When the Mossad operation to try to find information about missing air force navigator Ron Arad was being considered, some members of the defense establishment thought the operation’s risks didn’t justify the potential benefits.
Even at the initial stage of examining the material, they said, it was already clear that the chosen target wasn’t ever in particularly close proximity to Arad, so it was unlikely that the target would have relevant information that would further the search.
Mossad officials did reach the target, the sources continued, so it would be wrong to term the operation a failure. Nevertheless, it didn’t produce information that would help solve the riddle of what happened to Arad after he was captured in Lebanon in 1986.
On Tuesday morning, the Arab internet news site Al-Rai al-Youm reported that the Mossad operation had involved kidnapping an Iranian general in Syria, interrogating him in an African country and then releasing him. Another report, by the Saudi television station Al Arabiya, said the Mossad had obtained DNA from remains found in Al-Nabi Shayth, a village in southern Lebanon, to determine whether they belonged to Arad.
In the hours after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett revealed the operation’s existence during his address to the Knesset Monday night, a battle raged between the prime minister’s bureau and other government officials over how successful the operation was. Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office argued that “the operation was successful, but it didn’t lead to a significant breakthrough,” as one put it.
They also claimed that Bennett revealed the operation with the Mossad’s knowledge and consent. “The head of the Mossad put out a statement to agency staffers in which he argued that the operation was successful and important,” one claimed.
But Channel 12 television reported Monday night that the Mossad director had termed the operation a failure. He told agency staffers that the operation was “brave, daring and complex,” the report said, but “it wasn’t a success. It failed. It was a failure.”
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A source in the defense establishment said on Monday that the operation “didn’t bring the results we had hoped for and didn’t produce the information it was intended for.” He added that the operation involved a series of actions carried out in several arenas.
Bennett has also been criticized for publicly discussing a Mossad operation related to Israel’s captives and those missing in action. Until now, captives and MIAs have been discussed only in very narrow forums, and the issue has been shrouded in great obscurity to enable the agency to work on this issue secretly and with help from parties overseas, several sources said.
Moreover, these sources said Bennett’s speech and the subsequent reports in the foreign media may embarrass Iran and thereby turn this issue into part of the conflict between Israel and Iran over Tehran’s nuclear program and its military entrenchment in Syria. Until now, the defense establishment has tried to avoid this, they said.