It is not surprising that hostage-taking is a favoured weapon in the terrorist arsenal.
This low-cost, high-yield tactic does not require the operational sophistication necessary for more complex assaults like assassinations, simultaneous bombings and hijackings. Yet it generates a drama uniquely effective in communicating terror to the public over prolonged periods of time, garnering media coverage and inflicting significant psychological damage on adversaries. It is an ideal instrument for asymmetrical warfare against a Western enemy particularly sensitive to the value of the individual lives of its citizenry.
Modern technology has further magnified this tactic into something of a weapon of mass-media destruction. The daily dangling of hostages in front of millions of screens can be more impactful than even extensive carnage produced by lethal terrorist strikes, which are usually over in seconds and experience a much shorter shelf-life on social media. Critically for Western policymakers, this enhanced promotional capacity has now turned hostage-taking into an effective recruitment tool for groups like ISIS, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas.
[Israel] has gone to unprecedented lengths to rescue its people — both dead and alive — from enemy hands.
While the life of every hostage is of equal and inestimable value, the involvement or risk that states will undertake to resolve any particular incident will invariably differ.
Israel is a notable case study. Its extraordinary emphasis on redeeming captives is grounded in the Jewish state's religious, historical and cultural heritage, and the country has gone to unprecedented lengths to rescue its people — both dead and alive — from enemy hands.
Israel was riveted by the abduction of Hadar Goldin by Hamas terrorists. Less than two hours into a UN- and U.S.- brokered ceasefire during the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, Hamas violated the ceasefire, killing two Israeli soldiers and shooting Goldin in an attempt to kidnap him. Forensic specialists would later determine that Hadar, a 23-year-old lieutenant, had succumbed to his injuries as Hamas dragged him through the labyrinth of subterranean tunnels it had built for facilitating terrorist attacks. His parents have spent the last three years trying to bring their fallen son home for burial.
For Hamas, hostage-taking has always been a strategic and tactical priority, regardless of whether the victims are children or adults, soldiers or civilians, Israelis or Palestinians.
But the reticence demonstrated by the UN and its member states in dealing meaningfully with the Goldin incident will not go unnoticed by terrorists and their sponsors, nor will it be without broader consequence.
The apparent tolerance of Hamas' flagrant violation of international law will undoubtedly strengthen the terrorist group, which the West should instead be seeking to weaken. Hamas has murdered and injured thousands of civilians, including Canadians, while committing egregious human rights violations against its own people.
Its well-earned status as a banned terrorist entity in Canada was relevant in a recent Ontario Court of Appeal decision upholding a $1.7-billion judgment against the Iranian government for its financial support of terrorist acts committed by Hamas and Hezbollah.
The apparent tolerance of Hamas' flagrant violation of international law will undoubtedly strengthen the terrorist group.
Those maintaining that Hamas is primarily a Middle Eastern problem should reconsider. While Hamas may not be kidnapping children in Western countries and murdering them as they do in Israel, it is certainly intent on targeting their minds. Like its Iranian patron, Hamas is a force for radicalization, and its fundraising and promotional efforts are present in Canada and other Western countries. Hamas is an entity founded on a pernicious ideology of implacable anti-Semitism, which deems the Jewish people a historical evil that must be fought and destroyed. As stated in its founding charter, Hamas identifies itself ideologically with the Muslim Brotherhood, and shares the Brotherhood's contempt for Western values and liberal democracy.
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The active or passive enabling of Hamas and like-minded entities — on the assumption that their hatreds will not be exported abroad — has not worked well for a Western world now terrorized by adherents of these ideologies. And given that Israel is the world's front-line democracy fighting Hamas, the West should have a far greater interest in strengthening Israel's hand in retrieving its missing people and undermining Hamas in the eyes of its supporters and would-be recruits. In a region where hostages are among the most valued assets of terrorist groups, depriving them of this human "currency" is no different than bankrupting their finances or blocking their access to weapons.
Perhaps the obligation to pressure Hamas should rest most heavily on governments that view Hamas as legitimate in whole or in part. Countries like Britain, Australia, and New Zealand have recognized Hamas' "political" wing, while others like Switzerland have refused to ban any part of Hamas as a terrorist entity. These countries should, at a minimum, withhold this ill-begotten recognition until Hamas returns Hadar to his family.
Failure to help resolve the Goldin case will not go unnoticed by Israel, for whom the return of every citizen held in enemy hands is a core value. In the eyes of the Israeli public, Hadar is not another insignificant casualty of the caustic realities of the region. He is everyone's son and brother. And like other missing Israeli soldiers, such as Ron Arad and Zachary Baumel, his name is on the lips of an entire nation in a way virtually unseen in other democracies.
Hadar is not another insignificant casualty of the caustic realities of the region. He is everyone's son and brother.
Israelis will see the continued disinterest as yet another indicator of the unreliability of the UN and many of its member states, which have obsessively demonized Israel for decades, while repeatedly de-prioritizing or overlooking the policy import of Israel's missing soldiers and citizens.
No one should therefore be surprised if, further down the road, Israel looks askance at political propositions coming from these same international players who could not take basic steps to enforce a ceasefire they themselves had brokered.
Undoubtedly, some of those currently silent with regard to Hadar Goldin will suddenly find their voices in condemning Israel if it unilaterally exercises its right to act on this matter. But given the historical record, Israel will quite rightly press "mute" and do what is necessary to protect itself and bring its people home.
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