Jerusalem, January 26, 2004
Background on Israeli POWs and MIAs
(Communicated by Israeli Security Sources)
The principle of returning POWs, MIAs, kidnapped and fallen IDF personnel has been sacrosanct since the IDF's inception in 1948.
The IDF does all in its power to locate its captured personnel and free them. A unit in the General Staff Personnel Directorate, the Unit for IDF Soldiers Missing in Action was created following the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Its mandate is to locate MIAs from all of Israel's wars and military operations. The Unit makes use of overt and covert sources in its attempts to obtain information and is in contact with international governmental and non-governmental organizations to obtain information regarding MIAs and POWs. A special civilian negotiating team employed by the Prime Minister's office works in conjunction with the unit in order to obtain information and negotiate eventual releases. This team had been headed successively by Aryeh Eliyav, Aryeh Marinski, Shmuel Tamir, Uri Slonim, Yossi Ginossar, Yaakov Peri and is currently headed by Ilan Biran.
On the operational level the IDF spares no effort to free hostages. The most dramatic rescue attempt in recent years was the storming of the safehouse in Bir Naballah in the West Bank, in 1994, where the abducted IDF SGT Nahson Waxman had been held. An IDF elite unit soldier Nir Poraz and Nahson Waxman were killed in this abortive rescue attempt.
IDF MIAs in Lebanon
There are currently four MIAs/POWs in Lebanon in addition to the three soldiers kidnapped on 7 October. SSGT Zecharya Baumel, SSGT Zvi Feldman and SSGT Yehuda Katz have been missing since the 11 June 1982 battle of Sultan Ya'aqub. Maj. Ron Arad, whose Phantom fighter aircraft was shot down near Sidon on 16 October 1986. He had been held by Amal, and later by the Iranians.
Kidnapping of three IDF soldiers on October 2000
On Saturday, 7 October 2000, three IDF Soldiers, SSGT Omar Souad, (from the village of Salama, in northern Israel), SSGT Beni Avraham (of Bnei Brak), and SGT Adi Avitan (of Tiberias) were patrolling along the Lebanese border when their vehicle was ambushed by Hizbullah gunmen deployed on the other side of the border fence. An explosive charge was detonated and their vehicle came under rocket fire. The Hizbullah gunmen crossed the border, abducted them, and sped them away into Lebanon in a waiting car.
In a diversionary effort, Hizbullah gunners opened fire on IDF outposts in the eastern sector. The Har Dov outpost near which the patrol vehicle was located likewise came under fire. Six soldiers were wounded in these attacks.
IAF fighter aircraft and attack helicopters scrambled to interdict northward bound traffic in Lebanon on routes inside Lebanon. Despite these efforts, the IDF was not successful in recuperating the abducted soldiers.
Then Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Ehud Barak appointed Prisoner and MIA coordinator Yaakov Peri to head a special team to coordinate all efforts for returning the captured soldiers. After the resignation of Yaakov Peri, Ilan Biran was appointed MIA coordinator.
POW Exchanges 1948 - 2001
Since the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, Israeli soldiers and civilians fell captive and were imprisoned by enemy forces. In most cases, prisoner exchanges were carried out between Israel and its enemies, and in some instances bodies of the fallen that were held by the enemy or by Israel were exchanged.
War of Independence
The first exchange of prisoners between Israel and Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon took place during the War of Independence (1948 - 1949) and especially during Armistice negotiations or immediately after the signing of the treaties with these countries.
Throughout this war, soldiers and Israeli citizens had fallen captive as detailed below:
Egypt - 156 (5 of which were held in the "Faluja Pocket" and the rest in Egypt)
Jordan - 673
Syria - 45
Lebanon - 8
Israel held prisoners of war as following:
Egypt - 1098
Saudi - 28
Sudan - 25
Yemeni - 24
Jordan - 17
Lebanon - 36
Syrian - 97
Palestinians and others - 5021
Egypt Feb 26, 1949 - Five Israeli hostages held captive in the "Faluja pocket" were returned in exchange for evacuating the trapped Egyptian brigade encircled by Israeli forces in the "Pocket."
Feb 7-9, 1949 - Exchange of the remaining prisoners with Egypt.
