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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A whispered post

What I'm about to write pains me more than I can express.  If you are superstitious, please don't read this post.  Or failing that, please read it in a whisper.

You see, there is a double edged Jewish tradition about tempting fate. 

On the one hand, we generally refrain from counting our blessings out loud (i.e. mentioning how many children we have, how old they are or how healthy and successful they are) for fear of inviting tragedy. 

But on the other hand we only dare mention the names of diseases in a whispered sotto voce (e.g. "Did you hear his mother was just diagnosed with ~cancer~?").

While we have a few tried and true formulas for sharing positive information that we believe keeps the evil eye at bay (tfu, tfu tfu)... there is no charm or talisman for dealing with bad news other than our grandparent's ridiculous stage whisper. 

So again, if you must... please read what follows in an undertone so as not to tempt the evil eye:

I'd like you to think for a moment about every kidnapping that has been perpetrated by Arabs in the last 10 or 15 years.  Think for a moment about the one commonality that all of these terrible events share.

Not getting it?  Let me help you.

The widespread availability of inexpensive, high quality home video equipment has made the kidnap video pretty much de rigueur for any terrorist group wanting to place itself on the world stage and be taken seriously.

Even the recent aborted kidnapping of an idiot American college student by Palestinian terrorists which lasted less than 12 hours included the requisite video statement/confession of the victim delivered along with the kidnapper's demands. 

The kidnap video has become the standard by which the value of the hostage is set.

Live/healthy hostage = High value hostage

Injured/sick hostage = High value hostage

Dead hostage = Low/no value hostage

In fact, these bits of amateur cinematography have become so ubiquitous that the lack of one tends to point to chilling possibilities (i.e. that the kidnap victim is incapable of making a statement).

This held true in the recent kidnapping of Eliahu Asheri (A"H).  Having been summarily executed by his captors within an hour of being taken, Asheri's value to the kidnappers remained high only so long as they could bluff the Israelis into believing that he was still alive. 

Once a few hours had passed without a video being aired by one of the Arab media outlets, it became clear to many that the chances of returning this young man to his parents alive and well had faded dramatically.  When after a day or two all the kidnappers could produce for the media was his ID card, I knew he was gone.

With this in mind, one has to admit that the lack of a hostage video in the Gilad Shalit kidnapping is fairly ominous. 

We were told early on that "a doctor had seen the missing IDF soldier and had treated his wounds".  But we weren't told much about the doctor.  In fact, we have no indication at all that this wasn't simply a deliberately misleading statement issued by the kidnappers, since all the media outlets reporting the story name their source only as "Senior Fatah member Ziad Abu A’an".

To my knowledge, no neutral third party has been allowed to see Gilad alive... and Palestinian 'sources' have proven to be remarkably unreliable and self-interested in the past.

I hate to say these words out loud, so whisper them if you must... but I am now convinced that Gilad Shalit is no longer alive.  Yesterday's 6:00AM deadline issued by the kidnappers was a desperate ploy intended to force the Israelis to pay for a product whose value they could not demonstrate.  When The deadline passed, it should have been obvious to all that the bluff had been successfully called.

What's more, I am fairly sure he died (or at very least was comatose), within an hour of being taken prisoner.  Otherwise the kidnappers would have been taunting the Israeli government with videos of their prize in order to maintain his value as a hostage.

Nothing would make me happier than to post an update to this post later saying how foolish I was, and how I should really leave intelligence analysis to the professionals.  I would love more than anything to write those words with tears streaming down my cheeks while listening to news coverage of Gilad's parents being reunited with their missing son.

But my gut tells me that the best we can hope at this point is for his parents to receive some semblance of closure by being given the opportunity to bury Gilad's body.  And even that now seems beyond the realm of possibility. 

You see, the kidnappers have now floated the name Ran Arad... a captured Israeli Air Force Navigator who is certainly dead, but whose fate remains just ambiguous enough for the Arab world to use his name to rip the scab off of Israel's wounded national psyche.  By mentioning Ran Arad and telling the press that they intend to hold Gilad in a similar indefinite limbo, what the terrorists are telling us is that he is dead... but that they won't provide us with the bandages to close the national wound his death will open.

