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Missing U.S. soldier returns home

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JERUSALEM, Aug. 22 (JTA) — A U.S. army officer who had been missing from a Texas base for two weeks is out of Israel’s hands — for now.

Lt. Col. Jeremiah Mattysse, 50, voluntarily returned to the United States after he was found Monday in a youth hostel near Mitzpeh Ramon in southern Israel.

Mattysse, who converted to Judaism 10 years ago, said he did not pass on any military intelligence to the Jewish state, as a woman who claims to be his girlfriend had originally said. On Monday, Rivka Nir retracted her story and said Mattysse had done nothing wrong.

“First of all, I’m on vacation here,” Mattysse said. “I’m not a spy. I’ve given no classified information to anybody.”

An Israeli source called the matter a “very human, personal situation.”

Israeli authorities confirmed that Mattysse has applied to immigrate to the Jewish state.

But first, he will have to explain his conduct to the United States.

Joe Hanley, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Reserve, said Mattysse — who had been missing since Aug. 7 — is charged with being absent without leave, desertion and conduct unbecoming an officer.

Hanley added that authorities will decide whether to court marital Mattysse, who will be reassigned to Fort Knox in Kentucky.

Until February, Mattysse worked in a management position at a Texas army intelligence center.

Mattysse was reassigned to a U.S. Army Reserve group in San Antonio after an investigation was launched into a possible extramarital affair.

The San Antonio Express-News reported that Mattysse’s wife, Vanda, filed for divorce on March 7. An attorney for Vanda Mattysse said a divorce is pending.

His disappearance was of heightened concern because of his intelligence background, said Hanley.

Nir, who holds both Israeli and American citizenship, said she hopes Mattysse returns to the United States and makes aliyah only after he clears his name.

Nir said Mattysse had been in Israel since the beginning of August, moving around disguised with a beard and wig and sleeping in a tent.

The incident was splashed across all of Israel’s papers over the weekend, with the tabloid Yediot Achronot dedicating a seven-page spread to the story.

(JTA correspondents Naomi Segal in Jerusalem and Sharon Samber in Washington contributed to this report.)

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