Israel pilot refusals said to stop assassination raids for now
ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Mon Sep 22 08:11:38 MDT 2003
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Pilot revolt stops Israel assassin raids
Uzi Mahnaimi, Tel Aviv
THE Israeli air force has called a temporary halt to targeted killings
of Palestinian militants amid signs of an incipient rebellion among
pilots uneasy about civilian casualties caused by such operations.
Israeli pilots contacted by The Sunday Times have described how they
defied orders from their superiors and aborted operations against
Palestinian targets out of concern that they might kill innocent
bystanders. They do not appear to have been punished.
A group of reserve pilots was also reported to be planning to announce
that they will refuse to participate in future attempts to assassinate
Palestinian leaders suspected of involvement in suicide bombings that
have claimed the lives of hundreds of ordinary Israelis.
Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper, said the group had been discussing the
initiative for more than three months. It said they were collecting
signatures and waiting for the right moment to make their
During the past three years of the intifada, or Palestinian uprising,
Israel has conducted hundreds of sorties, using both helicopters and
jets, against radical militants known as "ticking bombs" for their
role in planning terrorist atrocities. Some 100 have been killed.
Unease has been growing among pilots in recent weeks, however. For
some, the last straw appears to have been a botched attempt 11 days
ago to kill Mahmoud al-Zahar, a leader of the militant group Hamas, at
his villa in Gaza.
Al-Zahar was in the back garden and was only slightly hurt when a
one-ton bomb flattened his home. His elder son was killed, however,
and his wife and several other members of his family badly injured.
After the attack, several Israeli pilots met and demanded a change of
The attack on al-Zahar followed a failed attempt several days earlier
to kill Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas, with a
bomb weighing a quarter of a ton. The Israelis said afterwards they
could have used a bigger device that would have wiped out the Hamas
leadership at a stroke but refrained from doing so because it could
have killed dozens of bystanders.
Individual acts of defiance seem to have been growing. One pilot, who
declined to be named, described flying over the West Bank city of
Nablus recently when he was ordered to help Israeli ground forces
pursuing members of Hamas.
"We flew over to see the fugitives, but the moment we aimed at them
they mixed with the crowd," the pilot said. The local commander became
impatient. "Go get them," the commander shouted. The pilot refused,
saying they were too near the civilians.
"I don't care about civilians - just do as you're told," the commander
supposedly told him. The pilot refused and returned to base. He has
not been reprimanded.
Another pilot described an incident over Gaza when he was providing
air support to Israeli forces engaged in a heavy exchange of fire with
Palestinians. As he flew in for a second time to attack, he caught
sight of three Palestinian ambulances and radioed his commander that
he was aborting the mission.
According to the pilot, the commander demanded: "What the hell is the
problem?" When the pilot mentioned his concern about the ambulances,
the commander ordered him to "finish them off", adding: "I'm the
commander of the operation and you will obey!" The pilot said he was
already on his way back to base and ended the exchange. Under Israeli
air force regulations, pilots are entitled to make the final judgment
about whether to fire or abort under such circumstances.
The campaign against targeted killings appears to be led by reserve
pilots, who make up at least a third of those in the air force and,
unlike regulars, are free to take part in public demonstrations.
Although it is difficult to gauge accurately the level of support the
protesters enjoy, there is little doubt they remain a minority.
"Most of the pilots still have no problem with the assassination
policy," said one of the pilots. "But we share the feeling that we are
being misused. We volunteered for a long military service and
postponed our dreams and private careers to defend Israel, but we did
not expect to be turned into a flying assassination squads.
"We were trained to kill, but not civilians or innocent people - this
is totally against the moral code of our upbringing and the Israeli
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