Banners with portraits of captured Israeli soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev hung outside an Israeli government cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, June 29, 2008. The cabinet voted overwhelmingly to swap a notorious Lebanese prisoner for the two soldiers' bodies. ((Dan Balilty/Associated Press))

The exchange of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in Oct. 2011 is the latest in a long history of prisoner swaps between Israel and its Arab neighbours, many of them highly controversial.

Shalit's capture, in fact, was part of a 2006 attempt by the militant group Hamas to swap him for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Instead it sparked a nearly two-year crackdown by Israel in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

July 2008, Lebanese militant Samir Kantar and four Hezbollah prisoners, along with the bodies of a dozen or so Hezbollah fighters, were exchanged for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, captured in the raid that touched off a 34-day war with Lebanon-based Hezbollah in 2006.

The deal was particularly contentious within Israel as Kantar was a convicted killer who had been in an Israeli jail for almost 30 years for an especially brutal cross-border attack that led to the deaths of an Israeli man and his two daughters.

Other notable swaps:

  • June 2008, Israel released Nissim Nasser, an Israeli citizen of Lebanese descent who had been convicted of spying for Hezbollah, in exchange for the remains of a number of Israeli soldiers.
  • 2004, in a deal with Lebanon and Hezbollah, Israel released 436 Arab prisoners and the bodies of 59 Lebanese fighters in exchange for a captured Israeli businessman (a colonel in the reserves) and the bodies of three soldiers.
  • 1991, 51 Arab prisoners were released in exchange for information on an Israeli soldier who died in Lebanon.
  • 1985, 1,150 Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners were exchanged for three Israeli captives.
  • 1983, 4,600 Arab prisoners were released in exchange for six Israeli soldiers.


  • The original version of this story incorrectly stated that Israel went to war with Lebanon in 2006. The conflict was actually between Israeli forces and the Lebanon-based Shiite group Hezbollah.
    Nov 04, 2011 11:20 AM ET