The Mossad intelligence agency examined a corpse in a northern Lebanese village to see if it was the remains of missing Israeli pilot Ron Arad, according to a Saudi media report on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced Monday that the Mossad had recently embarked on wide-ranging efforts in search of information about Arad, who has been missing in action since 1986. He was last known to be in the custody of Lebanese terror groups.
According to the Saudi news site al-Arabiya, the Mossad extracted DNA from the corpse interred in Nabi Chit to test if it was Arad’s remains. The news report did not say what the test results revealed.
Al-Arabiya also reported that the Mossad abducted an Iranian general from Syria to interrogate him about Arad’s fate. That was first reported earlier Tuesday by the London-based Rai al-Youm paper.
Mossad agents took the Iranian general from Syria to an unnamed African country, interrogated him there, and eventually released him, Rai al-Youm said.
The report, which was prominently cited in Hebrew media Tuesday amid considerable confusion and contradictory reports regarding the recent Mossad operation, provided no further details on the alleged abduction.
Speaking at the opening of the winter Knesset session on Monday, Bennett revealed that Mossad agents recently went on a mission to uncover the whereabouts of Arad, an Israeli Air Force navigator who was captured in 1986 and was last heard from in 1988.
Initial accounts in several Hebrew media outlets late Monday 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.
But on Tuesday, the same TV channel reported that Barnea actually asked for Bennett to reveal the operation and that “the praise and recognition for the Mossad sacrificing to return Arad and other captives and MIAs was important for members of the organization along with the praise for soldiers.” The network also said that Barnea sent a letter to the organization’s staff portraying the operation as a major success.
Yediot Ahronoth quoted an unnamed “senior intelligence source” claiming that “the Mossad achieved its mission,” and Israel Hayom quoted a senior intelligence source calling it “one of the most important and successful operations to bring quality information about Arad.”
Following the reports criticizing Bennett for revealing the operation and calling it a failure, 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.
During his speech at the opening of the Knesset’s winter session, Bennett said that “it was a complex, widescale operation. That’s all that can be said right now.”
Bennett said that the operation, involving male and female Mossad agents, took place last month in an effort to discover what happened to Arad.
Arad bailed out of his plane during an operation in southern Lebanon in 1986. Israel believes 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 assumed 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 IDF 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.