“We will do whatever we can to return our sons home,” affirmed head of the Israel Defense Forces Northern Command, Maj.- Gen. Udi Adam, after the latest abduction by Hizbullah of two Israeli soldiers while they were on patrol along Israel’s northern border.
The statement sums up one of the founding principles of Israeli society, that whenever a solider is killed or kidnapped on enemy territory, the state will do whatever it takes to bring the soldier home.
Israel’s northern border has, since the founding of the state, been a troubled area suffering from guerilla attacks from Palestinian terror organization based in southern Lebanon. The attacks intensified after the PLO was driven out of Jordan in 1970 in events known as the Black September.
In an effort to put an end to these attacks, Israel, in June 1982, invaded southern Lebanon. The initial goals of the campaign were achieved after three years of fighting. However, the Israeli army remained in a buffer zone for 18 years. During this time the principle of doing whatever it takes was tested on several occasions.
During the fighting near the Lebanese village of Sultan Ya’qoub on June 11, 1982, six Israeli soldiers went missing. It was later confirmed that two of the soldiers were killed in the fighting and that the remaining four were being held prisoners by Ahmed Jibril’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, a Syrian-backed terror organization headed by Ahmed Jibril, a former officer in the Syrian Army.
Over the two following years, two of the soldiers, Aryeh Lieberman and Hezi Shai, were released and the remains of Zohar Lipschitz, who was killed in the initial battle, were returned in a swap in which Israel agreed to release 1,150 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli prisons. The three remaining soldiers – Zachary Baumel, Yehuda Katz and Tzvi Feldman – are still missing and their status is unknown.
Only three years later Israel Air Force navigator, Ron Arad, was captured after he ejected from his airplane on a mission over the Lebanese city of Sidon. His captors were the Iranian-backed Shi’ite terror organization Amal. After his capture there were unsuccessful negotiations for his release and since May 1988 there has effectively been no confirmation of his location. It is believed that Amal commander, Mu’stafa Dirani, sold Arad to Iran and that he is currently being held either in Iran or by Syrian-backed forces in Lebanon. While Ron Arad’s status is not known, most sources believe he is still alive.
The next time soldiers were kidnapped was in October 2000 when St.-Sgts. Benny Avraham, Adi Avitan, and Omar Sawayid were abducted on Mount Dov at the very north of Israel’s border with Syria and Lebanon.
The abduction was surrounded by controversy, foremost because at the time of the kidnapping Israel had withdrawn from its buffer zone, and soldiers belonging to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNFIL) where present in the area. Israel accused UNFIL of turning a blind eye to the events.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan later apologized for UNFIL’s failure to comply with its mandate.
It was later established that the soldiers were killed shortly after they were abducted. The negotiations that followed in order to retrieve the bodies of the soldiers were headed by Ernst Urlan, currently head of the German intelligence services. It was finally agreed that, for the return of the three bodies and captured Israeli businessman Elhanan Tennenbaum, Israel would release 461 prisoners of varying importance.