Since October 16 1986, Ron Arad is missing in action. The Phantom navigator jumped out of his burning plane over Lebanon, caught by terrorists and leaving only question marks in his trail
Ron Arad has been in captivity for 25 years, ever since he abandoned his plane during an aerial attack in Lebanon. Throughout the first few years of his imprisonment, Israel received clear information about his status and even received three letters and a picture from Arad himself. In 1989, Ron was moved from his initial imprisonment spot and confirmed intelligence of his whereabouts has not been received since.
“Jumping out of the burning plane and Ron’s downfall are the most powerful events of my life and always will be”, said “Phanton” pilot, Major Aviram, who was with Ron on the flight of his fall to captivity.
“Every crew member feels frustrated by the fact that Ron is still imprisoned, but I feel like my frustration is 1000 times stronger. I was there. I was there and I came back. And he, the one who lead the jump and saved us, is the one who is still there. Even though there was nothing I could do to help him, I can’t help but feel guilty, guilt that stems from the tremendous responsibility that weighs me down like a heavy rock”.
The return of Ron Arad has become a national interest. The longing to bring him back has been displayed in myriad events set up to identify with Ron and his family’s ever-constant struggle.
Songs, letters, billboards, newspaper ads, stickers, conventions, assemblies, aerial demonstrations, walks, parachuting displays and the list goes on of public displays of support, some of which are still conducted to this day once in a while. At Ron’s squadron, The “Hammers”, no one ever forgets.
“Ron Arad lives on in our squadron at every given moment and that’s not just a saying”, says Lieutenant Colonel H’, who was Ron’s squadron’s commander and later an F-16 squadron commander. “His name is mentioned at the squadron almost every day and he’s talked about as if he’s here. In the new structure of the squadron, a building he has never seen, there’s a closet waiting for him with his name on it. We mention his name on every occasion that included people from the squadron. We don’t come officially in uniform but as Ron’s friends”.
Signs of Hope
Since Ron Arad’s fall to captivity, there has been constant political effort concerning his release. In 1987, the team that negotiated his matter was convinced that he could be returned in a short while.
After a year of negotiations and countless meetings and deliberations, a deal was consolidated with the “Amal” movement, a Shi’a Muslim organization that held Ron at the time. “Amal” demanded three million dollars and the release of 200 Lebanese prisoners and 450 Palestinian terrorists in return for Ron’s release.
The crew had reason to assume that this was a serious offer and that the Lebanese would come through on their part of the deal, but the Israeli political echelon refused to abide to the demands of the “Amal” movement and demanded that the price be lowered, but the “Amal” movement refused to consider another bargaining session and the deal to release Ron Arad never came through.
In December of 1987, after negotiations with “Amal” faded away, Ron Arad was transferred to the hands of the Iranians by Mustafa Dirani, head of the “Believing Resistance” movement, for a sum of 300,000 dollars.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Minister of Defense Yitzhak Rabin established a committee to manage the negotiations linked to Ron’s release. By 1991, the subject was transferred to the care of the “Mossad”. In September of 1988, “Hizbollah” executives confirmed that they were in custody of Ron Arad.
Toward the end of 1989, a secretive deal mediated by German lawyer Wolfgang Fogel was established. The deal accorded that Ron Arad would be released in return for Shabtai Kalmanovich, Marcus Klingberg and the Sheik Obeid. The deal failed as a result of the crash of the Berlin wall.
In the year 1991 an opportunity arose to retrieve Ron, when it became known that he was in Iranian custody and signals that they were prepared to negotiate Ron’s release in return for their agents held in Lebanon. This deal did not come to fruition either.
In September of 1992, during talks in Washington, Israeli diplomat Uri Lubrani, asked Head of the Lebanese Delegation, Sohil Shams, about the fate of Ron Arad. After inquiry Shams returned and announced that Ron Arad is alive.
In Search of Ron
In October of 1992, after the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine announced that he had met with Ron Arad and that he is alive, a public non-profit organization was founded for the release of Ron Arad. That same year, leader of the “Hizbollah”, Abas Musawi, his wife and son, were killed in an IDF operation in Lebanon.
It was then announced that in response to the incident, Ron Arad had been executed. But in May of 1994, the Islamic Jihad leader in Syria announced that in fact, Ron Arad is alive. In May of that same year, Mustafa Dirani, head of the “Believing Resistance”, was abducted as part of the efforts to obtain information about Ron Arad.
After the successful operation, Head of the IAF, Major General (Res.) Hertzl Bodinger, announced: “According to the information I know, Ron Arad is alive and is most probably in Iranian custody. This is one of the base assumptions behind the decision to bring Dirani to Israel. We’re hoping that Dirani will release information about Ron’s condition, about the organization holding him and the place to which he was transferred”.
In February of 1995, an Iranian Intelligence man who had deflected to the west, told the press that Ron Arad is held captive by the Iranians.
In October of 1997, German experts who had assisted the efforts to bring Ron back for a long while, deduced that there is no basis to the Israeli assumption that Ron is held in Tehran authorities and further stated that there is a possibility that he is no longer alive.
At the end of October that year, the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs said that according to the information he has, Ron is no longer alive. Security sources in Israel rejected his claims and stated that from Israel’s perspective, Ron Arad is still alive.
“There’s Another Option”
“A person shouldn’t be held in captivity when there’s another option”, wrote Ron Arad in a letter sent from captivity. “With hope and good will, anything can happen. Just don’t play games with time, act like there’s no time. And look where you can. We (the captives)-our lives are in your hands and we give all our trust to you”.
And indeed, the Israeli government invested tremendous sums of money in efforts to get a lead on the subject, using secret agents and carrying out various operations in hopes of recovering the captured navigator. In the years that have passed since he fell into captivity, Ron Arad’s family-his wife Tami, mother Batia, brother Chen and uncle-has exhausted every possible way to receive information about him. Their continuous efforts brought the subject to the attention of leaders and the public in many countries around the world, but to no avail.
“An entire nation misses you, thinks of you and will do anything for your return”, said Batia, Ron’s mother. “An entire nation shakes off arguments and everyday troubles at the sound of the smallest detail about you, they clench their fists and hope…And I feel this nation inside of me. Even though this entire nation can’t feel what one mother feels…Ron’s mother”.