Russia President Vladimir Putin has approved an Israeli request to return a tank captured by Syria during the Battle of Sultan Yacoub, during the 1982 First Lebanon War.
from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raised the issue during his meeting with Putin in the Kremlin last month, following a request by Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement Sunday.
Considered one of Israel’s worst failures in the First Lebanon War, 30 Israeli soldiers were killed and another three went missing in the two-day battle against Syrian forces in the Bekaa Valley.
The Magach-3 tank, along with Zvi Feldman, Yehuda Katz and Zachary Baumel — all listed as missing in action — were captured by Syrian forces during the June 11 battle.
Several eyewitnesses at the time testified to seeing the three Israeli soldiers paraded alive through the streets of Damascus on top of the tank.
Though there were indications in 1993, 2000, and possibly 2005 that at least one of the three soldiers was still alive, the reported sightings were never confirmed.
The Syrians delivered the tank to the Russian army, which currently has it on display at the Moscow Military Museum.
In a recorded video message on Sunday, Netanyahu thanked Putin for the “humanitarian gesture,” saying that in lieu of a grave, the tank served as an important symbol for the families of the MIA soldiers.
“I want to thank Russian President Vladimir Putin for responding to my request and the chief of staff’s request to return to Israel the tank from Sultan Yacoub,” the prime minister said.
“We are continuing to work in a number of ways to determine the fate of Zvi Feldman, Yehuda Katz and Zachary Baumel. We will not rest until we know what happened to them,” Netanyahu said.
Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben Dahan, himself a veteran of the 1982 war, also praised Putin’s gesture.
“I was deeply moved to hear the tank would be returned,” he said. “This takes me back 34 years. I just hope that with the tank’s return, we can also find out more information on the missing soldiers.”
The statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said the families of the MIA soldiers had been notified of the tank’s return.