Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center
at the Israel Intelligence Heritage & Commemoration Center (IICC)
Two years after the second Lebanon war the bodies of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser were exchanged for five Lebanese prisoners, including the terrorist murderer Samir Kuntar, and 199 terrorist remains. Hezbollah exploited the exchange to produce a propaganda campaign aiming to strengthen its political position in Lebanon.
An IDF honor guard salutes the coffins of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev (IDF Spokesman, July 16)
1. On the morning of July 16, two years and four days after their abduction, the bodies of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser were returned to Israel in an exchange deal with Hezbollah. From first to last Hezbollah revealed nothing of the soldiers’ fate and only revealed their deaths (long suspected by Israel ) when the coffins were unloaded. Hezbollah also delivered the body parts of other IDF soldiers killed in the second Lebanon war. Beforehand, as part of the deal, Israeli received information about the missing navigator Ron Arad, which shed no new light on his fate.
2. A description of the main events in Israel and Lebanon follows, along with reactions in Lebanon , the Palestinian arena and the Arab and Muslim world. The Appendix contains a short portrait of Samir Kuntar.
Important events in Israel
3. At 9:00 a.m. the coffins of the abducted soldiers were brought to the Lebanese border crossing at Naqura where they were delivered to a Red Cross representative by Wafiq Safa, head of Hezbollah’s coordination and liaison committee. After a preliminary identification by the Red Cross, the bodies were delivered to Israel through the Rosh Nanikra crossing and a more thorough identification by the IDF Military Rabbinate and IDF Medical Corps was undertaken. At about 11:00 a.m. , when the examinations had been completed, the second phase of the exchange deal began and the terrorists’ bodies were transferred to Lebanon . At 5:00 p.m. the five Lebanese prisoners, headed by Samir Kuntar, were handed over to the Red Cross. The exchange ended at about 8:00 p.m. when the last terrorist bodies were transferred to Lebanon .
4. Once the identification had been completed high-ranking IDF officers arrived at the homes of the soldiers’ families to officially inform them that the two were dead. In the evening the coffins were brought to a military camp near the northern city of Nahariya to allow the families to view the coffins. The Prime Minister, Defense Minister and Chief of Staff were also present.
5. The funerals of the two soldiers took place at military cemeteries on July 17. Eldad Regev was buried in Haifa and Ehud Goldwasser in Nahariya. Thousands came to pay their last respects.
Events in Lebanon
6. While all Israel mourned, Lebanon proclaimed a day of national rejoining, despite the fact that their “heroes” were terrorist murderers whose crimes bore no relation whatsoever to Lebanese national interests. Under Hezbollah production, mass celebrations were organized in Lebanon , attended by senior Lebanese political figures the senior Hezbollah figures. Hezbollah dubbed the prisoner exchange “Operation Radwan,” which was one of international terrorist Imad Moughnieh’s nicknames.
7. The released prisoners, including the murderer Samir Kuntar, who does not belong to Hezbollah, were dressed in Hezbollah uniforms and transported to Naqura. A ceremony was held, attended by residents of south Lebanon , headed by Nabil Kaouk, the Hezbollah operative in charge of south Lebanon .
8. The prisoners were flown from Naqura to the Beirut airport in a Lebanese army helicopter accompanied by one from UNIFIL. They had an official state welcome in Beirut at a ceremony attended by Lebanese president Michel Suleiman, prime minister Fuad Siniora 1 and parliament chairman Nabih Berri. Suleiman congratulated them on their return, saying that the joy in Lebanon would be complete only when sovereignty over the Sheba’a farms had been restored (See below).9. After the ceremony there were festive rallies led by senior Hezbollah figures at Al-Rayah stadium in Beirut ‘s southern suburb. Nasrallah, who left his hiding-place for a few minutes, hugged Samir Kuntar in front of the thousands gathered there. Afterwards Nasrallah left the stage and returned to his hiding-place, as has been his habit since the second Lebanon war, and his speech was broadcast on a giant screen (For details of the speech, see below). After Nasrallah’s blessing, Samir Kuntar thanked him for his release. On July 17 Kuntar was scheduled to return to his birthplace, the Druze village of Aabey south of Beirut .
