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Sunday, June 29, 2008
Cabinet Communique: PM Olmert: We are trading terrorist for bodies because we screwed up. There is no Aguna problem - just emotional issue

Dr. Aaron Lerner - IMRA:

"we missed the deadline to change the terms which should be undertaken"= we
screwed up

"However: the question, one of the relevant questions for us now, is whether
or not it is right that we adopt the outline of the deal, the details of
which were, in large part, already known; or accept the religious process
which will end with the declaration that Udi and Eldad are fallen soldiers."
= There is no Aguna problem - just emotional issue

Cabinet Communique

(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat)

At the weekly Cabinet meeting today (Sunday), 29.6.08:

1. Ministers discussed the outline of a possible deal to return the soldiers
who were abducted by Hizbullah.

Ofer Dekel, who has been appointed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to be
responsible for dealing with the return of the captives, presented the
Cabinet with the proposed outline for a deal and detailed the various
stages, steps and contacts related to it. IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Gaby
Ashkenazi, GOC Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Amos Yedlin, ISA Director Yuval Diskin
and Mossad Director Ephraim Halevy presented the Cabinet with the positions
of the security establishment. Maj.-Gen. Ilan Biran (ret.), who has been
dealing with the captives and MIA issue for seven years, and National
Security Council Chairman Danny Arditi, presented their positions on the
issue in general as well as their opinions on the proposed deal. Prime
Minister Olmert began the discussion as follows:

"Today's discussion is exceptional when compared with the topics raised in
Government meetings every week. A political or party-based decision is not
what is asked of anyone, but rather: a personal, moral decision. The
Government is being asked to, and each of its members must, disassociate
themselves from the public discourse, from the headlines in the media, from
the personal appeals and deal with our personal and collective soul
searching as citizens of this country.

I wish to be absolutely clear: our approach to the release of living
soldiers must be different than our approach to bringing back soldiers who
are no longer alive. The facts were presented to you and have been known
for quite some time:

A. As far as we know - two soldiers, Udi Goldwasser and Eldad Regev
( http://tinyurl.com/2atd8m ) - are no longer alive.

B. As far as we know, they were killed during the kidnapping or died from
their wounds soon after the incident.

C. It is highly probable that the kidnapping which led to their deaths was,
at the outset, based on the Hizbullah's desire to bring about the release of
Sami Kuntar. This is with the knowledge that they do not wish to, or cannot
uphold the commitment provided in the earlier agreement regarding the
imparting of details on Ron Arad.

In this context, I wish to point out:

There is a fundamental difference between the report we have about the fates
of Udi and Eldad compared with the fate of Ron Arad. It has been over 20
years since Ron's disappearance - we have no certain information about what
happened to him at all. The report handed over does not improve this
situation, even if according to the opinion, based on a superficial reading
by the mediator, this report is more detailed than previous reports. It does
not provide us with an unequivocal answer.

On the other hand - we know what happened to Udi and Eldad. The decision to
bring the matter to a religious resolution - was born out of the numerous
reports that have accumulated about them.

This decision began with Ofer Dekel, who is charged with dealing with this
matter. It passed investigatory processes by our Intelligence bodies, a
special committee comprised of senior officials from Intelligence bodies
dealt with it and reached a unanimous conclusion. It was adopted by the
Committee of the Heads of the Services, as well as by the Chief of General
Staff, and was transferred to the Chief Military Rabbi to be dealt with as
is customary.

It is possible that were it not for this initiative, the details of which
were known to both the mediator and the Hizbullah, the negotiations would
have continued and perhaps would have ended differently. I do not know.

However: the question, one of the relevant questions for us now, is whether
or not it is right that we adopt the outline of the deal, the details of
which were, in large part, already known; or accept the religious process
which will end with the declaration that Udi and Eldad are fallen soldiers.
However, if we accept this outline, doubt will continue to gnaw away,
including the possibility of being cut off from them for many, many years,
as happened in the case of Ron Arad.

This drama, it should be remembered, unlike claims made in the Ron Arad
case, occupied us while we were fighting in Lebanon and the entire time
since then. The insistence on Resolution 1701 ( http://tinyurl.com/eedu8),
which includes detailed reference to the return of the soldiers.

- The demand to immediately implement the UN Secretary General's mechanism
in order to lead to an operation that would assist in rescuing the kidnapped

- The activation of a mediator on behalf of the UN Secretary General.

