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Mossad: 3 Iranian Jews missing since 1990s killed en route to Israel

Intelligence service ends speculation over fate of men who vanished when escape organized by Israel went awry

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Pictures and details said to be those of missing Iranian Jews, published on the website ketab.com (photo credit: ketab.com)
Pictures and details said to be those of missing Iranian Jews, published on the website ketab.com (photo credit: ketab.com)

Two decades of mystery shrouding the fate of three Iranian Jews who disappeared in 1997 have come to a close, after the Mossad confirmed that they were killed by Iranian authorities while attempting to emigrate to Israel.

The Mossad did not immediately say how they were killed, however, or by whom.

Nourollah Rabi-Zade, from Shiraz, and brothers Syrous and Ibrahim Ghahremani, from Kermanshah, were instructed by Israeli agents to approach the Iran-Pakistan border to meet a smuggler who would sneak them out of the country. However, the three men never turned up to the meeting point, and were never heard from again, the Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported Monday.

The announcement comes a year after the intelligence agency announced that a separate botched emigration attempt, orchestrated by Israel and overseen by Mossad and Jewish Agency officials, resulted in the deaths of eight Iranian Jews en route to Israel in 1994.

In light of the new information, an Israeli rabbinical court said the Mossad’s findings were reliable, and ruled that the wives of the victims were eligible to remarry.

Under Jewish law, women whose husbands have gone missing are barred from marrying again until their death are confirmed. Then-Sephardic chief rabbi Shlomo Amar made a similar ruling regarding the widows of the eight who were determined killed last year.

According to a Channel 10 report last year, the eight who disappeared in 1994 had been told by Israeli contacts to travel eastward to cross the Pakistani border in three groups. In what appeared to be a case of mistaken identity, two of the groups were confused with anti-government insurgents and killed by Iranian forces, while the third group was detained by the government, the report said. They were later released and killed by local tribesmen.

A number of years ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked the Mossad reopen the investigation into the fate of missing Iranian Jews. Last March, the PMO confirmed the death of the eight Jews, stating they “were caught during the escape and murdered.”

While the PMO did not detail when or where the eight were killed or by whom, it said the Mossad had received the information from a “reliable source.”

At the time, some family members expressed anger at the state for not revealing its role in their disappearance, and for withholding information that could have released the victims’ wives from their bonds of marriage.

Yoel Ram, the son of one of the eight victims, told Channel 10 at the time that only intense pressure from the families had led state officials to release the information on their deaths. Yehuda Kassif, an activist who campaigned on behalf of the families, accused the state of planning and directing the men’s escape attempt and then “shirking responsibility the moment something went wrong.”

Yehuda Kasif, a longtime representative of the victims’ families, told The Times of Israel that the silhouette of a twelfth man seen in the composite photograph of the missing men was an Iranian Jew who was likely killed in Iran in an unrelated incident around the time of the disappearance, and was not a part of those trying to escape the Islamic Republic.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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