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Copyright 2004 Jerusalem Post
October 25

HEADLINE: PM's office: We are still looking for Arad

BYLINE: Matthew Gutman

In response to a Jerusalem Post exclusive Sunday, the Prime Ministers office released a statement saying that it has no proof that Ron Arad, an Israeli Air Force navigator missing since 1986, is dead or alive.

The Post quoted Germany's former intelligence chief, Bernd Schmidbauer as saying that "The only question remains whether he [Arad]died from a disease, a kind of injury related to his crash or that he was killed. But that he is dead, is clear."

The 18 year saga of Ron Arad - who parachuted out of his Phantom into the hands of Lebanese militiamen - continues to dog the defense establishment which has poured tens of millions of dollars into a fruitless effort to locate the missing navigator.

The Post's report seemed to have put a dent in the Prime Minister's Office's certainty that Arad is alive.

When contacted Sunday night the office's spokesman Asi Shariv referred the Jerusalem Post to the 2003 Winograd Report indicating that "the possibility that Arad is alive overrides all others." By Monday afternoon the office - responsible for prisoner negotiations and matters concerning the Mossad - said that "the State of Israel continues to make every effort in order to find the solution to this painful affair and will not cease until it clarifies the fate of Ron and bring him home."

The Arad family, continuing a policy it began over a year ago once the details of the January 2004 prisoner swap with Hizbullah took shape, refused to comment on the issue to the press.

The report on the death of Arad was based on a film entitled, "An Eye for an Eye," documenting the horse-trading between Israel and Hizbullah over hostages during the last decade with a focus on Ron Arad, and Israel's failure to bring him home.

In his capacity as coordinator of the German Intelligence Services in the mid to late 1990's Schmidbauer played a key role in negotiations for hostage deals between Israel and Hizbullah, shuttling between Berlin, Beirut, Tehran and Jerusalem.

The documentary, created by German film-maker and investigative reporter Hubert Seipel, discloses a number of apparently secret documents from the German Federal Intelligence Services, the BND. Among the revelations are that until 1996 Arad was hidden in a cave in the Lebanese village of Nebi Shit, virtually under the nose of Israeli forces in Lebanon; that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards smuggled Arad out of Beirut through Damascus to Tehran in October 1996; and that much of this was known to Mossad agents by 1997, through two Lebanese militiamen who defected to Germany.

German intelligence, as well as its Israeli counter-parts lost Arad's trail following his evacuation to Iran. Iran's unhurried conduct in negotiations - the Germans offered Tehran World Bank credits and a easing of embargos against it in exchange for cooperation - led some investigators to believe that Arad was dead.

Negotations with Hizbullah for the missing airman have stalled. Hizbullah as sent through the German mediators to Israel several bone-fragments purportedly belonging to Arad. None of them matched his DNA.

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