Hizbullah 298 AP.
(photo credit: AP)
Hizbullah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah last Thursday attempted to wash his hands of Israel Air Force navigator Ron Arad, and announced, while concocting a convoluted plot, that Arad is dead and responsible for his own demise. Nevertheless, Nasrallah continues to demand the release of all Lebanese incarcerated in Israel, some with heinous terrorist records.
Arad's warplane was shot down over Lebanon in 1986. He reportedly was first held by Amal, then "traded" to Hizbullah. While Arad was in Hizbullah's hands, all traces of him vanished.
He may have been handed over to Iran, which is unlikely to own up to anything.
Years of efforts to obtain any reliable shred of information have been to no avail. As part of the swap that returned Elhanan Tannenbaum to Israel two years ago, Israel agreed to a second round of Lebanese prisoner releases if evidence about Arad were provided.
It's hard to tell to what extent, if at all, Nasrallah made an earnest effort to determine Arad's fate. The record of deceit that accompanied this entire heartless episode makes such an assessment impossible.
Besides assorted fabrications, there have even been attempts to palm off bogus biological tissue, claimed to have originated from Arad's remains. DNA probes revealed these as spurious.
The yarn spun by Nasrallah a few days ago is a recycled version of one already peddled 10 years back. It's as fantastic and patently unbelievable as is much of what was hitherto relayed to Israel. Though he previously professed ignorance regarding Arad's fate, Nasrallah now claims that Arad fled his captors, wandered in unfamiliar mountainous terrain and fell to his death in an unknown ravine.
This obviously doesn't pass the preliminary test of logic - if Nasrallah doesn't know where or how Arad supposedly met his end, how can he presume to theorize so imaginatively? The only plausible conclusion is that there's no truth to any of this.
Israel's defense establishment is perfectly justified in its decision to discount Nasrallah's disinformation and continue to assume that Arad is alive until irrefutable proof is furnished one way or the other. This must be the operational premise regardless of ever-gnawing doubts, particularly as nearly 20 years have elapsed since Arad's capture.
Israel cannot morally adopt any other formal stance. We know Hizbullah held Arad and hence is responsible for him and must be held accountable.
If ever there were a case that highlighted Hizbullah's manipulative mendacity and utter callousness, this would be it. Sponsored by both Iran and Syria, Hizbullah not only held hostages for ransom but withheld information from anguished families, using obfuscation in humanitarian cases as a weapon of war and that in order to secure freedom for notorious slayers of children.
Nasrallah has so far been foiled by his bid to effect a Tannenbaum swap sequel, which would have led to the release of Samir Kuntar. In 1979, Kuntar and his cohorts broke into the Nahariya apartment of Smadar and Danny Haran. They marched Danny and four-year-old Anat to the beach, where they smashed the child's head against the rocks and then shot the horrified father. Smadar hid in a loft with the couple's two-year-old daughter, clamping her child's mouth to muffle her cries lest they be detected by Kuntar's band, only to discover she had smothered Yael to death.
The same gang also killed policeman Eliyahu Shahar.
Nasrallah made Kuntar's release a matter of personal prestige. Because Nasrallah now claims he has no information to bargain with, we must be extra vigilant to make sure he doesn't successfully resort to more deadly extortion in the aid of the same agenda.
In addition, the international pressure on Lebanon to disarm Hizbullah and deploy its own army on its southern border, and on Syria to complete its withdrawal from Lebanon, should be increased. This ruthless organization is not just Israel's problem, it symbolizes a status Lebanon seeks to shed - that of Syrian satrapy plagued by marauding militias.
We should also recall that the official US 9/11 Commission Report states that al-Qaida terrorists were sent to Hizbullah for training before the 9/11 attacks. Accordingly, disarming Hizbullah is not just a priority in the pursuit of Lebanese independence and Israeli security, but also in confronting the current threat posed by Iran and in the global war against Islamist terrorism.