Posted by: sean | August 29, 2006

Israel and Hizbollah to negotiate prisoner swap

It seems that after the destruction of much of Lebanon, and the death of around 1,100 Lebanese (most of whom were civilians) and over 150 Israeli deaths (most of whom were soldiers), there will be an exchange in prisoners after all.

Interestingly enough, Hassan Nasrallah said last night that had he known that Israel was going to react so strongly, he would not have captured the two Israeli soldiers:

“We did not think, even one percent, that the capture would lead to a war at this time and of this magnitude,” Hassan Nasrallah, the cleric who leads Hizbullah, told Lebanon’s New TV channel. “You ask me, if I had known on July 11 … that the operation would lead to such a war, would I do it? I say no, absolutely not.” He said Italy would play a part in negotiating the soldiers’ eventual release. “Contacts recently began for negotiations,” he said. “It seems that Italy is trying to get into the subject.” From the start, Mr Nasrallah has said he wanted to exchange the soldiers for Lebanese and Palestinians held in Israel.

Sergio de Gregorio, head of Italy’s senate defence committee, said that Iran, Hizbullah’s backer, wanted Italy involved. Mr de Gregorio told Reuters he expected talks to start this week. He said the two Israelis were “still alive, fortunately”, but would not talk about how they were or what kind of deal might free them.

An Egyptian newspaper reported that German diplomats had helped negotiate a deal to have them freed in two or three weeks. A number of Lebanese held by Israel would be freed in return a day or two later, it said.

While it is true that Israel’s reaction to the capture of one soldier by militants in Gaza should have been viewed as a bellwether for Israel’s reaction in Lebanon, not many people expected such a violent reaction. After all, attacking Gaza is like shooting fish in a barrel for the IDF, whereas Hizbollah, as we have seen, is capable of not only withstanding an Israeli attack, but fighting back. So in the end, I’m inclined to believe Nasrallah, first because he’s not prone to political bluster and usually says what he means and means what he says, and second, because I didn’t see the war coming either.

This was obviously not a deterrent to Israel, but it might make Tel Aviv think twice about rushing into a large-scale military solution rather than continuing the status quo of small-scale tit for tat military action or, hopefully, initiating a broad diplomatic process that would help stabalize the region in the long run.

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