Ausgabe 37/2009

Missing for 23 Years Secret Israeli Report Reveals Truth about Ron Arad's Fate

Ron Arad has been missing since 1986. This photo, which was given to Israel by Hezbollah in 2008, is believed to have been taken in the 1980s.

Ron Arad has been missing since 1986. This photo, which was given to Israel by Hezbollah in 2008, is believed to have been taken in the 1980s.

By and

Part 2: Shedding Light on the Mystery

For years the case lay dormant. Indeed it wasn't until 2004, when the BND helped arrange another major prisoner exchange, that Hezbollah appeared ready to cast light on the mystery, offering to provide information about the whereabouts of the missing officer on condition that Israel released several hundred Arab prisoners from its jails. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah instructed his men to search for Arad. A Revolutionary Guards commander who had been in charge of the case about 10 years earlier traveled to Lebanon from Tehran.

Shiite militiamen searched several locations in the Bekaa Valley and carried out excavations. Finally Hezbollah handed over a number of bones they had unearthed to a BND middleman in early 2005. He in turn passed them on to the Israeli government. However DNA tests in Tel Aviv revealed that the bones did not belong to Arad.

The Shiite militia's failure to find Arad or his remains also had repercussions in Tel Aviv. The head of Israeli military intelligence, Major General Aharon Zeevi-Farkash, set up a secret commission to collect and evaluate all the available information on Arad for the Israeli military.

Overwhelming Evidence

A veteran of the Israeli army, Zeevi-Farkash is a bear of a man. He is sitting behind a tidy desk in his office in the centre of Tel Aviv, wearing a short-sleeved white shirt. In 2006, after 30 years serving the state of Israel, he went solo, setting up a private security company. Ron Arad was his last big case.

In the past, Zeevi-Farkash often worked together with the BND. He values the assistance he got from Berlin. "If anyone can help in a case like that of Ron Arad, it's the Germans," he says. His comission, which consisted of three experienced intelligence agents, reconstructed the different stages of Arad's imprisonment. They re-read Dirani's statements, checked the results of the lie-detector test, sifted through intercepted messages and all the material the Israeli intelligence service the Mossad and the military had gathered to date, including information from 2004 that Nasrallah's investigation had turned up.

The evidence was overwhelming. The secret military commission's report, which remains classified to this day, concluded that Arad had died sometime between 1993 and 1997. No signs of life of Arad have been received since 1995. Hezbollah also assumes he died around that time.

The most likely version of events appears to be that a seriously ill Arad was taken back to the Bekaa Valley in 1995. The Revolutionary Guards presumably wanted to get rid of him because he was ill and the talks with the German government about the Mykonos attack had broken down. According to Hezbollah, Arad died in the Bekaa Valley, where militiamen buried his body.

'Born for Freedom'

The tragic findings were set out in the commission's final report. Zeevi-Farkash asked to speak with Ariel Sharon. "Prime Minister, we can close the case," the agent apparently told the Israeli leader. Sharon hesitated, then replied: "Leave it alone, Aharon."

The decision not to publish the report is easy to understand from the Israeli point of view. One of the military's basic tenets is that no Jew is left behind on enemy territory, whether dead or alive. It was therefore out of the question for Arad to be declared dead without having found his body or knowing where he was buried. To this day, fully 23 years after he bailed out of his plane, bumper stickers on many Israeli cars declare: "Ron Arad -- born for freedom."

Ron Arad's wife, Tami, knows about the military report. But she refuses to give up her husband until she has DNA evidence of his death.

Twenty-four years ago Ron Arad began building a house for his family in Givat Ela, a small village in northern Israel. His wife finished it. But she says she won't move in until Ron returns.


© DER SPIEGEL 37/2009
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