Military and Police

Closure After 37 Years: The Incredible Story of Sergeant Zachary Baumel, MIA Since 1982

The family of 1st Sergeant Zachary Baumel is finally getting some closure after 37 years.

The story of Sergeant Zachary Baumel, an Israeli tank commander, goes back to 1982, at the Battle of Sultan Yacoub against the Syrian army in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley during the First Lebanon War. Sultan Yacoub took place on 10 June 1982 when Israeli armored battalions made a push to capture territory in the Beqaa Valley region. During the operation, Baumel’s battalion became cut off from the rest of the division. The armored push failed to meet its objectives, and is today considered to be an intelligence failure. Three soldiers including Baumel were declared missing in action.

Details of the effort to retrieve Baumel’s remains are still largely secret. What is known is that the success of the mission, dubbed Bittersweet Song, was a result of cooperation with Russian forces in Syria. Over the last couple of years, Israel has capitalized on improving relations with Moscow to recruit its help in finding its MIA soldiers. On 4 April, Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged that Russian personnel had located Baumel’s remains after being guided by Israeli intelligence. “As you may know, our military personnel and their Syrian partners helped find Zachary’s remains,” said Putin. “We are glad that he will receive proper military honors in his homeland […] Zachary’s family will be able to bring flowers to his grave.”

Throughout Israel, the bittersweet news was greeted with a sense of awe and pride at the lengths the military was prepared to go for its fallen soldiers as thousands of ordinary citizens gathered for Baumel’s funeral on April 4. Baumel’s father, Yona, died in 2009 without learning of Zachary’s fate, but the rest of his family, including his mother Miriam, who is in her 80s, now have some form of closure. “We want all IDF soldiers to know that when they enlist, the State of Israel will do everything it takes, if they —heaven forbid— fall captive or go missing, in order to bring them home,” said Lt. Col. Nir Israeli, the head of the Israel Defense Forces’ missing soldiers unit.

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Samuel Siskind

Samuel Siskind studied intelligence research at the American Military University in West Virginia. He served as a squad commander in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) Corp of Combat Engineers, in the Corps' ground battalions and later in its Intelligence Wing at regional and divisional stations. For the past five years, Samuel has worked as a consultant and researcher on physical and information security issues for private and governmental institutions, in the US, Africa, India, and Israel. He currently lives in Jerusalem.

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