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April 4, 2019 3:37 pm

After 37 Years, Missing IDF Sergeant Zachary Baumel Laid to Rest in Jerusalem

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

The funeral of missing IDF soldier Zachary Baumel, whose body was returned to Israel after 37 years, April 4, 2019. Photo: GPO screenshot.

A fallen Israeli tank commander was laid to rest at the military cemetery on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem on Thursday, 37 years after he went missing during the First Lebanon War.

Sergeant Zachary Baumel was reported missing in action in 1982 after the Battle of Sultan Yacoub. Twenty Israeli soldiers were killed in the fighting between the Israel Defense Forces and the Syrian army, considered some of the most brutal of the war. Two other soldiers, Yehuda Katz and Tzvi Feldman, also went missing and have not been found.

According to Israeli news site Mako, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke at the funeral of Baumel’s American-born father, Yonah, who died a decade ago after years of searching for his missing son.

“Until his last day, his father Yonah sought to bring Zachary home,” Netanyahu said. “It dominated his life, his days and his nights. It became his life’s purpose, and how sad it is that you are not here with us, Yonah, in order to see the return of your beloved son.”

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Speaking of his recent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Netanyahu said that he “warmly thanked” the president for his help in finding Baumel. The Russian army reportedly aided in locating Baumel’s remains in Syria and conveying them to Israel.

“We have waited 37 years for this moment,” Netanyahu added. “I have seen people shed tears, even though they were born many years after Zachary’s disappearance, and this moment touches on the deepest threads of our identity as Jews and Israelis.”

Referring to the two other missing soldiers from the battle, Katz and Feldman, Netanyahu said that “we will continue to work to bring them home — and we will act this way for all our missing. Among a people that has within them so may arguments and disagreements, even so the inner point that unites us for good and for bad, this inner point is stronger than anything.”

President Reuven Rivlin eulogized Baumel as well, saying, “Thirty-seven years ago, before the battle, you wrote to your parents, ‘Don’t worry, everything is ok. But it looks like I won’t be home soon.’ Thirty-seven years have passed since then, but today is the day you returned home.”

“Today is a day in which Israel makes good on its pledge to its daughters and sons,” Rivlin added. “We can say with one voice, we are doing everything, even the unknown and the unbelievable, in order to bring our boys home. We can say with courage and humility — we did not and will not desist from this sacred mission, until all the fallen sons return home.”

Speaking to Baumel’s family, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi said, “The uncertainly about his fate was a cruel blow for you. Let it be a consolation that Zachary has returned to his country.”

New details have emerged about the circumstances in which Baumel’s remains were found. The operation reportedly involved the entire Israeli intelligence community, but in its final stages it involved collaboration between the Russian army and IDF military intelligence.

IDF Spokesman Ronen Manelis said that the military “passed the intelligence information to the Russians and they checked” in Syrian territory.

As a result, several bodies were unearthed and sent to Israel, where they underwent forensic tests. Baumel’s remains were identified relatively easily, as they were accompanied by parts of his uniform and his army boots. He was identified with certainty by DNA tests. The other remains were not identified as IDF soldiers and were buried quietly in civilian graves.

Reportedly, the operation that discovered Baumel is still ongoing as part of the search for the remains of Katz and Feldman.

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