Couric: ‘Glimmer of Hope’ in Israel’s Agreement to Release Terrorists

When the Israeli government and the terrorist group Hezbollah carried out a prisoner release agreement in which Israel released five Lebanese prisoners while Hezbollah released the bodies of two Israeli soldiers who had been killed, there was a substantial contrast in the way the broadcast network evening newscasts reported the story. While ABC’s Charles Gibson and Simon McGregor-Wood reported on World News that one of the prisoners, Samir Kuntar, had been convicted of the "vicious murder" of an Israeli man and his four-year-old daughter, and that upon release he was "greeted in Beirut as a returning hero," NBC and CBS both skipped over any details of Kuntar’s crime, and CBS’s Katie Couric even listed the prisoner exchange as one of several "glimmers of hope" in the conflict between Israelis and Arabs. Couric: "For the first time in years, there are some glimmers of hope in the Arab-Israeli stalemate -- a virtual cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, a prisoner exchange with Hezbollah, and the beginning of low-level talks between Israel and Syria."

CNN and FNC further detailed the brutality of Kuntar’s crime, and FNC noted his popularity among many in Lebanon. FNC’s Morton Kondracke: "What’s most disgusting is that the Lebanese performance, tens of thousands of people turning out to welcome home a terrorist who had killed a policeman, a civilian, and then bashed in the head of the civilian's four-year-old daughter. And he's being welcomed home as though he’s a national hero, with the president there, the prime minister there, the speaker of the parliament. This is supposed to be an ally of the United States, Lebanon. What it indicates is that Lebanon, that Lebanese politics is now owned by Hezbollah ... they have veto power over whatever the Lebanese government does, you know. Lebanon is close to being lost." (Transcripts follow)

On the Wednesday, July 16, World News with Charles Gibson, anchor Gibson introduced a full story on the prisoner release, relaying that the agreement was "very controversial inside Israel." Gibson: "On the Israeli/Lebanon border today, there was a dramatic prisoner exchange that is very controversial inside Israel. The Israelis traded a Lebanese fighter, convicted of a vicious murder three decades ago, for the remains of two Israeli soldiers, whose kidnapping in 2006 sent Israel to war in Lebanon -- 1,200 Lebanese and more than 150 Israelis were killed in that war."

Correspondent Simon McGregor-Wood gave attention to the murders perpetrated by Kuntar, and showed footage of him being greeted by a large crowd in Beirut, and by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah: "In 1979, Kuntar killed Israeli Danny Haran in front of his four-year-old daughter, Eitan, then murdered her, too. He was sentenced to 542 years in an Israeli prison. But tonight, he's free, greeted in Beirut as a returning hero. Then, by Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, in person. In a rare public appearance, Nasrallah called today's dramatic events a victory over Israel. Many Israelis weren't so sure what to call it, beyond a bitter end to its war with Hezbollah and the loss of two young soldiers. "

Also on July 16, NBC Nightly News substitute anchor Ann Curry read a short story on the prisoner release in which she more vaguely reported that "Israel freed five Lebanese prisoners who got an overwhelming welcome back in their homeland."

The CBS Evening News ran no story on the prisoner release on July 16, but on Monday, July 21, during a story about Barack Obama’s trip to the Middle East, Katie Couric mentioned the prisoner release as one of several "glimmers of hope" without sharing any details on the prisoners who were released: "Throughout his trip this week from Kabul to London, Barack Obama will have to deal with anti-American anger and resentment that's grown since the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Amman, Jordan is no exception. About 50 percent of the population of this country is Palestinian. And many believe the war on terror will never be won unless the United States also addresses the Arab-Israeli conflict. That's precisely what Senator Obama will try to do when he travels to Israel. For the first time in years, there are some glimmers of hope in the Arab-Israeli stalemate -- a virtual cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, a prisoner exchange with Hezbollah, and the beginning of low-level talks between Israel and Syria."

During CNN’s The Situation Room on July 16, Wolf Blitzer informed viewers that one of the prisoners had perpetrated a "gruesome murder," and, introducing a report by correspondent Ben Wedeman, Blitzer mentioned the war welcome the released prisoners received when they returned to Beirut: "Celebrations and a hero's welcome today in Lebanon for five militants, including a convicted murderer freed by Israel."

Wedeman then added more details on Kuntar: "In April 1979, Kuntar, then aged just 17, and three other members of the Lebanon-based Palestine Liberation Front, smashed into Smadar Haran's home in the northern Israeli city of Nahariya, grabbing her husband Danny and four-year-old daughter Einat. Smadar hid with her other daughter, two-year-old Yael, in a crawl space, where she accidentally smothered Yael while trying to muffle her cries of fear. Kuntar forced Danny and Einat by gunpoint to the nearby seashore, where he shot Danny in the back at close range, then smashed Enat's skull with the butt of his gun."

