Experts are saying that a tank captured during the battle of Sultan Ya’akov in the First Lebanon War and which was returned to Israel from Russia is not the tank from which three Israeli tank crew members were abducted, Yedioth Ahronoth reported Friday.
The tank was given back to Israel by Russia following a ceremony while Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was in the country last week. A post on the Prime Minister's Facebook page noted that the tank "is the only evidence we have of our boys who went missing in that battle: Zacharia Baumel, Tzvi Feldman, and Yehuda Katz."
“For 34 years we've been searching for our soldiers, and we won't stop until we bring them back to be buried in the State of Israel. For 34 years the Katz, Feldman, and Baumel families haven't had a grave to visit. But now they will have this tank – a remnant of the fighting at Sultan Ya’akov which the families can visit in Israel, touch, and remember their children by," the post said, according to Yedioth Ahronoth.
The Battle of Sultan Ya’akov took took place on the sixth day of the First Lebanon war in June of 1982. 20 Israeli soldiers were killed in the battle, but six soldiers were unaccounted for, including Feldman, Baumel, and Katz. The fate of the rest was later discovered.
Following the battle, eight Israeli tanks remained in Syrian hands, among them the one associated with the three still-missing soldiers.
But tank expert Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Mas told Yedioth Ahronoth that the tank Israel received from the Russians isn't the correct tank.
“It is very sad that the Prime Minister and the nation are falling for a fake," Mas said. "This tank isn't the missing soldiers' tank. What has been returned to us is a complete tank, and the missing soldiers' tank is different. While this is one of the tanks which were captured from the 399 division during the Battle of Sultan Ya’akov, there are no signs that anyone was ever injured in this tank."
"When Netanyahu said that there will be some closure for families who have no grave (to visit), he made two mistakes. First, this isn't the missing soldiers' tank, and second, they are missing, not killed in action," he added.
Another expert, Lt. Col. (ret.) Danny Kriaf added "the serial number for the tank which was returned was 817581, and the missing soldiers' tank's serial number was different… It's clear that the Russians didn't care which tank they sent."
The Prime Minister's Office sought to explain the saga, clarifying that Israel never claimed that the tank received by the Russians is the missing soldiers' tank.
"We said that this is a tank from the Battle of Sultan Ya’akov and is evidence of the fighting. This is what the Prime Minister told the families," it said, according to Yedioth Ahronoth. "No one ever said that this was the tank of the three (missing soldiers)."
(Arutz Sheva’s North American desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)