Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his appreciation on Sunday for Russian President Vladimir Putin's signing of a presidential decree ordering the return of an IDF tank that was captured in 1982 during the First Lebanon War.
“I wish to thank the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, for responding to a request made by me and the IDF Chief of Staff to return the tank from the Battle of Sultan Yacoub to Israel,” said Netanyahu.
During the battle, the tank was captured by the Syrian army and eventually transported to the Soviet Union - then a Cold War ally of Syria. It has since remained in Moscow in a museum dedicated to armored tanks ever since.
Deputy Defense Minister Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, then an officer during the First Lebanon War, whose artillery unit helped rescue a battalion of Israeli tanks trapped by a Syrian ambush in the Lebanese town of Sultan Yacoub, recalled his experiences of the war.
“We fired the whole night. In the morning the battalion was rescued, except for the one tank and the three missing soldiers, whose fate is still unknown,” said Ben-Dahan, referring to IDF soldiers Zachary Baumel, Zvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz, who went missing during the battle and whose fate remains a mystery to this day.
All in all, over 20 Israeli soldiers were killed and eight tanks were lost in the Battle of Sultan Yacoub.
“Hearing about the tank's return sends me back 34 years,” Ben-Dahan said. “It gave me chills.”
Ben-Dahan also expressed hope that the tank’s return might also bring with it news about the fate of the missing soldiers, though he said he cannot comment on any discussions or progress toward that goal.
Netanyahu raised the issue of returning the tank with Putin last month, after having received a request from IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot.
“For the families of the soldiers missing in action,” said Netanyahu. “There has been no trace of the boys, nor a burial plot to visit for 34 years.” He continued by saying, “The tank is the only evidence of the battle, and now it will be returned to Israel.”