The man Hezbollah wants
A long-ago horror is linked to the current war
Kuntar's release has been the goal of several previous kidnapping attempts. In 1985, the same Palestinian terrorist group behind the 1979 raid hijacked the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro (in the process, killing an elderly Jewish-American named Leon Klinghoffer) in an unsuccessful effort to free 50 Arab prisoners, including Kuntar. That same year, a prisoner exchange known as the Jibril Deal won the release of Ahmed al-Abrass, the only other surviving member of Kuntar's terror team.
Strangely, Hezbollah's Nasrallah, the leader of a religious Shiite organization supported by Iran and Syria, has championed Kuntar, a Druze who supports a secular Lebanon. In prison, Kuntar has become fluent in Hebrew, earned a college degree though correspondence courses, and has said that, after taking a course on the Holocaust, he now understands Jewish pain. He has said that he regrets Einat's death (which he blames, though, on Israeli bullets).
Nasrallah has declared in speeches his goal of freeing Kuntar by capturing Israeli soldiers. In 2000, he kept to his word and captured three. But despite stubborn negotiations, he was unable to release Kuntar because he did not provide the information Israel demanded on the long-missing Israeli pilot, Lt. Col. Ron Arad. Last November, three Hezbollah fighters were killed again trying to kidnap Israeli soldiers. Hezbollah officials have in recent days claimed they didn't intend to ignite a war with their cross-border raid, only to improve their bargaining for the release of prisoners.
Even talking about a deal for someone like Kuntar conjures up powerful emotions among Israelis. Kaiser, who has remarried and still lives in Nahariya, wants Kuntar to die in his jail cell--which puts her at odds with the families of captured soldiers. "I would have spoken with the devil to get my son back," said Haim Avraham, whose son Benny was captured in 2000 and returned in a coffin in 2004 as part of a prisoner exchange. On the issue of prisoner exchanges, Yair Goldwasser, brother of Ehud, one of the two soldiers in Hezbollah hands, says: "It's a political issue; it's not up to us."
A poll last week showed that 70 percent of Israelis would support some form of a prisoner exchange. And Dayan, who is advising the families, says it is important that an Israeli soldier know that "everything will be done to save him." But Kaiser is vigilant. "You don't compromise with terror," she says. "If you compromise with terror, you agree to live with it." That, sadly, is likely to remain a stark dilemma for Israel.