A Lebanese statement that missing Israeli air force navigator Ron Arad may be alive has stirred new hopes in Israel and placed the airman’s fate at the top of the agenda in peace talks with Lebanon.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has instructed Israeli negotiators in Washington to “forcefully and immediately” request further information from the Lebanese side on Arad’s whereabouts and condition, the Prime Minister’s Office said.
“If the information is correct,” Rabin said, “the government of Lebanon must bring about the release of Arad.”
The airman was shot down over Lebanon in 1986 and was believed taken captive by one of the Shi’ite terrorist organizations.
In New York, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres was due to raise the case at a meeting Wednesday evening with U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. Peres indicated his view earlier this week that Iran may be involved.
Rabin instructed Uri Lubrani, co-chairman of the Israeli delegation conducting talks with Lebanon, to tell the Lebanese that Israel regards them as responsible for providing the information on Arad, reports said.
Rabin hoped the Lebanese were serious enough “not to play with the life” of the missing airman.
Israel believes Arad is being held by one of three Moslem fundamentalist groups: Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad or the Organization of the Oppressed on Earth.
Sources here believe he is being held in the Bekaa Valley in the Syrian- dominated eastern part of Lebanon.
Several times over the past few years, Israel has received signals that Arad is alive, giving life to efforts to bring about his release.
As part of those efforts, Rabin raised the case with Boutros-Ghali last month, and brought Arad’s wife, Tami, with him to the meeting. Private efforts are also going forward through go-betweens, reports said.
The prime minister’s statement came after Lubrani told reporters Tuesday in Washington that the Lebanese government had told Israel they had “reason to believe that navigator Arad is alive.”
Israel has also asked the Lebanese for help in obtaining information on the fate of three members of a tank crew missing since the Lebanon war, which started in 1982.
Zecharia Baumel, Yehuda Katz and Zvi Feldman have been missing since the battle at Sultan Yaakub on the eastern Lebanese front against the Syrians.