PARIS (Aug. 18)
Israel may deserve some credit for the release this month of two Western hostages held captive in Lebanon, a French magazine believes.
Edward Tracy and John McCarthy may owe their freedom, at least in part, to secret negotiations begun here two years ago of which Israel was very much a part, according to an article in the weekly Le Journal du Dimanche.
McCarthy, an Englishman, was freed Aug. 8, and Tracy, an American, was freed Aug. 11.
Their releases are widely believed to have been the first fruits of clandestine meetings held in Paris between Israeli officials and representatives of Hezbollah, the pro-Iranian Shi’ite fundamentalist group in Lebanon, the paper wrote.
The article traced the start of the talks to a French journalist, Roger Auque, a former hostage who spent nearly a year in captivity in 1987.
Auque and two friends, a Lebanese businessman and a Palestinian, were approached in the summer of 1989 by an Israeli in St. Tropez on the French Riviera.
He introduced himself as an official of Israel’s Defense Ministry and turned out to be an emissary of Uri Lubrani, the Israeli coordinator in southern Lebanon.
Lubrani knew Auque’s Lebanese friend had connections with Hezbollah and wanted a meeting.
In December 1989, Lubrani met with the Lebanese businessman in Paris at a dinner arranged by Auque, the French paper said. Lubrani made clear he was ready to meet with Hezbollah if it could prove it held Israelis captive.
A few weeks later a photograph of Ron Arad, an Israel air force navigator captured in Lebanon in 1986, reached Israel.
But the negotiations progressed slowly. It was not until May and June of this year that Israelis and Hezbollah representatives met in Paris, under the auspices of the former French ambassador to Lebanon, Rene Ala.
After that, however, the talks broke down, because Hezbollah did not supply convincing proof that the missing Israelis were alive and in the hands of groups which it could influence.
The negotiations began only because Israel still holds Sheik Abdul Karim Obeid, the religious mentor of a Hezbollah faction who was seized by Israeli commandos in Lebanon two years ago.
Auque revealed after his release in November 1987 that all Western hostages are held by the same movement, the Islamic Resistance, financed and politically influenced by Iran.
All other names of hostage-holding groups that crop up are false fronts of the same organization, the former hostage claimed.