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Hamas’ sleight of hand

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WORLD Radio - Hamas’ sleight of hand

The Palestinian group gets its cease-fire and prisoners released in exchange for freeing hostages


A helicopter carrying hostages released from the Gaza Strip lands at the Schneider Children's Medical Center in Petah Tikva, Israel Associated Press/Photo by Leo Correa

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday the 28th of November, 2023. Thank you for listening to WORLD Radio. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

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EICHER: All right, first up on The World and Everything in It: a Middle East hostage deal.

Monday was supposed to be the end of a four-day cease-fire but Israel and Hamas worked out an agreement to extend it. Israelis hoping for more hostages released, and Hamas wanting more time and more fighters out of Israeli jails and onto the battlefield.

REICHARD: Last week as the original cease-fire was about to take hold, former ambassador to the UN and National Security Adviser John Bolton had this warning:

BOLTON: If the Hamas effort can help break the resolve of the Israeli forces, what they really want to do, and this is the real play, is to turn this four day pause into a permanent cease-fire. Now they're trying to put the onus on the Israeli forces. If and when they begin hostilities, again, they are playing, I think, in a surprisingly sophisticated psychological game here. But if this sets a precedent that undermines Israeli resolve to achieve what they're legitimately entitled to achieve - the elimination of Hamas as a threat - it'll be a huge victory for the terrorists.

EICHER: Joining us now to explain what’s going on is William Inboden. He served on the National Security Council under President George W. Bush and is now a professor at the University of Florida. He’s also a regular contributor to World Opinions.

Will, good morning to you.

WILLIAM INBODEN, GUEST: Good morning. It's great to be with you.

EICHER: Well, Let’s start with the terms of the cease-fire extension. What do Israel and Hamas each get out of it?

INBODEN: Well, in Israel's case, it's the hope for another perhaps 10 to 20 hostages to be released. I say "the hope for" because as of now, when we're recording, we don't know for sure. But um, but thus far, there have been some successes with about 58 hostages being released. And also the Israeli fighting forces get a little bit of a respite too, right. I mean, they've been in very intensive combat for what, about a month and a half right now, and so getting some sort of respite, chance to resupply and regroup for them is a tactical advantage.

Hamas, of course, gets more supplies coming in, particularly through their southern border. They also get a reprieve from the Israeli assault. And, you know, the concern, which I certainly share, is that Hamas can use this you know, for--soon to be looks like six day pause, to further burrow in, further reinforce their fighters and make Israel's operation to destroy them all the more difficult. And Hamas also I think gains a certain strategic advantage, as they are now controlling the information space and the narrative a little bit more, where now world opinion seems to be focusing more on, “Hey, Israel, are you going to keep fighting? Why won't you stop this barbaric assault?” And by engineering a pause like this, Hamas gains a little bit of a strategic advantage of some of the information narrative. I know Ambassador Bolton has voiced a similar concern there, and I think that's correct.

And finally, Hamas, you know, in earlier iterations of the deal, they're getting hundreds of their prisoners released from Israeli prisons, you know, quite a few of those released Hamas prisoners we know are going to be returning to the battlefield and continuing their their bloodlust in their effort to kill as many Jews as possible. So this is, these are very, very difficult trade-offs.

EICHER: This may be my own bias coming through, Will, but when I look at the terms of this, Israel releasing three young men for each woman or child or elderly person, I just wonder about the lopsided nature of the agreement. And just the general principle, at least this is maybe more of an American political thing where we say, we don't negotiate with terrorists, whatever happened to that idea?

INBODEN: Yeah, well, Nick, I share a lot of those concerns, right. And so by any measure of equity, this is a grotesquely lopsided deal to Hamas's advantage. And unfortunately, Israel has a history of doing those. I'll mention a precedent on that in a moment, but it also needs to be said, and I know you and Mary agree with me on this, but just on a humanitarian level for those Israeli families who are suffering, the agony of their loved ones being you know, held as hostages and, and and many others, of course, who have who have been killed, any price to be paid is worth it to bring that one back, especially with, of course, the history of awful atrocities and suffering that the Jewish people have known. And so Israel has historically been willing to pay tremendous prices to get its soldiers and hostages back.