I hope beyond hope that I am wrong.  But I honestly think that this poor unfortunate boy, Gilad Shalit, has become the new Ran Arad... a hot iron with which our enemies will now torture and demoralize the Israeli public for years to come. 

The question now is whether our government will continue to give our enemies such a powerful weapon to hold over us... or if they will set a deadline of their own.

220_57

Posted by David Bogner on July 5, 2006 | Permalink

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It is a very sad but reasonable assumption.

Posted by: Jack | Jul 5, 2006 10:25:31 AM

Al tiphtach peh l'satan.

I know, I KNOW you said this it sotto voce... still... it is my reflexive response to seeing the actual words in (virtual) print....

Posted by: zahava | Jul 5, 2006 11:30:29 AM

It was a similiar scenario with the 3 soldiers who were kidnapped from Har Dov in 2000. They were apparently killed during the kidnapping, and there was no video (just some photos of some people in beds.)

However, this case may be sui generis. On the one hand, it's not a foreign state like Lebanon, and on the other hand it's not an area under our (nominal) control like the West Bank.

In regards to abductions in Lebanon, I don't think we've ever had a succesful military effort that freed prisoners. But in the West Bank, it's never taken that long (some have ended up happily like Eliyahu Gurel, and others sadly have not.)

But Gaza is a different deal. We know the area, but we're not in the same level of control. Perhaps the kidnappers have reason to be far more careful about releasing any information that could lead to a rescue.

Posted by: Dave (Balashon) | Jul 5, 2006 11:41:15 AM

This same thought has been weighing heavily on me for the past few days - and making Olmie's inaction even more frustrating.

Posted by: Ben-David | Jul 5, 2006 12:51:36 PM

Jack... I'm sure the same thought has occurred to many others (including our government). The question is what level of certainty to require before changing the assumptions on which you are basing your strategy for dealing with the crisis.

Zahava... I am continuing to pray for Gilad (as should everyone reading this), but as I said to Jack, I think the time has come for the government to take this weapon called 'hope' that has the ability to paralyze us, away from the terrorists.

Dave... A few precautions such as shooting the video against a blank wall at 3AM (when it is quiet) would be all that is necessary to insure no identifying sights or sounds made it onto the video accidentally. If these guys had a product worth shopping they would have it out in the store window for the world to see.

Ben-David... I have been going back and forth about the dynamic duo (Olmert & Peretz). Between them they have about 6 years of rear echelon military service. But they are being advised by some serious intel and military heavyweights. I know many people who feel (as you do) that they are not being forceful enough. I know many others who feel they have been too forceful already. That indicates to me that they are probably striking a good balance. But that was yesterday. What about today?

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jul 5, 2006 1:18:55 PM

David -

It's rather unsetteling that I find myself writing posts on my blog that are way too similar to yours. (And I read yours after mine).

I pray we see Gilad back home, safely soon.


Posted by: Jameel @ The Muqata | Jul 5, 2006 1:39:00 PM

I agree 100%. I told my wife similar thoughts the day after the ambush in which Gilad was taken captive. However, you expressed it with much clearer reasoning. I hope it is all a mistake and he is ok..

Posted by: Rafi G | Jul 5, 2006 2:17:52 PM

You are perhaps correct in your assesment with Gilad. But I don't think hope is a weapon that can be used against Israel. I mean hope is one of the foundations upon which Judaism rests.

Even after the First Temple was destroyed, there was always hope. For two thousand years after the destruction of the Second Temple, we prayed next year in Jerusalem.

Without hope there is only despair. Even in mourning, the Mourner's Kaddish is full of hope. At least that is the way it seems to me.

Posted by: seawitch | Jul 5, 2006 4:01:08 PM

omig-d david, i so hope you are wrong...

Posted by: nikki | Jul 5, 2006 4:52:46 PM

I fear that you are correct. I have felt from the beginning that the kidnappers demands, their identity, and their communications have not matched other cases, and have been too ambigupus for there to be a real deal possible to be made. And while I think that Hamas is supportive of them in principle, I do not believe that they ordered this act or knew about it.
That's one of the reasons it has been difficult to nail down from the Palestinian side exactly what's going on.
It also makes it harder to take off the gloves and make them pay for their misdeeds. As much as I want to extract revenge and strike fear into the hearts of my enemies, (I know my left wing profile would seem to preclude this), it is futile to strike without having a real target that we can project will cause political thinking on the other side to adjust. Like it or not, that is all military action is, and that hasn't changed since Clausewitz.

