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Copyright 1991 The Jerusalem Report
The Jerusalem Report

August 22, 1991

HEADLINE: Waiting For The Other Side

BYLINE: David Horovitz

Just give us a sign of life.

That has been Israel's sole demand of those holding the seven servicemen missing in Lebanon, as a precondition for a deal under which Israel would be ready to order the release of about 370 Lebanese detainees held in Khiam jail in the South Lebanon security zone and in prisons inside Israel itself.

But until that sign of life - or at least some proof of the fate of the missing seven - is forthcoming, Israel is determined to resist international pressure for a goodwill gesture. U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar, the British government and others plainly believe that by freeing some of the Lebanese, held for offenses including attempted infiltrations through the security zone, Israel could expedite the release of the remaining hostages.

Uri Lubrani, Israel's coordinator for policy in Lebanon, revealed on August 9 that such a gesture was made several months ago - "a one-time release" of about 40 Khiam detainees. "We hoped that the release would lead to negotiations to free the missing and captured IDF men," said Lubrani, "but to this day we haven't even had a hint about where they're being held." Additional gestures, continued Lubrani, are out of the question, "until we are convinced that our missing and captured men will be included in a deal." Lubrani reaffirmed this position during talks with Perez de Cuellar in Geneva on August 11. He returned with the disappointing news that Islamic Jihad, in its letter to Perez de Cuellar offering terms for a hostage exchange, had made no mention of the missing Israeli servicemen.

The seven Israelis disappeared in the Lebanese quagmire between 1982 and 1986: Zvi Feldman, Yehudah Katz and Zachary Baumel were missing after a tank battle with the Syrians at Sultan Yakoub in June 1982; Samir Assad was captured by the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine in the Sidon area 10 months later; Joseph Fink and Rahamim Alsheikh were ambushed by Hizballah while on a security-zone patrol in February 1986; and Ron Arad bailed out when his Phantom jet was shot down over Sidon in October 1986.

A spate of foreign reports have quoted Islamic Jihad and other Lebanese sources' suggestions that while Arad is alive and in good health, the other six Israelis have not fared as well. And indeed, unofficial Israeli efforts for a prisoner exchange - which involved meetings between U.S., Red Cross, Iranian and Israeli representatives in Geneva earlier in the year - focused largely on Arad.

Amnon Zichroni, a Tel Aviv lawyer who attended the Geneva meetings, says he is still "optimistic" that some kind of exchange can be negotiated, and that complications have been eased greatly because "governments like Syria and Iran" are now directly involved in discussions with the Western countries whose citizens are held.

In the days after the release of John McCarthy, Tamar Arad, Ron's wife, and Yona Baumel, father of Zachary, both said they are sure their loved ones are alive. Assad's family dismissed DFLP assertions that Samir is dead, and Fink's parents say they have a gut feeling their son has survived.

While Lubrani expressed annoyance at the pressure for a goodwill gesture, Deputy Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went on the offensive. The fact that Syria had been able to effect the release of the French aid worker Jerome Leyraud within 72 hours of his kidnapping, he said, provided "the most clear demonstration in recent years of the complete control exercised by Syria over these kidnappings." International pressure should be exerted on the Syrian and Iranian governments, said Netanyahu - "and not on Israel."

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