[W]hat Netanyahu did in agreeing to the swap was to reaffirm the basic social contract of Israeli life. In a small, besieged country where the overwhelming majority of all young men and many young women must serve in the army, the idea of never leaving anyone behind is more than just a function of military esprit de corps as one might find in any elite unit in the U.S. armed forces. Israelis accept the risks of serving as conscripts and then in the reserves for many years on the condition the country’s leadership will not treat them as expendable.
Israel’s strength lies not in its ability to deter any given act of terror (indeed, the hate that drives the jihadists is often immune to cost/benefit analysis) but in its core values and a military that not only embodies those values but is willing to fight an unending war in their defense. As Tobin notes, the released prisoners will have no impact on the course of the long-term struggle. Palestinian prison populations will come and go, but Israel’s declaration to its men and women in uniform that they will never be forgotten, that they will never be left behind, has value well above the cold math of prisoner exchanges.