal Yifrach. I hope those people are ready either to moderate their views by adding the caveat no negotiation as long as there is a military option, or to prepare for the very worst case scenario.