Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for helping to find and recover the remains of an IDF soldier who went missing in a 1982 battle with Syrian forces during the First Lebanon War.
“You personally answered our request and you gave an order to render assistance in this matter,” Netanyahu told Putin during his visit to Moscow. He added that the funeral of IDF Sergeant Zachary Baumel will take place later on Thursday in Israel.
In 1982, during the First Lebanon War, Sgt. 1st Class Zachary Baumel went missing in action. Now, his body has been returned to Israel.
May his memory be a blessing. pic.twitter.com/GXfaBHROXP
— Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) April 3, 2019
Netanyahu said that Baumel’s father, who “traveled the world to track down any piece of information” about his son, has passed away, and the mother is almost 100 years old. Baumel’s sister will attend the funeral. “She is very grateful to Russian soldiers, who risked their lives to recover Zachary’s remains,” Israeli PM said.
Putin confirmed that the Russian military, along with its Syrian partners “established the burial place” of the missing soldier. “We are very happy that they will be able to give him the necessary military honors at home,” Putin said. “What is more important… his friends and family will be able to bring flowers to his grave.”
On Wednesday, an Israeli military spokesman told reporters that the remains of Baumel had been returned to Israel and identified. He said they were brought to Jerusalem by a national El Al plane from a third country, as Israel doesn’t have flight connections with either Syria or Lebanon.
At least 20 IDF soldiers were killed, dozens wounded and six – including Baumel – went missing in the battle near the Lebanese village of Sultan Yacoub in the Beqaa valley. It was one of the largest tank operations in the Middle East. Two of the missing soldiers were returned alive to Israel in prisoner exchanges with Syria. The body of a third man was buried in Syria and later also returned to Israel. But the fate of other three remained unknown until recently.
In 2016, at the request of Tel Aviv, Moscow returned a Magach tank to which the three missing soldiers had been assigned. It was captured by Syrian forces in the battle of Sultan Yacoub. The tank was gifted to Russia by Syria, and has been housed in a military hardware museum in Moscow Region for several decades.