The collapse of East Germany five years ago this week may have prevented a prisoner exchange deal that included efforts to return Israeli navigator Ron Arad and other missing Israeli soldiers in Lebanon, according to new documents publicized this week in Germany.
The documents, which were obtained by Professor Michael Wolfsohn, an Israeli historian working in Germany, included a written agreement between Israel and East Germany and internal memorandums of the East German government.
The key figures in the deal were East German lawyer Wolfgang Vogel and Israeli lawyer Amnon Zichroni. Both signed the agreement in 1989 on behalf of their respective governments.
Vogel, who brokered the exchange of spices and the ransom of some 30,000 prisoners from East Germany and the Soviet Union during the Cold War – including Natan Sharansky – was last week brought before a Berlin court on blackmail charges.
According to the deal regarding Arad, East Germany reportedly would have done its best to secure the release of the missing Israeli soldiers. In return, Israel would have released convicted Soviet spices Marcus Klingberg and Shabtai Kalmanovitz.
The prisoner exchange was also to include the terrorist Hamadei brothers, both of whom were imprisoned in Germany; Sheik Abdul Karim Obeid, a leader of the Islamic fundamentalist Hezbollah movement who had been kidnapped by the Israelis; and Nelson Mandela, who at the time was still in a South African jail.
Had it gone through, it might have been one of the biggest prisoner exchanges of the decade.
Perhaps the most important point the documents located by Wolfsohn was Vogel’s strong belief on the part of Vogel that Arad was alive at the time, two-and-a- half years after his plane had been shot down over Lebanon.
Arad bailed out from his fighter plane over Lebanon in 1986 and was believed to have been held by pro-Iranian troops in Lebanon.
There have been sporadic reports that he was subsequently transferred to captivity in Iran.
Documents released earlier this year suggested that Arad was held by the Amal Shi’ite organization under Syrian auspices in West Beirut until the spring of 1989.
But negotiations for the prisoner swap dragged on, and then the entire deal fell through with the collapse of East Germany in November 1989.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.