New Film Leaves Parents in the Dark on Sons' Fate During Kidnap

Father of 1 of 3 soldiers taken in Oct. 2000 says UN collaborated with Hezbollah over abduction.

Eli Ashkenazi
Yoav Stern
Haaretz Correspondents
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail

Footage aired on Tuesday documenting the abduction of the three Israel Defense Forces soldiers kidnapped in October 2000 by Hezbollah, has left their parents unable to conclude if the sons were killed during the kidnap or murdered later by their captors.

The bodies of Benny Avraham, with Adi Avitan and Omar Souad, were returned to Israel in January 2004 as part of a prisoner exchange with Hezbollah.

The families of the kidnapped soldiers watched the footage Tuesday at the Channel 10 offices, but the film failed to answer their key question: Were the soldiers killed in the first stage, or did Hezbollah kill them later?

The camera was positioned on a hill several meters from the gate. In the crucial seconds, the figures are not seen clearly. One figure is dragged; another is led to the getaway vehicle while supported, but it is unclear whether this is a Hezbollah man or one of the soldiers.

Ya'akov Avitan, father of Adi, said that the film indicates that, "the boys were alive when they were kidnapped... they murdered our boys in cold blood after the kidnap."

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah stated several years ago that the operatives who kidnapped the soldiers killed them, apparently referring to the mine which detonated under their jeep.

However, an operative states in the film: "After 40 minutes, we brought the captives to a safe place."

He said that the three soldiers were found lying on the ground, taken to the vehicle and immediately driven off into Lebanon.

The IDF chief of staff at the time, Moshe Ya'alon, said in the film that the pursuit of the kidnappers was suspended because it was unclear where they had fled.

Parents accuse UN of collaborating with adbuctors The soldiers' parents also accused the United Nations of cooperating in the abduction.

"The film makes it clear that the United Nations cooperated," said Haim Avraham

"We have said this to Kofi Annan but he preferred to lie," he added.

Avitan believes that a UNIFIL soldier shot the video, and that it is possible that he sold the footage to Hezbollah.

Avitan added "all that talk that they went on a trip or that they were not supposed to be there (at the location where the abduction took place), are dispelled by the footage."

Hezbollah spent at least three months preparing the operation.

In a diversionary tactic that morning, several dozen protesters, which the film claimed were Palestinians, came to demonstrate across from the Zar'it checkpoint on the Israel-Lebanese border. Large numbers of IDF troops arrived on the scene, which is far from the Shaba Farms.

The kidnap began by blasting a large explosive device by Hezbollah militants, which was not filmed. The abduction itself lasted less than a minute.

The footage of the abduction was aired Tuesday night by Lebanese television network LBC, during the first part of a two-part documentary that also includes previously unseen footage of missing Israeli navigator Ron Arad. The second part will be broadcast on LBC at the same time Wednesday.

The footage was also broadcast simultaneously Tuesday Channel 10, after the Israeli network bought the rights to air it on Monday.

The film shows that the kidnapping operation lasted for some three and a half minutes. It included a diversion action by activists who pretended to play soccer on the road leading to the border gate. The "players" used the opportunity to remove rocks from the road, allowing the getaway vehicle a smooth retreat.

Hezbollah men ran to the border fence immediately after the explosion, some heading for the gate while others waited as backup at the wings. The gate was blown up and the militants entered the Israeli side swiftly.

On Tuesday morning, Army Radio aired a short segment of the footage's soundtrack, in which Arad is heard stating his name and the names of his parents, Dov and Batya.

A statement by LBC said that the network does not know the source of the Ron Arad images. However, they are generally thought to be old photos dating from the late 1980s, when Arad was held by Mustafa Dirani and the Amal organization, and are thus not expected to shed light on his subsequent fate.

The documentary also includes an interview with Israeli Elhanan Tenenbaum while in Hezbollah captivity. Tenenbaum was returned to Israel as part of the prisoner exchange in 2004.

Tonight, LBC and Channel 10 will broadcast footage showing missing navigator Ron Arad. The material apparently dates from the time Arad was held by the Amal organization. An interview with Israeli businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum while in Hezbollah custody will also be shown.

In the footage, Arad is seen sitting in what looks like a prison cell, and smoking a cigarette. He is asked questions and replies in English. In a promo segment aired last night, Arad states his name and those of his parents: "Ron Arad, Dov Arad, Batya Arad." Chen Arad, Ron's brother, said the family was surprised to hear from reporters about this footage, and that they instantly recognized Ron. "The family was greatly saddened that the making of the television series had involved Israeli officials who did not bother to inform the family and the defense establishment of the existence of the footage with Ron," he added.