The Mossad did not succeed in a special operation to find the remains and information about Israeli Air Force Navigator Ron Arad last month.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett revealed the operation in a speech to the Knesset plenum on Monday. Despite the dramatic announcement, he did not give any further information about the fate of the captive, who has long been presumed dead. Nor was his office forthcoming with context or explanations of the timing of the prime minister’s statement revealing the secret operation.
Defense sources said that the operation was a failure and they did not find any new information about Arad’s fate.
But after those claims were widely reported, the Prime Minister’s Office countered them, calling the operation “a success, carried out while exceptional goals.”
“Dissemination of any other information is a lie,” the prime minister’s spokesman said.
Bennett told the Knesset he authorized the operation for the airman who has been missing since 1986 out of the spirit of the Jewish concept of redeeming captives and that he had informed Arad’s family.
“Last month, Mossad agents – men and women – embarked on a complex, wide-ranging and daring operation to find the remains and whereabouts of Ron Arad,” Bennett said.“That is all that can be said at the moment.”
He also thanked the IDF and Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) for their “outstanding collaboration” in the special operation.
Bennett added that “redeeming prisoners is a Jewish value that became one of the holiest values of the State of Israel... It defines us and makes us unique. We will continue to act to bring all our sons home from anywhere.”
Ron Arad’s relatives told Channel 12 that they “continue to hope that maybe one day we will know what was Ron’s fate.”
Arad was captured on October 16, 1986, after a bomb his plane dropped caused damage to the aircraft, forcing him and the plane’s pilot to bail out. The pilot was saved, but Arad was taken by Lebanese Shi’ite group Amal, and later transferred to Iranian forces.
Arad sent three letters from captivity, and two photos of him were released. Israel lost track of Arad in 1988.
There have been several Israeli operations to get more information about his fate, including the capture of Hezbollah members and an offer of a $10 million reward. A joint report by the Mossad and the IDF determined in 2016 that Arad likely died in 1988.
The Prime Minister’s Office said that “bringing information to the Knesset and the public has value, expressing the great effort and commitment to bringing our boys home, even many years after they were captured by the enemy.”
A spokesman for Bennett would only say that the reason for the announcement was to “update Knesset members.”
Asked if it was connected to a likely upcoming trip by the prime minister to Moscow, a spokesman for Bennett said no. No date has been set for the visit, but Bennett agreed to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Russian military found the remains of missing soldier Zachary Baumel in 2019 and returned them to Israel from Syria where Russia maintains a military presence.