MIA for 30 years – the 3 missing IDF soldiers from Sultan Yacoub battle in Lebanon

3 MIA's from Sultan Yacoub battle in Lebanon

3 MIA’s from Sultan Yacoub battle in Lebanon

Submerged in all the celebrations, ceremonies and media fanfare marking 45 years since Israel’s dramatic win in the 6-Day War of 1967, the 30th anniversary of the “Peace for Galilee” operation of 1982 has all but vanished. The reason for that is quite simple. The war was never universally popular amongst the Israeli population and became controversial shortly after it began; although a ceasefire was agreed, the war itself didn’t end decisively for decades; and it left Israel in the Lebanese security zone until 2000, with the IDF suffering dozens of casualties and fatalities over the years.  The IDF’s controversial withdrawal from South Lebanon under Ehud Barak in 2000 (see opinion articles here and here) left Israel facing Hezbollah, and the inevitable war of 2006, the “Second Lebanon War”, which too left Israel with a bitter taste in its mouth and 2 missing reservists whose bodies were only returned years later.

All this brings us to one bitter legacy of that well-intentioned but badly managed war, and that is that three IDF soldiers who were captured in one of the worst battles of the war are still missing in action to this day. Their names are Zvi Feldman, Yehuda Katz and American-born Zachary Baumel.  Their memory is rapidly fading in the Israeli consciousness and in any case their cause was never as popular as Ron Arad (still MIA since 1986) or Gilad Shalit who was so happily brought home last year.

Elli Fischer in the Times of Israel (h/t Love of the Land) brings us their stories and keeps their memory alive:

Exactly 30 years ago, during the night between the 10th and 11th of June, 1982 (the 20th of Sivan – a date commemorating other historical Jewish tragedies), the IDF fought Syrian forces in the Battle of Sultan Yacoub, in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. Considered one of Israel’s worst failures in the First Lebanon War, 30 Israeli soldiers were killed and another three went missing. Eyewitnesses testified that three Israeli soldiers were paraded through Damascus several days after the battle, but the trail begins to run cold after that, although there were indications in 1993, 2000, and possibly even 2005 that at least some of the missing Israeli soldiers were still alive. Perhaps, as the Syrian regime – long suspected of holding the soldiers – continues to crumble, we will finally get some definitive answers.

It has been 30 years, or 10,958 days, that their families – two of the three, Yehuda Katz and Tzvi Feldman, were/are children of Holocaust survivors – have been in the dark about the fate of their sons and brothers. Brooklyn-born Zachary Baumel’s father passed away in 2009, having dedicated the last 27 years of his life to bringing his son home by cultivating contacts in enemy states, suing governments, and organizing campaigns, but ultimately suffering immense frustration.

When I studied at the Kerem B’Yavneh yeshiva in the early 1990s, Yehuda Katz’s presence was still felt there. He had been an outstanding student in its Hesder program, combining yeshiva study with army service.


The missing soldiers are remembered elsewhere as well. Baumel’s alma mater, Yeshivat Har Etzion, commemorated this sombre anniversary last week. In synagogues throughout the world, a special prayer is recited each Shabbat for missing and captured Israeli soldiers, and the three who went missing at Sultan Yacoub are often mentioned by name. And yet, for some reason – and there is really no hypothesis that reflects well on this country – Yehuda, Tzvi, and Zachary never gained the public support that Ron Arad or Gilad Shalit did.

There are very few people who still think that any of these three soldiers are coming back alive, although perhaps it is not too late for their families to gain some sort of closure. The story of Yehuda, Tzvi, and Zachary deserves Israel’s attention on the anniversary of their disappearance – not only because we have no other way to remember them, but because we also need to remember that we failed them.

Please keep the memory of these three soldiers alive; let us not forget them and let us work to either free them or get their bodies back as tirelessly as we all campaigned for Gilad Shalit.

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11 Responses to MIA for 30 years – the 3 missing IDF soldiers from Sultan Yacoub battle in Lebanon

  1. reality says:

    those poor families & even poorer soldiers if they were indeed alive at the time of their capture. If they are alive today they would’ve been either returned with a big bargaining chip like Gilad Shalit or some sort of sign of them would’ve been handed to the government. The same with Ron Arad. And where were those amazing agencies the Human rights or UN? Ah I forgot when it comes to Israelis/Jews they don’t count. I just read a(funny )article how the Un have run away from Syria as its too dangerous & violent!!So now we know how to behave when UN observers come to Israel to see whats going on. Just be violent & they’ll run away!

    • anneinpt says:

      Of course you’re 100% right about the UN. They have run away from every trouble spot in the Middle East where they could have been of help to Israel – from Egypt in 1967, from Lebanon in 2006 when they turned a blind eye to the kidnapping – in a UN vehicle! – of Regev and Goldwasser, and now to Syria.

      No point in us being violent. For that they’ll intervene. Can’t leave those poor Palis unprotected can we?

  2. cba says:

    Thanks for this, Anne.
    And, of course, we also remember Guy Hever http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guy_Hever and Majdi Halabi http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Majdi_Halabi. (To compound the tragedy for the Halabi family, last year Majdi’s young brother was killed in a car crash http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4142155,00.html)

  3. Hunter says:

    That war that Ariel Sharon gave Israel (for purely political reasons) was insane. Begin recognized it for the disaster that it turned out to be and resigned. You replaced the PLO with Hizbollah.

    • anneinpt says:

      Unfortunately you’re right Hunter. Let’s hope our current and future leaders will be both more cautious in expeditions into Lebanon and in dealing with Hezbollah and their pals.

      • Hunter says:

        Too many brave Jewish boys have lost their lives in Lebanon. Let us pray that incompetent clowns such as Ehud Olmert, Amir Peretz and Dan Halutz never return to a position of power.

  4. Adam says:

    I think about these MIA’s often.

    May they be freed soon.

  5. Hunter says:

    Being a prisoner of the Arabs has got to be hellish.

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