- The appointment of a special mediator on my behalf - Ofer Dekel, who did
not rest from his intensive, unceasing and unprecedented efforts in this

- Countless meetings in various places around the world - in order to set in
motion every factor that could assist in a solution to this issue.

- Meetings with family members with willingness unparalleled in any other
country in the world facing the problem of missing or kidnapped soldiers.

- The Arad issue is part of the decision today, but in the case we are
discussing, unlike the Ron Arad case, there is not, nor can there be for
anyone, a basis for the claim that every effort is not being made
relentlessly in order to bring about a solution. And it should be said in
all honesty: these were the shortest negotiations among all previous

- The goal and the assumption according to which we have been acting the
whole time was that we are acting to bring back people who are still alive.
Today we know for certain that there is no such chance for this. This
knowledge: must be the basis on which we conduct the discussion today.

I said at the outset, and I reiterate now, what is on the agenda is not the
negotiations in the South about which we spoke earlier in this discussion.
The discussion is being held on the question of what we should do with the
data which is known to us, what the significance is of making a positive
decision or rejecting it, and if there is the possibility of continuing the
negotiations, with regard to the families, with regard to our commitment to
returning the soldiers, with regard to the future influence on similar
situations in which we will be forced to bargain, including the Shalit case.

In this regard: there is no escape from dealing with the fundamental and
essential issue of what the obligation is for a country which sends its
soldiers into battle, and they are taken captive while in its service.

From our earliest days, we are taught that we do not leave men behind,
wounded in the battlefield, and that we do not leave soldiers in captivity
without attempting to rescue them with all our abilities and power.

However, over the years we also learned that this obligation has limits. A
country must have limits even when dealing with the price of freedom for
soldiers, and the price for their very lives.

We never thought that the question of cost could be separated from the total
context which is open to discussion, from the repercussions possible in the
future, and primarily from the fact that we live in a region in which the
rules of the game and the basic human patterns of behavior according to
which we act - are not shared in our environment.

For several years, alongside the emotional argument which breaks out and is,
at times, exaggerated, alongside the completely understood emotion of the
families of the kidnapped soldiers who naturally and justifiably win the
sympathy of a large part of the Israeli public, there is a gnawing doubt
that this same expression of our obligation, at almost any cost, is an
incentive to continue this pattern of kidnappings, of blackmail, of
undermining our internal morale, of an attempt to forcibly erode our
deterrence capability, and eventually our ability to withstand the
challenges which we will continue to face, against the enmity, the extreme
fanaticism and the cruelty of our neighbors.

More than once I heard, even from public, security and military authorities,
and also from our highest political echelons - that boundaries must be
defined, limits must be determined and we must stand by them under all
circumstances, as difficult as they may be.

And I also heard, always when we need to make a decision, that this process
will be undertaken the next time if, Heaven forbid, there is one.

We always felt the permeating doubt and tremendous damage caused by the
compromise, and we always avoid the desire to deal with the obligation to
withstand the test; and doubt lingers, even when we promised that next time
we would act differently, that in fact, next time as well - we will return
to the patterns we already determined, and to which we have accustomed our

Has the time not arrived to make a change? Is now not the time, because we
know that these are not soldiers who are still alive, but unfortunately
fallen soldiers - to say here and now, so far and no further? One thing is
certain to me - we cannot avoid determining organized, agreed-upon and firm
procedures to deal with this issue in the future, and we will do so soon.

There is nothing in these statements to cast even a shadow of doubt on the
amazing work done by Ofer Dekel. Were it not for his persistence and
determination in carrying out his mission, and at the highest level of
priority, our present situation would certainly be much worse.

However, even Ofer reached the conclusion months ago and until recently,
that the soldiers should be declared dead and he jumpstarted the process,
with my approval, but in the military-security framework, and in accordance
with considerations and information that he had in his possession before the

I know deep in my heart what the mood is outside the walls of this building,
and I do not dismiss the headlines and news reports.

Unlike the others, I sat with the families a number of times, and I looked
not only into their eyes, but I also felt their longing, and the tremendous
emptiness that accompanied them in their lives.

As I did with many bereaved families, when I met them and witnessed their
pain, and accept with love their cries of pain, even when it is directed at
me. I have no one else to pass these cries onto, but can only hear them and
absorb all that is a part of them. And later - to live with my pain.
However, also with my conscience.