On the Thursday, July 17, Special Report with Brit Hume, during the "Fox All Stars" segment, Morton Kondracke commented on the "lopsided" nature of the agreement favoring Hezbollah, and expanded on the alarming amount of support for Kuntar that seems to exist in Lebanon. Kondracke: "This is such a lopsided deal, and what’s most disgusting is that the Lebanese performance, tens of thousands of people turning out to welcome home a terrorist who had killed a policeman, a civilian, and then bashed in the head of the civilian's four-year-old daughter. And he's being welcomed home as though he’s a national hero, with the president there, the prime minister there, the speaker of the parliament. This is supposed to be an ally of the United States, Lebanon. What it indicates is that Lebanon, that Lebanese politics is now owned by Hezbollah, which, in fact, it is. I mean, they went into the streets, they scared the Lebanese army back. They decided to pull back when they could. But they have veto power over whatever the Lebanese government does, you know. Lebanon is close to being lost."

Below are transcripts of the relevant portions of the July 16 World News with Charles Gibson, the July 16 NBC Nightly News, the July 16 The Situation Room on CNN, the July 17 Special Report with Brit Hume on FNC, and the July 21 CBS Evening News:

#From the July 16 World News with Charles Gibson:

CHARLES GIBSON: On the Israeli/Lebanon border today, there was a dramatic prisoner exchange that is very controversial inside Israel. The Israelis traded a Lebanese fighter, convicted of a vicious murder three decades ago, for the remains of two Israeli soldiers, whose kidnapping in 2006 sent Israel to war in Lebanon -- 1,200 Lebanese and more than 150 Israelis were killed in that war. Here's ABC's Simon McGregor-Wood.

SIMON MCGREGOR-WOOD: Two black coffins on the Lebanese border, the start of an extraordinary and emotional exchange. For the families of Israeli soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, confirmation of their worst fears. Two years after they were kidnapped, triggering a 34-day war between Israel and the radical Shiite group Hezbollah, today they returned with military honors. And after five hours of DNA testing, two generals arrived at the family homes to dispel all doubt and to console. For this, the Israeli government paid a high price -- in part, to reassure every Israeli family it is determined to bring home every missing solder. The price, the bodies of 199 Lebanese and Palestinian fighters and five Lebanese prisoners, including one of the most notorious, Samir Kuntar. In 1979, Kuntar killed Israeli Danny Haran in front of his four-year-old daughter, Eitan, then murdered her, too. He was sentenced to 542 years in an Israeli prison. But tonight, he's free, greeted in Beirut as a returning hero. Then, by Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, in person. In a rare public appearance, Nasrallah called today's dramatic events a victory over Israel. Many Israelis weren't so sure what to call it, beyond a bitter end to its war with Hezbollah and the loss of two young soldiers. Simon McGregor-Wood, ABC News, Jerusalem.

#From the July 16 NBC Nightly News:

ANN CURRY: Also in the Middle East today, a deeply emotional exchange. Hezbollah turned over to Israel two coffins containing the bodies of Israeli soldiers captured two years ago, inflaming a 34-day war between the two sides. It was the first concrete proof that the soldiers were, in fact, dead. For its part, Israel freed five Lebanese prisoners who got an overwhelming welcome back in their homeland.

#From the July 16 The Situation Room on CNN:

WOLF BLITZER, PLUGGING THE STORY DURING THE 4:00 P.M. HOUR: Happening now, a dramatic prisoner swap as Hezbollah guerrillas deliver the bodies of two Israeli soldiers and Israel frees a militant accused of a gruesome attack.

...

BLITZER, DURING THE 5:00 P.M. HOUR: Celebrations and a hero's welcome today in Lebanon for five militants, including a convicted murderer freed by Israel. On the Israeli side, lots of weeping as the remains of two kidnapped soldiers were returned. They were captured two years ago and sparked a 34-day border war between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah. Israel unleashed a punishing air and artillery assault on Lebanon, while Hezbollah rained thousands of rockets and missiles down on Israel. CNN's Ben Wedeman has more on this story from the border. Ben?

BEN WEDEMAN: These are trucks from the Red Cross bearing the bodies of 199 Palestinians and Lebanese being returned to Lebanon. For Israel, this was a traumatic deal. This is the moment of truth. At the site of these two plain black coffins, Israel knows that the two soldiers, abducted by Hezbollah in July 2006, are dead. Up to the last moment, hope lingered. But it quickly turned to anguish and despair as soon as the pictures were broadcast. The deal closes a bloody chapter that began one summer morning two years ago when Hezbollah guerrillas attacked an Israeli patrol and abducted two soldiers. It then demanded the release of Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the soldiers. As Hezbollah handed over the two dead Israelis to the Red Cross, Israel freed five Lebanese prisoners, including Samir Kuntar, who was serving five life sentences for the murder of Israelis in 1979.

SMADAR HARAN, WIDOW AND MOTHER OF MURDER VICTIMS: Samir Kuntar is not just a regular prisoner, he's a murderer, a very brutal one.

