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The Israel-Lebanon exchange

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Story Transcript

DANIEL LEVY, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: I think it’s one of those days where people might look at the Middle East and say, "What’s happening here?" Scratch their heads. Israel releasing a terrorist—committed a terrible atrocity—to Hezbollah, and in exchange for two dead bodies. What’s going on? Well, I suggest three things are going on. The first, this is closing a circle on the Lebanon War of 2006, fought two years ago to this day. Hezbollah made the raid into Israel, attacked a convoy, took these two soldiers or bodies, and recognized afterwards that this was something they wouldn’t have done had they anticipated the Israeli response. The Israeli response, ostensibly to release the two young men, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, didn’t achieve that aim, but it did in many ways lead to [inaudible] goal: taking out Lebanese infrastructure, leading to anger in Lebanon and in the region and causing a terrible problem for the Israeli government, in many ways a disproportionate response. And the UN and international community and American response, waiting too long before they tried diplomacy, eventually getting the UN resolution, but after 34 days, when they could have achieved that from the beginning in day one. So lessons to be learned, but this closes a circle on what happened two years ago. The second thing I think this gives us is a window onto Israel and Israeli society. It’s a small country. The families of the two boys, Goldwasser and Regev families, and now familiar to every Israeli. Israel has a conscript army, national service. And some people may see this as a weakness, but I think many in Israel feel that it’s a strength that Israel is willing to make such deals in order to get young people that it sends out into the field back again. Israel’s made deals like this before and is likely to do so in the future. And I think it gives people a perhaps unexpected sense of some of the solidarity that still exists inside Israel, which is why they agreed to this deal. I think it thirdly and finally gives us a window onto Lebanon. People, understandably, and not just in Israel, will probably be shocked and perhaps appalled at the response in Lebanon of the great joy and the turning of this Samir Kuntar, who carried out these murders in 1979, into an national hero. First of all, some of this is no doubt coerced public response. Some of this is genuine Lebanese anger at what happened two years ago and the venting of that in any way that could be a finger in the eye against Israel. But I think one also has to understand that this is a society that, as in many other societies, can turn unlikely and unpleasant people into national symbols. So I wouldn’t go too far in blaming Lebanon for what we’re seeing today, for the pictures. And, finally, it shows us that in Lebanon Hezbollah is a force that has to be reckoned with. And there is now a new government in Lebanon that does include Hezbollah. That’s perhaps not an ideal situation, but it’s a reality. And I think the only way you’re going to have stability in Lebanon is getting this cooperation. Now Israel is going to move on; the region is going to move on. And I’d suggest the thing to look out for next will be the negotiations over the release of the Israeli, hopefully and apparently still alive, being held in Gaza, Gilad Shalit. That’s going to be a tough negotiation, but I think one can expect to see movement on that.

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