Israel announced it was resuming efforts to solve the mysterious disappearance of one of its soldiers on the Golan Heights 16 years ago.
According to the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, Maj. Gen. Orna Barbivai, the head of the military’s manpower directorate, “recently decided to renew searching in the areas in which the soldier Guy Hever was seen on the day of his disappearance, out of a hope to discover new findings that will shed light on the incident. The IDF will continue to do all in its power to solve the incident of the soldier’s disappearance in order to discover what happened to him.”
The efforts to find Hever, the statement read, are focused on investigations, searches in the field “and searches on the intelligence level.”
In August 1997, Hever, a sergeant, left his post at an artillery base on the Golan Heights, and left the camp carrying only his rifle. The base, Camp Thunder, sat less than 23 kilometers (14 miles) from the Syrian border.
No trace of Hever has ever been found, and the case remains one of Israel’s most confounding mysteries, wrote The Times of Israel’s Matti Friedman in his 2012 investigation of the case.
Tireless searches by volunteer teams, soldiers, policemen, trained dogs, aircraft, and robots inserted into mined areas have all come up empty. His rifle, which would not have biodegraded or been consumed by animals, has never been found.
The military initially resisted officially declaring Hever missing, and though he is now considered a missing soldier and a reward has been offered for information, officials still seem reticent about the case.
Some surmise that the 20-year old was kidnapped and spirited into Syria, where he is currently being held. His family now hopes that in the wake of the brutal civil war ravaging Syria, with the flow of defectors out of the country, new information might come to light.
“This is harder than grief. It’s something that is not resolved,” his mother, Rina Hever, told The Times of Israel.
“I have not the shadow of a doubt that he’s alive.”
It later emerged that Hever was slated to face a minor disciplinary hearing for missing a unit social event, the latest in a string of infractions.
Unit commanders assumed that Hever, as young soldiers occasionally do, went AWOL as an act of protest, and headed home to his family.
With time, clues came trickling in. A psychologist living near the base said she had seen Hever heading toward Syria hours after he went missing.
A birdwatcher later reported seeing a uniformed person on the border that day.
Hever wouldn’t be the only Israeli held by Syria while the Assad regime kept it quiet. In 1988, Massad Abu Toameh, an Israeli Arab, flew to Greece for a vacation and disappeared. He resurfaced in late 2001, having been held in Syria for nearly 14 years.
Abu Toameh had been kidnapped by a Palestinian faction operating under the auspices of the Syrian regime. The Syrian government repeatedly denied he was in the country.
In 2005, a German living in Israel was arrested in Syria, and claimed to have met a thin, dark-skinned man with perfect Hebrew during her interrogation. After seeing Hever’s pictures two years later, she wrote a letter to Rina Hever.
“I met your son, missing soldier Guy Hever, during an interrogation on May 3, 2005, around 22:00 o’clock at night in Damascus, Syria, with 90 percent certainty,” she wrote to the soldier’s mother. “Of course I cannot say 100 percent because his name was not mentioned.”
“I had no doubt she was telling the truth,” Dan Hadany, a retired air force colonel heading the search for Hever, said after talking with her. “Based on what we know of the previous behavior of the Syrians, I believe it is entirely likely that Guy Hever is being held in Syria.”
In February 2007, a previously unknown and possibly fictional organization, the Resistance Committees for the Liberation of the Golan Heights, released a statement saying it would free an Israeli soldier captured on the Golan Heights — seemingly a reference to Hever — in return for Golan Druze prisoners in Israeli jails. Nothing came of the statement, and it remains unclear if the Resistance Committees exist.
It is extremely unlikely that Hever’s body will be found if he died somewhere in the rocky fields of the Golan Heights. But it would not be unprecedented.
The remains of missing IDF soldier Majdi Halabi were discovered by JNF worker Ibrahim Kozli and his brother two kilometers from the Halabi family home seven years after he went missing. Halabi disappeared in 2005 while attempting to hitchhike back to his army base from his hometown of Daliyat el-Carmel.
Kozli and his brother sued the State of Israel, the Defense Ministry, and the Born To Be Free nonprofit organization for the $10 million dollar reward that had been offered for locating the missing Halabi. Born to Be Free campaigns for the return of missing IDF soldiers from all conflicts since the 1980s.
However, in order for the courts to consider the case the finder was required to pay a fee of NIS 500,000 ($140,221), an amount far beyond the resources of the Hozlis. The brothers also failed to pay a reduced fee that the Haifa court had permitted them to pay following an earlier appeal.
According to the report the court also clarified that the reward money was intended for anyone who had concrete information about the missing soldier’s location and was not meant for someone who reported finding the body, as that was the duty of every citizen anyway.