IDF tank commander Zachary Baumel was to be laid to rest in Jerusalem on Thursday, some 37 years after he went missing in action during the Battle of Sultan Yacoub in Lebanon.
Twenty-one IDF servicemen were killed and another 30 wounded in the brutal battle between Israeli and Syrian armor at the start of the First Lebanon War in 1982. The bodies of Baumel and two other Israelis–Zvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz–were never recovered, sparking a decades-long intelligence campaign to ascertain their whereabouts.
Several years ago, that intelligence was passed to the Russians, along with an official request that Moscow use its position on war-torn Syria to find, secure and return the remains of the three Israelis.
Meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he was happy to have finally been able to do so.
"Russian Army soldiers found the body in coordination with the Syrian military," Putin said during a press conference with Netanyahu in Moscow, adding that he would be returning additional personal effects belonging to Baumel to the Israeli leader during his visit.
Netanyahu acknowledged that Russian soldiers had "risked their lives" to return the Israeli soldier's remains from a terrorist-controlled area near Damascus. An El Al plane on Wednesday flew the remains of Baumel and 10 other people back to Israel via a third country.
Turning to Putin, the prime minister said: "Two years ago, I asked you to help us find the bodies of missing Israeli soldiers, and you responded in the affirmative. I want to thank you, my friend, for what you have done."
Israeli forensic experts later reported that, unfortunately, Feldman and Katz were not among the other remains.
PHOTO: Miriam and Yoni Baumel seen at their Jerusalem home in 2003 holding a picture of their son Zachary, some 21 years after he had gone missing. Yoni Baumel died 10 years ago. Miriam is now 90-years-old, and will finally be able to lay her son to rest. (Flash90)