In a number of cases, I shared my opinion with the family members, and I did
so with a profound sense of belief that in my role as Prime Minister who
must see the total reality, and that which will be, there are things I
cannot do or agree to - even if the family members see things differently,
and this is inevitable. It is not easy. It is much easier to be cut off
without looking straight into the eyes of the families and saying that the
responsibility I bear obligates me to see things from a different

We all bear the responsibility here, it does not end in the obligation to
empathize with the pain of the families and their hearts' desire, but it is
also to be able to say things and act in a manner which is obligated by what
the future places on us. It was always so with every prime minister - and it
is so for me as well. And I am not settling an account with anyone who
served before me and made decisions in his time and place.

Now I must make a decision. All I said up to this point - is a summary of my
beliefs and feelings. However, I am not free to absolve myself of the
general responsibility for the resolution of this meeting today - and its
repercussions. This perhaps expresses the surfeit of responsibility borne by
a prime minister unlike that of the ministers, each according to his role.

Nine days ago, Ofer Dekel, who is charged with the negotiations for the
return of the kidnapped soldiers, presented the final outline according to
which the deal was formulated. With every fiber of my being, I felt that
this outline did not satisfy my expectations and hopes. On the other hand -
I was tormented by the knowledge that at the stage we had reached, the
choice again is not between going through with this deal and formulating a
different, more appropriate deal. If I thought there was a chance to
formulate a different, more appropriate, more balanced deal at this stage, I
would not hesitate to tell you and the entire people of Israel so, as well
as the families of the kidnapped soldiers - that there is no escape from
making a further effort and eventually reaching another result, even at the
cost of more exhausting and painful waiting.

I asked myself: is it possible? I tried to think of any other possible
outline, of any crack through which it would be possible to change the need
for a decision regarding this outline, out of a belief that it will be
possible to formulate a different outline. I carried in my heart the deep
frustration and sorrow what occurred during the Ron Arad case, and of the
profound disappointment in ourselves that we did not learn from the past to
do that which may, may have been possible then in order to find him and know
with certainty what his fate was. And I reached the conclusion that it was
not advisable for the State of Israel to follow this path once again.

Some may say - that reaching this stage in which we were left with the cruel
choice of receiving bodies or of, Heaven forbid, losing any connection with
their fate for many years, was not necessary and was not obvious.

It is very possible. This is certainly an issue that should be studied and
analyzed, and we will need to learn the inevitable lessons from it, but for
now- I believe that this is the only realistic choice, and in this choice -
the moral weight tends towards the painful compromise over the decisive

I listened attentively to the brave, honest and clear analysis of the Head
of the General Security Services, Yuval Diskin, and of the Head of the
Mossad, Meir Dagan. I admire these two men very much for their
contributions, wisdom and unparalleled experience. I heard too the incisive
words of Ilan Biran, who dealt with the Ron Arad issue untiringly for seven
years. My heart tells me they see a realistic, genuine and inevitable
picture. However, I believe that the circumstances we have reached, perhaps
not in our favor - in which our kidnapped dead are within our grasp - we
missed the deadline to change the terms which should be undertaken according
to the analysis they presented.

Let us not delude ourselves. The strength of the pain over returning our
dead - will not be less than the feeling of affront from the celebrations
that will be held by the opposing side. I hope that the Israeli public will
know to draw the necessary conclusion from this so that it will be more
prepared and mature for the next time, which already lies in wait for us.
Sooner or later, we will be back here in order to be tormented yet again. I
pray that our public discourse will not disparage the cost of this deal two
days after it is completed, when we all understand its full significance for
the future.

I hope that the satisfaction that comes from the resolution of the doubts of
the Regev and Goldwasser families will grant us the peace of mind and
perhaps the comfort that we must take this step.

I will not conclude my remarks without saying something to the people of
Israel: I know that some of the public and its spokespeople, who until last
night made its demand from every stage and microphone that there is a need
to agree to this deal because its costs are not intolerable, that it was
time to end this painful affair - will suddenly allege weakness,
concessions, a lack of determination on the part of the Government when
faced with the sounds of jubilation from the squares of Beirut.

Our agony, the cries of pain which were heard, are not an expression of
weakness - but rather of unparalleled moral strength.

More than once, world leaders with whom I spoke about this situation and
about Gilad Shalit and Ron Arad and our missing soldiers - expressed their
amazement about the emotional burden which Israeli society places on itself
in this regard.

I recoil from the aggressive voices which accompany our public discourse in
these matters, and at times miss the restraint and internal discipline shown
by other peoples.

However, we are not like them, and probably never will be. A nation which is
tormented by the fate of one man is a strong nation with stamina and a
deterrence capability and endless determination. A nation which concedes in
order to ensure life, save its wounded, bring home its dead - is a nation
which creates unbreakable bonds of mutual obligation.

