JERUSALEM—Israeli Air Force navigator Ron Arad, who disappeared after his Phantom went down over Lebanon in 1986, was held in Iran for several years before dying of illness, according to a report in the Tel Aviv daily Yediot Achronot.
The paper’s defense affairs writer, Ronen Begman, citing Israeli intelligence sources, said that Arad was apparently transferred by Hezbollah to Iran in 1990 where he was held in isolation for four years. After Israeli commandos kidnapped the Hezbollah official who had held Arad captive, the Iranians allegedly transferred him back to Lebanon for fear that the official might incriminate them. His whereabouts thereafter are not known. Arad is believed to have died somewhere between 1995 and 1997, from an illness for which he was not treated. It is not known where he was buried. Officially, Israel regards Arad as missing since there is no clear proof that he died.
Arad’s plane went down when a bomb it dropped malfunctioned and exploded prematurely. Both he and the pilot succeeded in parachuting. The pilot escaped by clinging to the skids of Cobra rescue helicopter as armed men closed in on him. Arad, however, was captured by a relatively moderate Shiite group which offered to exchange him for money and prisoners. Three letters in his handwriting and two photos of him taken by his captors were transferred to Israel as proof that he was alive. While indirect negotiations were going on, the man in whose home he was being held , Mustafa Dirani, transferred his allegiance, and his prisoner, to Hezbollah. After Dirani’s capture, he was held in Israel for 10 years before being released to Lebanon in a prisoner exchange.
After the intervention of foreign governments, Hezbollah announced that it had carried out an intensive search for Arad or his remains, and interviewed numerous persons who might be relevant. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in 2006 that Arad was believed dead and his remains lost. Hezbollah’s chief security official, Imad Mughniyah is reported to have formed a team to find Arad’s remains so that they could be returned to Israel, presumably as part of an exchange deal. He did not succeed and was himself assassinated in Damascus in 2008 by Israel.
The issue of Ron Arad emerged anew last week in a trial in Beirut of members of a group charged with supplying intelligence information to Israel. One of them said they had supplied Israel with false information about Arad in order to receive payment. He said that Arad had died in Lebanon in 1988 after being tortured. Journalist Bergman dismissed the men as “a group of swindlers.”