JERUSALEM (Sep. 24)
The German mediator who helped secure the return of the remains of two Israeli MIAs is no longer optimistic that he will be able to resolve the case of missing Israeli airman Ron Arad.
Only two months ago, Bernd Schmidbauer told a German newspaper that he had “solid clues that justify the impression that Ron Arad is alive.”
But in an interview this week with the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot, Schmidbauer said the window of opportunity for obtaining information regarding Arad’s whereabouts was “no longer wide open.”
He linked his altered assessment to the “change in the political atmosphere in the Middle East.”
Arad bailed out from his fighter plane over Lebanon in 1986 and was believed to have been held by pro-Iranian troops in Lebanon. The last time any message was received that he was alive was in October 1987.
Israel officials have repeatedly maintained that Iran is holding him.
Schmidbauer, 56 and a close advisor to Chancellor Helmut Kohl, recently met with Yediot correspondent Ron Ben-Yishai for what was the longest and most revealing interview he ever gave an Israeli journalist on his sensitive contacts with Iran and Hezbollah about Arad.
In July, the bodies of Israeli MIAs Yosef Fink and Rachamim Alsheikh, killed in Lebanon in 1986, were returned to Israel as part of a prisoner and body exchange with Hezbollah that had been mediated by Schmidbauer.
That success had led him to believe that he could serve as the pioneer in a new phase of regional negotiations, he said in the interview.
But from his current perspective in Bonn, he added, all that has changed.
Asked by Ben-Yishai whether he thought there was a chance Arad was still alive, Schmidbauer said: “I don’t know. What I do know is that we do not have much time left.
“The political situation in the region is not as good as it was, and it is questionable whether one can mediate at all under the existing circumstances.”