Report: Israeli airman Ron Arad was tortured to death in 1988

Former militiaman tells Lebanese military court that the missing navigator died while in captivity near Beirut

Ron Arad. (Israeli Air Force)
Ron Arad. (Israeli Air Force)

A Lebanese newspaper claimed Saturday that Israeli navigator Ron Arad, who disappeared when he bailed from his plane over Lebanon in 1986, was tortured to death two years later by a radical Syrian group.

Arad and his pilot Yishai Aviram ejected from their plane over southern Lebanon in October 1986. Aviram was rescued shortly afterwards, but Arad was never found. He is believed by Israel to have been captured by the Shiite Amal movement before being handed over to Iran, and moved from Lebanon to Iran and then back again.

But according to the Daily Star, one of five people recently summoned to a Lebanese military tribunal for suspected contact with Israel told the court that he does know what had happened to the Israeli navigator.

The report stated that one of the defendants, which it identifies only as Moufeed K., claimed that in 1988 he had been an official in the military wing of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party when he was informed that other members of the group had a captive.

Moufeed reportedly told the court that he and his comrades took their captive to the town of Dhour Choueir, not far from Beirut, but could not recall whether their prisoner had been wearing an aviator’s uniform at the time. He said that he had told his men to clean up their captive and departed, only to be informed a short time later that the prisoner had died.

“They told me that he had entered the bathroom and stayed there for a long time,” the Daily Star quotes him as saying. “When they went to check on him they found him dead.”

Ron Arad (photo credit: screen capture, YouTube)
Ron Arad (photo credit: screen capture, YouTube)

He added that: “Of course he passed away due to exhaustion and of course he was subject to beatings and torture as that is how interrogations happen.”

It was only after his death, Moufeed said, that he realized the man’s identity.

A decade later, in 1998, Moufeed said that Arad’s name once again appeared in the media, after which he “went to our base to ask the young men who were involved where they had buried our prisoner.”

Moufeed told the court that he and his men returned to the spot where they had buried Arad to verify that the body was the missing Israeli navigator.

Moufeed recounted that he and two of the other defendants at the tribunal, named as Elias D. and Mahdi D., subsequently decided to request a meeting with then-Lebanese president Emile Lahoud.

But, the Daily Star said, the judge at the trial at this point closed the proceedings to the public. The trial was adjourned until April 20, the report said.

Amal commander turned Hezbollah member Mustafa Dirani, who is long-thought to have been the last person to see Arad alive, was abducted by Israeli elite commandos in 1994. The IDF knew that Dirani no longer held Arad, but hopes that he possessed vital information that could put Israel back on the missing airman’s trail led to a drawn-out investigation that culminated in 2004 with Dirani’s release in an exchange with Hezbollah.

Dirani is believed to have handed Arad over to Hezbollah, but the airman escaped in May 1988 when his captors fled an Israeli rescue attempt. He is thought by Hezbollah to have been captured by the Iranians, taken to Tehran and later returned to Lebanon after Dirani’s seizure by Israel.

A 2004 IDF commission determined that Arad had died in the 1990s after being denied medical treatment for a serious illness, and been buried in the Beqaa Valley. 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.

Israel declared Ron Arad dead in 2008.

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