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Friends and family of missing Israeli air force navigator Ron Arad said Sunday that after 20 years of mystery, all they want is to find out his fate. "We always live in hope that we will find out what happened to him," said Chen Arad, brother of Ron, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.
Captain Ron Arad was taken prisoner by members of the Iranian-backed Shi'ite group Amal on October 16, 1986, after bailing out of his plane on a mission in Lebanon. Apart from a videotape of the missing airman that surfaced last month, the family has not heard anything from him since a letter sent in May 1988.
Arad said that while he did not need a specific date to remember his brother - "it's something you live with all your life" - he, Ron's wife, Tami, and Ron's daughter, Yuval, now 21, would be spending Monday at an air force base where pilots were scheduled to put on an air display in Ron Arad's name. It is not a memorial day, cautioned Arad.
"Memorial days are not for me," said Arad. "It is a day to raise awareness that we still do not know what happened to Ron and to remind world leaders that they signed a pact to urge Hizbullah to offer information about him."
Arad said his main message on the 20th anniversary of his brother's capture was to urge the world Jewish community not to forget Ron, and he highlighted their obligation to keep trying to find out what happened to him.
Ron Arad's squadron friends, who demonstrated Sunday in front of the Prime Minister's Office, echoed Chen Arad's message.
"We cannot give up," said Doron Vinikov, who trained with Ron in the IAF. "We believe that it is not relevant whether he is still alive or not, we need answers; this is still an open case. The government has a responsibility to close this case.
"With new negotiations taking place to release the three kidnapped soldiers from this year," he continued, "we want to urge the government not to forget Ron Arad."
"Israel is doing all it can to return the missing soldiers through quiet and decisive channels," Defense Minister Amir Peretz told a press conference Sunday. "We believe that Iran holds the key to Ron Arad's fate."
He added that Israel was not yet ready to give up hopes of finding Ron Arad.
According to Uri Chen, CEO of the Born to Freedom Foundation that offers a $10 million reward for any information on Ron Arad's fate and that of three other MIA soldiers, Arad has become a national symbol for many Israelis.
"The fact that he was sent on a combat mission for this nation by the IDF and the Israeli government and then disappeared raises many issues," said Chen. "The government has a moral obligation to all those who serve in the IDF, to Ron and to his family to do whatever it can for him."
Despite a recent poll conducted by Channel 1 that found more than 50 percent of the population believes the government has not done enough to release Ron Arad, Chen maintained that over the past 20 years successive governments have tried their best to secure his release or find information.
"I know the background well and a tremendous amount of effort has been exerted by Israel," said Chen, a former intelligence officer for the Mossad. "Nowhere else in the world has put in as much effort to retrieve one person."
He said that the foundation, which was established in December 2004 and is funded by the government, has received a tremendous amount of information pertaining to Arad and some of the sources had proved to be genuine leads.
"We have received information from all over the world - Iran, Lebanon and Syria are just some of the places," he said, describing how the organization broadcasts commercials in Farsi out of the Los Angeles area to Iran asking people to come forward with information.
"Among this information, there have been many attempts to cheat but we have built up professional tools to check the information we receive," continued Chen. "We believe that it will take time for those with the real information on Ron Arad to come forward. For a person in Iran or Syria, this is a big decision for him and his family and that person would likely have to take all measures necessary to protect himself.
"All we need is one golden piece of information that will expose what happened to Ron," said Chen. "We are not na ve, we have no illusions about this case. It is a very difficult situation after 20 years, almost a mission impossible, but it is our last chance to find out what happened to him."
As for Ehud Goldwasser, Eldad Regev and Gilad Shalit - IDF soldiers kidnapped this year - Chen said the foundation has no plans yet to offer a reward for information about their whereabouts.
"I pray and hope that they won't become part of our activity," said Chen. "When we take on responsibility for MIAs it means that their case has become complicated and it is really bad luck."