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Report: Israel seized jogging Iran general in Damascus, freed him in S. Africa

Arabic media claims man nicknamed ‘Sabri’ was a senior Iranian official in Lebanon when Ron Arad was captured there, leading Jerusalem to hope he’d have info on airman’s fate

Missing Israeli Air Force officer Ron Arad, photographed by Amal militants in Lebanon in 1987. (Wikipedia)
Missing Israeli Air Force officer Ron Arad, photographed by Amal militants in Lebanon in 1987. (Wikipedia)

An Arabic-language newspaper published new alleged details over the weekend on Israel’s supposed kidnapping of an Iranian general as part of efforts to find new information on the whereabouts of missing Israeli airman Ron Arad.

Monday saw the London-based Rai al-Youm online newspaper report that Mossad agents kidnapped the unidentified man from Syria to interrogate him, before freeing him in an at-the-time unnamed African country.

That same day, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett confirmed that Mossad agents went on a mission last month to uncover the whereabouts of Arad, an Israeli Air Force navigator who was captured in 1986 and was last heard from in 1988, though the premier did not provide details.

Media reports have largely characterized the operation as failing to produce any significant new information.

According to the latest report on Friday from Independent Arabia, the kidnapped general, nicknamed “Sabri,” had been sent by Iran to Lebanon in the 1980s and helped train the forces that would eventually form the Hezbollah terror group.

He later served in Iran’s Quds Force and in recent years had been advising Syrian regime forces during the civil war there.

The report, which cited “well-informed Iranian sources” and which could not be independently verified, said Israel had believed “Sabri” may have information on Arad, as he was a senior figure in the area during the time of Arad’s capture.

According to Independent Arabia, Sabri was recently kidnapped in Damascus, where he was living near the Iranian embassy and went on regular jogs. On one such occasion, as he jogged past a van, Mossad agents inside grabbed him and drove off.

A view of the Damascus skyline in 2012. (AP Photo, File)

The report claimed the general was then taken to Israel and interrogated “intensively,” before being transferred to Johannesburg, South Africa and released there with a phone number to contact the Iranian embassy.

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 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.

On Tuesday, Saudi news site al-Arabiya claimed that as part of the recent operation, Mossad agents 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.

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