TEL AVIV (Aug. 29)
Israel urged Iran on Thursday to admit it is holding missing Israeli airman Ron Arad captive in Teheran.
He is one of seven missing Israeli servicemen about whom Israel demands information before it will consider exchanging prisoners for hostages.
“Israel calls on Iran to uphold basic norms of behavior of the international community and provide reliable information to the U.N. secretary-general on the fate of Ron Arad,” an air force navigator shot down over Lebanon in 1986, said Danny Naveh, a media adviser to Defense Minister Moshe Arens.
According to Naveh, Israeli intelligence has known for some time of Arad’s whereabouts. “Unfortunately, Iran refuses to admit to this and claims that it has no information regarding the fate of the navigator,” Naveh said in a statement.
The statement was released after Beirut newspapers reported Wednesday that Arad was captured by the Shi’ite militia Amal when he bailed out of his Phantom jet on Oct. 16, 1986 and was later “sold” to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard for a half-million dollars.
The Beirut reports, credited to a senior Amal official, were greeted with skepticism by Israeli officials Wednesday.
They warned the public to beware of a disinformation propaganda campaign being conducted by Lebanese and Palestinian groups and to put little faith in their reports about the fate of the missing Israeli servicemen.
Israel has complained that it has yet to receive authentic information as to their condition and whereabouts.
U.N. CHIEF PRAISES IRAN, SYRIA
But the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported Thursday that Amal’s disclosure corroborated what the defense establishment already knew.
An Amal spokesman in Beirut said the militia’s former security chief, Mustafa Dirani, “several years ago sold” Arad to the Iranians for a half-million dollars.
The deal was made in Baalbek, northern Lebanon. Dirani subsequently left Amal to join an organization close to the pro-Iranian Hezbollah, Ha’aretz reported.
But Arad’s whereabouts have been suspected for some time. Amal leader Nabih Berri, a Lebanese minister of state, reported to his government last month that the Israeli navigator was transferred to Iran on payment of $500,000.
Arad’s wife, Tami, said she had received information two months ago that her husband was a prisoner of the Iranians. She said she received a photograph proving he was alive.
But the Iranian U.N. ambassador in Geneva, Kamal Harazi, claimed Tuesday that his country had no information about the seven missing Israeli servicemen, including Arad.
He altered his story Wednesday, saying six of the seven had been killed.
Israel, meanwhile, expressed hope that the Iranians will be more forthcoming when U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar visits Teheran on Sept. 10, at the invitation of President Ali Akhbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
Officials said they hoped the secretary-general would be able to persuade his hosts to allow representatives of the International Red Cross to visit Arad, or at least to provide details on his condition and whereabouts.
Perez de Cuellar held three days of apparently inconclusive talks on the hostage situation in Geneva this week. Before departing, he pledged to “keep working intensively on this subject,” and said he would remain “in touch with all parties concerned.”
He paid special tribute to the Iranian government, which he said had “always helped me very much and continues to help me. If we achieve some results, I would be, to a great extent, grateful to them.”
He also praised the Syrian government’s contribution and said he had “spoken by phone with the Israelis.”
(JTA correspondent Tamar Levy in Geneva contributed to this report.)