Why wasn't Russia involved in the Mossad Ron Arad operation? - analysis

How come Israel didn't seek Russian involvement with the search for Ron Arad in Syria, since Vladimir Putin helped locate the others?

Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Israel's Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS/HAIM TZACH)
Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Israel's Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

With so many questions swirling around the announcement of the Mossad operation to learn more about the fate of Ron Arad, a fascinating new question is which country or countries did the spy agency operate in to explore for new information?

No one knows for sure whether Arad is alive or dead. But presuming he died, where are his remains buried?

Even worse, there are disputes between different generations of Israeli intelligence reports about when the long-missing soldier likely died and what countries he likely visited along the way.

Both intelligence reviews of the issue from around five and around 15 years ago appear to agree that he was initially captured by the Lebanese group Amal in Lebanon, who eventually handed him over to Hezbollah there.

However, there is a dispute as to whether Arad was handed over to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and whether they brought him to Iran.

All of these disputes connect to whether Arad had already died in Lebanon around 1988 or whether he first traveled to Iran and was later sent back to Lebanon where he died in the mid-1990s.

On Monday, the London-based Arabic newspaper Rai al-Youm claimed that the Mossad had abducted an Iranian general from Syria last month and brought him to an African country for interrogation.

If true, part of why this is all happening now could be that the general had been involved in the Arad issue in the past, but then spent extensive time in the Islamic Republic, where he might be harder to abduct.

It is one thing to assassinate someone in Tehran using foreign assets who immediately fled the scene, but it is quite another thing to capture and interrogate a high-ranking official, which takes time and requires at some point remaining in one spot.

It's possible that Israeli intelligence only recently noticed that he was in Syria in a particular area and under circumstances more favorable to being captured.

If true, the question would be whether the questioning of an Iranian general supports the theory that Arad was brought to Iranian territory itself or whether the official was simply operating in Lebanon at the time.

It is also possible that some of the newer information that came out around five years ago led to this official and that it was less clear how important he was to solving the Arad mystery in prior decades.

IN ALL of this, a missing piece remains: Why didn't Israel seek Russian involvement?

Russian President Vladimir Putin showed a highly efficient ability to quickly return the remains of Israeli soldier Zechariah Baumel after a decades’ long mystery as to where in Syria they were being held.

Of course, each time Putin produced something for Israel in recent years, it came with a price tag.

Sometimes there were debates as to whether the price was worth it or whether then prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu had simply made the deal to score political points during a period of almost non-stop election cycles.

This could be one of the reasons Bennett did not turn to Putin.

Maybe now is a bad time to pay a price for a sentimental win, when there are major Israeli geopolitical interests and conflicts that Russia is in the middle of, such as in Iran and Syria.

Or maybe Putin’s help was able to be more direct through the Syrian regime, but less when relating to the Islamic Republic.

Alternatively, much of what has been leaked is a smokescreen for other operations by the Mossad, which is also known to operate in Iran itself and Lebanon.

If the Mossad captured and interrogated anyone, it will be interesting to see if that individual will at some point come forward.

Possibly even the timing of Bennett’s disclosure is the expectation that freeing such an individual is likely to lead to Israeli adversaries publicizing his escape from Israeli intelligence, whereas the Mossad and Israel would like to get out in front to frame the saga of what really happened.

Until Bennett or some other high-ranking Israeli defense official puts more meat on this incident, our imaginations are likely going to continue to run wild with speculation about what areas of Lebanon, Syria and Iran Israel’s clandestine agents have been frequenting over the last month.