Missing Sultan Yacoub soldier's sister hopes returned tank will help bring about answers
Following the announcement by Russia stating that a tank captured by the Syrians during the first Lebanon war will be returned to Israel, the sister of still-missing soldier Yehuda Katz expressed her hope that new information will come about.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has recently signed an order calling for the return to Israel of an IDF tank which was captured in the 1982 battle of Sultan Yacoub in Syria. Three soldiers whose fates remain unknown to this day have long been associated in the public eye with this missing tank: Zachary Baumel, Zvi Feldman, Yehuda Katz. Katz's sister, Pirhiya Heiman, sopoke to Ynet on Monday morning, expressing her hope that the tank's retrieval will bring about new information.
"The tank itself isn't important, what's important is that the missing (soldiers) come back. But if an analysis and inspection of the tank would help get more information about the event, then maybe it would lead to other investigative avenues."
Heiman said that it's unclear which of the still-missing soldiers were part of the captured tank's crew – if any. "They weren't members of the same tank crew," she said, "Feldman and Baumel (were) from one tank, and Yehuda from another tank. It's still unclear to us if this really is one of these crews' tanks."
The Sultan Yacoub battle 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 uncovered: 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.
"I've known about (the return of the tank) for a few weeks now, and (I've known) about the tank going to Russia for over 20 years. So, though (it is happening) sluggishly, we've finally arrived at a certain breakthrough as far as the state of Israel and the IDF's activity over the three soldiers who were sent into battle is concerned," said Heiman
"I think this affair should have been a constant companion to the life of the state of Israel," she continued, "No one wanted to take responsibility for the first Lebanon war. Yanush (Avigdor Ben Gal, commander of IDF forces on the eastern front. -AS) blamed Ehud Barak (who was his deputy during the war. -AS) for the failure, and vice versa from Barak to Yanush. It's the same with everything that happened between Arik Sharon and Menachem Begin. No one wanted to deal with the results of that war. It was swept under the rug."
When asked if she believes that the mystery might be solved soon, Heiman answered, "Certainly. Factually, the chances of Yehuda being alive are no less than the chances of him being a casualty. On the contrary, they may be even greater. Keep in mind that the Syrians gave back his tank commander, Zohar Lipschitz may he rest in peace, and if Yehuda's situation was, god forbid, like Lipschitz's, he would have been returned too. Emotionally, faith-wise, I have a strong feeling that Yehuda is alive."