The Mossad's mission to try to uncover the fate of Ron Arad – a long-missing Israel Air Force navigator – was unsuccessful, a defense official said Monday, hours after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett revealed that the operation took place last month.
The official said the operation "didn't yield the desired results and the information we were hoping for wasn't uncovered." The official added that the mission took place in several arenas, but added that no harm was done in revealing it to the media since the mission "had exhausted itself."
The security establishment criticized Bennett’s disclosure of the mission as “unnecessary bragging.” In a fraught return to the Knesset after a two-month recess, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett revealed that Mossad agents recently took part in "a courageous mission to gather new information on missing navigator Ron Arad."
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Channel 12 News reported that Mossad Chief David Barnea deemed the mission as "a failure." Barnea told his associates, according to the report, that the "operation was bold, daring and complex. But it wasn't a success, it failed. It was a failure."
The Prime Minister's Office later said in a statement that the "operation to gather intelligence on Ron Arad was a successful one that was carried out while meeting exceptional operational goals."
"Presenting this information to Knesset members and the public was of value. This expresses the effort and immense commitment invested in bringing back our boys, even many years after they were captivated by the enemy. Spreading any other information is an utter lie," the statement added.
In addition, sources in the Prime Minister's Office reiterated that this “was not a failed operation. This was a successful operation that did not lead to a significant breakthrough."
According to the sources, Bennett's remarks on the operation were coordinated with the Mossad. "The head of the Mossad issued a message to the members of the organization in which he said that the operation was successful and important."
The Israel Air Force navigator’s plane was shot down over Lebanon in 1986 and is widely assumed to no longer to be alive.
Thirty-five years on, Arad's fate has not been deciphered. His plane blew up in Lebanon after a malfunction during the bombing of Palestine Liberation Organization targets near the southern city of Sidon, but he and the pilot Yishai Aviram escaped the plane before it crashed. Aviram was rescued by the IDF, but Arad was captured by Shi'ite militia group Amal. It is believed that he was later apprehended by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon.
Bennett's comments about the incident came during the first sitting of the Knesset's winter session on Monday. The assembly, reconvening after a two-month hiatus, was opened by Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy and President Isaac Herzog, before more pugilistic speeches by the prime minister and opposition head Benjamin Netanyahu.
The premier took a dig at his predecessor, saying that Israel had "endured two years of inaction and procrastination" before emphasizing his opposition to further lockdowns.
Netanyahu took to the rostrum to attack Bennett's policies on coronavirus and Iran.
"If you would have acted on time and brought the third vaccine as we had promised, we would have saved many lives," the ex-prime minister said.