Freedom for Samir Al-Qantar in a 2008 exchange deal between Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Israel was one of the last of such deals between Israel and an Arab entity prior to the recently announced agreement with Hamas for the release of Gilad Shalit.
The ongoing conflict between Israel and its neighbours includes a surprising number of prisoner exchanges, including the following:
- Post-1948 and Israel’s founding, the Zionist state agreed exchanges with Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, in which hundreds of Arab soldiers were handed over in exchange for hundreds of their Israeli counterparts.
- In two separate military operations conducted around the Suez Canal and the Golan Heights in 1954, Egypt and Syria captured 15 Israeli soldiers. Egypt returned 10 of these soldiers to Israel while Syria later exchanged four others (the fifth died in captivity) for 41 Syrians captured in 1956.
- On January 21st 1957, Israel released 5,500 Egyptian soldiers captured during the 1956 so-called “Suez Crisis” in return for Egypt’s release of four Israeli soldiers captured during the same conflict.
- On December 12th 1963, an exchange deal was agreed between Israel and Syria in which 11 Israeli soldiers and civilians were exchanged for 15 Syrian prisoners.
- On June 15th 1967, following the Six-Day War, a series of exchange deals was struck between Israel and the Arab states. These deals ended in 1968.
- In 1968, the first exchange process between Israel and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine took place. Mediated by the Red Cross, it followed the hijacking by PLO militants of an Israeli El Al flight from Rome to Tel-Aviv carrying more than 100 passengers which was forced to fly to Algeria. The exchange operation ended in the release of the passengers in exchange for 37 Palestinian prisoners serving lengthy sentences in Israeli prisons.
- In 1974, Israel released 65 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for two Israeli spies captured in Egypt.
- In 1983, an exchange deal struck by Israel and the Fatah Movement resulted in the release of all detainees held at the Israeli Allies Prison in Southern Lebanon following the invasion of Beirut in 1982 (4,700 Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners) and 65 prisoners being held in Israeli prisons, in exchange for 6 Israeli Special Forces soldiers.
- In 1984, Israel released 311 Syrian prisoners in exchange for 6 Israelis. The exchange took place in the town of Quneitra.
- In 1985, the Popular Front/the General Command succeeded in securing the release of 1,150 Palestinian, Lebanese and other Arab prisoners in exchange for 3 Israeli soldiers captured by the Front in Lebanon.
- In 1991, two exchanges occurred between Hezbollah and Israel. The first took place on January 21st when Israel released 25 prisoners being held in the notorious Al-Khayyam Prison in the Zionist state’s “security zone” in Southern Lebanon, including two women. The second took place on September 21st in which Israel released another 51 Al-Khayyam prisoners in exchange for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers held by Hezbollah.
- In 1997, Israel agreed to release Sheikh Ahmed Yaseen, founder of the Hamas Movement, in an agreement with the Jordanian government. This was in return for Jordan releasing two Israeli intelligence (Mossad) operatives captured following a botched assassination attempt against Khaled Meshaal, the head of the Hamas political bureau, in Amman.
- In 1998, Israel released 60 Lebanese prisoners (10 from Israeli prisons and 50 from Al-Khayyam Prison) in addition to the bodies of 40 Lebanese martyrs. This occurred in an exchange process with Hezbollah for which the remains of an Israeli sergeant were handed over.
- With German mediation, in 2004 Hezbollah and Israel exchanged the remains of 3 Israeli soldiers and reserve officer Elhanan Tenebaum for 400 Palestinian prisoners, 23 Lebanese, 5 Syrians, 3 Moroccans, 3 Sudanese, 1 Libyan and a German, Stefan Mark (who was accused by Israel of affiliation with Hezbollah). In addition, the remains of 59 Lebanese nationals and the strategically-important landmine maps of Southern Lebanon and Western Bekaa formed part of the deal.
- In 2008, Hezbollah agreed the release of captured Lebanese General Samir al-Qantar and three other Lebanese prisoners captured in Israel’s July 2006 invasion of its northern neighbour. The return of the remains of hundreds of Lebanese and Palestinian martyrs and the release of a number of Palestinian prisoners were also agreed in exchange for the return of the remains of two Israeli soldiers captured in 2006.