Main reactions to the prisoner exchange deal
The Lebanese administration
10. All the factions of the Lebanese administration, including the pro-West and anti-Syrian (such as the March 14 Force), extolled the deal, steadfastly supported it and even tried to enjoy some of the support it generated. That happened despite the fact that Samir Kuntar and many other terrorists whose bodies were returned to Lebanon were involved in despicable murders which were aggressive terrorist attacks carried out by the Palestinian terrorist organizations during the 1970s, and whose terrorist operations violated Lebanon’s sovereignty, and were not considered defense of the Lebanese homeland (as represented by the Lebanese president).
11. High-ranking government officials, including the president himself, the chairman of the parliament and prominent political figures participated in the Hezbollah-produced ceremonies held in Beirut . The following points were made by Lebanese president Michel Suleiman at the reception held for the prisoners at the Beirut airport (Al-Manar TV, July 16, 2008 ).
i) Lebanon was proud to receive the men of the resistance [i.e., the terrorist organizations] on their return from the prisons of the occupation [i.e., Israel ], headed by “old-timer” Samir Kuntar. The president added that the bodies of the shaheeds [i.e., the terrorists who died while engaged in terrorist attacks against Israel in the 1970s] had been returned to their native land [i.e., Lebanon , which Palestinian terrorists have never considered their homeland], which they redeemed with blood and shahada (death as a martyr for the sake of Allah). [ Note : The president’s speech was conspicuous in its use of Hezbollah and other terrorist organization terminology, which in effect gave an official Lebanese government rubber stamp to the acts of terrorism carried out from Lebanese territory by the Palestinian terrorist organizations and Hezbollah against Israel .]
ii) The joy in Lebanon would peak when it had restored its sovereignty to the Sheba’a farms “in every legitimate way.” The president added that its right to the Sheba’a farms was anchored in international law. [ Note : The international community does not recognize the sovereignty of Lebanon over the Sheba’a farms, regarding the area rather as part of the northern Golan Heights .] He also expressed his adherence to the Palestinians’ “the right to return” to their lands, and called for internal Lebanese unity, accusing (as the Lebanese usually do) Israel of responsibility for the internal conflicts in Lebanon .
12. High-ranking Lebanese officials from all the ethnic factions, both Hezbollah supporters and opponents, also lauded the prisoner exchange deal and called for national unity. Among them were Michel Aoun (Hezbollah’s Christian ally), Saad Hariri , son of Rafiq Hariri (who heads the camp opposing Syria and Hezbollah), Nasrallah Sfeir , the Maronite patriarch, Nabih Berri , chairman of the Lebanese parliament, and Fawzi Saloukh , foreign minister and the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt . Some leaders of the Christian camp, among them Amin Gemayel and Samir Jaja , did not join in the festivities.
13. Hezbollah, as is its habit, exploited the deal with Israel (calling it “Operation Radwan;” “Radwan” was one of Imad Moughnieh’s nicknames) 2 to wage a propaganda campaign whose objectives are the following: strengthening Hezbollah’s status (following the Doha accord) in internal Lebanese affairs; expanding support for the “resistance” (terrorism) and representing Hezbollah as a Lebanese force defending Lebanon (thus justifying Hezbollah’s refusal to disarm); strengthening Hezbollah’s image as having defeated Israel by representing Israel as weak, humiliated and about to fall apart; encouraging Palestinian terrorism and violence against Israel and linking the Lebanese “resistance” to the Palestinian “resistance;” strengthening the personality cults of Hassan Nasrallah and Iranian Leader Ali Khamenei.
