Yesterday marked three years (according to the Jewish calendar, this Thursday will be the Gregorian date) since Gilad Schalit was abducted at Kerem Shalom. Three years of talks, of attempts at negotiating his release – but he is still absent. Schalit, however, is not the only Israeli soldier to be left behind.
- October 10, 1973 – Ze’ev Rotshik went missing, while in search of his unit during the Yom Kippur War.
- June 12, 1982 – the battle at Sultan Yaqub resulted in three MIAs – Zecharia Baumel, Yehuda Katz, and Tzvi Feldman.
- October 16, 1986 – an Israeli F-4 Phantom II suffered damage in Lebanese skies. Two crew members were able to eject to safety, but the navigator, Ron Arad, went missing.
- August 17, 1997 – Guy Hever mysteriously disappeard from his base in the Golan Heights, and has never been heard from since.
- May 24, 2005 – Majdi Halabi mysteriously disappeard, while on his way from home back to his base, and has never been heard from since.
- October 1, 2000 – Jospeh’s Tomb in Nablus was attacked, and Border Patrol Officer Madhat Yusuf was shot in the neck. No rescue mission was sent to save him, and he died due to loss of blood.
- October 7, 2000 – Benny Avraham, Omar Sawaid, and Avi Avitan were kidnapped in a cross-border raid by Hezbollah. In early 2004 their bodies were returned to Israel in a questionable prisoner exchange deal.
- June 25, 2006 – Gilad Schalit was taken hostage in an attack on an IDF post.
- July 12, 2006 – Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser were captured in a cross-border raid by Hezbollah, leading to the Second Lebanon War. Their bodies were eventually returned in an even more questionable prisoner exchange deal.
Israel has a declared policy of leaving no man behind, of caring for its soldiers. However, there are too many missing soldiers whose fate is still unknown. And the last few times it has tried to bring any kidnapped soldiers home through negotiations, it has paid too dear of a price, and learned, all too late, that it was sold a bill of goods.
The last real attempt at rescuing a captive IDF soldier was in 1994. On October 9 of that year Nachshon Waxman was kidnapped from an intersection by Yehud, and an operation was undertaken for his release. The rescue mission was unsuccessful, leaving both Waxman and the mission commander dead.
Ever since there has been a fear of launching, admittedly dangerous, rescue missions for the release of Israeli captives. Soldiers risk their lives for their country. That is a given – it is the very nature of a soldier. It does not mean that avoiding risk is an acceptable excuse for the abandonment of Israelis behind enemy lines. Nor does it mean that the release of murderers in exchange for dead bodies is an acceptable attempt at bringing the soldiers home. It only strengthens the enemy’s resolve.
While no Prime Minister would dare admit this in public, this fear seems to be grounded in politics, than stemming from a concern for soldiers’ lives. A failed mission would cost the government a significant amount of political capital, but that does not mean that they should not try. These pathetic excuses must be brushed aside, and the government must begin fulfilling its duty – safeguarding the people of Israel.
Even unsuccessful rescue attempts are better than the current situation, in which the kidnapping of a soldier can bring a whole country to its knees. In any case, Israel has executed successful operations in the past, leading to the safe return home of captives. Although the abducted were not soldiers, arguably the most famous of these was in Entebbe, Uganda. Another well-known operation was the rescure Sabena Flight 572, in which two future Prime Ministers participated – Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu.
Today, Netanyahu is the Prime Minister, and Barak is the Minister of Defense. Why have the years gone by with nary an attempt at rescuing the MIAs. Where is today’s Entebbe? Where is today’s Sabena?