Israeli Airman Shot Down in 1986 Now Thought to Be in Iranian Hands

An Israeli air force navigator shot down over southern Lebanon in 1986 is reportedly in Iranian custody and could figure in a hostage swap.

Capt. Ron Arad, 31, is one of three missing servicemen for whom the Israelis could exchange Sheik Abdul Karim Obeid, a Shi’ite fundamentalist cleric seized from his home in southern Lebanon in late July by Israeli commandos.

News that Arad was being held by Iranian authorities, but not necessarily inside Iran, was reported Friday in Paris by Arad’s wife, who was there attending an international symposium on human rights in Arab countries sponsored by President Francois Mitterrand.

Tamar Arad, 28, said Israeli authorities informed her that her husband was alive and that they were doing everything possible to get him released. The information was confirmed by Israeli officials in Paris.

But the International Red Cross has been denied access to Arad, and that probably is why the Israelis refused access to Obeid, the airman’s wife said.

Obeid is spiritual mentor of the Organization of the Oppressed on Earth, a radical Shi’ite terrorist group believed to be affiliated with the pro-Iranian Hezbollah, or Party of God.

Tamar Arad said she had only one letter from her husband since his Israeli air force Phantom jet was shot down on Oct. 16, 1986.

The plane’s pilot was rescued by an air force helicopter, but Arad fell into the hands of the mainstream Shi’ite militia Amal, headed by Nabih Berri. He was later transferred to an extremist Shi’ite faction and reportedly has since been handed over to the Iranians.

The two other Israeli servicemen who might figure in a hostage trade are Israel Defense Force soldiers Joseph Fink and Rahamim Alsheikh, both captured in 1986.

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