According to Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar, former Hezbollah defense chief Imad Mughniyeh wanted to find information on Israeli Air Force navigator Ron Arad to use in a potential prisoner swap.
New revelations about Arad, the who was taken prisoner in Lebanon in 1986 and whose fate remains unknown, were reported in the Lebanese media on Tuesday.
Al-Akhbar reported that Hezbollah’s former defense and operations chief, Imad Mughniyeh, who was assassinated in 2008 in an operation attributed to Israel, formed a special unit to find information on Arad to be used in a prisoner swap deal with Israel.
According to the report, the unit found Arad’s parachute and uniform.
Arad and his pilot evacuated their plane due to a technical failure during an IAF mission to hit terrorist targets in the Lebanese city of Sidon in 1986. The pilot, Yishai Aviram, was found and rescued by the IAF; Arad was taken prisoner.
During his imprisonment, three letters and one picture were sent to Israel. However, no contact has been made since 1987, when the Red Cross was last given access to Arad.
Al Akhbar ran a profile story on Mughniyeh Tuesday to mark the anniversary of his death, revealing his interest in prisoner swaps. Senior Hezbollah official Haj Wafik Safa told Al Akhbar that “the release of prisoners from Israeli prisons greatly interested Mughniyeh.”
Safa said that “there were many attempts to abduct Israeli soldiers in order to swap them for Lebanese, Palestinian and Arab prisoners, and many [Hezbollah] fighters were killed during these attempts.”
Safa said that Mughniyeh was among the leaders of prisoner exchange negotiations with Israel after Hezbollah captured the bodies of three IDF soldiers in 2000.
He said that Mughniyeh saw the issue of Ron Arad as having the potential to win a mass prisoner release from Israel. “Mughniyeh formed a special team whose role was to investigate the traces of Arad from 2004 to 2006.”
Safa claims that the team “succeeded in finding some of his belongings: like a parachute, his weapon and his uniform.” Mughniyeh then began carrying out negotiations with Israel for the return of the items.
Mughniyeh died in 2008 during negotiations on a prisoner swap that eventually saw the bodies of IDF soldiers Eldad Regev and Udi Goldwasser returned to Israel in exchange for the bodies of hundreds of Lebanese fighters and five live prisoners, including arch-terrorist Samir Kuntar.
The Al Akhbar report did not specify if Arad’s personal belongings were returned as part of the deal.
Hezbollah told a United Nations negotiator in 2008 that Arad had been killed 20 years earlier, however the information has never been verified.