Posted by: Jordan Hirsch | Jul 5, 2006 5:20:07 PM

Agreed. I hadn't even thought about the lack of a video (we rarely see them here anyway).
I do think Israel has struck the right balance up till now, the phrase "surgical precision" springs to mind.
In regards to Ron Arad - the geography is different as is the amount of control Israel is able to exert over the area.

Posted by: lisoosh | Jul 5, 2006 5:24:15 PM

Another post I agree with - but fervently wish I didn't!

Posted by: westbankmama | Jul 5, 2006 6:25:10 PM

"Dead hostage = Low/no value hostage"

That equation is faulty.

It is not up to me to criticise Jewish ethics, so take the following with a grain of salt: I think that it was an irresponsible, criminal act of Israel to trade the dead bodies of Israelis for a host of alive terrorists, hell-bent on killing more Israelis.

Should the parents of the kidnapped soldier sue, they are as well within their rights as the parents of the IDF soldiers are who are/were suing because their dead sons were killed by their own irresponsible leadership at Jenin.

When will Israel finally value the lifes of their own people more than those of terrorists or potential terrorists?

Posted by: The Editrix | Jul 5, 2006 7:07:29 PM

So sad, so terribly, heartbreakingly sad. While we were all waiting for word of Eliahu, may he rest in peace, I kept wondering why the terrorist kidnappers only showed his ID- why not some pictures or footage of him in captivity? The answer, of course, was all too obvious. And it scares the hell out of me that we've seen NOTHING of Gilad all this time.

"...Ran Arad...whose fate remains just ambiguous enough for the Arab world to use his name to rip the scab off of Israel's wounded national psyche..."

Oh, you put that so well. Talk about heartbreakingly sad...that poor man, his poor family.

Posted by: RR | Jul 5, 2006 9:33:32 PM

Yuck. Great analysis. Terrible (but correct, I fear) conclusion.

I hadn't thought of any of that.

War, please?

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Jul 5, 2006 9:36:05 PM

Hmmm... Here's an interesting story:

Ramon confirms Shalit is still alive

What do you think?

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Jul 5, 2006 9:53:26 PM

Doctor Bean beat me to it!

Posted by: seawitch | Jul 5, 2006 10:03:59 PM

I've had the same feeling since this whole thing started. I wasn't thinking about video specifically, but seeing that there's no evidence of Gilad being alive emerging, I got the same impression. This makes perfect sense. I certainly hope it doesn't deteriorate into another Ron Arad situation, because it's just traumatic for everybody. : ( But, of course, I hope that all these conclusions are wrong, and he's still alive.

Posted by: Irina | Jul 5, 2006 10:07:28 PM

Will someone tell Olmert that Israel is already at war? (And please don't whisper it.)

Posted by: Bob | Jul 5, 2006 10:51:46 PM

BS"D
I've had the sickening feeling that what your post expresses so eloquently is true, [email protected] forbid. I wept when I read about poor Eliyahu & of course I pray that Gilad will be returned home to his family safe & sound. But you're totally right about this mysterious lack of trophy-waving. It doesn't bode well :(

Posted by: Soferet | Jul 5, 2006 10:54:31 PM

It looks like he may still be alive.The Palestinians are scrambling now to try and do damage control, or so it seems to me.

Some of them realize that they may have overextended themselves on this one.

Posted by: Ozzie | Jul 6, 2006 9:43:00 AM

Jameel... Great minds think alike, but fools never differ.

Rafi G... I hope I'm wrong as well. Nothing could make me happier.

Seawitch... In a hostage situation when hope is all you have, it is a very potent weapon. Ran Arad's name mentioned in passing by the Iranians or Syrians is enough to plunge many Israeli leaders into a fugue state where they are unable to articulate or execute rational policy. that this name still holds such power over us, simply because they allow us the fleeting hope that he is somehow still alive after all these years, proves my point quite well.

nikki... there has been news this morning that the Israeli government has some kind of proof that he is alive. But until I see him home safe I won't believe that this is anything more than a moral boosting measure to calm the public in time of crisis.

