Copyright 1990 Mednews
Mednews - Middle East Defense News

January 19, 1990

HEADLINE: Israel's hostage negotiations


Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir has reacted strongly to recent revelations in Tel Aviv concerning the fate of Israeli hostages and POWs in Lebanon. In a December 20 statement, Shamir said he "found it difficult to understand the motives" of Defense Minister Rabin for having revealed ongoing negotiations with the PLO in Tunisia. The negotiations, conducted by the father of one of the IDF soldiers captured in Lebanon with the approval of the Defense Ministry, have focussed on exchanging a DFLP prisoner held in an Israeli jail since 1967, Omar al-Qasim, against the "body" of Samir Assad, an Israeli lured across the Lebanese border in 1983 by a female agent of the DFLP. Assad was allegedly killed during an Israeli air raid on DFLP positions in 1987. As for Omar al-Qasim, years before the proposed exchange he had contracted a terminal kidney disease. In the end, the DFLP preferred to have him die a martyr in an Israeli jail than to have him freed and die a few weeks later unknown. (For a full report on the Israeli hostages, see MD 2,20).

Where is Ron Arad? On December 18, NBC television reported that Israel has been secretly buying Iranian oil in an effort to woo Tehran into helping secure the release of downed Israeli aviator, Ron Arad. Earlier, Air Force Commander General Avihu Ben-Nun had announced that Arad was being detained in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley by "pro-Iranian forces," but insisted that Israel had "received no proof that Arad is still alive."

In fact, the Iranian story is little more than a poke in the dark. Israeli sources who have followed the hostage negotiations closely for several years have told Mednews that the Israeli government "has little hard evidence" to support any of the numerous stories concerning the hostages and POWs. "Some sources say the navigator is alive; other say he is dead and is being kept in a refrigerated morgue," the sources said. "We just don't know."

The only certainty concerns the circumstances surrounding Arad's capture during an IAF reprisal raid carried out against PLO military bases near Sidon on September 17, 1986. The day after his F-4 was shot down, Arad was paraded about like a tribute before a Roman emperor, by an Amal team reporting to then security chief, Mustapha al-Dirani.

In February 1988, Dirani was expelled from Amal by Nabih Berri, for having kidnapped Colonel William Higgins without Berri's orders. When he subsequently joined forces with an obscure "Believers Resistance Front," headed by Hamad Shakar, his true affiliation became clear. Shakar's movement also called itself the "Organization of the Oppressed of the Earth." Under this name, it kidnapped nine Lebanese Jews in November 1985 (killing 8 later on), and Terry Waite in January 1987. In fact, both Dirani and Hamad Shakar work in tandem with the Iranian embassy in Beirut.

The exclusive Mednews photo published here shows Dirani at a reception held in the Iranian embassy in Beirut in February 1989, shaking hands with the Vice President of the Higher Shiite Council of Lebanon, Sheikh Mohammed Mehdi Shams-al-Dine. With the help of his Iranian sponsors, Dirani was certainly in a position to move Ron Arad (and Terry Waite) to a more secure jail in the Bekaa.

But will oil purchases be enough to get them out? Dirani's Believers Resistance Front is strongly backed by the Iranian intelligence service, SAVAMA, still run by a Mohtashemi crony, Ali Fallahiyan. In other words, the most intransigent wing of the Iranian revolution.

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