Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Monday that he disagreed with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s decision to reveal information about a Mossad operation that aimed to find new information on the whereabouts of missing airman Ron Arad.
“Had it been up to me, I wouldn’t have revealed this operation,” said Gantz at a conference organized by the Yedioth Ahronoth daily and Ynet news site.
“I knew the details of the mission, I approved the details of the operation, I sat in on the preliminary discussions, I certainly oversaw its execution. I was in the loop entirely,” he said.
Bennett revealed details of the operation during a speech to the Knesset last week.
Bennett said that the operation took place last month in an effort to discover what happened to Arad, who is presumed dead.
“It was a complex, widescale operation. That’s all that can be said right now,” the prime minister said.
Initial accounts in several Hebrew media outlets portrayed the operation as entirely unsuccessful, and accused Bennett of revealing its existence for political reasons. Channel 12 news cited Mossad chief David Barnea as calling the operation courageous, daring and complex but nonetheless a “failure” in an internal meeting.
Following the reports, the Prime Minister’s Office released a statement describing it as a “successful operation carried out while meeting exceptional operational objectives.”
“Bringing the information to the Knesset members and the general public was of value, expressing the great effort and commitment to return our sons to their borders, even many years after they were captured by the enemy. Any other dissemination of information is false,” the statement read.
Gantz on Monday said the mission was “very successful,” rejecting media reports that it had yielded no leads.
“Right now we’re processing the information that emerged from this operation,” he said.
Arad bailed out of his plane during an operation in southern Lebanon in 1986. Israel has long believed he was captured by the Shiite Amal movement before being handed over to Iran, and moved from Lebanon to Iran and then back again.
Several signs of life were received in the first two years of his incarceration, including photos and letters, the last of which was sent on May 5, 1988.
Arad has long been presumed to have died many years ago, although intelligence reports have differed as to the circumstances, timing and location of his death.
In 2016, a report indicated that Arad was killed and buried in 1988 near Beirut. But a 2004 Israel Defense Forces commission determined Arad had died in the 1990s after being denied medical treatment.
In 2006, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said the group believed Arad was dead and his burial site unknown, and in 2008, German negotiator Gerhard Konrad told Israel that Hezbollah said Arad died during a 1988 escape attempt.
An Arabic-language newspaper published new alleged details over the weekend on Israel’s supposed kidnapping of an Iranian general as part of its efforts to find new information on the whereabouts of Arad.
After Bennett’s speech, the London-based Rai al-Youm online newspaper reported that Mossad agents had kidnapped the unidentified Iranian general from Syria to interrogate him about Arad’s capture and disappearance, then freed him in an unnamed African country.
The Saudi news site al-Arabiya claimed that as part of the recent operation, Mossad agents also extracted DNA from a corpse interred in the eastern Lebanese village of Nabi Chit to test if it was Arad’s remains. The report did not say what the test results revealed.