Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Israel Humiliated By Hizbollah, Again

The bodies of two Israeli soldiers captured by Hizbollah two years ago have been returned to Israel as part of a swap arrangement. In return, Israel handed over the remains of 200 or so Hizbollah and Palestinian fighters, plus five Lebanese prisoners who are still alive. Among those men, the notorious Samir Qantar, who'd been locked up for his role in the deaths of four Israelis during a raid 29 years ago.

Today's a clear diplomatic victory for Hizbollah, and a humiliation for Israel. The capture of the two soldiers (who, it seems, probably died in the incident itself or shortly after) prompted Israel to begin a bloody but brief war against Hizbollah, in which the militants were able to fight the might of the Israeli army to something of a standstill. That was a pretty big trauma for the Israeli nation, as it realised its military was no longer strong enough to simply destroy any threats to its security, as it had done in the past.

The prisoner swap is the final part of that humilitation. Israel's been forced to pay a high price for the return of its two dead soldiers. Hizbollah behaved disgracefully but predictably, by refusing to admit the pair were dead all along, leading to hope they could still be alive - hope that was only finally extinguished for the families today. But Hizbollah's strength on the battlefield and behaviour around the negotiating table helped them to strike a very hard bargain. Because of its military weakness two summers ago, Israel has had to hand over all of the Lebanese prisoners remaining in its jails - effectively buying Hizbollah off in the hope there won't be any further raids on its territory to try to capture soldiers to use as bargaining tools. Now we'll see whether an emboldened Hizbollah tries something more dramatic as it continues its efforts to smash Israel. It's a prospect the Israeli people and politicians must dread.

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