The mystery over the fate of missing Israeli Air Force navigator Ron Arad may almost be solved – but the people who know the truth remain in a Beirut court house.
The Lebanon Daily Star reported Saturday that one of five people charged in a military tribunal as a collaborator with Israel told the court he knows what happened to Ron Arad.
The navigator had bailed out of his smoking aircraft as it fell from the sky over Lebanon in October 1986, as did pilot Yishai Aviram. The IDF managed to rescue Aviram shortly after but Arad was never found, and it was believed that he was taken captive by the Shi’ite Amal terrorist organization, handed to Hezbollah, sent to Iran and then back to Lebanon.
German negotiator Gerhard Konrad told Israel in 2008 that Hezbollah said Arad died during a 1988 escape attempt, but had no idea where he was buried.
Now, according to the report published in the Daily Star, it would appear the claim by Hezbollah may be at least partially true, albeit not entirely.
The defendant identified only as Moufeed K. testified that he was a commander in the military wing of the (Shi’ite) Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) in 1988 when he was informed a captive had been taken.
He and the other members of the group took the captive to the town of Dhour Choueir, near Beirut, he told the court. He did not remember whether the captive was wearing an aviator’s uniform; this is relevant because recently information came to light that former Hezbollah second-in-command Imad Mughniyeh found Arad’s parachute and uniform, and had kept them in order to use them as bargaining chips in a future prisoner exchange deal with Israel.
Moufeed told the court he told his men to ‘clean up their captive’ and then left. He was informed a short time later that the prisoner was dead.
“They told me he had entered the bathroom and stayed there for a long time,” he testified, according to the Daily Star. “When they went to check on him they found him dead… Of course he passed away due to exhaustion and of course he was subject to beatings and torture as that is how interrogations are carried out.”
Only later did Moufeed realize who the captive was, he said. Ten years later, in 1998, Arad’s name began to appear in the media once more and Moufeed “went to our base to ask the young men who were involved where they had buried our prisoner.” He said that he and the men went to verify the body was that of missing airman Ron Arad. Two of the other defendants at the current tribunal, Elias D. And Mahdi D. decided together with Moufeed to request a meeting with then-President of Lebanon, Emile Lahoud.
At this point, reported the Daily Star, the judge shut down the proceedings and closed the court to the public. The case was adjourned until April 20.
There have been countless theories over the years about what happened to Ron Arad. In 2004, an IDF commission determined he had died in the 1990s. In 2008, the State of Israel officially declared him dead, after receiving the information gleaned from Hezbollah via the German negotiator.
Regardless of when or how he died, the pain to his wife and children who were bereft and left wondering and hoping desperately for so long is unimaginable. May his memory be for a blessing, may he rest in peace, and may his blood be avenged.