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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: Management Accountant / Analyst (CIMA finalist/newly qualified)

£32000 - £38000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant / F...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - .NET

£27000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of a mark...

Recruitment Genius: Help Desk Specialist

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides Reliabili...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Managing Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of refrigeration, mechan...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor