An Israeli tank that was captured by Syrian forces during the First Lebanon War in 1982 and later transferred to Russia has been returned to Israel, Ynet reports.
The tank was officially handed over last week during a ceremony in Moscow attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before being airlifted to Israel.
"My wife Sarah and I participated in an emotional ceremony to return a tank which was captured [by Syrian forces] during the battle of Sultan Yacoub during the First Lebanon War," Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page after the Moscow ceremony.
Twenty Israeli soldiers were killed and dozens wounded during the battle, which took place on June 11, 1982, six days after the war began. Six soldiers went missing during the battle, three of whom were later traced. Two were subsequently returned to Israel in prisoner swaps and the body of one was returned to Israel after initial burial in Syria.
But three soldiers, Zacharia Baumel, Tzvi Feldman, and Yehuda Katz, have been missing ever since the battle of Sultan Yacoub.
"This tank is the only evidence we have of our boys who went missing in that battle," Netanyahu wrote on Facebook. "For 34 years we've been searching for our soldiers, and we won't stop until we bring them back to be buried in the State of Israel Now [the families] will have this tank – a remnant of the fighting at Sultan Yacoub which the families can visit in Israel, touch, and remember their children by."
Baumel, Feldman and Katz were members of the crews of two different tanks. Israeli experts who have examined the tank returned by Russia have concluded that it is not one of the tanks in which Baumel, Feldman and Katz were fighting when they went missing, according to Ynet.
"What has been returned to us is a complete tank, and the missing soldiers' tank is different," Lt. Col. (res.) Michael Mas was quoted as saying. "While this is one of the tanks which were captured from the 399 division during the Battle of Sultan Yacoub, there are no signs that anyone was ever injured in this tank."
The Prime Minister's Office said that Israel had never claimed that the tank returned by Russian was one in which the missing soldiers had fought.
"We said that this is a tank from the Battle of Sultan Yacoub and is evidence of the fighting. This is what the Prime Minister told the families," the PMO explained. "No one ever said that this was the tank of the three [missing soldiers]."