Officials: Iranian diplomats not held in Israel

Reject Iranian accusation that Israel is secretly imprisoning four Iranians missing since 1982.

Ofer Dekel 224 88 (photo credit: Channel 10)
Ofer Dekel 224 88
(photo credit: Channel 10)
Israeli officials dismissed as "nonsense" an Iranian diplomat's accusation Thursday that Israel is secretly imprisoning four Iranians - three diplomats and their driver - who disappeared in Lebanon in 1982. As part of the prisoner swap approved by the cabinet on Sunday, Hizbullah is to provide a detailed report on the fate of IAF navigator Ron Arad, who was captured alive in Lebanon in 1986, and Israel is to provide information on the fate of the missing Iranians, after both Israel and Hizbullah sign the agreement. While Iran has charged that the men are being held in Israel, Israel has long said they were killed in Lebanon after being taken at a checkpoint by Christian Phalangists during Israel's invasion of Beirut in 1982, and that the Jewish state had nothing to do with the episode. Mojtaba Ferdoussi, charge d'affaires at the Iranian Embassy in Lebanon, said all the information Teheran had indicated that the missing Iranians were in Israel, and he demanded their release. Ferdoussi spoke at a news conference in Beirut on Thursday. "This is not serious," one Israeli government official said. "It is a fabricated claim. They did not disappear here, but in Lebanon. We have nothing to do with the matter." Ofer Dekel, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's point man on the prisoner issue, was scheduled to travel to Germany Thursday and finalize the deal with German negotiator Gerhard Konrad. Konrad is then expected to travel to Lebanon within two days and receive the Hizbulluh report on Arad. Once that report is received, and Konrad and Dekel conclude that it meets the expected standards, kidnapped reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser are to be returned to Israel, in exchange for Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar, four Hizbullah fighters and the bodies of dozens of infiltrators and terrorists, including eight Hizbullah men. After that swap is concluded, Israel is to release a yet undetermined number of Palestinian security prisoners. Regev and Goldwasser are believed by many Israeli officials to be dead even though their families have insisted that they are alive. Last week, their families lobbied hard for the swap agreement to pass the cabinet on Sunday. It did, and the families have spent this past week simply waiting for the return of the two men who were taken by Hizbullah in July 2006. The agreement has been signed, Goldwasser's mother, Miki, told The Jerusalem Post, so from here it is just a matter of time until it is fulfilled. Even those who have rallied for the government to do more for Arad are in the same mode. "We support every agreement to bring home captives," said Doron Vinikov, who trained with Ron in the IAF. The inclusion of the report on Arad, he said, appears to be the fulfillment of previous conditions set by the government with regard to his missing friend. "We are waiting," he said. Tovah Lazaroff and AP contributed to this report.