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Colombia and Israel: A Tale of Two Hostages

July 17, 2008 By:
Caroline Glick
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Exalting at her liberation by the Colombian military earlier this month, former hostage Ingrid Betancourt exclaimed: "This is a miracle, a miracle! We have an amazing military. I think only the Israelis can possibly pull off something like this."

Betancourt's statement made thousands of Israelis wince.

Held hostage in the Colombian jungles for six years by the narco-terror group known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, Betancourt, obviously had not heard the news about the "new Israel."

Her statements were based on her memories of the "old Israel." She didn't know that the "new Israel" doesn't fight terrorists. She didn't know that the week before she was rescued, the "new Israel" made a deal with Hezbollah to release five senior Lebanese terrorists, an unknown number of Palestinian terrorists and hundreds of bodies of dead terrorists in exchange for the bodies of Israel Defense Force reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, who were murdered by Hezbollah two years ago.

The "new Israel" is one that maintains one-sided "cease-fires" with Hamas, and is poised to make a deal with Hamas by which it will release up to 1,000 Palestinian terrorists in exchange for IDF hostage Gilad Shalit.

No, Betancourt, was thinking of the "old Israel" -- the Israel that electrified the world when it sent its commandos thousands of kilometers to free its hostages in Entebbe 32 years ago.

Betancourt had reasons to associate Colombia's struggle with Israel's. At the time she was abducted, both countries faced similar political and military challenges, and, at the time, both countries seemed to be embarking on similar paths to surmount them.

When Betancourt was kidnapped in April 2002, Colombia had just disavowed a failed strategy of appeasing FARC. To bring FARC to the negotiating table, President Andres Pastrana agreed to transfer control over a swathe of Colombian territory the size of Switzerland to FARC. Rather than reciprocate this peace-offering with one of its own, FARC used the safe haven to increase its recruitment of terrorists, and intensify its kidnapping campaign and drug-trafficking operations. It was only in February 2002, after FARC hijacked an airliner and kidnapped its fifth lawmaker in a year, that Pastrana finally repudiated his appeasement drive.

Similarly, in 2002, Israel was in the grips of an unprecedented Palestinian terror campaign with suicide bombings going off almost daily. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had been elected the previous year to replace the discredited Ehud Barak as premier after the latter's appeasement strategy at Camp David had failed, and Israel's eight-year-old Oslo appeasement strategy had fallen apart. When Betancourt was taken prisoner, Sharon had just launched Operation Defensive Shield with the express purpose of defeating the Palestinian terror networks in Judea and Samaria.

What Betancourt didn't know was that since her abduction, Israel and Colombia have gone their separate ways. Under current President Alvero Uribe, who was elected after her capture, Colombia has moved toward full victory over FARC. On the other hand, Israel has abandoned victory as a strategic concept for contending with its enemies with Sharon's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and the subsequent appeasement-for-peace agenda of his successor Ehud Olmert.

In contrast, the Uribe government in Colombia has never veered from its single-minded goal of defeating FARC.

The Israeli media's response to the Colombia rescue mission has been to inflate the "Israeli role" in the mission. Far from obscuring the yawning gap between Colombia and Israel, these reports bring Israel's abandonment of the fight into sharp relief. They show clearly that Israel's decision to capitulate has nothing to do with an inability to fight to victory.

Until last week's raid, one of the main sources of pressure on the Uribe government was Betancourt's family. Her mother and children met frequently with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez (a FARC supporter) and railed against Uribe in their eagerness to see her released.

Betancourt, who over the years tried to escape five times, was clear that she preferred freedom to slavery. And while she understood her family's actions, she clearly did not embrace their pacifism, as she praised Uribe for rescuing her despite the risk that the mission would fail, and she and her fellow hostages would be killed.

It is a travesty that in their inexplicable abandonment of honorable struggle against murderous foes in favor of dangerous appeasement, Olmert and his colleagues have denied the IDF the right to fight for an Israeli's freedom.

Caroline Glick is a Jerusalem-based columnist.

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