Jordan - Two groups of Israeli women taken captive when Gush Etzion fell to the Jordanians were returned from Jordan in June and November 1948. POW exchange with Jordan began on Feb 2, 1949 and were completed on - Mar 3, 1949
Lebanon - Mar 24, 1949 - All prisoners of war were exchanged.
Syria - Apr 4, 1949 - Six Israeli prisoners were returned from Syria in return for 4 Syrians May 2, 1949 Eight Israeli prisoners were returned in exchange for 14 Syrians ; July 21, 1949 31 Israelis were returned in exchange for 57 Syrians. 22 additional Syrians refused to return and remained in Israel.
After the War of Independence
Apr 13, 1952 - An IDF squad patrolling the region of Sheikh Nabhan ran into an Egyptian ambush in our territory. One soldier was killed and 2 were taken captive. The Egyptians returned the POWs and the body after 3 days.
June 26, 1954 - During a raid on the Arab Legion camp near Azzun, one of the soldiers from the raiding force that was injured was left in the field (Baruch Jibli) and fell captive. He was returned after almost one year in captivity.
Sept 30, 1954 - The Israeli merchant fleet ship "Bat Galim" was stopped at the southern entrance to the Suez Canal. The Egyptian authorities arrested 10 sailors. The sailors were released on 1.1.55 after the intervention of the UN Security Council.
Dec 8, 1954 - A five-man IDF squad operating on the Golan Heights was captured by the Syrians. One of the soldiers (Uri Ilan) committed suicide in jail on Jan 13, 1955 and his body was returned to Israel the following day on Jan 14, 1955. The four other soldiers were returned to Israel on Mar 29, 1956 in exchange for 40 Syrian soldiers. These prisoners were captured during various operations, especially the Kineret operation (30 soldiers).
During the Sinai Campaign the IDF captured 5500 Egyptian soldiers. One Israeli pilot fell captive to the Egyptian forces. The POW exchange began on Jan 21, 1957 and completed on Feb 5, 1957. The Egyptians received all of their prisoners as well as 77 POWs captured during the "Quntila" and "Tsabha" operations. On Jan 21, 1957 the Israeli pilot and three other soldiers held prisoner since before the campaign were released.
1961 - 1963
On the night of Mar 16-17, 1961 a Golani force raided the Syrian strongpoint of Nukeib north of Kibbutz Ein Gev. Our forces captured one Syrian POW. The Syrians held the body of Sergeant First Class Hanan David who had gone missing during the battle. On Feb 21, 1962 his body was returned in exchange for the Syrian prisoner.
Sept 24, 1962 - A truck with 14 female cadets, commanders and a driver crossed the border to Lebanon. Those in the truck were taken captive and transferred to Marj-Ayun. They were returned to Israel on the following day.
Dec 21, 1963 Eleven Israelis were returned from Syria (soldiers and civilians). They were taken captive by the Syrians throughout the years since the war of independence, some of them civilians that had crossed the border accidentally and spent many years in Syrian prisons. They were returned in exchange for 18 Syrians.
The Six Day War
During the war of six days 4338 Egyptian soldiers and 899 civilians were taken captive by the IDF; 533 Jordanian soldiers and 366 civilians; 367 Syrian soldiers and 205 civilians.
Throughout the war, 15 IDF soldiers fell captive - 11 in Egypt; 1 in Syria; 2 in Iraq; 1 in Lebanon.
The POW exchanges were held after the war - One prisoner was returned from Egypt as early as Jun 15, 1967 and the exchange was completed on Jan 23, 1968. In the context of the exchange, two Israeli navel commandos who were taken prisoner in July 1967 were also returned.
As part of the prisoner exchange, in February 1968, the members of the Israeli undercover network in Egypt (the Lavon Affair) were returned.
During these exchanges, two pilots that were held captive in Iraq after their planes were shot down during an attack made on the military airfield H 3 were returned: In return for these pilots, Israel released 428 Jordanian prisoners.
As part of the prisoner exchanges with Syria, Israel returned 572 Syrian POWs in exchange for one Israeli pilot, the bodies of two pilots and the body of an Israeli that was kidnapped the previous year and had died in prison. However, the Syrians adamantly refused to return the body of Israeli Mossad agent Eli Cohen who had been hanged in Damascus.
