With the recent disclosure that the Mossad carried out a courageous mission to discover what happened to Lieutenant Colonel Ron Arad, whose plane went down over Lebanon in October of 1986, it is appropriate to highlight how vital it is to do everything possible to recover all soldiers, dead or alive.
Since antiquity, the Jewish People have always pursued the release of live captives or the retrieval of their murdered loved ones for proper burial. This is an essential set of principles of the highest magnitude in Judaism.
Ron Arad was captured by the Shiite group Amal and handed over to Hezbollah. Hezbollah, it is believed, handed him over to their sponsors: the Iranians. There is much speculation as to what happened next. Ron is presumed to have been killed by the Iranians in either 1988 or 2008. I had heard one report over the past 35 years that barbaric Iranian doctors had transected his spinal cord to paralyze him so he could not escape.
Prime Minister Bennett declared in the Knesset, “Last month, women and men of the Mossad embarked on a mission to locate new information about Ron Arad’s fate and whereabouts. This was a complex, large scale, and daring operation.” I am glad Israel has not forgotten or abandoned him.
The family has never given up. I remember full-page ads in major American newspapers trying to gather information about his whereabouts. I and many others have prayed for 35 years for his release. It has been part of a ritual t’filah in most synagogues across America.
The United States takes pride in the fact that during the 20 years in Afghanistan, not one soldier went missing in action behind enemy lines. This was the first time in American history that this was the case. This was quite remarkable, compared to the Vietnam War, when 2,500 went MIA in 1973, and a total of 1,600 went unaccounted for by 2015. A total of 79,000 went MIA after World War II. Christopher Vanek, a retired colonel who commanded the Army’s 75th Rangers in Iraq and Afghanistan and who took part in a number of search and rescue operations, said, “Rescues became the priority.” He further said, “The military spared no effort to find the missing.” When two Navy sailors went missing, Mr. Vanek said, “We had 150 aircraft working on trying to find them. We put Special Ops in some dangerous situations. We refocused our entire effort from fighting and killing al-Qaeda to recovering these men.” Perhaps, Israel’s culture of doing everything possible to get its soldiers back rubbed off on America.
Unfortunately, despite valiant efforts, Israel has thus far failed to gain the release of the bodies of Lieutenant Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul. Oron was killed on July 20, 2014, during Operation Protective Edge, and Hadar was killed on August 1, 2014, two hours after Hamas had agreed to a cease fire. Hadar was ambushed and surprise-attacked by Hamas terrorists coming out of a terror tunnel.
I have worked with the Goldin family. I have tried to do what I could as an American citizen to recover Hadar’s body, as well as Oron’s. I believe I did help. Time will tell.
In the 1973 Yom Kippur War, General Ariel Sharon made many efforts to retrieve Israeli soldiers behind enemy lines. One such soldier was the founder of Arutz Sheva – Yaakov Katz, better known as “Katzela” – who had been wounded. Israel has long abided by the tradition of “no soldier left behind.”
I congratulate Israel on its Mossad operation in which it is believed they captured an Iranian general who worked alongside Qassem Soleimani to gather information on Ron Arad 35 years after his going missing. It is a credit and an honor that Israel never gives up on its soldiers. We pray that all those missing in action can be brought home soon.
Dr. Joe Frager is Chairman of the Israel Advocacy Commission for the Rabbinical Alliance of America; Chairman of the Executive Committee of American Friends of Ateret Cohanim; Dean at Kollel Ayshel Avraham; Executive Vice President of the Israel Heritage Foundation; and a physician in practice for 41 years.