06/03/2014 05:49 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

"Victory For Us Is To See You Suffer" Republicans Should Remember This When Criticizing Prisoner Swaps


It's safe to say that Ami Ayalon, former head of Israel's Shin Bet, knows a bit more than conservative pundits about the mentality of terrorists and what motivates them to commit atrocities. In the documentary The Gatekeepers, Ayalon recalled the time he truly learned why terrorist groups continually engage in terror, even when up against a much larger and more powerful IDF:

In one segment, Ami Ayalon remembers conversing with a Palestinian friend of his during the intifada. The Palestinian said to Ayalon, "We won," at which Ayalon was stunned. How could he feel that way, when so many Palestinian lives were lost in the amorphous conflict? The Palestinian replied, "Ami, you don't understand us. Victory for us is to see you suffer." Ayalon says that he then understood the nature of the conflict more clearly than ever.

Ayalon has also stated that, "We don't realize...that we face a frustrating situation in which we win every battle, but we lose the war."

Does this sound familiar in any way?

These words aren't coming from counterterrorism expert Donald Trump, who recently called the prisoner swap for Sgt. Bergdahl, "a catastrophe" and "political nightmare." They're coming from the former director of the Israeli Security Agency Shin Bet from 1995-2000. Ayalon's job was solely to protect Israeli citizens from terrorist attacks in the manner that Homeland Security and the FBI protect Americans. From his years of experience fighting some of the world's most ruthless terrorists (Hezbollah, Hamas, and others), he's come to the conclusion that a powerful country can win every battle, but will ultimately lose the war if the enemy simply wants to make you "suffer."

While Republican lawmakers have grumbled about Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's release, they fail to recognize the real motivation of terrorists to commit attacks, bombings, and kidnappings. The Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and other groups can lose every battle and still easily achieve success if they "make you suffer." Their aim is to cause their bigger, more powerful adversary to lose lives, spend trillions, curb civil liberties, and remain in a constant state of fear. Once they've done this, and we're still afraid of five terrorists after so much work combating terrorism, they've achieved "victory."

What about the incentive given to terrorists when we barter with them? To answer these questions, it's important to look at the nature of terrorism. According to the U.S. Department of State, "Approximately 58,000 individuals worldwide were either killed or injured by terrorist attacks in 2006. Based upon a combination of reporting and demographic analysis of the countries involved, well over 50 percent of the victims were Muslims, and most were victims of attacks in Iraq." While conservative radio and television pundits have for years evoked the danger of Islamic fundamentalism, they fail to mention that terror groups killed over 29,000 Muslims in 2006 to achieve their goals. Therefore, groups like the Taliban and Al-Qaeda will kill and maim anyone in their way, including human beings of the faith they claim to represent. No amount of prisoner swaps will increase such behavior since it's already their raison d'être.

As for why terrorists fight, according to the U.S. Air Force, terrorist groups embody a variety of motivations and incentives to kill, maim, and kidnap:

Terrorism is primarily a psychological act that communicates through violence or the threat of violence. Common motivational categories include separatism, ethnocentrisms,
nationalism, and revolution. Ideological categories can be framed by political, religious, or social purpose.

Would giving up prisoners who have undoubtedly been replaced by new recruits or promotions embolden the Taliban? It's doubtful, considering that they don't need any more motivation than the "political, religious, and social purpose" they already possessed.

Furthermore, someone should remind conservatives that kidnapping was profitable for the Taliban long before the release of Sgt. Bergdahl. According to a New York Times article in 2012, the Taliban has always had an incentive to kidnap:

But no group can match the Taliban's reach... The Taliban's extended range is most striking, however, in Punjab, Pakistan's most populous province, where it has allied with criminal gangs to mount daring abductions, often in broad daylight...

In 2010, Mercy Corps closed 44 offices in two provinces after the Taliban executed an employee taken hostage in Baluchistan. Mercy Corps reportedly paid $250,000 to free four others who had been captured. The abduction of the two Europeans in Multan last month, and the disappearance of a Kenyan aid worker two days later, stirred fresh alarm among aid workers...

It was summer, they explained, so it was time to trek across the jagged mountains into Afghanistan, for a fresh season of battle against American and NATO forces.

The Taliban, like drug cartels and every other group that needs to fund its malevolent behavior, utilizes kidnapping in order to pay for its activities. In fact, since 2001, kidnapping has been a common Taliban activity. Claiming that Bergdahl's release would motivate more kidnapping is not only disingenuous, it ignores recent history.

If we have to worry about the release of five terrorists after over a decade of two wars, domestic spying, drones, Guantanamo, enhanced interrogation, political partisanship, and everything else in the name of defeating the word, "terrorism" -- then we have a big problem. If the Senate GOP really want a Bergdahl hearing, so they can pontificate in the manner they've done over the VA and Benghazi scandals, then such theatrics will simply be an admission of failure.

A Congressional sideshow over releasing five terrorists will be a bigger motivational and recruitment bonanza for the Taliban than any prisoner swap. It will show that all our efforts --everything we've done since 9/11 -- wasn't enough to keep us safe from five freed terrorists.

It's a sad chapter in American history when we can't even celebrate the return of a POW without fearing what five (previously unknown) terrorists will do to us outside of Guantanamo.