It was one of the hardest battles fought by the IDF in the First Lebanon War; only a few days ago [June 6, 2012], we marked the war’s thirtieth anniversary. The battle was fought on June 11, 1982 close to the village of Sultan Yaakoub, with the objective of taking control of the Beirut-Damascus road. The battle did not go well for the Israelis. The IDF suffered heavy casualties: 20 dead, two taken prisoner and three missing — Zachary Baumel, Zvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz. Over the years, contradictory reports circulated regarding the fate of the missing soldiers. Their families fought a long battle to dig up information and refused to allow the IDF to declare their sons "casualties whose burial places are not known." Over the years, the families turned over every stone in an attempt to reveal what happened to their loved ones.
Several parents eventually went to their deaths without knowing the fate of their sons.
Worried about damaging relations
Miriam Baumel, mother of MIA Zachary Baumel, has been asserting for a number of years that the British have information that could shed light on the fate of her son and his friends. She argues that the British ambassador in Damascus at the time of the battle reported that the Syrians had kidnapped the three soldiers and paraded them on top of a tank throughout the streets of Damascus. About two years ago she demanded that the British hand over the documents, but the Jewish Chronicle newspaper reported that the British would not transfer such sensitive information because its disclosure could damage British-Syrian relations.
Baumel did not give up and fought a long legal battle. She says that she received some of the documents, but the document proving that the soldiers were kidnapped by the Syrians was not among them. Evidently, she says, the British are still holding on to it.
However, circumstances have changed recently; the Syrian regime’s suppression of the uprising has caused a crisis in British-Syrian relations, and this led to new developments in the Sultan Yaakoub affair. Miriam Baumel will fly alone to London. (Her husband Yonah, who had led the struggle, passed away three years ago.) She hopes to return with conclusive information regarding the missing soldiers.
“Yes, I am travelling abroad because of this issue,” she told Ma’ariv on Thursday [June 14]. “They still haven’t given over the document I asked for, and what they did send has no connection to the eyewitnesses who were in Damascus at the time of the kidnapping. As we publicized in the past, there was someone from the British embassy who wrote the telegram saying that he saw the soldiers. We are working hard on this issue. If they won’t give me an answer, we will have to think of another approach.”
“The documents were delivered”
Baumel expressed hope that recent developments and the deterioration of Britain’s relations with Syria will bring the British to reveal the critical document. “In the past they said that they did not want to hand over [the document] because they didn’t want to ruin their relations with Syria, but now that circumstances have changed, perhaps they will agree.”
The following response was received from Britain’s embassy in Israel: “High-ranking officials in the British Foreign Ministry met Attorney Daniel Berke, who works for the Baumel family, and gave him all the documents. These documents include everything we know about the incident. The British ambassador in Israel, Matthew Gould, also met Baumel, and emphasized to her that everything known to the British government about the case has been delivered to her attorney.”