Israel resumed efforts in recent weeks to solve the mysterious disappearance of one of its soldiers on the Golan Heights 17 years ago.
The searches are concentrated in two minefields adjacent to where IDF soldier Guy Hever was deployed, near Had Nes, Channel 2 reported Monday. As part of the efforts, the army torched the fields while taking photos from above to identify whether any of the explosions were unusual. The Israeli forces are hoping to locate Hever’s rifle, which would not have biodegraded or been consumed by animals, and which has never been found.
Last December, the IDF announced it would renew the searches shortly.
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, was 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.
Tireless searches by volunteer teams, soldiers, policemen, trained dogs, aircraft, and robots inserted into mined areas have all come up empty.
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 in 2012. “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 even exist.