Copyright 2004 Jerusalem Post
HEADLINE: Israel to offer $10 million for information on Ron Arad
The Israeli government has decided to offer a US$10 million reward for significant information on the fate of air force navigator, Ron Arad, who was shot down over Lebanon 18 years ago, Channel 2 TV reported Saturday.
The station said the offer would be published worldwide on December 1.
Following a prisoner swap in which Israel released Lebanese prisoners in return for the bodies of three Israeli soldiers and kidnapped Israeli Elhanan Tannenbaum, it was assumed that there would be further stages to the deal with Hizbullah, which would include information on Arad.
The offering of a reward for information would seem to put into doubt those further stages.
A senior government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, declined to confirm the report, saying only that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has discussed the possibility of offering the reward.
In response to a Jerusalem Post report a week ago, the Prime Minister's Office released a statement saying that it has no proof that Ron Arad is dead.
"The State of Israel continues to make every effort to find the solution to this painful affair and will not cease until it clarifies the fate of Ron and brings him home."
The case of Arad, who parachuted out of his malfunctioning Phantom into the hands of Lebanese militiamen, continues to dog the defense establishment, which has poured tens of millions of dollars into a so far fruitless effort to locate him.
The Post quoted former German intelligence chief Bernd Schmidbauer, a former go-between in efforts to secure Arad's release, as saying that "the only question remains whether he 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 report on the death of Arad was based on An Eye for an Eye, a film documenting the dealings between Israel and Hizbullah during the last decade, with a focus on Arad and the failure to bring him home.
The documentary, created by German filmmaker and investigative reporter Hubert Seipel, discloses a number of apparently secret documents from the German Federal Intelligence Service, 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 the IDF; that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards smuggled him out of Beirut through Damascus to Teheran 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 counterparts lost Arad's trail following his transfer to Iran.
Iran's unhurried conduct in negotiations - the Germans offered Teheran World Bank credits and an easing of embargoes in exchange for cooperation - led some investigators to believe that Arad was dead.
Matthew Gutman and AP contributed to this report
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