Prior to departing for the Russian capital, Netanyahu referred to the meeting as periodic, and insisted that all issues placed on the agenda “are important for the state of Israel” amid accumulating events that are transpiring in Israel’s northern war-torn neighbor.
The Prime Minister said: “Good morning, I am leaving for another periodic meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. We will discuss events in Syria, and they are accumulating, and the ongoing and special coordination between our militaries, as well as other issues that are important for the State of Israel.”
During their meeting, Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed Moscow’s reported involvement in returning the remains of an IDF soldier, who went ‘Missing In Action’ in 1982, during the Battle of Sultan Yacoub. President Putin said: “As you know, our military forces together with our Syrian partners located his grave (IDF Soldier Zachary Baumel). We are very happy that he will receive an honor-burial in his homeland (Israel), and the most important that his relatives will be able to visit and put a wreath on his grave.”
The remains of Sergeant First Class Zachary Baumel, an Israeli U.S.-born tank commander, were flown to Israel on a civilian aircraft a few days ago. Baumel went missing on June 11th, 1982, during the Battle of Sultan Yacoub – which is situated in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley – that was fought between Israeli and Syrian forces.
The IDF sustained a bitter defeat at the time, when Israeli forces sought to conquer the Lebanese territory ahead of an anticipated cessation-of-hostilities. During the battle, the IDF’s ‘363rd Battalion’ of the ’90th Division’ fought its way through a Syrian infantry division, only to find itself cut-off and surrounded. While the majority of the IDF forces managed to fight their way back to the Israeli front, with the support of friendly artillery-fire, twenty soldiers were killed and five were classified as ‘Missing in Action’.
Several years later, two of the captured soldiers were returned alive in two separate prisoner-exchange deals with Syria and their allied Palestinian group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Nevertheless, Sergeant First Class Zachary Baumel and two other sergeants – Yehuda Katz and Zvi Feldman – remained unaccounted for despite extensive efforts of Israeli authorities to locate them. There have been many conflicting reports regarding the whereabouts and condition of the three men over the past 36 years. A report that was published by an Israeli Daily last year cited an intelligence assessment that the bodies of the missing IDF soldiers were believed to be buried in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, in southern Damascus, which Syrian troops had recaptured from the Islamic State that May.
Several months later, Russia’s military spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov revealed that Israel had “appealed to Russia with a request for help, in finding the remains of the Israeli servicemen.” According to General Konashenkov, Israel provided “specific co-ordinates in Syria” which led to a search that was organized “after Russia agreed to the operation with (its) Syrian partners.”
While the IDF spokesperson’s unit refrained from providing specifics on the efforts to retrieve the remains of Sergeant First Class Zachary Baumel; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced in a televised address the successful operation – terming it as one of the most moving moments during his entire term as the Prime Minister of Israel. In his words: “Citizens of Israel, this is one of the most moving moments in all my years as Prime Minister of Israel. A few days ago, the remains of the body of IDF soldier Sgt. First Class Zachary Baumel were brought to Israel. Zachary fell in the battle at Sultan Yacoub during Operation Peace for Galilee; he was considered missing for 37 years. During all of these years, the State of Israel invested vast efforts in solving the riddle of his fate and those of his two comrades from that battle, Zvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz. Zachary’s bones which were brought to Israel were positively identified. With them were also found his tank jump-suit and his tzitzit. Soon Zachary will be brought to his eternal resting place in an Israeli burial place.”