Prisoners-of-War and Captive Soldiers Exchanges
The IDF’s doctrine on
all of its soldiers is that no soldier, either dead
or alive, will be left behind in battle. The official
policy of the Israeli government regarding missing
soldiers is that, “The Government will do everything
in its power to secure the release of POW’s
and MIA’s and
anyone who acted on behalf of state security, and to
bring them home.” Even though the government
refuses officially to negotiate with terrorists, it
has on several occassions entered into indirect talks
to bring back its kidnapped soldiers. Israel has in
the past engaged in prisoner
exchanges with both Arab
nations and terrorist groups, sometimes releasing thousands
of prisoners in exchange for a few soldiers.
- War of Independence
- The "Bat Galim" Prisoners
- Sinai Campaign
- Six-Day War
- The War of Attrition
- Yom Kippur War
- Operation "Litani"
- Peace for Galilee War
- Second Lebanon War
- Gilad Shalit
War of Independence
The first exchanges of prisoners between Israel and Egypt, Syria , Jordan ,
and Lebanon took place in the War of Independence (1948-1949 ). During the
war, Egypt captured 156 Israelis, Jordan 673, Syria 48, and Lebanon 8. Israel
for its part held: 1098 Egyptians, 28 Saudis, 25 Sudanese, 24 Yemenites, 17
Jordanians, 36 Lebanese, 57 Syrians, and 5021 Palestinians and others. Israel
made separate agreements for exchange of prisoners with each and every one of
the countries which held Israeli prisoners. On 27 February 1949 the five
Israeli prisoners held in the "Faluja Pocket" were returned in
exchange for the freeing of the trapped Egyptian brigade encircled by Israeli
forces in the "Pocket". The remaining POW exchanges with Egypt took
place between 7-9 March 1949. Two groups of Israeli women taken prisoner when
Gush Ezion fell to the Jordanians, were returned in June and November, 1948.
POW exchanges with Jordan began on 2 February 1949 and were completed on 3
March 1949. All prisoners of war were exchanged between Israel and Lebanon on
24 March 1949. On 4 April 1949, six Israeli POWs returned from Syria; between
2-8 May others were returned. On 21 July 1949 the last exchange was made with
"Bat Galim" Prisoners
The first incident in which Israelis were captured by Arab countries not
during a war was in 30 September 1954 with the seizure of the ship "Bat
Galim" by the Egiptians in the southern entrance to the Suez Canal. Ten
sailors were arrested, and after the intervention of the UN Security council
they were released on 1 January 1955 .
On December 1954 a five-man IDF squad operating on the Golan Heights was captured by the Syrians. One of the
soldiers ( Uri Ilan ) committed suicide in a Syrian prison and on 14 January
1955 his remains were returned to Israel. His four companions were returned to
Israel on 30 March 1956 in exchange for 41 Syrian soldiers.
During the Sinai campaign (October-November 1956) the IDF captured 5,500 Egyptian soldiers. They were returned (along with other
Egyptian soldiers who had been captured in previous military operations) in
exchange for 4 Israeli soldiers, ( a pilot who had been imprisoned during the
Sinai Campaign and three others who had been captured before the war and had
been held prisoner for over a year.) The POW exchange began on 21 January 1957
and was completed on 5 February of that year.
On 17 March 1961 a Golani force raided Syrian positions north of kibbutz "Ein Gev," on the Golan
Heights. Two soldiers were captured and were later returned to Israel.
Israel and Syria carried out a POW exchange on 21 December 1963 in which 11
Israeli soldiers and civilians who had been taken prisoner by the Syrians
since the end of the War of Independence in 1949 were returned in exchange for 18 Syrians. The Israelis held in Syrian
jails suffered from intense physical abuse.
Many prisoner exchanges were carried out during 1967. During the Six-Day
War (June 1967), 15 IDF soldiers were captured by Arab armed forces, ( 11 in Egypt, 1 in Syria, 2 in
Iraq, and 1 in Lebanon). POW exchanges began at the conclusion of the war on
15 June 1967, and ended on 23 January 1968 with a POW exchange with Egypt. An
Israel Navy officer and seaman who were taken prisoner of war in an operation
which took place in July 1967 and six Naval Commandos who were taken prisoner
at the beginning of the war while operating in the Alexandria port were
returned in the context of a prisoner exchange. In this exchange, some members
involved in the Lavon Affair in Egypt were returned (February 1968). Likewise,
in these prisoner of war exchanges, two IAF pilots who were prisoners of war in Iraq, Capt. Itzhak Glantz-Golan and Capt.
Gideon Dror were returned. They had been taken prisoners of war when their
plane was downed in an attack on the Iraqi H3 Air base. Israel, in exchange
returned 428 Jordanian prisoners.
