In the 2000 Hezbollah cross-border raid Hezbollah militants captured three IDF soldiers; Benny Avraham, Adi Avitan and Omar Sawaid, while they were patrolling the security fence along the border with Lebanon, and took them across the border. It is not clear when or under which circumstances the three soldiers died. Their bodies were returned to Israel in a prisoner exchange on 29 January 2004.
The abduction was the first incident between Israel and Lebanon after the Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon in May 2000, and it was followed by several other attempts of the Hezbollah to abduct Israeli soldiers, until eventually on July 12, 2006 Hezbollah managed to abduct Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev in another cross-border raid, an event that led to the eruption of the Second Lebanon War.
While patrolling the border near the Shebaa Farms an IDF patrol manned by Staff Sgt. Adi Avitan (22), Staff Sgt. Benyamin Avraham (21), and Staff Sgt. Omar Sawaid (27), was ambushed by a Hezbollah squad. The patrol car was hit by a rocket. The Hezbollah squad blasted a gate in the fence and a Range Rover entered Israeli-occupied territory to collect the captives and made a quick getaway.
Several factors contributed to the ease with which Hezbollah could carry out the abduction. The location of the abduction was situated between the 91st and the 36th Division. IDF bureaucracy prevented coordination and information sharing between the two. The IDF had received indications that Hezbollah was planning an abduction at the site. A patrol from the Egoz elite unit belonging to the 91st Division had observed Hezbollah activity in the area, which seemed to be an ideal place for an abduction. This information had not been passed on to the 36th Division. Neither the electronic border fence nor the surveillance cameras was functioning at the relevant section but was repaired only after the incident.
The bodies of the three captives were returned in a prisoner exchange in 2004. It is not known when or under what circumstances the three soldiers were killed. In October 2001 IDF stated that Israeli military intelligence estimated that "the three were either killed during the initial Hezbollah attack or immediately afterward."
Ya'akov Avitan, father of the abducted soldiers, said that a video released by Hezbollah and broadcast by LBC indicates that, "the boys were alive when they were kidnapped... they [Hezbollah] murdered our boys in cold blood after the kidnap."
The Hannibal Directive is an IDF order stating that abductions of Israeli soldiers must be prevented by all means, including shooting at or shelling a get-away car, thereby risking the lives of the captives. When the abduction of the three soldiers became known the Hannibal directive was invoked. Israeli attack helicopters fired at 26 cars moving in the area. The number of casualties, Hezbollah or civilian, is not known. There are however no clear indications that the captives were inside any of the attacked cars or were harmed in the attacks.
The captors denied the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other parties permission to visit them and to learn at first hand about their state of health and the conditions they were held in.
On November 9, 2003, the Government of Israel announced that an arrangement had been concluded regarding the return of the three missing IDF soldiers - as well as abducted Israeli businessman and reserve IDF colonel Elchanan Tenenbaum, who had been captured by Hezbollah after being lured to Dubai for a drug deal.
Hezbollah instigated negotiations over the release of 14 Lebanese prisoners, together with a number of Palestinian prisoners. On January 29, 2004, 30 Lebanese and Arab prisoners, 400 Palestinian prisoners, German national and Hezbollah member Steven Smyrek, and the remains of 59 Lebanese militants and civilians were transferred to Hezbollah, along with maps showing Israeli mines in South Lebanon, in exchange for Tenenbaum and the remains of the three dead soldiers.
Among the 435 people released by Israel were Mustafa Dirani and Sheik Abdel Karim Obeid. These two individuals were kidnapped, in 1994 and 1989 respectively, for use as bargaining chips in the effort to secure the release of the most famous of the Israeli MIAs, Ron Arad. Fearing the release of these men would end any hope of finding Arad, his family attempted to take legal action to prevent their release. Nothing came of this effort.
The bodies were positively identified and arrived during the evening hours in Israel. The soldiers were returned in an IAF aircraft along with an IDF delegation headed by Chief Military Rabbi, Brg. Gen. Israel Weiss. Upon the arrival of the coffins, a military ceremony took place in the presence of their families and commanders. The ceremony was attended by President Moshe Katsav, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Minister of Defense Shaul Mofaz, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya'alon.Hezbollah continued to attack IDF patrols in the Shebaa Farms area in the leadup to the 2006 Lebanon War.
Hezbollah's desire for Israeli prisoners that could be exchanged with Israel led to Hezbollah's abduction of Israeli soldiers, which triggered the 2006 Lebanon War.
On July 16, 2008, Hezbollah exchanged the bodies of the two Israeli soldiers captured during the 2006 Lebanon War, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, for Lebanese convicted murderer Samir Kuntar, four Hezbollah militants captured by Israel during the 2006 Lebanon War (Khaled Zidan, Maher Kurani, Mohammed Sarur and Hussein Suleiman), and the bodies of 200 Lebanese and Palestinians.