Copyright 2003 Jerusalem Post
HEADLINE: IAF ex-POWs slam prisoner exchange
BYLINE: MATTHEW GUTMAN
A group of 48 former Israel Air Force POWs, pilots and ground crew among them, said Wednesday they reject of any prisoner swap with Hizbullah that would include Mustapha Dirani, but not missing navigator Lt.-Col. Ron Arad.
Dirani, a former leader of the AMAL Shi'ite Lebanese militia, captured Arad in 1986 and "sold" him to Iran in 1988. Hizbullah has threatened to walk away from a deal that does not include him.
In a letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the pilots wrote that the state is bound to the pilots it sends on dangerous missions by a "covenant of blood." "When for 17 years the state does not abide by this covenant of blood which it signed for Ron Arad - then we have a problem," they wrote. It was the first time since Arad's capture that the former POWs so openly criticized the government.
The letter reflects growing public uneasiness regarding an anticipated prisoner swap that would see the release of hundreds of Palestinian, Lebanese, and other Arab prisoners in exchange for Lt.-Col. (res) Elhanan Tannenbaum and the bodies of three missing soldiers.
The ground crew signatories protested "any intention to free Mustapha Dirani, who held Ron Arad for two years, abused him, tortured him, and finally sold him to Iran for a bit of money."
The family of Arad has waged both a legal and public relations campaign to tie Dirani's fate directly to that of Arad.
They say that the Winograd Commission Report, which investigated Arad's disappearance, concludes that Arad is likely alive and that Dirani's fate is inexorably linked to that his erstwhile captive.
Israel has asked Hizbullah for details about the navigator, but were told that Hizbullah has no information to offer.
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