If we succeed in defining boundaries, lower the tone of our discourse and
show inflexibility in our internal existence, and continue to fight for our
lives, defend our soldiers and take care of our kidnapped soldiers - we will
project the genuine strength - which is wondrous in its uniqueness - which
is part of our nation.

Therefore, at the end of this long process, the essence of which I presented
to you today, I reached the conclusion as Prime Minister of Israel that I
must recommend to you to approve the proposed resolution which will bring an
end to this painful episode - even at the painful price it costs us."

Following the discussion, the Government decided, by a vote of 22-3, as

"A. The abducted soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev will be returned
to Israel, a report on the disappearance of Ron Arad (in continuation of
Government decision #978 from 9.11.03, http://tinyurl.com/3kw6m9 ) will be
delivered to Israel and remains from the Second Lebanon War will also be

In exchange for the return of the abducted soldiers, the State of Israel
will release prisoners and detainees being held in its prison facilities,
and will transfer bodies and information, as follows:

i). Prisoner Samir Kuntar and four illegal Lebanese fighters being held by
Israel will be released to Lebanon.

ii). The bodies of dozens of infiltrators and terrorists, including eight
members of Hizbullah, will be delivered to Lebanon.

iii). Information on the four missing Iranian diplomats will be delivered to
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

iv). Following the implementation of the deal, Palestinian prisoners will be
released. The number and identities of the prisoners will be determined at
the sole discretion of the State of Israel.

B. Mr. Ofer Dekel, the official responsible for the negotiations on behalf
of Prime Minister Olmert, will continue the process of implementing the
negotiations according to the principles detailed in this decision.

C. The Government will hold an additional discussion in order to complete
and implement the agreement according to the principles detailed in this

D. The Government of Israel reiterates and confirms its obligation to
exhaust all that is required in order to obtain credible and solid
information that will shed light on the fate of Israel Air Force navigator
Capt. Ron Arad.

E. At the same time, the Government of Israel reiterates and confirms its
commitment to continue acting for the release of Cpl. Gilad Shalit.

F. The Government of Israel will not slacken in its efforts to locate and
bring home the missing and those Israeli soldiers whose resting place is

2. Prime Minister Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Director of the
Defense Ministry Security-Diplomatic Bureau Amos Gilad officials updated
ministers on the situation regarding the calm on the Gaza Strip border and
on the efforts that have been - and are being - made for the release of
Gilad Shalit. Amos Gilad noted that in his contacts in Egypt on the issue,
it has been determined that Gilad Shalit's release is at the top of the
agenda and that intensive contacts for his release will continue.

3. The Cabinet defined the authority of the committee of inquiry, appointed
by Agriculture and rural Development Minister Shalom Simhon, into the
operation of the veterinary services. See http://tinyurl.com/6zgmuw for
further details.

4. The Cabinet approved the appointment of Yair Geller as National War on
Drugs Authority. See http://tinyurl.com/6zgmuw for further details.

5. The Cabinet discussed extending the declaration of a special situation on
the home front and in the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip and decided to
request that the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee approve such
an extension until 31.10.08. See http://tinyurl.com/6zgmuw for further

6. The Cabinet approved draft amendments to the 2008 Security Service Law
and authorized the Ministerial Committee on Legislation and Law Enforcement
to submit the final draft for Knesset approval. See
http://tinyurl.com/6zgmuw for further details.

7. The Cabinet approved additional draft amendments to the 2008 Security
Service Law - regarding the placing of IDF veterans for service in select
Israel Police units - and authorized the Ministerial Committee on
Legislation and Law Enforcement to submit the final draft for Knesset
approval. See

8. The Cabinet approved additional draft amendments to the 2008 Security
Service Law - regarding the transfer of responsibility for security
prisoners from the IDF to the Israel Prison Service - and authorized the
Ministerial Committee on Legislation and Law Enforcement to submit the final
draft for Knesset approval. See http://tinyurl.com/6zgmuw for further

9. Pursuant to Article 26a of the 1986 Security Service Law, the Cabinet
decided to request that the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee
approve the 2008 Security Service Order (Service Recognized for Security
Purposes). The Cabinet approved additional draft amendments to the 2008
Security Service Law - regarding the placing of IDF veterans for service in
select Israel Police units - and authorized the Ministerial Committee on
Legislation and Law Enforcement to submit the final draft for Knesset
approval. See http://tinyurl.com/6zgmuw for further details.

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