14. The propaganda campaign climaxed at the main rally held in Hezbollah’s stronghold in the southern suburb of Beirut , where Nasrallah appeared before the crowd for a few minutes, after which he left and his speech was broadcast on a giant screen, his customary modus operandi since the second Lebanon war (fearing an Israeli attempt on his life). The rally was also attended by former pro-Syrian Lebanese president Emil Lahoud (whom Nasrallah calls “the man in opposition”), representatives of the various political parties, diplomats, and delegations from Iran and the Palestinian terrorist organizations.
15. The main points of his speech were the following (Al-Manar TV, July 17):
i) He said that the prisoner exchange deal was an example of Israel ‘s defeat (“of that entity’s defeat”) in the second Lebanon war. He claimed that obviously, if Hezbollah had lost the war, Samir Kuntar and the martyrs would not have returned to Lebanon . He praised both Imad Moughnieh for his role in the war the steadfastness of the Lebanese people.
ii) He lauded the “resistance project” (i.e., terrorism) , noting that when Samir Kuntar and Dalal al-Mughrabi [who was killed after she participated in the 1978 Coastal Road massacre] 3 carried out their operations Hezbollah had not yet been founded. The fact that Hezbollah managed to get them returned exemplified the common path of the resistance movements in the region, especially Lebanon and Palestine . He reiterated his identification with all the Lebanese, Palestinian and Arab terrorist organizations (“the resistance”), claiming that Hezbollah had benefited from their experience.
iii) He encouraged the release of Palestinian prisone rs [imprisoned in Israel for their terrorist activities], reminding the Arab and Muslim world that 11,000 Palestinian prisoners still had to be released, as well as dozens of Jordanian, Syrian and Arab prisoners held by Israel [i.e., terrorists convicted of murder and sentenced to terms in Israeli prisons]. He said that it was not only a matter of the Palestinian Authority, Hamas or the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, but of the entire Arab and Muslim world.
iv) He praised the national unity government in Lebanon [ Note : The government in which Hezbollah has a 1/3 block which was established after Hezbollah’s militia took over west and south Beirut in May 2008]. Nasrallah boasted that the government’s first mission had been to receive the released prisoners at the Beirut airport, and praised the Lebanese president for insisting on attending the reception. He also boasted that the Lebanese army, Hezbollah and Lebanese politicians all stood side by side at the airport.
v) As to the continued struggle against Israel , what had to be done now was to liberate the rest of Lebanon, that is, the Sheba’a farms and the Lebanese part of the village of Ghajar , which were still occupied [ Note : the international community does not recognize Lebanese sovereignty over the Sheba’s farms]. He called upon the Lebanese to formulate a national defense strategy through an internal dialogue [ Note : the topic has occasionally come under discussion in Lebanon during the past few years. Hezbollah perceives it as a way of getting governmental legitimacy for its military infrastructure and for continuing its military-terrorist actions against Israel from Lebanese territory on various pretexts of “defending” it.]
Propaganda appearing on Hezbollah’s website
Strengthening Hezbollah’s power in Lebanon
srael as humiliated
The Palestinian Arena
16. On July 16 Hamas organized a mass procession in the northern Gaza Strip to celebrate the prisoner exchange deal and to express solidarity with Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, wanted by the International Court for committing war crimes in Darfur . Senior Hamas figures represented the deal as a victory for the “resistance” (i.e., Hezbollah terrorism) in Lebanon and as an achievement which will help release Palestinian terrorist operatives held in Israeli prisons.
17. Some of the statements made were the following:
i) Ismail Haniya, prime minister of the Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip , represented the deal as a victory for the “resistance” (i.e., Hezbollah terrorism) and as “proof” that no concessions should be made in the conflict with Israel . He praised the terrorist murderer Samir Kuntar (whom he referred to as a “hero”) and the terrorist murderess Dalal al-Mughrabi. He said that the deal with Hezbollah changed Israel ‘s attitude with regard prisoner exchange, and that there was now hope that hundreds of Palestinians who had been sentenced to long terms and life imprisonment would be released. (Al-Aqsa TV, July 16).
