Israel Examining Veracity of New Footage Showing Missing IAF Airman Ron Arad

Defense establishment officials are examining the pictures of Captain Ron Arad broadcast last night by Lebanese broadcasting company, LBC.

Sources in Israel were in no hurry to confirm whether these were indeed pictures of the navigator who has been missing since an October 1986 mission in Lebanon. Even if it is established that the images are of Arad, no new light will have been shed on the affair.

LBC last night showed a trailer of an upcoming documentary program about Hezbollah and Arad, and possibly also about the abduction of the three Israeli soldiers at the Shaba Farms six years ago. It included a short airing of what appeared to be video footage of a yet unseen photo of Arad.

The promo also said the navigator's voice would be heard in the documentary. It did not say how it obtained the image or when it was shot.

Arad appears in the image with a beard - similar to that seen in pictures of him during the period he was held by Shi'ite militia Amal, in the first year and a half of his captivity - when negotiations were underway for his return. The contact with Arad was lost following the bombing by Israeli planes of Maidun in South Lebanon, and it was thought he may have been handed over to the Iranians after that.

Members of the Arad family said last night they believed the image was indeed of Ron. They said they had not heard about the existence of the video before last night.

LBC said the pictures were exclusive.

LBC was set up by Christian forces in Lebanon but today is partially owned by Saudi interests and the Al-Hayyat newspaper with headquarters in London and Beirut. It is considered a relatively reliable network, in comparison with other Lebanese and Arab networks.

The network refused to release further details about the broadcast last night. "All we can say is that [the documentary] will be broadcast on September 6 at 7.30 in the evening," a spokesman said in a telephone conversation. The network's London correspondent said he had no details.

Ron Arad was taken captive by the moderate Amal group headed by Nabi Beri, who is currently speaker of the Lebanese parliament. Arad's plane was hit when a bomb aimed at a terrorist encampment exploded prematurely because of a technical hitch. The pilot and navigator bailed out safely but Arad's parachute was apparently carried by the wind. The pilot was rescued later by Israeli forces.

The Israeli negotiations with Beri continued for about a year and a half. At this time, pictures of Ron and letters were transferred via the Red Cross. Beri offered to return Arad if Israel released terrorists in return, but then-prime minister Yitzhak Shamir and then-defense minister Yitzhak Rabin felt the price was too high.

The Arad family has expressed the view that successive Israeli governments did not handle the case properly. They set up an association which has offered a reward of $10 million for anyone bringing information about the whereabouts of Ron Arad.