TEL AVIV (Dec. 12)
Egypt’s ambassador to Israel is convinced that his countryman, Boutros Ghali, who takes office next month as U.N. secretary general, will have more success than his immediate predecessor in satisfying Israel’s concerns about its missing servicemen in Lebanon.
“As an Egyptian diplomat, he is aware of the problems of the region,” the envoy, Mohammed Basiouny, told reporters Wednesday during a visit to Haifa.
“As a consequence, I am very hopeful that the problem will be solved early,” the envoy said.
The outgoing U.N. chief, Javier Perez de Cuellar, was recently criticized by Israel’s chief hostage negotiator, Uri Lubrani, for failing to probe into the fate of Israeli MIAs during his successful negotiations for the release of American hostages this month.
Lubrani, who is co-chairing Israel’s peace talks in Washington with Lebanon, met earlier this week at the United Nations with the secretary-general.
There were seven Israeli servicemen missing in Lebanon. The body of one has been returned. Two are confirmed to have died in captivity, and three are presumed dead.
Only one, air force navigator Ron Arad, is believed to be alive, and Israel seems amenable to a prisoner swap for his safe return.
Israel was deeply disappointed that Perez de Cuellar failed to learn of Arad’s whereabouts during his negotiations on behalf of the hostages.
Israelis believe that Arad, shot down over Lebanon in 1986, is being held by Hezbollah, the pro-Iranian Shi’ite fundamentalist militia, or by a group associated with it.
OBEID NO LONGER A TRUMP CARD?
Israel’s trump card in negotiations with Hezbollah has been Sheik Abdel Karim Obeid, who was its spiritual leader when Israeli commandos seized him in southern Lebanon two years ago.
In a goodwill gesture, Israel sent a copy of a videotaped interview with Obeid to the Hezbollah leadership earlier this month and broadcast it on Israel television this week.
But the gesture seems to have backfired.
The Moslem cleric, who hinted broadly in the interview that he would not mind being exchanged for Arad, is no longer in the good graces of Hezbollah.
Sheik Toleb, who is said to have replaced Obeid as senior sheik in southern Lebanon, accused him Wednesday of “going soft” on Israel by appealing for his release.
“Obeid has said he is even learning Hebrew, a thing no good Moslem cleric should do,” Toleb said.
He said Hezbollah decided to break off whatever contacts it had with Israel.