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Copyright 2003 Jerusalem Post
November 9

HEADLINE: Lawyer: Obeid, Dirani not linked to Arad


Hizbullah Sheikh Abdel Karim Obeid and Amal leader Mustafa Dirani are completely unrelated to the 1986 disappearance of navigator Lt.-Col. Ron Arad and therefore must be included in the impending prisoner swap with Hizbullah, said the detainees' lawyer, Zvi Rish, Thursday.

The two, among 19 other Lebanese, were kidnapped from Lebanon and held in Israeli administrative detention as bargaining chips for Arad.

The Arad family has launched a multi-million dollar campaign largely focused on linking Dirani's fate to that of Arad, whom Dirani allegedly tortured, stuffed in his trunk, and eventually "sold" to Iran. Dirani served as head of security for the the Shi'ite Lebanese militia Amal at the time of Arad's capture.

But this is almost entirely "political spin," Rish told The Jerusalem Post. Obeid was abducted by Israel in 1989 in an effort to secure the release of CIA agent Lt.-Col. William Higgins, captured by Hizbullah in 1988. Two days after Obeid's abduction, Hizbullah executed Higgins.

Then-defense minister Yitzhak Rabin told the public that Obeid had been abducted to bring Ron Arad home. Rabin lied, said Rish, because "Israelis could not digest being the US's sub-contractor in the Middle East." Israel has held Obeid for 14 years without trial.

A veteran of the Shin Bet, Rish said that the "spin" surrounding Dirani is also false. The Arad family has coined a phrase saying, "Dirani has the most Ron on his hands." Yet testimony from Dirani and his deputies, as well as Israeli intelligence, reveals that Dirani never tortured Arad, did not lock him in his trunk, and in fact did not "sell" him to Iran, said Rish.

In short, members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard "stole" Arad from Dirani, while Amal and Israel were negotiating for the airman's release.

Security sources have confirmed that Dirani and Obeid are far less important as bargaining chips than Israelis are led to believe. "Iran could not care less if Dirani was to rot in prison for the rest of his life," one source said.

Israel's offer for Dirani fell just a few prisoners short of Amal's demands and the mediated negotiations collapsed.

Dirani was kept in a secret Israeli prison for years - a place that has no official name. Even the inmates do not know where they are. "Dirani captured an enemy pilot on a bombing run of Lebanon, during war, in Lebanese territory. These are hardly grounds for abduction and indefinite incarceration, and the Israeli courts were well aware of it," said Rish.

Dirani - who claims to have been tortured and sodomized in prison - has lobbied for a trial, but his requests have been denied. Israel has never charged him with war crimes for violating the Fourth Geneva Convention, because he never committed any, said his lawyer.

The International Delegation of the Red Cross confirmed Dirani's allegations of mistreatment in detention.

"I say we as a state cannot act like a terrorist organization. If we hold hostages it gives legitimization for terrorists to hold hostages to free their own comrades," said Rish.

The courts charged most of the 19 on several minor counts and sentenced them to short prison terms. Following their prison terms the 19 were held in administrative detention as bargaining chips.

One of the 19, Samir Kuntar, a Lebanese contracted by the PLO, murdered four-year old Einat Haran in Nahariya.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has vowed not to release Kuntar in the swap. Several others are believed to have taken part in attacks on soldiers in Israel's former 16-kilometer wide security zone in southern Lebanon.

A further examination of Dirani's testimony by Israeli intelligence shows that he traveled to Iran in 1988, and petitioned then-president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani to release Arad, which would have enabled Amal to cut a prisoner swap with Israel. Iran rejected his plea.

Hizbullah's Obeid was no choice target either.

During the late 1980s, the veteran Amal militia began an internecine war against a radical Shi'ite upstart group named Hizbullah. Obeid had issued a fatwa (Muslim religious ruling) against Shi'ites fighting Shi'ites. Hizbullah dubbed him a traitor, and Obeid hired bodyguards to protect him against members of his own group.

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