The Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) is a local non-profit, non-partisan Lebanese human rights organization in Beirut that was established by the Franco-Lebanese Movement SOLIDA (Support for Lebanese Detained Arbitrarily) in 2006. SOLIDA has been active since 1996 in the struggle against arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and the impunity of those perpetrating gross human violations.

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September 7, 2009

September 7, 2009 - The Daily Star - Israel media reports pilot Ron Arad died

BEIRUT: Ron Arad, the Israeli Air Force navigator whose plane was shot down over Lebanon more than 20 years ago, died in Lebanese captivity in the mid-1990s, Israeli media reported on Sunday. The daily Yedioth Ahronoth, quoting from a secret military intelligence report, said that Arad had died of an unknown illness while being held in solitary confinement at a secret location in Lebanon.
The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement on Sunday refuting the report, based largely on a recently published book detailing various domestic and foreign dispatches from the Israeli military intelligence committee, headed by the then-Military Intelligence Chief, Major General Aharon Ze’evi Farkash.

“Efforts to find leads in the missing aviator’s case are ongoing and until we have conclusive evidence to the contrary, the assumption is that Ron Arad is still alive,” said the Prime Minister’s office statement. “We are doing everything possible to bring him back home.”

Arad’s IAF F-4 Phantom was shot down over Lebanon on October 16, 1986, when he was believed to have been captured by the Lebanese Shiite group Amal. Speculation has abounded ever since the incident, with some intelligence chiefs alleging Arad was handed to Iranian authorities and subsequently held in a Teheran prison cell.

He is popularly believed to have been transferred back to Lebanon in the 1990s, with Hizbullah accused of holding the aviator, although no proof of Arad’s life has been made public since May 1988.

Retired Lebanese Army General Elias Hanna told The Daily Star that such intelligence reports should be viewed with skepticism as they were unlikely to have obtained information from any relevant group holding Arad.

“This is dealing with intelligence reports that may have something but to have real intelligence or real information about [Arad]? I doubt it,” he said.

“He disappeared more than 20 years ago. Where has he been for such a long time? Who has been taking care of him? For there to be no information is unbelievable.”

Former long-term UNIFIL adviser Timur Goksel said he was not surprised at the content of reports surfacing in the Israeli media over the weekend.

“This is something that has been on the grapevine for a long time; it was certainly understood [that Arad had died],” he told The Daily Star. “Otherwise it wouldn’t have lasted this long.

“If he had been alive there would have been a consultation. He was in Hizbullah custody for a while and then he disappeared from the news. If he had been alive then something would have been offered.”

Hanna added that had any genuine military intelligence existed on Arad’s whereabouts, Israel would have put greater pressure on the group(s) they suspected to be his captors. He suggested the report could have surfaced to test public response.

“They [Israel] are trying to test reactions. If they had genuine information, why didn’t they go to down the channel of the Germans?” he asked, in reference to official German mediation between Israel and Iran to determine Arad’s whereabouts in 1995.

At the time, Iran’s ambassador to Germany suggested that the prisoner had been transferred back into the detention of Hizbullah in Lebanon.

He informed German mediators that Teheran “was no longer involved. We don’t know who Ron Arad is or where he is.”

Hanna added that any information on Arad’s fate would be used by Israel in an attempt to illicit the truth about who was responsible.

“I believe that [the Israelis] have some information and they are trying to put more pressure on Hizbullah since we are in the middle of a very tense campaign between both of them,” he said.

“This information has been given through the Israeli media and we know that the media gets the OK [from officials] before printing anything.”

Arad’s family, made privy to the findings of the intelligence committee’s investigation, expressed their hope on Sunday that their son was still alive, be that in Lebanon or Iran.

“We operate under the assumption that Ron is alive and Iran is responsible for his fate,” said a statement issued through the family’s lawyer.

“Even if the report is correct and Ron is no longer alive, we will continue our efforts to bring him home, whether his remains, God forbid, are in Lebanon or Iran.”

Since his life would be of high value to the Israelis, whoever was holding Arad would have used it as a way of negotiating a stronger position as in similar previous prisoner swaps, according to Hanna. Since such negotiation hadn’t occurred, the likelihood was that Arad had died, he added.

“For someone to hold Ron Arad for 20 years in prison, in a system of different groups, without leaking anything, this is not something that could ever be done,” he said.

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