The problem, as you point out is that creates real moral hazard. it incentivizes more hostage taking. Hamas was very deliberate about this, they wanted to grab as many Israeli hostages as possible. And to give it a little more context and show why, you know, some of this is troubling. Back in 2011, when Hamas was holding Gilad Shalit, just you know, one Israeli soldier, Prime Minister Netanyahu, who was in power then, he released over 1000 Hamas prisoners in exchange for that one Israeli soldier. So that set the price very, very high. One of those Hamas prisoners that Netanyahu released was Yahya Sinwar, who is currently the head of Hamas in Gaza who planned this whole operation. I'm not trying to blame Netanyahu for this, okay. Don't misunderstand me there.

But these are not just low level operative prisoners. This case, it was the mastermind and the leader of this new operation. And so the moral hazard is a real concern, which is why Israel's strategic goal should not just be getting the hostages back, but destroying Hamas, so none of this can happen again.

REICHARD: I’m wondering about the Americans who have been taken, and those who have been released, what do we know about them?

INBODEN: You know, what really encapsulated just the humanitarian tragedy and the barbarism of Hamas was one of the hostages just released was a four year old American girl, Abigail Mor Edan, and of course, the more you read about her situation, the more heartbreaking it is. She had seen her parents murdered in front of her, right? I mean, it's just just awful. So the traumas this poor little girl will have for life. But that shows you just what savages, what true moral cretins we're dealing with here. And she's an American. Well, we know there are at least 10 other Americans currently being held hostage among the 180 or so hostages being held, right. So this is not just an attack on Israel, it's an attack on America as well. And I hope the Biden administration is doing all they can not just to get those Americans returned, but to support Israel's operation to destroy Hamas and none of this happens again.

EICHER: Well, it's interesting you bring that up, because I was thinking about that very thing, Will, where President Biden, and I should say, with all due credit to John Kirby the next day, but President Biden the other night was talking about the release of Abigail, and how great it is, she's free now. And that is great, but no mention of the fact that she's free to be an orphan in Israel, and she has to be raised by her aunt. And thank the Lord that she's there to provide that care. But we forget about that when we focus and that is probably exactly what Hamas is trying to do here.

INBODEN: Yeah. And this is again, going back to Ambassador Bolton's good points about the information war, the strategic narrative that Hamas has thus far winning, right. I mean, in the first couple of days after the initial barbarous assaults and the massacres of what, you know, some 1200 innocent Israeli civilians, you know, world opinion, there was an initial outpouring of support for Israel as well, there should be, but in with our shortened attention spans with a 24 hour news cycle with the inanities of social media. Now, a lot of opinion in the United States among the progressive Democratic base, and certainly across the rest of world is really turning against Israel, and seem to have completely forgotten about the atrocities that Israel is trying to avenge and also ensure that this doesn't happen again. And in addition to Abigail Mor Edan, there are hundreds of other Israeli children who are now orphans, because their parents were butchered by Hamas, as well as so many other Israeli children who are dead because of being butchered by Hamas. So we should not forget that.

REICHARD: You mentioned moral hazard earlier. Actions do have consequences, so how does this hostage deal relate to the hostage deal the Biden administration cut with Iran back in September?

INBODEN: Yeah, well, that was another one I was very critical of, too, and you know, to get a few American prisoners / hostages released, you know, the Biden administration unfreezes $5 billion in frozen assets to send it back to Iran. Again, I think in some ways, it is of a piece of it is rewarding hostage-taking. Now, I'd say this with you know, deep empathy and grief for the suffering of the families and individual hostages themselves. There are no good or easy answers with any of this right? So let's not pretend otherwise. But we also need to acknowledge that every time the United States or Israel or any other freedom minded nation, pays something for the release of hostages, like even with the Biden administration, you know, released Viktor Bout to get Brittney Griner out of Russia, right, same thing, and then a few a couple months later, Putin arrests the innocent Wall Street Journal reporter. So every time we pay ransoms for hostages that puts other innocent people at risk of being the next hostage taken. So it's a troubling practice overall, even if I understand the hard cases in each individual circumstance.

REICHARD: William Inboden is a professor at the University of Florida and a contributor to WORLD Opinions. Will, thanks so much for your time.

INBODEN: Thank you, Mary. It's great to be with you.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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