Apr 2, 1968- Twelve Jordanians taken captive in the Karameh battle were returned in exchange for the body of a missing soldier (2 additional coffins that were returned contained only dirt. The two soldiers are still missing.)
On July 28, 1968 an El Al plane was hijacked to Algeria - We have no information regarding the deal made to free the passengers.
On Aug 29, 1970 a TWA plane was hijacked to Damascus. Two Israelis on board were released after 3 months.
The War of Attrition
During the War of Attrition, 12 IDF soldiers were taken captive by Egypt, and 3 were taken captive by the Syrians. On Aug 16. 1970 a wounded pilot was returned from Egypt and on Mar 29, 1971 one soldier was returned from Egypt.
On June 9, 1972 an IDF force abducted 5 Syrian officers that were on patrol near the Israel - Lebanon border, and in exchange for them 3 pilots were returned from Syria.
On June 3, 1973 - Three IDF pilots were returned, Captain Gidon Magen, Captain Pinchas Nachmani, and Lieutenant Boaz Eitan, after three years in captivity in Syria in exchange for 46 Syrian prisoners.
The Yom Kippur War
During the Yom Kippur War, 231 IDF soldiers were captured by Egypt 62 by Syria, and two by Lebanon. After the war, six additional soldiers were taken prisoner. The IDF captured 8372 Egyptian soldiers (99 after the cease-fire); 392 Syrian; six Moroccans, and 13 Iraqis.
The exchange of POWs with the Egyptians took place between Nov 15-22, 1973. During the exchange, the two sides also exchanged captives from the War of Attrition.
The exchange of soldiers with the Syrians was held between June 1-6, 1974 during which the Moroccan and Iraqi captives (3 Iraqis were returned to Egypt) were also returned.
Apr 4, 1975 - The Egyptians returned to Israel 39 bodies of IDF soldiers who were killed in the Yom Kippur War in exchange for Israel's release of 92 terrorists and security prisoners held in Israeli prisons.
The Litani Operation
On Apr 5, 1978 a truck carrying six Israeli soldiers and one civilian mistakenly crossed the Israeli lines in the area of the Tyre enclave and encountered terrorists in the Rashidia area. In this encounter four soldiers were killed, one was captured, and one soldier and the civilian succeed in crossing back into the IDF held area.
On Mar 14, 1979 the captured soldier was returned in exchange for 76 terrorists.
The Lebanon War
On Sept 3, 1982 eight soldiers who were in a lookout post in the area of Bhamdoun were captured by a terrorist squad. Two of the soldiers were handed to Ahmad Jibril of PFLP-GH and the Fatah held the rest. On Nov 23, 1983 the six soldiers held by the Fatah were returned in exchange for 4700 terrorists that were arrested in the Ansar detention facility in Lebanon and 65 terrorists held in Israeli prisons.
On May 21, 1985 the two soldiers held by Ahmad Jubril's organization were returned in addition to Hezi Shai, a soldier captured in the Sultan Ya'aqub battle. In exchange for the soldiers, Israel released 1150 terrorists.
On June 28, 1984 Syria returned three soldiers (Staff Sergeant Gil Fogel, Staff Sergeant Arieh Lieberman, and Staff Sergeant Yonathan Shalom), three civilians from the Liason Unit, and the bodies of five soldiers. In exchange, Israel returned to Syria 291 soldiers, 13 civilians, and the bodies of 74 Syrian soldiers.
On Sept 12, 1991 the body of Druze soldier Samir Assad, who was abducted in April 1983 in the Sidon Area by the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, was returned to Israel in exchange for the return of two Democratic Front activists to Israel.
At the end of the lengthy negotiations on July 21, 1996 the bodies of Yosef Fink and Rachmim Alsheich who had been abducted from the Beit Yahoun roadblock in southern Lebanon by the Hizbullah organization on July 17, 1986 were returned to Israel after ten years. In exchange, Israel returned the bodies of 123 terrorists.
On May 25, 1998 the body of Sergeant First Class Itamar Iliyah was returned to Israel during a prisoner exchange deal with the Hizbullah following the Sept 5, 1997 incident in which 12 IDF officers and soldiers from the IDF naval commando unit were killed in action in Lebanon.