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Copyright 2003 Jerusalem Post
September 26

HEADLINE: Arad family sues to delay deal


The wife, daughter, and brothers of MIA Lt.-Col. Ron Arad petitioned the High Court of Justice Thursday, demanding the government allow them to study the Winograd Report before freeing Lebanese hostage Mustafa Dirani in an anticipated prisoner exchange between Israel and Hizbullah. It was the second legal action in two days by the family to prevent Dirani's repatriation after nine years in an Israeli jail. On Wednesday, the family sued Dirani in Tel Aviv District Court for NIS 100 million in damages for the suffering he has caused them.

The High Court ordered the state to submit its preliminary response to the petition this morning.

Dirani and another hostage, Sheikh Karim Obeid, who are being held in Israel as bargaining chips for Arad's release, are among those demanded by Hizbullah in exchange for the return of kidnapped Israeli businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum and the bodies of three IDF soldiers killed in an ambush in October 2000.

In May 2002, then-chief of General Staff Shaul Mofaz appointed a committee to reconsider the efforts made by Israel to obtain Arad's release since he bailed out over southern Lebanon on October 16, 1986, and was taken captive by fighters of the Amal Shi'ite militia. A cornerstone of these efforts was the kidnapping and incarceration of Obeid, a Hizbullah cleric, in 1989 and of Dirani, a Shi'ite militia leader, in 1994. Israel hoped Arad's captors would release him in return for Obeid and Dirani.

When Arad was captured, Dirani headed the Shi'ite militia in southern Lebanon under the command of Nabih Beri, currently speaker of the Lebanese parliament. Dirani took custody of Arad and held him for 18 months.

During that time, Dirani handed Arad over to Syrian and Russian interrogators, who reportedly tortured him. Dirani also drove Arad from one hiding place to another throughout Lebanon in the trunk of his car. In September 1987, Amal conducted negotiations over the release of Arad. During this time, Arad's family received three letters and two photos from him. It was the last time anyone heard directly from him.

Dirani later quit Amal and formed his own, more extreme, organization called the Believers' Resistance. He also took independent control of Arad and even negotiated with Israel for the flight navigator's release at the beginning of 1988. On May 4, however, Dirani "sold" Arad to Iran. Not a word has been heard from him since.

In response to speculation over the years that Arad is dead, Mofaz appointed a committee composed of retired Judge Eliahu Winograd, former Mossad official Uri Ne'eman, and former police investigator Meir Gilboa to study the efforts made to release Arad, including the question of whether he is still alive.

The committee examined all the material gathered by army intelligence, the Mossad, and the government department responsible for POWs and MIAs. Recently, it completed its report and handed it over to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who, in turn, submitted it to Mofaz.

On September 2, the media reported leaks from the report, including the fact that Winograd recommended maintaining and acting upon the assumption that Arad is still alive.

According to his wife, Tami, his daughter, Chen, and his brothers David and Yuval, Israel has insisted on keeping Obeid and Dirani in captivity for the sole purpose of obtaining Arad's freedom. "Throughout the years," wrote their lawyer, Eliad Shraga, "the [government] reiterated this commitment that Dirani and Obeid were bargaining chips in a future deal regarding Ron Arad and that no deal involving the two would be made without receiving some quid-pro-quo regarding Arad."

Shraga warned that if the two are released now, "what appears to be the last hope of extracting at least information about the fate of Ron Arad will be lost."

Israel has bargaining chips that are being held in Europe for the purposes of a prisoner exchange, Sharon said in interviews on Thursday with Channels 1 and 2. He said a deal with Hizbullah has not yet been finalized, but Israel has several bargaining chips that Iran and Hizbullah are interested in.

Sharon hinted that Israel's main goal in the negotiations is bringing Tannenbaum home. He said Arad's case involves difficult moral questions, because Israel still does not have proof whether he is alive or dead. He said he wept at a recent meeting with Arad's wife, Tammy.

"We don't know if Ron Arad is alive, but we must act according to the assumption that he is alive until we have proof otherwise," Sharon said.

He also disclosed that Israel has "bargaining chips" in Europe for the purposes of a prisoner exchange that Iran and Hizbullah are interested in, but did not give details.

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