Just days before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves for Moscow, where he and Russian President Vladimir Putin will mark the 25th anniversary of the renewal of diplomatic relations between the leaders' two countries, the Prime Minister's Office has announced that Russia will return an Israeli tank that was been captured on June 11, 1982, in Lebanon in the battle of Sultan Yacoub during the first Lebanon War.
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The tank was one of two that were captured by the Syrians in the battle, which was fought in the Bekaa Valley between the Israel Defense Forces and the Syrian army. The two tanks were transferred to Damascus, but sometime later, the Syrians gave one of the tanks to the Russian army, after which it found its way to a tank museum in the Moscow area.
The Prime Minister's Office said Netanyahu raised the subject of the return of the tank at a Kremlin meeting with Putin last month, after IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot asked that arrangements be made for its return. The tank is the only physical evidence of the battle that the families of three Israeli soldiers who went missing in action in the battle – Zvi Feldman, Yehuda Katz and Zacharia Baumel – can be provided with. The three were in one of the two tanks.
Over the weekend, Israel was informed that Putin had consented to Netanyahu's request and had signed a presidential order for the tank's return. Netanyahu also informed the families of the three missing soldiers of the development.
The Prime Minister's Office also announced that a delegation from the IDF ammunition corps is currently in the Russian capital meeting with Russian representatives to explore how the tank can be transferred to Israel as quickly as possible and to ascertain whether it is the three missing soldiers' tank or the other captured tank.
"I thank Russian President Vladimir Putin, who responded to my request to return the tank from the Battle of Sultan Yacoub to Israel," Netanyahu said in the statement. "The families of the missing, Zacharia Baumel, Zvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz, have not had a physical vestige of their sons or a grave to visit for the past 34 years. The tank is the only evidence of the battle and now it will return to Israel thanks to Russian President Putin's consent to my request."
In the course of the battle, IDF troops were surrounded by the Syrian army. Among the large Israeli force that was sent to rescue the trapped troops, about 20 Israeli soldiers were killed, two were taken captive and the three went missing.