Russia has returned an Israeli Defence Force tank captured by Syria during the 1982 war in Lebanon.

The tank – which has been housed in a Russian museum for several decades – was formally received on Israel’s behalf by prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu today.

Netanyahu, who personally lobbied Russian president Vladimir Putin for the tank’s return, said he hoped its return would prove some comfort to the families of its crew – who have been missing since its capture in the battle of Sultan Yacoub 34 years ago.

30 IDF soldiers were killed in the battle, with the location of the three crewmen – Zvi Feldman, Yehuda Katz and Zachary Baumel – still unknown.

At a special ceremony at an armoury museum near Moscow, Netanyahu paid tribute to President Putin’s “warm humanitarian gesture” – and said Israel “will not rest” until the bodies of the three men are found.

Netanyahu with wife Sara and the commander of Russia's ground forces, Colonel General Oleg Salyukov

Netanyahu with wife Sara and the commander of Russia’s ground forces, Colonel General Oleg Salyukov

The Prime Minister said: “This is an emotional moment for me and for all Israel’s citizens. We are marking 25 years since the renewed diplomatic relations between us and our deep connection also appears in our a shared history full of struggles and untold suffering.

“We appreciate the role played by the Russian people and the Red Army in defeating the Nazis. We recognise the great tank battles that played a decisive role in the victory.

“Every year veterans march in Israel. I see the symbols on their uniforms and we salute them, just as we salute the fighters who took part in these battles.”

Netanyahu’s two-day trip to Russia was his fourth visit to the country this year.