Azzam Azzam & Pollard - Victims of Absence of Israeli Planning

Dr. Aaron Lerner - IMRA Background To the News - June 14, 2003

Azzam Azzam and Jonathan Pollard may be spending tonight in prison rather than with their loved ones thanks to the Sharon Administration's shoot-from-the-hip handling of American pressure leading up to the Aqaba Summit.

Under normal circumstances, the release of a terrorist directly responsible for 14 murders would be packaged to receive a maximum of media attention, and in turn a maximum benefit to Israel. This was not the case with the release of Ahmad El-Sukar, who was serving 3 sentences of life imprisonment for a bombing in downtown Jerusalem's Zion Square on July 4, 1975 that murdered 14 passersby.

No effort was made to make this a high profile action. The families of the 14 terror victims were not invited for a meeting with Prime Minister Sharon, for example, prior to the release, in order to generate media attention. The photographs and stories of the victims were also not made available to a typically lazy media (there were photogenic children, families, Arabs, and many other victims that would make for an easy story).

In point of fact, the action was so low profile that the general public is not even aware that Israel unilaterally released the murderer of 14 Israelis as one of a series of "gestures".

Did Israel have to release El-Sukar? While Israel did nothing to indicate that releasing a murderer was a significant sacrifice on the part of the Jewish State, the release was seen as a major victory by the Palestinian leadership and given considerable Palestinian media coverage.

El-Sukar's release was seen by Abu Mazen as an achievement for his new administration that could play a critical role in establishing his legitimacy in the Palestinian street.

Both Egypt and the United States were aware of the great potential value of El-Sukar's release to Abu Mazen.

Which leads to the question: Here was Ariel Sharon holding a card that everyone else at the table placed a high value on. Why did he throw it in the pile of "gestures" without getting something in return?

Why didn't Israel insist that America and Egypt join in this "sacrifice for peace" by releasing Jonathan Pollard and Azzam Azzam?

[Azzam Azzam is a Druse Israeli who is imprisoned in Egypt on charges of receiving underwear soaked in invisible ink while working in an Israeli-owned textile plant in Cairo. ]

What went wrong?

This was not necessarily a case of callousness as much as it reflected the serious consequences of the shoot-from-the-hips approach of the Sharon Administration. Neither Pollard nor Azzam Azzam have contributed to Sharon's campaign funds, so it is no surprise that their plights did not come to mind to Sharon's top advisor - son Omri. Neither engaged the legal services of attorney Dov Weisglass in the past so their freedom was also not on the tip of the tongue of Sharon's go-between with Washington.

If Sharon had prepared for an Aqaba Summit scenario with detailed planning and consultations instead of abrupt last minute last minute decisions, the release of El-Sukar could have been turned into a win-win situation:

Azzam Azzam and Pollard could have been freed with the United States still appreciating the sacrifice Israel made in releasing a murderer.

And if Egypt and America balked at the trade?

Israel would enjoy the moral high ground, keeping El-Sukar behind bars while leaking the story that American and Egyptian talk of the need for "sacrifices for peace" was hypocritical rhetoric.

IMRA Background to the News may be reprinted with appropriate accreditation.