Cablegate: Israel Exchanges 5 Hizballah Prisoners for Bodies

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1. (SBU) Summary: Earlier today, July 16, Hizballah
delivered the bodies of abducted IDF soldiers Ehud Goldwasser
and Eldad Regev to Israel via the Rosh Hanikra border
crossing. In exchange, Israel released convicted Lebanese
murderer Samir Kuntar and four Hizballah militants captured
during the 2006 Israel-Hizballah conflict, and handed over
the remains of 199 Lebanese and Palestinian infiltrators and
militants. Future stages of the agreement call for Israel to
release an undisclosed number of Palestinian prisoners and
deliver a report on the fate of four Iranian diplomats who
disappeared during Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. In the
first stage of the deal, last week, Hizballah delivered a
lengthy but ultimately inconclusive report on the fate of
missing Israel Air force navigator Ron Arad. In the wake of
today's exchange, the IDF has gone on high alert along the
northern border amid fears that Hizballah might take
advantage of the post-exchange period to make good on its
threat to avenge the assassination of Imad Mugniyah by
sending commandos to raid an Israeli town or abduct another
IDF soldier. End summary.

The Deal

2. (SBU) As reported widely in the press, beginning at 9:00
local time today, July 16, Israel and Hizballah initiated a
multi-stage prisoner exchange under the auspices of the ICRC.
The exchange, which concluded eight hours later at the Rosh
Hanikra border crossing between Israel and Lebanon, started
with the delivery to Israel of the bodies of abducted IDF
soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev (whose July 12, 2006
abduction sparked that summer's conflict between Israel and
Hizballah). After the remains were confirmed as those of
Goldwasser and Regev, the IDF delivered convicted Lebanese
national and Palestinian Liberation Front militant Samir
Kuntar and four Hizballah fighters captured in the 2006
conflict to the ICRC for transport across the border and into
Lebanon. The IDF also released the bodies of 199 Lebanese
and Palestinian militants and infiltrators killed during
various conflicts with Israel over the years.

3. (SBU) While today's dramatic exchange on the
Israel-Lebanon border marks the centerpiece of the
GOI-Hizballah deal brokered by a German mediator, the
agreement also includes the following additional elements,
which were endorsed by the Israeli Cabinet on June 29 and
upheld by a second Cabinet vote July 15:

-- Hizballah agreed to deliver a report on the fate of
missing Israel Air Force navigator Ron Arad, who was shot
down of Lebanon in 1986. (Note: The report on Arad was
delivered to Israel last week. While PM Olmert and other GOI
officials expressed disappointment with the inconclusive
nature of the report, they decided to continue with the

-- Israel will deliver to UNSYG Ban Ki-Moon information on
the fate of four Iranian diplomats who disappeared during
Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

-- Following the implementation of the other clauses of the
deal, Israel will release an undisclosed number of
Palestinian prisoners. In its June 29 decision, the Israeli
Cabinet stressed that the "number and identities of the
(Palestinian) prisoners will be determined at the sole
discretion of the State of Israel."

Not a Day for Celebration

4. (SBU) Today's exchange is the culmination of a two-year
effort by a UNSYG-appointed German mediator to secure the
release of Regev and Goldwasser. Only in the past few weeks,
however, have mainstream Israelis begun to realize that the
soldiers were probably no longer alive, and that the price
for recovering their remains would include the release of
notorious Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar, who was sentenced
to life imprisonment for the brutal 1979 killing of an
Israeli man and his 4 year-old daughter in their home in the
northern Israeli town of Nahariya. The decision to accept
the agreement with Hizballah, announced June 29, was met with
a mixture of outrage and resignation. Israelis seem to
generally accept the necessity of releasing Kuntar in order
to resolve the fate of Goldwasser and Regev, but are angry
that their government has traded living terrorists for dead
soldiers. PM Olmert's spokesman, Mark Regev, told BBC
earlier today that while the GOI felt a "profound sense of
obligation to bring the soldiers back," it was nevertheless
"a difficult day for Israel." "It's not a day for

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celebration, (as) we have been forced to release a
particularly despicable person," he said. In a statement
released after his official pardon of Kuntar and the four
Hizballah fighters yesterday, President Peres declared that
"this decision in no way constitutes forgiveness to the
murderer for his abominable and reprehensible crimes. I
neither forgive nor forget."

What Next?

5. (SBU) The GOI has been very clear that it does not intend
to use the German mediation channel to pursue any further
indirect talks with Hizballah. While Israeli officials,
including PM Olmert, have stated in the past few weeks that
they would welcome direct, full-spectrum talks without
preconditions with the Lebanese government of PM Siniora,
they have no interest in dealing with Hizballah once they
have secured the release of Goldwasser and Regev. The GOI
also fears that Hizballah might take advantage of the
post-exchange period to make good on its threats to avenge
the assassination of Hizballah Operations Chief Imad Mugniyah
(which Nasrallah blamed on Israel). Fearing that a revenge
attack could take place inside Israel itself, the IDF last
week went on high alert along the northern border. IDF and
other security officials have told the press in recent days
that Hizballah might be considering sending commandos to raid
an Israeli border town or abduct another IDF soldier. The
IDF will likely maintain its heightened border posture
throughout the coming days and perhaps weeks.

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