Helicopter-borne Israeli commandos struck deep into Lebanon, abducted a Lebanese militia leader and returned him to Israel, the army announced today.
A spokesman identified the leader as Mustafa Dirani, leader of the Believers Resistance, a Shiite Muslim faction. The Israeli special forces team took Dirani from his house in Qasr Naba in the Bekaa Valley of east Lebanon as his family watched, Israel Radio said.
The army said Dirani, 46, headed a group in south Lebanon that captured Israeli navigator Ron Arad in 1986. Today's abduction was believed to be an effort to obtain a bargaining chip to win the release of the Israeli airman.
A similar operation was carried out in July, 1989, when Israel seized Sheik Abdel Karim Obeid, a Shiite Muslim cleric of the Iran-backed Hezbollah Shiite Muslim militia.
Obeid was abducted in an effort to win an accounting of seven missing Israeli servicemen, including Arad, who parachuted to Earth near Sidon in October, 1986, and was captured by Dirani's faction of the Shiite militia Amal. Arad's whereabouts are not known.
Obeid has been held in Israel ever since, but Israel has failed to interest the other side in a bargain for the Israelis missing in action in Lebanon.
Obeid's abduction brought international criticism of Israel for acting in the same manner as the militias in Lebanon.
Israel Radio said the abduction of Dirani was an attempt to obtain information and the eventual release of Arad, the only captured Israeli serviceman believed to be still alive. The army said Dirani is being held in Israel.