Prisoners Dilemma: Israel Faces Challenge On Gaza Soldier Hostages | BARRONS

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Avi Melamed analysis quoted in the article titled “Prisoners Dilemma: Israel Faces Challenge On Gaza Soldier Hostages” written by Didier Lauras | Originally published in Barrons | November, 30 2023.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

As a nation born in war, almost all of whose sons and daughters serve at some point, Israel’s special bond with its military will weigh on negotiations over soldier hostages in Gaza.

Scores of Israeli women and children have been released so far under a humanitarian pause in fighting in the Gaza Strip following the Hamas attacks on southern Israel on October 7, with three times as many Palestinian prisoners freed in exchange.

Few in those categories remain to be swapped, and Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups will demand the highest price of all for soldiers and men of fighting age they hold.

“There is an almost inseparable link between Israeli civil society, the state and the army, with very great moral and emotional closeness,” said David Khalfa, co-director of the North Africa and Middle East Observatory of the Jean Jaures Foundation in Paris.

“Israel was born in the tumult of war and the army played a crucial role in the creation of the state, the protection of its territory and the survival of the country in a hostile environment,” he said.

At the same time, a fundamental objective of Israel since its post-Holocaust foundation has been to ensure the security of Jewish people, and on October 7, the state, its army and its intelligence services all failed.

According to an AFP tally, at least 11 soldiers, including four women, as well as around 40 men of reservist age were among the around 240 people who Israeli authorities say were kidnapped by Hamas on October 7.

Official figures are not available.

“Every family has a brother, a sister, a cousin who is serving,” Khalfa said.

The highest price Israel has ever paid for a captured soldier was in 2011, for Gilad Shalit, seized by Hamas five years earlier.

He was exchanged for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, among them Hamas’ future Gaza Strip leader Yahya Sinwar.

Now Sinwar stands accused of masterminding the October 7 assaults, the worst in Israel’s history.

Shalit’s release was the first time in nearly three decades that a captured Israeli soldier was returned alive to his country.

But the exchange triggered an intense debate, which continues to this day, on the acceptable limits of concessions to secure the release of soldiers.

A total of 450 Palestinians were swapped for one Israeli businessman and the bodies of three soldiers in 2004.

The government seeks to recover such remains to ensure their burial with military honours.

For Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the other major Islamist movement holding hostages in the Gaza Strip, soldiers and other male hostages represent a very strong bargaining chip.

For them, one adult man is potentially a reservist and therefore a soldier.

Senior Hamas official Bassem Neim said on Wednesday that the movement was “ready to release all soldiers in exchange for all our prisoners”.

That amounts to around 7,000 Palestinians held by Israel, which considers some of them to have “blood on their hands”.

At the same time, Israel has repeatedly insisted it will pursue its military goal of destroying Hamas, and said it will resume military operations in Gaza immediately the ceasefire ends.

The October 7 attacks killed 1,200 people in Israel, mainly civilians, according to Israeli authorities.

In response, Israel has vowed to eliminate Hamas and launched an air and ground campaign that the Hamas government says has killed more than 15,000 people, also mostly civilians.

Across Tel Aviv, and in many other cities in Israel, the streets have been plastered with banners, posters and stickers calling for all the hostages’ safe return.

People have taken to the streets in their tens of thousands to demand their release, and independent political analyst Eva Koulouriotis said that public pressure was likely to concentrate the minds of those in power.

That also applied to returns of remains, she said.

“There are religious reasons associated with Jewish society and the importance of burying bodies appropriately and within rituals that honour the dead,” she said.

“The Israeli government considers that it has duties towards the Israeli citizen, whether he is alive or deceased.” (…)

Avi Melamed is a former Israeli intelligence official who went on to serve as deputy and then as senior Arab affairs adviser to Jerusalem Mayors Teddy Kollek and Ehud Olmert, operating as a negotiator during the first and second intifadas. He is the author of “Inside The Middle East — Entering A New Era,” and his latest docuseries, “The Seam Line,” available on the Izzy streaming platform, focuses on Jerusalem’s flashpoints and his work during the intifadas.

Avi Melamed analysis quoted in the article titled “Prisoners Dilemma: Israel Faces Challenge On Gaza Soldier Hostages” written by Didier Lauras | Originally published in Barrons | November, 30 2023.

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Avi Melamed
Avi Melamedhttps://insidethemiddle-east.com
Avi Melamed is an expert on current affairs in the Arab & Muslim World and their impact on Israel & the Middle East. A former Israeli Intelligence Official & Senior Official on Arab Affairs, Fluent in Arabic, English, and Hebrew, he has held high-risk Government, Senior Advisory, Intelligence & Counter-Terrorist intelligence positions in Arab cities & communities - often in very sensitive times - on behalf of Israeli Government agencies. He is the Founder & CEO of Inside the Middle East | Intelligence Perspectives - an apolitical non-partisan curriculum using intelligence methodology to examine the Middle East. As an Author, Educator, Expert, and Strategic Intelligence Analyst, Avi provides Intelligence Analysis, Briefings, and Geopolitical Tours to diplomats, Israeli and foreign policymakers, global media outlets, and a wide variety of international businesses, organizations, and private clients on a range of Israel and Middle East Affairs.

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