WEDEMAN: In April 1979, Kuntar, then aged just 17, and three other members of the Lebanon-based Palestine Liberation Front, smashed into Smadar Haran's home in the northern Israeli city of Nahariya, grabbing her husband Danny and four-year-old daughter Enat. Smadar hid with her other daughter, two-year-old Yael, in a crawl space, where she accidentally smothered Yael while trying to muffle her cries of fear. Kuntar forced Danny and Enat by gunpoint to the nearby seashore, where he shot Danny in the back at close range, then smashed Enat's skull with the butt of his gun. Smadar declined to enter the long and emotional debate in Israel over whether Kuntar should be released. She knows what it means to grapple with difficult choices.

HANAR: I am a second generation of the Holocaust. My mother lost all her family in the Holocaust, and she went through experiences like this one.

WEDEMAN: Israel has made its painful choice. Samir Kuntar is now free. On Thursday, the funerals will be held for the two Israeli soldiers whose bodies were returned to Israel today. They will be full military funerals.

#From the July 17 Special Report with Brit Hume:

BRIT HUME, AFTER PLAYING A CLIP OF ISRAELI PRESIDENT SHIMON PERES: The Israeli president there talking about a prisoner swap in which quite a large number of Hezbollah and other prisoners held by Israel were released in exchange for what turned out to be the bodies of two Israeli soldiers who were captured during the Israel-Hezbollah fighting last year. There you see their pictures there – Ehud Goldwasser and Elded Regev. So the question arises here, what were the equities here? The Israelis, as you saw the pain in Peres' face speaking of this bargain, one he felt that his government had to make. Your thoughts, Mort?

MORTON KONDRACKE: Well, I mean, this is such a lopsided deal, and what’s most disgusting is that the Lebanese performance, tens of thousands of people turning out to welcome home a terrorist who had killed a policeman, a civilian, and then bashed in the head of the civilian's four-year-old daughter. And he's being welcomed home as though he’s a national hero, with the president there, the prime minister there, the speaker of the parliament. This is supposed to be an ally of the United States, Lebanon. What it indicates is that Lebanon, that Lebanese politics is now owned by Hezbollah, which, in fact, it is. I mean, they went into the streets, they scared the Lebanese army back. They decided to pull back when they could. But they have veto power over whatever the Lebanese government does, you know. Lebanon is close to being lost.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: Mort's right. It's a moral and political disaster. It's a moral disaster for the reason that Mort had said. There's a reason why for 30 years no Israeli government in many wars and many prisoner exchanges ever released this guy. He is an abomination, a sadistic terrorist of a kind that is almost unspeakable. And yet he was released and returned for two bodies, not even live soldiers. But the political aspect of this is even worse, because Olmert, the Prime Minister of Israel, went to war ostensibly to get these two guys back. He also announced at the beginning of that war, the Lebanon War two years ago, that he would smash Hezbollah and destroy its sanctuary. All of this, of course, never happened. He never got his soldiers back, except in this awful exchange. Hezbollah was strengthened. Hezbollah is now a part of the Lebanese government, and it's a threat to Israel's existence and to Lebanese sovereignty. So he's a prime minister who has a lot to answer for. A war that he lost essentially ends today with the worst of possible events.

BILL KRISTOL: It’s admirable that Israel has always had a policy of trying very hard and paying a very high price to get back soldiers who were held captive or even the bodies of soldiers who have died. And you got to sort of admire the country for its commitment to that. Having said that, I very much agree that it's a terrible day. It's a victory for the terrorists. It's a victory for a murderer. It's a victory for Hezbollah. It’s a victory for Iran, which, of course, is behind, and Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, in his speech went out of his way to specially thank the Islamic Republic of Iran. And I think it makes more kidnappings likely, more terror likely, more terror likely, and it makes war more likely. This will embolden the worst elements, not just surrounding issue, though I think it makes attacks on Israel more likely, but in the Middle East as a whole. And what is the message of this? The message of this is that kidnapping, terrorism, murder, works.

KRAUTHAMMER: And in one other aspect, one of the Israelis who voted against this exchange pointed out that the release was in exchange for two dead Israelis. There’s a live Israeli, Shalit, who’s being held in Gaza. So the old incentive the enemy had of keeping Israeli soldiers or kidnapees alive disappears. If you could get all of this, including a body, there is no incentive to not do the worst to a captured Israeli. I think it sends a terrible message, and Israel will pay in the future.

#From the July 21 CBS Evening News:

KATIE COURIC: Throughout his trip this week from Kabul to London, Barack Obama will have to deal with anti-American anger and resentment that's grown since the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Amman, Jordan is no exception. About 50 percent of the population of this country is Palestinian. And many believe the war on terror will never be won unless the United States also addresses the Arab-Israeli conflict. That's precisely what Senator Obama will try to do when he travels to Israel. For the first time in years, there are some glimmers of hope in the Arab-Israeli stalemate -- a virtual cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, a prisoner exchange with Hezbollah, and the beginning of low-level talks between Israel and Syria.