In POW exchanges with Syria, Israel exchanged 572 Syrian POWs for one
Israeli pilot, the bodies of two other Israeli pilots and the body of an
Israeli civilian who had been kidnapped two years prior and who had died in a
Syrian prison. However, the Syrians adamantly refused to return the body of
Israeli Mossad agent Eli Cohen who had been hanged in Damascus. On 2 April
1968, 12 Jordanian prisoners were returned in exchange for the body of a
missing Israeli soldier who had fallen in the Karameh battle. (Two other
caskets that were returned contained only dirt. Those two soldiers are missing
The War of
During the War of Attrition (1967-1970),
12 Israeli soldiers were captured by the Egyptians, and three by the Syrians.
On 16 August 1970, a wounded IAF pilot was returned from Egypt, and on 29 March 1971, one soldier was returned
form Egypt. On 9 June 1972, an IDF force captured five Syrian officers who had been reconnoitering near the
Israeli border. They were exchanged for three Israeli pilots imprisoned in
On 3 June 1973, three Israeli pilots, Captain Gideon Magen, Captain Pinchas
Nahmani, and Lieutenant Boaz Eitan were returned after three years of
captivity in Syria. In exchange, Israel returned 46 Syrian prisoners.
Yom Kippur War
During the Yom Kippur War (October
1973) 242 IDF soldiers were captured by the Egyptians, 68 by the Syrians, and 4 by the
Lebanese. The IDF captured 8,372 Egyptians, 392 Syrians, 13 Iraqis, and six Moroccan
soldiers.The prisoner exchanges with Egypt were held between 15 November 1973
and the 22 November 1973, during which POWs held by both sides since the War of Attrition were returned.
On 4 April 1975, Egypt returned to Israel the bodies of 39 Israeli soldiers
killed in action during the Yom Kippur War. In exchange, Israel returned 92
terrorists and security prisoners who had been held in Israeli prisons.
On 5 April 1978, a truck carrying six Israeli soldiers and a civilian had
mistakenly crossed Israeli lines (near the Tyre enclave), and encountered
terrorists near Rashidia. Four soldiers were killed in this incident and one
was taken prisoner. On 14 March 1979 he was returned in exchange for 76
On 3 September 1982, eight soldiers that were in a look out post in the
area of Bhamdoun were captured by a terrorist group. Two of the soldiers were
handed to Ahmad Jibril's PFLP, and the rest were held by the Fatah
Organization. On 23 November 1983, the six soldiers held by the Fatah were
returned in exchange for 4700 terrorists that were held in the Ansar detention
facility in Lebanon and another 65 terrorists that were held in Israel.
On 23 November 1983, six IDF soldiers: Eliyahu Abutbul, Dani Gilboa, Rafi Hazan, Reuven Cohen, Avraham
Motevaliski, and Avraham Kornfeld, who had been held prisoners by the PLO
since 4.9.82 were released in exchange for 100 security prisoners and 4500
detainees from the Ansar detention facility.
In an Exchange on 28 June 1984, Syria returned three soldiers (SSGTs, Gil
Fogel, Ariel Lieberman, and Johnathan Shalom), three Israeli civilians from
the Liaison Unit at Dbayeh, and the remains of five soldiers. In exchange,
Israel returned to Syria 291 soldiers, 13 civilians, and the remains of 74
On 20 May 1985, in an exchange referred to as the "Jibril Deal,"
three IDF POWs, Hezi Shai, who had been captured in the battle of Sultan Ya'aqub on
11.6.82, and Yosef Grof and Nissim Salem, who had been capturned in Bhamdoun
on 4 September 1982, by the PFLP, were returned to Israel in exchange for the
release of 1150 terrorists.
On 12 September 1991, the body of a Druse IDF soldier Samir Assad from the village of Beit Jan, who had been held since 1983
by the DFLP, (Naif Hawatma) was returned to Israel in exchange for Israel's
allowing DFLP members Ali Adallah and Muhamad Hallal to return to Israel after
having been exiled since 1986.
On 1 July 1996, the bodies of Joseph Fink and Rahamim Alsheich who had been
captured during a terrorist ambush on 17 February 1986 were returned to
Israel. In exchange, Israel returned the remains of 123 terrorists. The
Hizbullah released 19 SLA soldiers and in exchange the commander of the SLA
released 20 prisoners from the Al-Hiam prison facility and 25 additional
detainees as a gesture of goodwill.
On 5 September 1997, 12 IDF personnel were killed in Lebanon during an unsuccessful commando raid. Due to
conditions in the field the soldiers were unable to locate and bring back the
body of Sergeant First Class, Itamar Iliyah, 21 years - old. He was declared a
fallen soldier whose place of burial is unknown. His body was returned to
Israel on 25 June 1998.
On January 29, 2004, an Israel businessman (Elchanan Tenenbaum) and the bodies of 3 IDF soldiers (Benny Avraham, Adi Avitan and Omar Suwaeid) missing since October 2000 were returned to Israel by Hezbollah in exchange for 430 Arab prisoners and the bodies of an additional 60 terrorists.
Second Lebanon War
On June 29, 2008, the bodies of two IDF soldiers (Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev) "missing in action" since their patrol was attacked and they were abducted by Hezbollah on July 12, 2006, were returned to Israel in exchange for 5 Hezbollah terrorists, including mastermind Samir Kuntar, and the remains of 199 Palestinian and Lebanese terrorists.
On October 18, 2011, IDF soldier Gilad Shalit was released after five years in Hamas captivity in Gaza in exchange for the release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners over two periods from Israeli jails. Shalit was kidnapped by a Hamas terror squad that infiltrated into southern Israel on June 25, 2006, and had not been seen or heard from since outside of the release of a audio recording and a video tape in 2009.
Read more about the Gilad Shalit prisoner-exchange deal, CLICK HERE.