Family members of the crew who manned the tank – a crew which still has not been returned to Israel – are furious.
The tank was given back to Israel by Russia following a ceremony while Prime Minister Netanyahu was in the country last week. A post on the prime minister's Facebook said "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."
The post continued, saying "this tank is the only evidence we have of our boys who went missing in that battle: Zacharia Baumel, Tzvi Feldman, and Yehuda Katz. 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. For 34 years the Katz, Feldman, and Baumel families haven't had a grave to visit. But now they 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."
The Battle of Sultan Yacoub took place on the sixth day of the first Lebanon war, whose official name in Israel is Operation Peace for Galilee, in June 1982. Israel suffered 20 confirmed losses in the battle, as well as dozens of wounded. Six soldiers were unaccounted for, including Feldman, Baumel, and Katz. The fate of the other three was later discovered: One of them turned out to have been killed in the battle and buried in Syria, with his body being returned to Israel after the war; another was captured by the Syrians and freed two years later; and the third was captured by a terrorist organization and freed via a prisoner exchange deal that took place three years later.
Following the battle, eight Israeli tanks remained in Syrian hands, among them the one associated with the three still-missing soldiers, whose fates remain a mystery despite Israeli security authorities' efforts to gather information about them throughout the years.
However, tank expert Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Mas said that the tank Israel received from the Russians isn't the correct tank.
"Its very sad that the Prime Minister and the nation are falling for a fake," Mas said. "This tank isn't the missing soldiers' tank. What has been returned to us is a complete tank, and the missing soldiers' tank is different. 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."
He continued, saying, "When Netanyahu said that there will be some closure for families who have no grave (to visit), he made two mistakes. First, this isn't the missing soldiers' tank, and second, they are missing, not killed in action."
Lt. Col. (ret.) Danny Kriaf added "the serial number for the tank which was returned was 817581, and the missing soldiers' tank's serial number was different… It's clear that the Russians didn't care which tank they sent."
It should be noted that the three missing soldiers were from two different tank crews, and the IDF always claimed that the tank that the Russians sent to Israel isn't connected to the missing soldiers. In fact, when the specific tank was inspected at the Russian museum 18 years ago, it came to light that the crew of that particular tank was actually alive and well.
The Prime Minister's Office replied that Israel never claimed that the tank received by the Russians is the missing soldiers' tank.