A decades-old dispute over the fate of four abducted Iranian diplomats was revived on Tuesday after Iran called for the formation of an Iranian-Lebanese committee to investigate their disappearance. Then-charges d'affaires Sayyid Mohsen Mousavvi, military attaché Ahmad Motevaselian, embassy driver Taghi Rastegar-Moghadam and Islamic Republic News Agency journalist Kazem Akhavan disappeared in 1982 while Lebanon was under military occupation by Israel. It is widely believed the men were kidnapped by the Christian Lebanese Forces militia at a checkpoint in Barbara, northern Lebanon. Iran and Hizbullah say the Lebanese Forces, now headed by Samir Geagea, then handed the men over to Israel, where they remain imprisoned. But an Israeli report given to Hizbullah last year claimed the four Iranians were murdered by the Lebanese Forces and were never taken to the Jewish state.
"The Islamic Republic is calling for an Iranian-Lebanese committee to be created to look into the details and circumstances of this incident," Iranian Ambassador to Beirut Ali Reza Shebani told reporters after Tuesday's meeting with Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Sallukh.
Iranian frustration with the lack of progress made in tracking down the men was echoed by Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani on Monday, who said the Islamic Republic had "not yet received any proper response in that regard."
An official statement circulated on Saturday by the Iranian Embassy in Beirut held Israel responsible for the men's disappearance. "We in Iran do not accept the Zionist point of view, and we are not bothered by the Zionist entity's [Israel] denial of responsibility," Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hassan Qashqavi said. "We still consider the Zionist entity responsible for the fate of the four Iranian diplomats currently inside Zionist prisons," Qashqavi said, citing Israel's "secret and open" relations with the men's Lebanese kidnappers.
"Only a few months ago Raid Mousavvi [son of Sayyid Mohsen Mousavvi] came to Lebanon to push for answers. But nothing has been achieved and the families are still waiting. We don't even know if the men are still alive."
Iran had spoken to every Lebanese government since 1982 regarding the men's fate, Hershi said, and although little had materialized, he was "optimistic" that the truth would be uncovered eventually.
Hizbullah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah last week said the Lebanese government was responsible for uncovering the men's whereabouts. The Lebanese Forces also had to give up any information they had, Nasrallah said. "If they turned them over to Israel, let them say that. If they killed them, let them deliver their bodies," he said.
Replying to Nasrallah on Tuesday, MP Walid Jumblatt said that Iran, rather than Lebanon, was responsible for uncovering the fate of the missing diplomats. In his weekly editorial in Al-Anbaa magazine, Jumblatt said that the investigation into the missing Iranian diplomats should proceed in "exactly" the same way as investigations into the whereabouts of Lebanese citizens missing in Syria.
Nasrallah's comments also attracted ire from Geagea, who asked last Friday, "Who can explain the pressing interest of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah in the four Iranian diplomats? Is this issue more important than Lebanese detainees in the Syrian prisons?"
The fate of the missing Iranians was primarily a humanitarian question, said Hershi, suggesting the issue was being manipulated for political purposes. "When Europeans were kidnapped in Lebanon in the 1970s, all political parties gave whatever information they had. So why are people not doing the same for the kidnapped Iranians?"
"We say to the Lebanese, if there is anyone out there with information about the whereabouts of the men, please tell us," Hershi urged.
Ambassador Shebani will meet with Lebanese Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar on Wednesday to discuss the men's whereabouts.