According to recent Israeli security assessments, more than a third (420 out of 1,027) of the terrorists released in a November 2011 swap for captive soldier Gilad Schalit have gone back to planning terror attacks.

As noted by senior Israeli security officials, some of these freed murderers have taken up leadership roles in Hamas in Gaza, from where they are “working with Iran to execute terrorists attacks and kidnappings.”

It’s a sobering reality.

The terrorists freed as a result of the Schalit deal have already been implicated, either directly on indirectly, in the murders of 7 Israeli civilians, including the three teenagers abducted and murdered in June 2014 and more recently Rabbi Michael Mark and Baruch Mizrachi. Dozens of attempted terror plots thwarted in recent months were also initiated by terrorists freed in the exchange for Schalit seven years ago.

From Prison to Power, and Back to Terror

An important new article by Arab political affairs analyst Nadav Shragai reviews the recently released security assessments and examines the impact of Israel’s controversial decision to release hundreds of terrorists in exchange for then Hamas-held IDF captive Cpl. Gilad Schalit (after spending five years in captivity, Schalit was traded for 1,027 prisoners, who were together responsible for the murder of nearly 600 Israeli civilians).

According to the assessment, some 210 of the 1,027 terrorists imprisoned in Israel who were released in the swap for Schalit were eventually re-arrested, and 100 ended up back behind bars (one of those who recently wound up back in jail was reportedly responsible for leading the recent ‘popular struggle’ in the Hebron area, characterized by a wave of Molotov cocktail attacks, stabbings and lethal rock-throwing incidents).

Shragai’s article focuses on the released terrorists who have risen to power in Hamas and are now hatching plans for terror attacks across the West Bank. As Shragai notes,

the major, aggregate damage, which Israel is finding it hard to contend, comes from the freed prisoners who were deported to or sent back to the Gaza Strip. Now it is becoming clear than it’s easier to handle the ones who went back home to Judea and Samaria [the West Bank], within Israel’s reach, than the terrorists who are across the border in Gaza.”

Shragai describes an elaborate “mechanism” in which the West Bank has been divided up, with major figures from the Schalit prisoner swap—now senior Hamas operatives—overseeing and responsible for different parts of the territory.

Among them was Mazen Faqha, who was killed in a targeted assassination last year, Senior Hamas Terror Planner Mazen Faqha Assassinated in Gaza. As we highlighted, Faqha was responsible for a suicide bus bombing in 2002 that killed nine people. He only served nine years of nine life sentences before being released in the Schalit swap.

[Mazen Fuqha | Returning to Gaza in 2011]

You can read Shragai’s article to learn about some of the other hard-core, unrepentant mass murderers also freed under the Schalit deal who are now plotting to kill and kidnap Israeli civilians or soldiers—and the elaborate plots that they’re coming up with.

It all reminded me of a post I wrote last year about the history Israel’s lopsided prisoner exchanges, The Palestinian Prisoner-Exchange Extortion Racket.

Since the mid-1950s Israel has released nearly 8,000 Palestinian detainees to free fewer than 20 of its soldiers, including staff sergeant Gilad Schalit.

As I noted, these prisoner swaps have long been controversial in Israel, with none more so than the Schalit deal:

Critics have long argued that releasing convicted Palestinian terrorists ‘with blood on their hands’ causes the murder and kidnapping of more Israelis.

As Israel has been increasingly compelled to negotiate with terrorist organizations for the release of its captured soldiers, what’s developed over the years is an ‘insane formula’ where hundreds of convicted murderers serving life sentences for attacks on Israelis have been freed for one or a couple of abducted IDF soldiers—or their remains.

Those opposed to this policy insist that these lopsided prisoner swaps dramatically enlarges the pool of terrorists who harbor a strong desire to strike at Israel.”

Iran’s Terror Focus in the West Bank

The Shin Bet security agency’s report focuses on the major Hamas figures from the 2011 Schalit prisoner release. But, as Shragai notes, the attacks and the many plots that Israel has recently managed to foil aren’t only linked to Palestinian terrorists freed in this swap seven years ago—Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah are also “key players” in this emerging terror front. According to Shragai,

Iran openly has a finger in this particular pie. Senior Iranian officials, starting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Quds Force commander Maj. Gen Ghasen Soleimani, have made it clear to senior Hamas members and other Palestinian factions that Iran is placing all its capabilities at their disposal.”

Iran is also acting on its own in the West Bank, and not just through Hamas agents. The Shin Bet reportedly recently exposed that Iran’s intelligence is recruiting its own operatives in an effort to set up a terror network.

Conclusion

According to new Israeli security assessments (and reports from Palestinian Authority security services too), a “triumvirate of Schalit-deal terrorists”—Yahya Sinwar, who heads Hamas in Gaza, Tawfiq Abu Naim, and Zuhair Jabarin—are now in control of Gaza. From there, they’re working to carry out terror attacks in the West Bank with their main goal being the “abduction of another Israeli.” To do it, they’ve reportedly received the “promise of assistance” from senior Iranian officials.

Bottom line: Israel has always made great efforts to bring its captives home. That’s as it should be. But Israel has also been forced to pay an unreasonable price for the return of its POWs.

Miriam F. Elman is an Associate Professor of Political Science and the Inaugural Robert D. McClure Professor of Teaching Excellence at the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs, Syracuse University. She is the editor of five books and the author of over 65 journal articles, book chapters, and government reports on topics related to international and national security, religion and politics, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She also frequently speaks and writes on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) anti-Israel movement. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @MiriamElman