As I write these words, Lebanon is giving five of its citizens/fighters a hero’s welcome. These resistance fighters have just been released from Israeli prisons. The release came as a result of a swap deal between Israel and Hezbollah/Lebanon. According to the terms of the deal, Israel will release Lebanese prisoners and hand over the remains of more than 100 fighters killed during decades of war between the two countries, while it gets information about a missing flight lieutenant and the two soldiers captured in July 2006 by Hezbollah.
It was declared today that the two soldiers were dead and their bodies have been turned over to Israel. Among the Lebanese who were released is Samir Kuntar. Kuntar was sentenced to more than 400 years in prison and has spent 29 years in Israeli jails. The released prisoners are now being welcomed by the Lebanese President, Parliament Speaker and the Prime Minister, among other dignitaries, at the Rafic Hariri International Airport in Beirut. The Lebanese president is giving his welcome speech. Today was declared as a national holiday to give every Lebanese a chance to partake in welcoming its heroes. Here are a few reactions from Lebanese blogs and more to come later, so stay tuned:
Anecdotes from a Banana Republic uses wit and humor to describe the day and goes on to say:
Kuntar has been imprisoned in Israel for 29 years, since the early age of 17. And how the world has changed in his absence! Kuntar has never sent a drunk text message to an ex-girlfriend or stalked anyone on MySpace on Facebook; he's never taken a stroll through the new downtown or eaten at Barbar (a mega- bistro that opened its doors during the Civil War.) Someone warn him that servis now costs a whopping 2,000LL. Thankfully many of the old, familiar faces from the 1970s are still in power; he'll only have to adapt to the likes of newcomers such as Saad Hariri.
Arab Democracy discusses Israel’s claim to moral superiority and being a hero for a day:
Whether Israel likes it or not, this UN brokered deal is the direct consequence of the July 2006 war. In a conventional war perspective, where the military operations end with a clear winner and loser, such a deal would have occurred sooner after the war. But Israel was not in a posture to admit defeat in August 2006, while Hezbollah showed much triumphalism describing as a “Divine Victory” his ability to resist the Israeli attack.
Israel needed time; it took over a year for the Winograd Report to be issued detailing the Israeli mistakes after a lengthy investigation. After admitting defeat, it is now time for Israel to pay the price.
Under a “humanitarian” cover, Israel is making a historic move. Giving back Samir Kuntar in exchange of two (maybe dead) soldiers captured on the 12th of July 2006 is a giant leap. The interesting debate about it in Israel is about fears that such a move might become a political and juridical precedent.
Bilad al Sham describes the event as an ultimate victory for Hezbollah:
The poster on the Lebanese side of the border said it all: Israel sheds tears of sorrow, Lebanon sheds tears of joy.
The pictures from Naqoura were the ones Israelis had been dreading for two years since Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser were seized by Hizbullah – an event that sparked off the summer war in southern Lebanon and northern Israel. Two simple black coffins were presented to the media.
On the Israeli side of the border the families and friends of the two burst into uncontrollable tears on witnessing the pictures relayed from the Hizbullah-controlled Al-Manar TV.
It is not all that Hizbullah controls in Lebanon today. Indeed, the handover of the bodies in exchange for five living Lebanese, including Samir Quntar, the man serving four life sentences for his role in a terror attack in Israel in 1979, is arguably the icing on the cake in two wonderful years for Hizbullah and its pro-Syrian allies.
It is hard to argue that Israel achieved either of its stated aims in the 2006 war – it failed to return Regev and Goldwasser and it did not weaken Hizbullah by pushing it to lines behind the Litani River.
Blacksmiths of Lebanon has photos of Samir Kuntar being captured in 1979 with comments from Israeli press, as well as another post in which he questions whether the price paid to release the prisoners was worth it:
Lebanon's prisoner in Israel is on his way back [while hundreds of Lebanese continue to languish in “brotherly/sisterly” prisons in Syria] and yet another pretext for Hizballah's weapons is gone.
Was it worth it?
Over 1,200 dead – 300 below the age of 13; over 4,400 wounded – 700 of them permanently disabled. Those figures alone provide a very clear answer [NO!], but don't forget to add to them the hundreds of thousands displaced and the billions of dollars of damages inflicted on the country.
No matter to Hizballah, they – and the Israelis with whom they negotiated (Olmert & Co.) – got the PR boost that they needed just when they needed. The Lebanese, and the Al Jazeera-viewing Arab public in general, should simply forget the militant group's recent history of turning its weapons on its fellow Lebanese and precipitating a sectarian rift rivaling that of country's 15 year civil war.
More opinions, coverage and analysis from the Lebanese blogosphere later, so check back.
Other GV Posts:
Israel: Intense Emotions Over the Hezbollah Prisoner Exchange