In response to a Jerusalem Post report on Sunday, the Prime Minister's Office released a statement saying that it has no proof that Ron Arad, the air force navigator missing since 1986, is dead.
The Post quoted former German intelligence chief Bernd Schmidbauer, a former go-between in efforts to secure Arad's release, as saying that 'the only question remains whether he died from a disease, a kind of injury related to his crash, or that he was killed. But that he is dead is clear.'
The case of Arad, who parachuted out of his malfunctioning Phantom into the hands of Lebanese militiamen, continues to dog the defense establishment, which has poured tens of millions of dollars into a fruitless effort to locate him.
The Post report seemed to have put a dent in the Prime Minister's Office's certainty that Arad is alive.
When contacted Sunday night, spokesman Asi Shariv referred the Post to the 2003 Winograd Report indicating that 'the possibility that Arad is alive overrides all others.'
By Monday afternoon, the office said that 'the State of Israel continues to make every effort to find the solution to this painful affair and will not cease until it clarifies the fate of Ron and brings him home.'
The Arad family, continuing a policy it began once the details of the January 2004 prisoner swap with Hizbullah took shape, refused to comment on the issue.
The report on the death of Arad was based on An Eye for an Eye, a film documenting the horse-trading between Israel and Hizbullah during the last decade, with a focus on Arad and the failure to bring him home.
The documentary, created by German filmmaker and investigative reporter Hubert Seipel, discloses a number of apparently secret documents from the German Federal Intelligence Service, the BND.
Among the revelations are that until 1996 Arad was hidden in a cave in the Lebanese village of Nebi Shit, virtually under the nose of the IDF; that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards smuggled him out of Beirut through Damascus to Teheran in October 1996; and that much of this was known to Mossad agents by 1997, through two Lebanese militiamen who defected to Germany.
German intelligence, as well as its Israeli counterparts lost Arad's trail following his transfer to Iran.
Iran's unhurried conduct in negotiations - the Germans offered Teheran World Bank credits and an easing of embargoes in exchange for cooperation - led some investigators to believe that Arad was dead.
Negotations with Hizbullah for the missing airman have stalled.
Hizbullah has sent several bone fragments to Israel purportedly belonging to Arad through the German mediators.
None of them matched his DNA.
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