Ismail Haniya speaking about the implications of Hezbollah’s exchange deal on the Palestinians (Al-Aqsa TV, July 16).
ii) Hamas leader Yasser Harb said that the prisoner exchange was a victory for the “resistance” (i.e., terrorism) in Lebanon , Palestine , Iraq , Chechnya and Afghanistan . He added that the deal had broken Israel ‘s opposition to releasing prisoners accused of murdering Israelis and therefore the Palestinian prisoners would soon be liberated (PalMedia website, July 16).
iii) Senior Hamas activist Musheir al-Masri represented the deal as an important achievement for the Palestinian and Lebanese “resistances” which would aid in liberating on Hamas’s terms hundreds of Palestinians imprisoned in Israel for long terms (BBC Radio, July 16).
iv) Hamas’s military-terrorist wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, announced that the deal showed the wisdom and justice of the “jihad option” in the “struggle” against the Israeli enemy. According to the announcement, Gilad Shalit would be released only on Hamas’s terms and that more soldiers would be abducted until the last Palestinian prisoner had been released (Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades website, July 16).
The Palestinian Authority and Fatah
18. PA chairman Abu Mazen praised the exchange deal and congratulated Samir Kuntar’s family and the those of the others. He expressed hope that following the deal other prisoners would be released, noting that 11,000 Palestinian prisoners had received long prison terms in Israel (Palestinian TV, July 16).
19. Special attention was given to terrorist murderess Dalal al-Mughrabi . A mass procession was held in Ramallah in commemoration, and speeches were given by Dr. Rafiq al-Husseini, head of the presidential bureau, and Abdallah al-Afrangi, a member of Fatah’s central committee. Fatah spokesman Fahmi al-Zaarir claimed that she had been removed from the exchange deal and not transferred to Lebanon following an order given by Abu Mazen, who asked Israel to give the PA the PLO bodies, among them Dalal al-Mughrabi, so that they might be buried in “the soil of Palestine” (Wafa News Agency, July 16).
The Arab and Muslim world 4
20. The Iranian and Syrian media celebrated the prisoner exchange deal, representing it as a great achievement for Hezbollah and a defeat for Israel (ignoring the high price paid by Lebanon and Hezbollah for the abduction of the two Israeli soldiers). The popular Qatari Al-Jazeera TV covered the event widely and devoted sympathetic commentary to Hezbollah. Egypt and Saudi Arabia , on the other hand, were low-key in their coverage. Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV broadcast praise from Mahdi Akef, the Muslim Brotherhood’s General Guide in Egypt .
21. The Iranian news channel Al-Khabar gave extensive coverage to the deal, integrating clips from its archives and live shots from Al-Manar TV. Commentary was provided stating that the events in Lebanon tended to be favorable for Hezbollah and the “resistance,” while in recent years Israel ‘s security had faltered (Al-Khabar TV, July 16). Iranian foreign minister Mottaki represented the deal as an achievement for Hezbollah and called for the release of the Palestinian prisoners and Iranian diplomats (who are not being held by Israel ) (Fars News Agency, July 17).
Songs praising Hezbollah broadcast by Al-Khabar TV along with pictures of rockets. At the left the Hezbollah and Lebanese flags fly next to the rocket batteries (Al-Khabar TV, July 16).
22. Iran sent a delegation to participate in the festivities in Lebanon . Its members included Hussein Sheikh al-Islam, in charge of the Middle East department of the Iranian foreign ministry and two diplomatic representatives, one in Syria and one in Lebanon . The delegation also met with Lebanese politicians and visited the graves of shaheeds in south Beirut , paying their respects to the international terrorist Imad Moughnieh (Islamic Republic News Agency, July 17).
23. The deal was reported with great fanfare at the beginning of the news on Syrian TV on the evening of July 16. An article by Muhammad al-Khadr in the official government newspaper, Al-Baath, described the deal as another victory for Hezbollah’s strategy and a shattering of Israel ‘s image. It said that “…the long arm of Israel ‘s war machine can be bent and broken…,” and boasted that the “resistance” (i.e., terrorism) had established its existence and presence in Lebanon and in the entire Arab arena (Al-Baath, July 16).
