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Wednesday, November 12, 2003
Israel above all should know better than to reward hostage-taking

Stephen Pollard's attack on the willingness of the Israeli government to trade terrorist prisoners for a businessman being held hostage by the terror group Hezbollah is absolutely on the mark. If governments stand firm, taking hostages is often a difficult and risky tactic for any terrorist group. It reduces sympathy among all but its most hateful supporters and gives the state a huge incentive to hunt its leaders down - and an excuse to crack down on them and slaughter them, if they are so inclined. But if this malevolent tactic can produce such concessions, then it is absolutely worth it.

As soon as a government shows itself willing to surrender prisoners in exchange for hostage releases, any time a terrorist leader is captured in the future - normally a great moment for any free country - all his supporters need to do is capture some sympathetic civilians and threaten to kill them if their favoured man is not released. And because the precedent has been set, if at any point the state then refuses to release their prisoner to go out and plot further murders, then they can be sure that it will be they who face the blame for what happens to the hostages, having already shown themselves willing to release prisoners in some cases, so why not this?

A state which concedes to hostage-taking does not protect its people by showing itself willing to compromise with terrorists. On the contrary, it ensures that terrorists know one proven way to get what they want, and that there will in the future be far more innocent people held hostage and killed. It is enormously depressing that even the Sharon government has shown itself willing to make this mistake, setting the above precedent with all its ill and bloody effects, effects which will be infinitely harder to reverse than they were to bring into being.

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