Akiva Eldar
Haaretz (Opinion)
October 24, 2011 - 12:00am

When you hugged Gilad Shalit's fragile body to your chest, perhaps you thought of your brother Yoni, who gave his life for the ethos that one doesn't negotiate with terrorists. When you heard the cries of joy in Gaza at the sight of the murderers you had set free, perhaps you recalled the countless speeches you gave, and the book you wrote, about the necessity of waging an uncompromising war on terror: They are what paved your way from a Jerusalem furniture factory to Israel's top job. And one can safely assume your elderly father wasn't enthusiastic over your "capitulation to terror."

It was undoubtedly not easy for you to convince your colleagues that there was no choice but to break the taboo on including Israeli Arabs and East Jerusalem residents in the deal. You knew your critics would claim, rightly, that this undermined the principle of Israeli sovereignty over "united Jerusalem." But the fear that the Israeli masses, and you as well, felt for Gilad's life trumped Yoni's ethos. To bring one soldier home safely, you agreed to conduct negotiations with a terrorist organization.

But while Gilad was released from captivity, the nation remains imprisoned by its fears.

The fear of terror attacks and kidnappings has declined significantly, thanks in part to the policy of nonviolence adopted by the Palestinian government led by Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad. But you replaced the fear of terror by nurturing dread of the Iranian bomb. In recent weeks, the indications have multiplied that you and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, your former comrade in the elite Sayeret Matkal unit, seek to solve this problem by force. The word is that this is your way of restoring Israel's deterrent power - which, in your view, the Shalit deal eroded - and of diverting attention from the failure of the diplomatic process.

Israel's citizens have become your and Barak's hostages. Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan was neither the first nor the last to warn of your joint obsession with attacking Iran's nuclear facilities. You know that Iran isn't Uganda, and that sending Israeli planes to bomb a major Muslim country isn't another Entebbe rescue operation. Thousands of those who accompanied Gilad home with tears of joy would never return to their own homes.

The face of our neighborhood has changed beyond recognition since Israel bombed Iraq's reactor 30 years ago. Back then, Hadera wasn't in range of long-range missiles launched by Hezbollah, Iran's merchant of death, while the idea of an extremist Sunni organization funded by Iran launching rockets from Gaza at Be'er Sheva would have seemed delusional.

But there's something even more dangerous than a military assault on Iran without international, and especially American, backing: attacking Iran without international backing at the height of an ongoing crisis in the political process with the Palestinians, and continued Jewish construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. What will happen when your friends on Capitol Hill add the Quartet's new outline for talks to the Wye Agreement, the Mitchell plan, the road map and the Annapolis declaration - all of which are jumbled together in the waste basket known as the "peace process"? Are you willing to gamble that the Arab street will let its new regimes watch from the sidelines as Jews bomb Muslims in Iran? Are you certain that Turkey and Egypt will overlook bloody clashes with Muslims at the entrance to Haram al-Sharif (the Temple Mount )?

The heads of the defense establishment have told you that Abbas is capable of dealing with the freed Hamas prisoners. But you understand that the day he loses his political value, the Palestinian Authority will lose its security value. How will his Fatah party respond to pictures of the hundreds of prisoners Hamas leader Khaled Meshal succeeded in bringing home, at a time when Abbas has failed to win UN recognition of a Palestinian state? Isn't having one outpost of Iran on Israel's border enough?

You have read the intelligence reports saying that Abbas intends to call elections in January 2012 - elections in which he himself will be a mere onlooker. You know very well that Abbas has given the Americans a plan that would demilitarize the West Bank and deploy an international force in the territories. You have surely heard that Hamas has given him a mandate to conduct negotiations on the basis of the Quartet's proposal.

Mr. Prime Minister, a huge swathe of the public backed you in your decision to free Gilad Shalit from his prison. Israelis will similarly support you in a courageous decision to finally free them from the prison of the occupation.


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