Copyright Associated Press Writer
October 16, 2001
HEADLINE: Israelis mark 15th anniversary of capture of airman Ron Arad in Lebanon
By LAURIE COPANS
JERUSALEM (AP) As hundreds of balloons floated slowly into the sky
Tuesday, marking the 15 years since Israeli Air Force navigator Ron
Arad was captured in Lebanon, the struggle for his return appeared
more futile than ever.
Meanwhile, the relatives of three other soldiers abducted by Hezbollah guerrillas a year ago continued to press for information about them, but to no avail.
Israeli governments over the years insist they have done all they can to win Arad's release, even kidnapping Lebanese militiamen as bargaining chips. On the anniversary of his capture, families of the three recently abducted soldiers joined Arad's relatives in calling for increased government efforts.
The annual day marking Arad's capture took on a ritual aspect, with nothing to report on his whereabouts or condition since a few months after he was captured in Lebanon when his F-4 Phantom plane crashed. On Tuesday, the Israeli Air Force flew a Phantom and two modern F-16 fighters in the "missing man" formation over the country's Mediterranean coastline, using only three craft instead of the usual four to signify Arad's absence. Sympathizers released 1,500 balloons, each with a written message to Arad.
Seven Israeli soldiers are listed as missing in Lebanon, including three from Israel's invasion in 1982, Arad in 1986 and three who were apparently taken to Lebanon on Oct. 7, 2000. Their families are pushing on relentlessly in an almost total absence of information or cooperation.
"Hope always exists," said Miriam Baumel, the mother of Zachary, an American-Israeli missing along with two other soldiers since a 1982 battle. "The information we have is that they are alive," she said. Arad's plane went down in October 1986 when a bomb on his fighter jet went off prematurely. The pilot was rescued in a daring operation, but Arad was captured by Lebanese guerrillas, who apparently handed him over to Iran.
In 1987, Arad's captors issued a picture and letter to his wife, Tami, the last sign of life from him.
"Please do your best to get me out of here because Lebanon is no place to be and I really want to see you all," Arad wrote. Arad's case has become a popular Israeli campaign, complete with songs and bumper stickers.
"We'll sing for Ron, we'll sing for Ron until you join us," crooned Israeli musician Boaz Sharabi in a lyric that has become part of the folklore built up around the missing navigator.
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