Jordan... I disagree... EVERYTHING has changed. The man you look to for military strategy/philosophy could not have imagined asymmetrical warfare such as we have today. The enemy is not a nation state with an organized army. They are an amorphous association of militants whose motivation can be religion patriotism, money, boredom or any combination thereof. In such a case you have to act with the intention of destabilizing their supply of money and weapons as well as demoralizing the fighters and their recruitment pool. These are ugly times we live in and as frightening as warfare has been in the past... you ain't seen nothing yet.

Lisoosh... SO long as Gilad is not returned, the territory is immaterial. He could be in an unmarked grave, yet our uncertainty and our enemy's claims can place him theoretically anywhere in the middle east. all it takes is for one 'sighting' in Iran or Syria and the rumor mill will do the rest of the work.

Westbankmama... Like I said, I hope I'm wrong.

Editrix...Your comment was too unfocused for me to understand your point. You are free to vent and rant... but if there was a specific point you wanted to make, I missed it.

RR... Let's hope I can print a retraction and an apology soon.

Doctor Bean... IT seems they heard you. We aren't giving them the Dresden or Tokyo treatment just yet. But at least there is a full-scale invasion underway to push the launchers out of striking range of our cities. Let's see what happens.

Seawitch... Yes, he's a smart boy.

Irina... You and me both.

Bob... as I said to Doctor Bean, it appears the message has been received. Now let's see what happens.

Soferet... At least we seem to be doing something now. Whether this is part of a wise plan or the further bumbling of two inexperienced leaders... only time will tell.

Ozzie... I think what you are seeing is indeed an attempt at damage control. But not of the sort that normally leads to mea culpas and promises never to do it again. What we are hearing now from the Palestinians is just an acknowledgment that the value of the hostage has dropped dramatically now that most people assume he is dead... so their demands are becoming correspondingly modest. You can take the Arab out of the shouk...

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jul 6, 2006 11:38:06 AM

Yes, I fear you are right. The terrorists are adept at using the media, and a video of Gilad would be a huge PR boost and a potent bargaining chip. Yet none have been forthcoming. I too am afraid he is dead.

Posted by: Rob | Jul 6, 2006 4:08:25 PM

God forgive me, I never believed for a second that he was alive. It's not their MO is it. I hold out hope, but bleakly.

Posted by: Lioness | Jul 6, 2006 10:37:09 PM

Wow--this is going to sound pathetically naive, but this never even occured to me--no video equals bad ending.

Oh, I do so hope you are wrong, even though what you say makes a lot of sense, sadly.

Posted by: Daphna | Jul 7, 2006 12:21:39 AM

What you claim is your disagreement has little to do with my post. I am not saying that Israel should not strike, but that the targets need to be chosen with care to make sure that the effects of its actions will accrue real benefit to Israel's political situation. That asymetrical warfare was unknown to Clausewitz is untrue, although of course the weapons have changed, and if anything, your response strengthens his premise. Whatever the reasons for their behavior, our response needs to address those reasons with whatever force is deemed necessary to bring about the desired result. Whether that's interrupting money supply or simply killing enough of them until they lose the will to fight, the political result of their renouncing terrorism and accepting whatever deal we come up with is our goal. Note carefully that I am not saying what that deal should be, only that the combination of military, diplomatic, economic, and social weapons that we bring to bear should be emplyed for the maximum desired effect. whether Olmert and Peretz have done that remains to be seen, but that is their challenge nonetheless.

Posted by: Jordan Hirsch | Jul 7, 2006 12:23:46 AM

Well-written. I, for one, await the return of a Ge-on Yisrael, which deals with the enemy appropriately, fulfilling the obligations of any government to its citizens. No other government on earth would oblige a sworn enemy as has Israel.

Posted by: Anonymous | Jul 7, 2006 10:00:54 PM

David,

Pray as if Gilad is alive; react as if (sotto voice) he has been murdered.(/sotto voice)

I think the only reason Hamas hasn't admitted to the true condition of Gilad is their fear of the radical level of Israeli reprisal that would await them.

Posted by: Shanah | Jul 7, 2006 11:21:47 PM

I have to say that I agree - and now that the kidnappers have been lowering their demands, I even more suspect that he is no more. They're just manipulating us.

Posted by: Rebecca | Jul 8, 2006 10:20:37 PM

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