Officials: Arad report won't solve the mystery

Gov't to approve validity of details; army exhumes Hizbullah bodies; PMO announces signing of deal.

bodies exhume 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
bodies exhume 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The defense establishment does not have high hopes for new groundbreaking information on missing navigator Ron Arad's fate in the report Hizbullah is scheduled to provide to Israel later this week, a senior defense official said Monday. According to the official, since the report will likely not contain any new information it will also not hold up the prisoner exchange between Israel and Hizbullah scheduled for next week. "We do not believe that Hizbullah will provide details that will solve the mystery surrounding Arad's disappearance," the official said. Ram Igra, a former head of the Mossad's MIA department, predicted Monday that the Hizbullah report would conclude that Arad had tried to escape when his guards went to fight during the 1988 Maydun operation. Igra said that the other school of thought in the defense establishment was that Arad had been kidnapped by Iranian Revolutionary Guards. "Hizbullah will likely write in the report what it has been saying for years and that is that Arad ran away during the Maydun operation," he said. "Since then, his tracks have been lost." IDF sources said that the swap was likely to take place in the middle of next week - after July 12, the second anniversary of the eruption of the Second Lebanon War. In the first stage, Israel will return 200 bodies in exchange for Israeli body parts held by Hizbullah. The second stage will be the swap of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser for convicted murderer Samir Kuntar and four Hizbullah fighters caught during the 2006 war. Regarding the abducted reservists, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Monday that "as far as we know, they are dead." The cabinet, which last Sunday approved the prisoner swap in a marathon session, will convene again when the report on Arad is received to discuss the findings and the continued implementation of the deal, according to officials in the Prime Minister's Office. According to the original government decision approving the deal, the actual exchange would only take place after the report on Arad was received, and both German mediator Gerhard Konrad and Israel concurred that it met expected standards. While it appeared at first that Prime Minister Olmert's emissary Ofer Dekel would make that determination for Israel, it now appears as if the whole cabinet will have to sign off on the report. The PMO issued a statement Monday saying that the report had not yet been received, and would be received "following the completion of the clarification process between the UN envoy and Hizbullah." Dekel, according to the PMO, has signed the agreement, and it will now be presented to Hizbullah for the group to sign. "The continued implementation of the deal is conditioned on several components, regarding which no details will be given," the PMO statement said. After Israel receives the report on Arad, it is to give a report to Hizbullah on information regarding the four Iranian diplomats who went missing in Beirut in 1982. Israel's position is that the four were picked up and later killed by Christian Phalangists, while Iran claims that the four are in Israeli prisons. Meanwhile, close to 100 reservists from the IDF Rabbinate Corps were drafted into service on Monday and began exhuming the bodies of foreign combatants that will be returned to Hizbullah as part of the prisoner swap. The IDF plans to exhume some 200 bodies from a cemetery near Safed. The process includes two stages - exhuming each body, and then identifying it. After the bodies are identified, they will be placed in cold storage until the swap. IDF sources said that the bodies would all be returned to Hizbullah in coffins. "This is a sensitive process," one official said. "We do it with the utmost respect for the dead and to ensure that we positively identify each of the bodies." Also Monday, Barak told a closed-door meeting of the Labor faction at the Knesset that Israel had hurt itself by unnecessarily raising expectations that it would pay a heavy price in order to redeem captive soldiers. Barak complained that in order to bring home kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit, Israel would have to make a very difficult decision. The defense minister said that after the upcoming prisoner exchanges, he would appoint a committee to set guidelines in the event of similar circumstances in the future. He said the committee would be chaired by Israel Prize-winning ethicist Asa Kasher and include former Supreme Court Justice Meir Shamgar and former Defense Ministry director-general Amos Yaron.