The Israeli military announced on April 3 that it had recovered the body of, Zachary Baumel, a U.S.-born Israeli soldier missing since a 1982 tank battle against the Syrian Arab Army (SAA).
“His body is in Israel. The body has been identified. It has been verified … Head of the IDF Human Resources Directorate Maj. Gen. Moti Almoz informed [Baumel’s] family just a few minutes ago,” Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a spokesman for the Israeli military, told reporters, according to the Times of Israel.
Lt. Col. Conricus said that the body of Baumel was recovered in a complex and secret operation known as “Operation Bittersweet Song.” The intelligence service of an unnamed country participated in the operation, that was led by the Israeli Military Intelligence Directorate. By the end of the operation Baumel’s remains were returned to Israel on an El Al plane via the third country.
Baumel and two other Israeli soldiers, Yehuda Katz and Tzvi Feldman, went missing during the battle of Sultan Yacoub on June 10 of 1982. The SAA killed 20 Israeli soldiers during the battle and captured several Israeli tanks, one of them is believed to be Bumel’s tank.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the return of Baumel’s remains was one of the most moving moments in all his years as prime minister.
“[The operation was a] repayment of a moral debt to the fallen soldiers of the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces], a repayment of a moral debt to their families,” Netanyahu said in a press conference.
The Damascus government has not commented on the Israeli announcement so far. However, Anwar Raja, a Syria-based official with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC), told the Lebanese al-Mayadeen TV that Baumel’s remains were likely stolen by militants from the Yarmouk refugee camp south of the Syrian capital of Damascus.
The camp was captured by pro-opposition armed groups in early 2012. Later, ISIS and other terrorist groups took over until the SAA managed to liberate it last year.
Netanyahu, who is facing a notable internal pressure, will likely use this operation to get additional support for his party ahead of the upcoming Israeli elections.