Israel braced for reprisals after daring kidnap raid

ISRAELI security forces and embassies throughout the world were on the alert for reprisals yesterday after the Israeli abduction of a Lebanese militia leader in a daring pre-dawn raid into eastern Lebanon.

Flying across central Lebanon and striking deep into the Bekaa valley, helicopter-borne commandos abducted Mustafa Dirani from under the noses of the Hizbollah militants and Syrian forces which control much of the area.

'They broke into the house after breaking down the door with an axe,' Dirani's eldest son, 11-year-old Ali, told Reuters news agency. 'I was awakened by a soldier pointing a pistol to my head and asking me something about weapons.

'Calling us by our first names, they brought my father, mother and uncle and handcuffed them.

'They then searched the house, took papers and other stuff and carried my father out,' he said. 'The whole thing took seven minutes.'

Security sources said the the commandos, aboard two helicopter gunships, had landed about five miles west of Kasernaba in the eastern Bekaa Valley at midnight.

About 20 soldiers in two small military trucks stopped 500 yards from the village, where they were met by someone believed to be a local agent.

Under cover of darkness, they proceeded on foot, and at 3am encircled Dirani's house on the edge of the village, stormed into it and whisked him away, handcuffed and in his pyjamas.

The purpose of the abduction was to obtain information about the whereabouts of Ron Arad, the Israeli air force navigator who has been missing for eight years, and who is believed to be a hostage of pro-Iranian militants.

Dirani, leader of the 'Believers' Resistance', a Shia Muslim faction, is believed by the Israelis to have captured Arad after he was shot down over southern Lebanon in October 1986. According to Israeli army radio yesterday, citing intelligence reports, Dirani later sold Arad to the Iran-based Revolutionary Guards.

Last night Dirani was being interrogated at a secret location inside Israel.

The Israelis clearly intend to use him as a bargaining tool in any hostage deal, despite the failure of previous efforts to tempt the pro-Iranian factions into an exchange.

Yesterday's raid was a high-risk operation that could spark a new wave of kidnappings and hostage-taking in the Middle East. After a similar raid in 1989, when Israel seized Sheikh Abdul Karim Obeid, a pro-Iranian cleric, from his home in southern Lebanon, Iranian hostage-takers killed the American hostage, Colonel William Higgins, in retaliation. Sheikh Obeid was also taken in an attempt to win information about missing servicemen. He is still in an Israeli jail.

After Israeli helicopter gunships rocketed a motor convoy in 1989, killing Sheikh Abbas Musawi, the Hizbollah leader, Hizbollah gunmen fired hundreds of rockets into northern Israel, and Islamic Jihad, the pro-Iranian extremist faction, claimed responsibility for blowing up the Israeli embassy in Argentina, killing dozens.

However, Israeli leaders and security chiefs yesterday treated the raid as a big coup against Syria, and as a warning to the kidnappers that Israel will use all possible means to secure the release of Arad.

'We have proved that the kidnappers cannot be protected wherever they are. No place is protected against the long arm of Israel,' said Brigadier General Ephraim Sne.

Shimon Peres, the Israeli Foreign Minister, said the Israeli army 'should be praised for the precise operation, which removed a very dangerous man from a place where many operations initiated'.

In Baalbek in the Bekaa Valley, Hussein Musawi, a pro-

Iranian faction leader, said the raid was '. . . part of the open battle between us and the Israeli enemy . . . It will affect us only by increasing our determination and stepping up our fight.'

Musawi said the Israelis might be planning to use Dirani as a 'pressure card' in the case of Arad, but that this would not work. 'We do not understand this language - they will not gain anything,' he said.

The operation was ordered by the Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, and approved in a special session of his cabinet on Thursday, according to Israeli army radio.

The abduction appears to have been timed partly to boost Israeli public confidence in the security forces, just as doubts and fears have begun to spread again over the Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

On Friday, two Israeli soldiers were shot dead and two settlers were wounded by Islamic militants in the Gaza Strip, where Palestinian police have taken partial control from Israeli forces in recent days. The raid also follows the latest round of largely unproductive talks between Syria and Warren Christopher, US Secretary of State, aimed at finding a peace solution for the Golan Heights.

Meanwhile the question of Arad's current whereabouts, or even whether he is still alive, remains unanswered.

Arad's F14 fighter-bomber was shot down over southern Lebanon by Palestinian anti- aircraft fire during an Israeli bombing raid on the Palestinian camp of Ein Helweh, which was besieged at the time by the pro-Syrian Amal militia.

Arad, who had managed to eject from the plane, is thought to have fallen into the hands of the Amal militia.

In August 1991, Amal chief Nabih Berry, who is now the Speaker of the Lebanese parliament, claimed that Arad had been 'sold to the Iranians for half a million dollars' by Dirani.

Dirani had been head of security in the Amal militia until 1988, when he decided to quit the secular group and join the Iranian-backed Hizbollah.

No one has ever claimed responsibility for Arad's capture, and there is no proof that the missing airman is still alive.

In 1993, several Arab and Lebanese officials fuelled the mystery about the airman's fate by making contradictory statements about where Arad was being held. But all agreed that he was still alive. In December, Egypt's ambassador to Israel, Mohammad Bassiuni, said that Arad was being held captive in Lebanon.

The airman's release is the key to any future global prisoner exchanges between Israel and the Shia Muslim Hizbollah and Amal militia.

(Photograph and map omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
John Rees-Evans is standing for Ukip in Cardiff South and Penarth
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
David Silva, Andy Carroll, Arsene Wenger and Radamel Falcao
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

The Jenrick Group: Multi Skilled Maintenance Engineer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Multi Skill...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£20000 - £21000 per annum: The Jenrick Group: This high quality manufacturer o...

The Jenrick Group: Electrical Maintenance Engineer

£30000 - £35000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Electrical ...

Recruitment Genius: Photo Booth Host

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company offers London's best photo booth ...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'