Lieutenant-Colonel Ron Arad is an Israeli Air Force F-4 Phantom navigator, who was captured on October 16, 1986, after a failed mission to attack PLO targets in Lebanon.
Evidence compiled over the years indicate that a mechanical problem in the Phantom forced Arad and his pilot to eject while flying in Lebanese skies. An IDF rescue mission was able to recover the pilot, but Arad was captured by the Lebanese Shiite militia Amal.
During the first two years of his captivity, Israel received several letters and photos of Arad through international mediators, all while continuing indirect negotiations for his release. Three letters and two photos of him were relayed to his family as proof of life in 1987. The Israeli government's efforts to release Arad failed in 1988.
According to inconclusive information Israel now has, it was during those two years that he was brought to Beirut and turned over to Hizbullah , which then apparently "sold" him to Iran. The information further suggested Arad was later killed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, but Israel has never been able to fully verify that.
Over the years, in an attempt to gain leverage in the negotiations to free Arad, Israel abducted Mustafa Dirani and Sheikh Abdul-Karim Obeid – both key figures in the Hizbullah; but even that sparked no progress in the matter. Israel has often stated it holds Iran – as the driving force behind Amal and the Hizbullah – responsible for Arad's disappearance; but neither Iran nor any other militant group have ever offered any information regarding his fate.
Israel has been struggling to find leads on Arad's whereabouts since he was captured in 1986, working mostly through international channels, including the Red Cross and the UN. Nevertheless, the Arad family has often blamed the various Israeli governments for not doing enough.
In June of 2002, the IDF formed a special think-tank to review Arad's case. After studying all the evidence, Retired Justice Eliyhau Winograd, who headed the commission, declared Israel had no reason to change its working premise – Ron Arad is still alive.
More clues surfaced in 2003, as than Prime Minister Ariel Sharon revealed that an intelligence officer was killed trying to rescue Arad. Later that year, several former Iranian intelligence officials who defected to the West, reportedly claimed Arad was being held near Tehran.
In late 2003, the Born to Freedom Foundation offered a $10 million reward for any information leading to Arad.
In 2004, Karim-Obeid and Dirani were released as part of a POW deal to release Israeli citizen Elhanan Tenenbaum and the bodies of IDF soldiers Benny Avraham, Adi Avitan and Omar Souad, who were killed in a 2000 clash with Hizbullah on Mount Dov. Despite the deal requiring Hizbullah to supply Israel with new information on Arad, no such information was given.
In January 2006, Hizbullah Secretary-General Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah issued a statement saying his organization believed Arad was dead and his remains lost. That was the first time Hizbullah admitted to having no information regarding Arad's whereabouts.
On August of that year, new footage of Arad surfaced, as a video of him was aired on Lebanese television. The Israeli defense establishment believes the video was made in 1988.
In October 2007, Hizbullah turned over a 20-year old letter written by Ron Arad to his wife, Tami. The letter, which was authenticated by Defense Ministry officials, reportedly included a photo no one knew existed until then.
Israel is still working on the assumption that Ron Arad is alive.