1. Samir Kuntar , a Druze from the Lebanese village of Aabey south of Beirut , was born in 1962. Although born into a Druze family, during his imprisonment he described himself as secular and having no religion. As a youngster, he joined the PFLP-GC (the pro-Syrian Ahmad Jibril organization), and when Abu al-Abbas split from the organization he went with him to the Palestine Liberation Front, a terrorist organization headed by al-Abbas and sponsored by Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Samir Kuntar, a murderer described as a hero and legendary commander, speaking at a rally held in his honor (Al-Manar TV, July 16).
2. On April 21, 1979, at the age of 16 ½, he headed a four-man PLF squad sent to carry out a terrorist attack in Nahariya, an Israeli city close to the Lebanese border. Arriving in an inflatable rubber dinghy around midnight , the squad shot at a passing police car and killed the driver, Eliahu Shahar. They then broke into the Haran ‘s house and took two hostages, the father, Danny, and his four-year old daughter, Einat. Smadar hid in a crawlway above the bedroom along with her two-year old daughter, Yael, and a neighbor.
3. Danny and Einat were dragged to the shore where a firefight broke out between the squad and Israeli security forces, resulting in the death of another policeman. Samir Kuntar shot Danny Haran at close range and then slammed his rifle butt into Einat’s head, killing her. In the house Smadar stifled Yael’s cries, inadvertently suffocating her.
4. Two of the terrorists were killed and two, Ahmad al-Abras (who was released in the Jibril exchange deal in May 1985) and Samir Kuntar, were captured. At his trial Kuntar admittted to what he had done, adding that he was proud of having killed his victims. He was sentenced to five life sentences and 47 additional years of imprisonment.
5. During his time in prison Samir Kuntar was a ring-leader and a central figure among the security prisoners, leading strikes and organizing protests. He also studied at the Israeli Open University and received a BA in the humanities. He married Qifah Qiyal, an Israeli Arab from Acre , who was serving a term for PFLP-GC activities.
6. Even though he was a secular Marxist Druze, he was strongly supported by Hezbollah, who regarded him as symbolizing the Lebanese prisoners in Israel and put his name at the top of every prisoner exchange list.
7. In his speech at the rally in Beirut after his release, Kuntar thanked the Hezbollah leaders, saying that they had made the “resistance” invincible. He said that he had come from Palestine to return to it and that he had come back “to work, not to talk.” Referring to Imad Moughnieh he said that after his death had been avenged, Israel would be nostalgic for the time when he was still alive.
Hezbollah’s propaganda campaign for Samir Kuntar’s return: posters in Sidon
(Ali Hashisho for Reuters, June 29).
Click for video of Samir Kuntar
1 Robert Fisk, who writes for the British Independent (not known for its sympathy for Israel ) noted the absurdity of the presence of the American-supported prime minister of Lebanon at the reception (Al-Jazeera TV, July 16).
2 The choice of the name was part of the campaign to turn an international terrorist into a hero and role model, and hints at the fact that Imad Moughnieh was responsible for the soldiers’ abduction. An explanation of the words “Operation Radwan” may also be “an operation satisfactory to the will [of Allah].”
3 (The Coastal Road massacre was carried out on March 11, 1978 , by a Fatah squad based in Lebanon . The terrorists murdered 35 Israelis and wounded 71, most of them passengers on a Egged bus along the Coastal Road near Tel Aviv. Following the attack Israel undertook Operation Litani, an extensive counterterrorist operation in south Lebanon . The Palestinians turned terrorist murderess Dalal al-Mughrabi into a national heroine. Yasser Arafat praised her actions (1995), a play was put on in her honor in the Gaza Strip and a school for girls in Hebron was named after her as were a street in the Gaza Strip and even a soccer team.
4 First reactions, updated to July 17.