BURAK BEKDİL > The Arab-Persian exchange rate

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When Prime Minister Shimon Peres released 1,150 Arab prisoners in 1985 in exchange for three Israeli soldiers that had been captured by the Palestinian Militant Front of Ahmad Jibril in the famous Jibril deal, the exchange rate on the Arab-Israeli prisoner market was: One Israeli soldier for 383.3 jihadist prisoners. In 2011, with the release of Gilat Shalid, the exchange rate moved sharply to: One Israeli soldier for 1,027 jihadist prisoners, making the Arab-Israeli asymmetry even starker.

Like financial markets, the human exchange market in the Middle East creates its own equilibria by the forces of supply and demand. Most recently, the market produced an Arab-Persian exchange rate that naturally produced a Persian-Israeli exchange rate.

Last week, Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Damascus and the Sunni jihadists (known euphemistically as “freedom fighters” or the “real Syrian people”) fighting al-Assad reportedly finalized a massive prisoner swap, with the Syrian government releasing 2,130 mostly Syrian captives in exchange for 48 Iranians who had been seized by the jihadists. Of course, there is the usual Middle Eastern touch of mystery here as regards to who’s who in the picture.

According to the official Syrian (and Iranian) account, the Syrian prisoners are terrorists and the Iranian hostages are merely Shia pilgrims passing through Syrian lands. According to the Syrian opposition, the captives are freedom fighters and the pilgrims are Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Again, as is usually accurate in Middle Eastern affairs, the truth is somewhere in the huge massive plateau that lies between the two accounts. Anyone with an elementary knowledge about the Middle East would bet his money on the possibility that not all Syrian prisoners were terrorists and not all Iranian pilgrims were just pilgrims.

But market players are rarely interested in how an exchange rate has appeared. For them, what matters most is what their screen tells them the rate is. Last week’s prisoner swap created a new exchange rate in the market: One Iranian pilgrim (I cannot hide my smile while typing the word ‘pilgrim’) for 44.4 Syrian freedom fighters (and I cannot hide my smile either when typing the words ‘freedom fighters’). To put it more realistically, we can reformulate the new exchange rate as: One Iranian Revolutionary Guard for 44.4 Sunni jihadists.

That simple computation gives us a new exchange rate not yet traded on the market: One Israeli soldier for 23.1 Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Of course, one can always prefer market euphemism and put the rate as one Israeli soldier for 23.1 Iranian pilgrims. None of the chosen wording will change the rates on the market: X = 1,027Y, Z = 44.4Y, therefore X= 23.1Z.

Juts like the introductory theories in economics, scarcity vs. abundance of a commodity may explain the market rates here, since in the whole world there are, roughly speaking, 15 units of X, 80 units of Z and 400 units of Y. If we are talking from a strictly market point of view, the supply side of the picture would explain the exchange rates, but enough with this bad metaphor.

We are talking about human lives, not currencies. Why, for God’s sake, do we have this market of human lives functioning precisely like a currency market functions? Why do we trade human lives like we trade shekels and riyals? And why do the central banks keep on printing human banknotes knowing they would become “junknotes” in heaven? Why are some central banks fully dedicated to the protection of their national currencies while others think they can rule the world by printing billions of junk currencies into junk?

We all know the answers and I will not give up reminding everyone again and again that it is because “they love death more than we love life.”

Is anyone still curious why, according to various polls, over 80 percent of Palestinians prefer Israel’s annihilation to any peace deal, including a two-state solution?


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Notice on comments

Hasan Kutlay

1/17/2013 3:34:09 AM

As if Israel is recognizing a sovereign Palestinian state. Is it by building settlements that they show their will for recognition of a Palestinian state? By trying to stop the UN in recognizing a Palestinian state, and punishing the Palestinians for their bid to be recognized by the UN? Abbas is de facto recognizing Israel, has that stopped the building of settlements in Fatah controlled areas?Give us a break, Israel only wants more land for itself, not peace.

ilker avni

1/17/2013 12:33:23 AM

President Obama considered Netanhayu as a"Politicial Coward" who has become captive of jewish settlers lobby and his settler polices were heading the Israeli regime down a path toward near total isolation.Obama said If Israel becomes more of a PARIAH one that alienates even the effections of the US its last steadfast friend wont Survive.Obama said Netanhayu,s behavior is a long term threat to Tel Aviv. President Obama was getting his own back on Netanhayu, for sticking up to Romney.


1/16/2013 7:18:35 PM

Vargen Vargen, I am well aware of Hamas not recognising Israel's right to exist. However, Hamas has said a solution based on pre 67 borders will end hostilities. This will surely give the moderates a stronger hand, be the start of normalisation and most likely lead to a lasting peace. Your analogy to Turkish police is no longer valid (it was in the 90s). Turkish security, these days, pays attention to civilian casualties, which Israel doesn't, as the op’n Cast Lead and Oct/Nov 2012 events show.

mara mcglothin

1/16/2013 7:04:31 PM

AYAZID I was just suggesting to save yourself the trouble, if Burak Bey bores you. MR AKYOL rarely bores me. I was never implying you had no right to comment.


1/16/2013 6:33:42 PM

@ mara, I am really sorry but I would like to retain the right to comment on columns of all authors here, including those who I disagree with, if you don't mind. After all, I see you quite often giving negative feedback to Mr. Akyol, who is at least able to criticize Islamists and religious intolerance, in spite of being a practicing Muslim. On the other hand, Burak Bekdil apparently doesn't have any other topic than AKP- and Muslim-bashing (with very rare exceptions). Sorry but it's monotonous.


1/16/2013 6:15:13 PM

@ Vargen, first, Hamas doesn't represent most Palestinians. Second, the charter of the current ruling party in Israel says that it's Israel's "unassailable right" to build settlements on the West Bank and that "the Jordan river will be the permanent eastern border of the State of Israel." Given this fact, how anybody claim that two state solution is possible and take Israel's commitment to peace seriously?

american american

1/16/2013 6:14:02 PM

the ottomans sold property to jews prior to world war, too dogan. i guess they wanted to lose.

Blue Dotterel

1/16/2013 5:21:11 PM

The "exchange rate" is out of whack because the "rebels" generally murder their captives, so there is little to exchange. They only keep alive those they have kidnapped that they think they can get something for. Reality, is hard for some people to digest, isn't that so BB.

mara mcglothin

1/16/2013 4:48:56 PM

AYAZID Why don't you go and read MR AKYOL's column if you are not happy with Burak Bey? Great writing by the way.

Vargen Vargen

1/16/2013 3:58:02 PM

Baris. Hamas declears repeatedly that it will neve recognise Israel as a state. How can you then claim that there will be a two state solution, if Israel is not recognized as a state. As for your casulties comparisons. If it turns out that the number of criminals killed by the Turkish police is higher than the number of number of police killed by the criminals, do you then think that the Turkish police is "wrong"? And if a bank robber takes hostage, is it the polices fault if the hostages die?
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