JERUSALEM (Sep. 24)
Senior Israeli officials are warning the public not to raise their hopes that new information could lead soon to the release of captive Israeli air force navigator Ron Arad.
Pointing out that similar cases in the past had led to disappointment, they suggested Israelis avoid euphoria over an announcement by Lebanon earlier this week that it believes Arad is alive.
The airman was shot down over Lebanon in 1986 and is believed to have been taken captive by a Shi’ite terrorist organization.
A lawyer actively involved in negotiations on missing Israeli servicemen also cautioned Israelis to lower their expectations.
Uri Slonim said there was “nothing substantive” at this time regarding either Arad or any other missing Israeli soldiers. Wednesday, Slonim paid a New Year’s call on the mother of the missing airman, Batya Arad. She declined to comment on the Lebanese announcement, saying she had taken a vow to make no statements until her son returned home.
The words of caution came after Israeli negotiators at the bilateral peace talks in Washington reported Tuesday that they had received word from the Lebanese delegation that their government had “reason to believe that navigator Arad is alive.”
On the instructions of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli negotiators asked the Lebanese delegation for further information, but without success as of late Wednesday.
Rabin also reportedly instructed Uri Lubrani, co-chairman of the Israeli team negotiating with Lebanon, to tell his counterpart that Israel regards Lebanon as responsible for providing the information on Arad.
The prime minister said he hoped the Lebanese were serious enough “not to play with the life” of the missing airman. Rabin indirectly criticized Israel’s foreign minister on Thursday for making the Lebanese disclosure public prematurely.
Speaking to army radio, Rabin said: “Reports on the fate of the missing soldiers and the prisoners have been with us throughout the years. The problem is that the story was publicized before the matter was checked.”
Earlier in the week, Peres informed reporters in New York about Lebanon’s announcement and said at the time he believed Iran might be involved in the case.
On Wednesday evening in New York, Peres raised the Arad case during a meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali
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.
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.