Analyze This: A deal to prevent another Ron Arad

Laying Arad case to rest will spare his family further torment.

ron arad also new 248 88 (photo credit: Channel 10)
ron arad also new 248 88
(photo credit: Channel 10)
Earlier this week, with just a few days to go before the prisoner swap scheduled for Wednesday, the cabinet received, as part of that deal, a report from Hizbullah supposedly detailing everything the organization knows about the fate of Ron Arad, shot down over Lebanon in 1986. Although it included two new photos of Arad and some personal documents from his first two years in captivity, it contained no clues about what happened to him after 1988. Hizbullah's claim that he simply went missing after an attempted escape is, not surprisingly, viewed with widespread skepticism by Israeli security sources. Even if the organization is no longer in direct possession of Arad or his remains, it is assumed they have more information about his fate than they are letting on. Despite this, the government is going ahead with the exchange that will return reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev to Israel, even at the price of freeing murderous terrorist Samir Kuntar, and they are doing it with (according to polls) majority public support. Actually, though, one might say the swap is proceeding not despite the failure to determine what happened to Arad, but in large part because of it. Arad's shadow falls very heavily on this deal; so much so, it points to a major problem with the way this country has handled the case of the missing aviator for over two decades. The freeing of Kuntar in this situation is an especially bitter pill to swallow, because the security establishment believes Goldwasser and Regev are dead, and all Israel is obtaining in exchange is confirmation of that fact in the form of their remains. But Hizbullah has taken extraordinarily great care to ensure that this country has no confirmation of that fact, or any knowledge at all about their condition. Indeed, just this week reports broke that this deliberate strategy dates back to the very day the two soldiers were snatched from their IDF patrol on July 12, 2006, with new claims that the Hizbullah terrorists who carried out the attack purposely torched the vehicle from which they were taken, to make it as hard as possible for any subsequent investigation to gain clues about their condition. This is not a new tactic for the radical Islamic militia; they practiced similar subterfuge in their kidnapping of three IDF soldiers back in October 2000. Israel, though, was able to obtain sufficient intelligence information to officially declare those soldiers dead a year later. When Israel subsequently agreed to a prisoner swap with Hizbullah in January 2004, it held firm in not agreeing to include Kuntar in the deal, despite the fact that it included the return of a very live (if dubious) Israeli, Elhanan Tennenbaum. Now Kuntar is going free, even though almost no one believes a live Israeli hostage is being given in exchange. The problem in this case is that Israel has no proof of that - just like it has no solid leads about the fate of Arad. If Hizbullah really does have more information about Arad, or even his remains, why hasn't it given it up yet? Is it still holding out for a bigger deal? That's unlikely, since Kuntar is the last major Hizbullah prisoner card Israel was holding, and Arad would likely have already been used earlier as a bargaining chip to free either him, or Mustafa Dirani and Sheikh Abdel Obeid, both of whom were returned in the Tennenbaum swap. And in both that deal and this one, Israel's request that new information on the aviator be thrown into the pot seemed more a pro-forma request for the sake of the Arad family than something regarded as a key element by either side. It would appear rather that Hizbullah, or whoever it is in Lebanon or elsewhere - perhaps in Iran - who really knows something about what happened to Arad, sees Israeli uncertainty about his fate as a value in and of itself. Unfortunately they may have a point. The government's and public's focus on Arad, the determination to keep his name in the news, his story in the heart of every Israeli schoolchild, and his case a live issue in the arena of international opinion and diplomacy, has certainly been an admirable crusade, and his family deserves no less. But as the years go by, the failure to actually make any progress on the issue - as well as the tragic personal limbo to which his wife, Tami, has been condemned - has clearly begun to look (and not just to our enemies) like a weak point in Israeli prowess and a sore point in its general psyche. The willingness now to free Kuntar after all these years, even for what may be a couple of corpses, undoubtedly reflects a concern that Goldwasser and Regev not end up as two more Ron Arads. On an individual level, Tami Arad has said as much in speaking about the situation of Goldwasser's wife, Karnit. On an official level, that view is reflected by the willingness of the security establishment to officially declare Goldwasser and Regev dead, even though there is no more evidence in our hands to make that determination than there is to declare the same about Arad. On Wednesday, we will know for sure what happened to Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, in large part because we still don't know what became of Ron Arad. Perhaps it's also time to consider laying that case to rest - if only to deny our enemies any further opportunities to exploit our admirable devotion to his memory and sense of duty to his loved ones, as a means to weaken us and further torment the Arad family. And also, of course, to focus more on the situation of the one live hostage we know for sure is still in enemy hands - Gilad Schalit.