On July 4, 1982, Kazem Akhavan, a photographer for Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency, is believed to have been kidnapped by members of the Christian Lebanese Phalange militia at a checkpoint near the northern Lebanese city of Byblos along with three officials from the Iranian Embassy–Ahmad Motevaselian, Seyed Mohsen Mousavi, and Taghi Rastegar Moghadam.
Reports from the time alleged that Akhavan was executed soon after his abduction.
However, a March 18, 1998, story in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz raised suspicion that the journalist may be alive and in Israeli custody. The story, written by Israeli journalist Josef al-Ghazi and based on information provided by the Israeli prison service, reported that three Iranian nationals were imprisoned in Israel at the time.
CPJ wrote to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on April 15, 1998, requesting the names of the imprisoned Iranians but received no response.
In a 2007 book by Israeli investigative journalist Ronen Bergman titled The Secret War with Iran, Robert Hatem, head of security for Elie Hobeika, the commander of the Lebanese Christian Kataeb militia in the early 1980s, supported the theory that the four Iranians had been executed shortly after their abduction.
According to Bergman’s book, Hatem told Israeli agents in 1993 and 2000 that he had probably killed Ahmad Motevaselian, then a military attaché at the Iranian Embassy in Beirut, and still clearly remembered the execution of the other hostages. Hatem is also cited in the book as saying that when the militia members found out that one of the hostages spoke Arabic, they killed him right away, but did not identify that hostage.
A 2008 article in Ha’aretz alleged that the four Iranians were arrested at a checkpoint manned by Kataeb militiamen in 1982, killed, and buried at a site that was subsequently destroyed by construction.
In a 2006 interview, former Kataeb militiaman and leader of the Lebanese Forces political party Samir Geagea said that the four hostages had been killed shortly after their abduction.
The same report added that Iranian authorities believed that the hostages were taken to Israel in 1990 and are still alive.
Senior Iranian government officials, including former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and former Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan, have repeatedly accused Israel of holding the missing Iranians in an Israeli prison, and called for international investigations into their fate, according to news reports.
In May 2016, Dehghan said that the four hostages were alive and being held in an Israeli prison, according to news reports.
In July 2018, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, the Iranian Parliament’s General Director for International Affairs, told the official Mehr News Agency that there was no evidence of the death of the four Iranian hostages.
On the 37th anniversary of Akhavan’s abduction in 2019, the Iranian Foreign Ministry called for an international investigation into the disappearances, and accused Israel of holding them, according to news reports.