by Meir Indor
The deal for the release of captive U.S. soldier Bowe Berghdahl in exchange for five terrorist members of the Taliban is bad news for America's friends in the Middle East. Not because of the deal itself -- even Israel frees terrorists in exchange for soldiers -- but because of what stood behind the dramatic about-face in the American policy of not negotiating with terrorists for the release of kidnapping victims. This rule has been in place for many years and has cut back on the number of U.S. abductees.
The American public has lived happily with this iron dictate. The story of the "American Gilad Schalit," who was imprisoned by the Taliban for five years, did not spark the massive public activism that Schalit's capture did in Israel. Journalists did not write about Bergdahl every day. Ironically enough, it seems that Schalit's name was better known in Congress than Bergdahl's.
Bergdahl's family didn't set up a protest tent outside the White House. They kept themselves in check and didn't work to stir up significant public support for the government to give in to Taliban demands, even though the Taliban was asking a much lower price from America than Hamas demanded from Israel. The Taliban wanted to free a few prisoners, not a thousand.
So what, then, prompted the U.S. to change its approach and negotiate with terrorists? Not the fate of the abducted soldier: The America of President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry is setting up a diplomatic channel for talks with the Taliban about the future of Afghanistan. The American government has already set up a sort of "Taliban Embassy" in Doha, and it agreed that senior Taliban members and their families would reach Qatar. The release of the five senior Taliban members is an addition to the delegation. This all comes as part of planned withdrawal of Allied forces from Afghanistan, which Obama declared and even set a target date for -- the end of 2014.
The five top figures who were released, all of whom have experience organizing terror attacks (which is what they were imprisoned for), are strong backup for the "Taliban Embassy." They were returned for a year in prison in Qatar, with the promise they would be released soon. Trust the Qataris that the members of the delegation will be allowed out a revolving door for work meetings with the Americans.
Israel should be worried, because the American government, on its way to its goal, is cynically changing horses and abandoning Afghanistan's elected government. The Taliban is working with Washington via an independent channel. When Afghan Prime Minister Hamid Karzai visited Qatar (ahead of elections the U.S. labored to secure), he had no meetings scheduled with members of the Taliban Embassy.
Karzai and other senior members of his government are concerned, and rightfully so. The minute the U.S. conducts policy that circumvents their government and tries to close a "deal" with the Taliban for its withdrawal, along with NATO forces, from the country, the Afghan government loses more and more power. This situation will allow the Taliban back into areas now controlled by Western military forces.
If we add Obama's ongoing policy of not intervening or using force against hotbeds of terrorism or those committing war crimes in Syria to the latest move, we get a very worrying picture for Israel. The American stick, which in the past used necessary force against terror organizations and terrorist states, has been replaced by a diplomacy of constantly changing horses and making shady pacts. This is a combination that should be a red light for anyone who believes the Obama administration's promises.
The U.S. government's recognition of the Palestinian Authority-Hamas unity government, while sticking a finger in its friend Israel's eye, matches the behavioral pattern described above. Israel should draw one conclusion: American guarantees cannot replace an independent Israeli stance on its security needs.
Lt. Col. (ret.) Meir Indor is the head of the Almagor terror victims association.
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