The memory of Lt. Col. Ron Arad, a WSO who was taken captive during operational activity in Lebanon, echoes in the IAF and in Israel to this day. About the painful process of bringing MIA personnel back home
On Thursday, October 16, 16:00, Lt. Col. Ron Arad, a WSO from the “Hammers” Squadron, was seated in the back seat of an F-4 Phantom fighter jet. He and Maj. (Res.) Yishay Aviram, his pilot, were on their way to an attack a PLO post in Lebanon, a mission of a routine nature back then. They did not know that in a few minutes their life would be turned upside down.
Maj. (Res.) Yishay Aviram, saw the target, put the building in his sights and placed his hand on the pickle. Upon releasing the bomb, the aircraft set fire. Maj. (Res.) Aviram didn’t know if they were hit by a missile or if the aircraft was malfunctioning, but he decided regardless to pull the release handles positioned on each side of his chair and eject them both.
Later, an IAF committee estimated that the release of both bombs simultaneously caused them to hit each other and explode prematurely. Lt. Col. Arad was ejected first and 1.4 seconds afterwards, the pilot shot out of the jet as well. They were suspended, 7,000 feet in the air, at the mercy of the wind. Lt. Col. Arad was seen for the last time while slowly being carried down by his parachute, as Maj. (Res.) Aviram was later rescued in a daring extraction operation, hanging from the skids of a “Cobra” attack helicopter.
The Wish: To Bring them Home
Ron Arad is defined as MIA by the IDF. “Almost every war leaves us with soldiers classified as MIA, because their bodies are beyond enemy lines”, shared a Senior Officer from the IDF Personnel Directorate and an IAF pilot. “The IDF’s wish, if not to find them and bring them safely back to their families, is to return their bodies, classify them as casualties of war and give the family a grave to visit”.
What consists of a breakthrough in the search and how are resources allocated to each case? “We base our prioritization of cases on a number of factors. The first being the probability of succeeding, which is based on knowledge, exact or obscure, of where the soldiers is. Opportunity is also a deciding factor, if, for example, our relations with a certain country suddenly improve, or certain diplomatic restrictions are removed”.
While awareness to the threat of capture heightens among soldiers, the profitability of such an action also becomes clear to the enemy. “The enemy’s strategic approach is that by capturing a soldier they can acquire an edge that they cannot acquire in combat. This approach is validated by the fact that most of our efforts are focused against terror organizations and not against countries with international obligations”.
Throughout the years, the IDF has developed different methods to prepare its personnel for the scenario of captivity. Combatants and aircrews who hold delicate intelligence information, or that activity beyond enemy borders is a central component in their service, undergo such preparation exercises. “The content is based on stories of people who were captured. Their experience is gathered and translated into an exercise which gives the combatants an idea of what to prepare for mentally. In the past years, the exercise is sterile in nature, but an integral part of training, because it is known that such an experience diminishes stress and increases the chances of survival in a similar situation”.