Germany's Bargaining Chips' for Arad - Hezbollah Operatives and Iranian Agents

The "bargaining chips" who are slated for release from European prisons, in exchange for disclosure about the fate of missing Israel Air Force navigator Ron Arad, are Hezbollah operatives and Iranian agents who were involved in international terror attacks. One of them was convicted of murdering an American naval officer; he took orders from Imad Mughniyeh, who coordinates international terror strikes for Hezbollah.

In exchange for the return of Arad or his remains to Israel, the German government is prepared to release two "bargaining chips," terrorists who murdered Kurdish opponents of Iran's regime in Berlin in autumn 1992. These assassinations, which are known as the "Mykonos Affair (after the Berlin restaurant where the attack took place)," seriously damaged relations between Germany and Iran. The German court which convicted the assassins ruled that the murders were authorized by top spiritual and political figures in Tehran.

The incident occurred when eight Kurdish opponents of Iran's Islamic government met in the back of a Berlin restaurant, to plan their campaign of opposition. As Time magazine reported, the Kurdish activists came to Berlin to take part in an international socialist conference, and were feasting on lamb and other dishes when two men burst into the restaurant, outfitted with Uzi rifles and pistols. The two assassins shouted "you whores" in Persian and sprayed the restaurant with bullets. Iranian Kurd leader Sadegh Sharafkandi, 54, and three other men, were murdered in the attack.

German authorities detained five suspects: Kazem Darabi, who was suspected of heading the terror cell and who owned a grocery store in Berlin, and four Lebanese men, Yossef Amin, Mohammed Atrim, Abbas Rayal, and one other man. The suspects were sentenced in April 1997. Darabi and Rayal received life sentences, Amin was given an 11-year term, and Atrim received five years; the fifth suspect was cleared of wrongdoing. In an unusual ruling, the German court determined that the assassination was ordered by Iran's top leadership, including its supreme spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and its president at the time, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

One consequence of the Mykonos affair was an arrest order issued by Germany in 1996 against Ali Fallahian, who was Iran's intelligence minister at the time of the assassination. Prior to the arrest order, Fallahian had demonstrated interest in the Mykonos Affar, and visited Germany in 1993, apparently to monitor its fallout. Reports circulated at the time suggesting that Fallahian brought information to Germany about Ron Arad; the information supposedly held that the navigator had died in prison. According to these reports, the Iranian official was unable to prove his assertions. At the time, German officials justified Fallahian's visit to their country by saying it was connected to efforts to negotiate a prisoner and body remains exchange deal between Hezbollah and Israel.

Under the agreement forged last week between Israel and Hezbollah, Germany is to release Darabi and Rayal, the two Mykonos Affair suspects who are serving life sentences, should the fate of Arad be settled, and should he be returned to Israel.

Germany has promised to release another "bargaining chip," Lebanese national Muhammad Ali Hamadi, a Hezbollah operative who is serving a life sentence for the murder of American navy diver Robbie Stethem, from Waldorf, Maryland, in Beirut in June 1985. Stethem was a passenger aboard a TWA plane that was hijacked in Athens; he was tortured and murdered in Beirut's airport. Hamadi was arrested two years later in Germany, while trying to smuggle explosives. An indictment was issued against Mughniyeh as well for the Stethem murder; and the U.S. government offered a $25 million reward to anyone responsible for the capture of the Hezbollah terror mastermind.