The Last Hostages

December 04, 1991

Americans will rejoice when the last American hostage in Lebanon, Terry Anderson, joins Allan Steen and Joseph Cicippio in freedom. That will close the book on this chapter of Americans held hostage by pro-Iranian factions in Syrian-controlled Lebanon. It will not end lawlessness, however, or wrap up the hostage crisis as an impediment to peace in the Middle East.

Two German hostages remain, held as barter for Germany releasing terrorists who committed crimes in Germany. At least one Israeli is held and five more are held or dead. For its part, Israel holds one Lebanese Shiite notable, Sheik Abdel Karim Obeid, and along with its Lebanese militia allies, more than 200 other Lebanese, kidnapped as exchange for the six Israelis.

The hostage crisis is not over until Israel is part of the deal. The hostage crisis is still an obstacle to the peace negotiations in Washington, especially the talks between Israel on one side and Lebanon and Syria on the other.

Israel is not the problem. It has played a cooperative role in the intensive negotiations by the United Nations that since August have pried loose eight Western hostages held in Lebanon and 91 Lebanese held by Israel. That includes 25 Lebanese released by Israel yesterday. In addition, the U.S. reimbursed Iran $278 million that it had paid for weapons the U.S. refused to deliver after Iran seized U.S. embassy personnel in 1979.

There had always been a hint the Islamic Jihad organization would free the Western hostages in return for Israel releasing Sheik Obeid and other Lebanese, leaving the Israelis or their bones to rot. That could never be. Israel has said it will release all its captives for the return, living or dead, of all of its boys. It has given an assurance it would take no reprisals against the captors. An Israeli navigator shot down over Lebanon in 1986 is believed alive and three soldiers missing since 1982 are believed dead. Information was transmitted on two others believed dead.

The only reason captors in Lebanon might have to refuse an exchange with Israel is to obstruct the peace process to which Lebanon, Syria and the PLO are officially committed. The hostage crisis, and its implications for Lebanon, Syria and Iran, is not over while any hostages languish in captivity.

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