Capture of soldier Hadar Goldin in Gaza prompts memories of Gilad Shalit seizure
Peace activist involved in the five-year process to release the captured soldier in 2011 believes there will be no negotiation this time
When word went out on Friday that Hadar Goldin, a 23-year-old second lieutenant in a squad dismantling tunnels in the Gaza Strip, had been apparently been captured by Hamas-affiliated gunmen, one name immediately came to Israeli minds: Gilad Shalit. He was the Israeli soldier whose abduction by Gaza militants in 2006 became a five-year ordeal that ended only with Israel's release of more than 1,000 prisoners.
For Gershon Baskin, an American-Israeli peace activist who helped negotiate Shalit's release through a Hamas member he met at an academic conference in Cairo, the immediate connection between Goldin and Shalit meant only bad news for hopes of a peaceful solution in Gaza.
"Shalit was captured on Israeli soil, and you didn't have 40,000 soldiers at war in Gaza," Baskin said. "No Israeli prime minister could survive even the thought of a prisoner exchange now. This is the victory picture Hamas wanted."
The deal to release Shalit took five years to complete because both Israel and Hamas started and stopped negotiations repeatedly, Baskin said. Israeli critics at the time pointed out the risk of releasing hundreds of convicted attackers. Their claims were not unfounded. One of the prisoners released in the Shalit deal shot and killed Israeli Baruch Mizrahi as he drove near Hebron in April.
Of the prisoners released in the Shalit deal, more than 100 have been rearrested since, including 55 who were detained in June during the Israeli crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank after the disappearance of three Israeli teens.
Israel twice failed to free Shalit through military action, including during the last major Israeli incursion into Gaza, Operation Cast Lead, the winter invasion in 2008 and 2009 that left 1,000 Palestinians dead.
Kidnapping Israeli soldiers is a hallmark tactic Hamas uses to release Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.
Israelis are particularly sensitive to captured soldiers. The nation has a universal draft, and most families identify with the pain of parents hoping to find their children.
When Shalit was captured, his father, Noam, seized that feeling. He left his job as an engineer and threw himself into getting his son released. For five years, the Shalit family maintained a protest tent outside the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem.
Goldin was part of a squad dismantling a tunnel near Rafah when militants attacked them, according to the Israeli military. Two Israeli soldiers were killed and Goldin has not been found.
Hamas' military wing yesterday said it had no knowledge of Goldin's whereabouts and suggested that he may even have been killed by the Israeli airstrikes that followed the apparent abduction.
"We have lost contact with the group of fighters that took part in the ambush and we believe they were all killed in the [Israeli] bombardment," the statement said. "Assuming that they managed to seize the soldier during combat, we assess that he was also killed in the incident."
An Israeli official acknowledged it was possible that Goldin had been killed but said Israel had seen "nothing conclusive".
Additional reporting by The Washington Post