The search for Ron Arad: Leaving no soldier behind

The Jewish people, since antiquity, have always pursued the release of live captives or the retrieval of their murdered loved ones for proper burial.

Missing Israeli navigator Ron Arad. Credit: Israeli Air Force via Facebook.
Missing Israeli navigator Ron Arad. Credit: Israeli Air Force via Facebook.
Joseph Frager
Dr. Joseph Frager is a lifelong activist and physician. He is chairman of Israel advocacy for the Rabbinical Alliance of America, chairman of the executive committee of American Friends of Ateret Cohanim and executive vice president of the Israel Heritage Foundation.

With the recent disclosure that the Mossad carried out a courageous mission to discover what happened to Israeli Air Force Lt. Col. Ron Arad, whose plane went down over Lebanon in Oct. 1986, it is appropriate to highlight how vital it is to do everything possible to recover all soldiers, dead or alive.

The Jewish people, since antiquity, 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 Shi’ite group, Amal, and handed over to Hezbollah. Hezbollah, it is believed, handed him over to its sponsor, Iran.

There is much speculation as to what happened next. He is presumed to have been killed by the Iranians in either 1988 or 2008. I had heard one report that barbaric Iranian doctors had transected his spinal cord to paralyze him, so that he could not escape.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali 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.

His 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 tefillah in most synagogues across America.

America 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, when compared to the Vietnam War, during which 2,500 U.S. soldiers went MIA in 1973, and a total of 1,600 were still unaccounted for in 2015.

A total of 79,000 went MIA after World War II.  Christopher Vanek, a retired colonel who commanded the U.S. 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 that ”the military spared no effort to find the missing.”

When two members of the U.S. Navy went missing, he 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 IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul. Shaul was killed on July 20, 2014 during Operation Protective Edge. Goldin was killed on Aug. 1, 2014, two hours after Hamas had agreed to a ceasefire. He was ambushed by Hamas terrorists coming out of a terror tunnel.

I have worked with the Goldin family. I have tried to do whatever I could as an American citizen to recover their son’s body, as well as that of Shaul. 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 “Katzelah,” 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 that an Iranian general who worked alongside Qassem Soleimani to gather information on Ron Arad 35 years after his having gone missing. It is a credit and an honor that Israel never gives up on its soldiers. We pray that all missing in action can be brought home soon.

Dr. Joseph Frager is first vice president of the National Council of Young Israel.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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