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TopHatter
25 Sep 03,, 17:53
By KARIN LAUB, Associated Press Writer

JERUSALEM - A group of reserve air force pilots drew condemnation Thursday for refusing to carry out airstrikes in Palestinian areas, but their unprecedented protest set off an emotional debate on the ethics of the targeted killings of militants.

Pilots are held in the highest regard in Israel and their views carry considerable weight, since their skill and audacity are seen as key to the country's survival.


Several hundred Israelis have refused to serve in the West Bank and Gaza in recent years, and there have been protests such as last weekend's Tel Aviv rally in which several thousand called for ending the occupation of the areas. But Israelis generally support the military's actions as needed to curb terror attacks, and no major anti-war movement has emerged.


Wednesday's signed declaration condemning the airstrikes shook the nation and also raised new questions about the limits of protest in the military. The air force commander, Maj. Gen. Dan Halutz, said the signatories would be punished possibly jailed and accused them of playing politics rather than grappling with genuine moral dilemmas.


The group of 27 is informally led by Brig. Gen. Yiftah Spector, a highly decorated retired pilot who, according to Israeli media reports, participated in the bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981.


Nine of the pilots are still on active duty.


In their petition, the pilots said airstrikes on crowded Palestinian areas are "illegal and immoral." They also condemn Israel's continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, saying it corrupts Israeli society.


In the past three years of fighting, Israeli pilots have carried out hundreds of airstrikes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, targeting Palestinian police installations and weapons workshops of militants.


The most controversial of the airstrikes involve targeted killings, in which helicopters and sometimes warplanes fire rockets and bombs at cars and homes of Palestinian militants.


In the past three years, some 140 wanted men have been killed in targeted raids, not all of them airstrikes, according to Palestinian medical officials, though the figure also includes those killed resisting arrest. More than 100 bystanders have also died, according to the medical officials.


The Israeli public, traumatized by a Palestinian suicide bombing campaign that has killed hundreds of civilians since September 2000, largely supports the army's tough measures, including the targeted killings, widely referred to in Hebrew as "liquidations."


The rebel pilots were lambasted Thursday in commentary in newspapers and radio talk shows. Critics accused the pilots of being immature, naive or having a secret political agenda.


Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was quoted as saying the protest was a "grave matter" and would be dealt with swiftly. Former Israeli President Ezer Weizman, who commanded the air force in the 1960s, said the pilots' stance was immoral, and belittled their apparent idealism as a "holier-than-thou attitude."


Veteran journalist Dan Margalit wrote in a front-page commentary in the Maariv daily that the pilots abused their exalted standing.


"If their idea is accepted, Ahmed Yassin and his compatriots in the Hamas leadership will be able to plan the next murder of Jewish children on a Jerusalem bus without interference," Margalit wrote in a reference to a mid-August bus bombing by Hamas that killed 23 bus passengers, six of them children.


In response to that bombing, Israel accelerated its targeted attacks, killing 13 Hamas members and six bystanders in nearly a dozen airstrikes in Gaza City. Yassin, the Hamas founder and spiritual leader, himself survived an attack earlier this month.


The letter of protest marked the first time pilots have come out openly against air force policy. In the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, some pilots expressed reservations about bombing cities and refugee camps, but did not go public.

Halutz, the air force commander, played down the importance of the protest, saying the pilots were only a handful among thousands.

"Refusal shouldn't be an issue in our army, especially not if we didn't ask these people to do anything immoral or illegal as they said in the letter," Halutz said.

However, some warned the protest could spread because of growing unease in the armed forces over military strikes that have failed to stop terror attacks.

"Today, in light of pointless military operations ... people are beginning to ask questions," wrote military commentator Alex Fishman in the Yediot Ahronot daily. "And these (the pilots) are the very best people we have. We can ground them, and we can lock them up, but we cannot ignore the questions they ask."

Col. Uri Dromi, another air force reservist, added that "when the time comes, say, to remove settlers from their homes, other people in the army or in the air force will say they don't want to obey these orders in the same way."

"So once you start this, there is an erosion of the rule of law here of the whole democratic elements of the regime, and this is the end of the democratic structure in Israel," Dromi said.

Yediot said dozens of Apache helicopter pilots, who carry out the bulk of the airstrikes, have met with their wing commander to express their concerns. One participant said he was not convinced of the justice of his missions, Yediot said, and others complained that they were given bad intelligence that could endanger civilians.

The rebel pilots could not be reached for comment Thursday, but Lt. Col. Zeev Rotem, a retired combat navigator speaking on their behalf, said the norms of the air force have changed in recent years.

"Today, we attack places where there are civilians, women and children, with the prior knowledge that ... there is a great chance they will be killed," Rotem told Israel Radio. The protest, he said, is a desperate attempt "to make the army, the government and the citizens ... stop this crazy cycle that has hijacked this country."

A watershed, for some pilots, apparently was last year's attack on Salah Shehadeh, leader of the Hamas military wing. A one-ton bomb killed Shehadeh, an assistant and also 14 civilians, nine of them children.

Halutz said at the time that he felt the bombing was morally correct.

Ray
27 Sep 03,, 14:05
As per Indian newspapers, 27 pilots have been cashiered.

Praxus
27 Sep 03,, 14:43
Throw the Book at them!

bigross86
28 Sep 03,, 20:52
They have all been released from duty, pending arrest, jail time and further penalties. Further more, only two of the 27 pilots have seen combat in the last 2 years. It's just a political ploy, being that most of them were to be released from duty anyway. They thought becoming famous would shield them from the law. Doubtful in this case...

bigross86
29 Sep 03,, 07:15
Pilot joins refusers group; another retracts

Israeli Air Force Col. Ran, one of the 27 signatories of the pilots refusal letter published last Wednesday, retracted his signing of the letter on Friday, while another top pilot joined the refusal group.

The 27 pilots, most of them off of active reserve duty, sent a letter to the media with a copy attached to OC Air Force Maj. Gen. Dan Halutz, indicating that they refuse to "continue to harm innocent civilians" through targeted killings of terrorists and their political leaders, and to conduct other "immoral and illegal" operations that are "part of the occupation."

Halutz, joined by top IDF brass and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, meted a stinging condemnation of the group, calling their refusal near traitorous.

Col. Ran, a helicopter pilot, wrote a letter to Halutz saying that the public outcry, and "the harsh response of the IAF, compelled me to reconsider the path." He added that the letter does not represent his character and the values upon which he was brought up.

"I went along a mistaken path," says the pilot - grounded Thursday along with the nine other active reserve duty fliers - adding that he was misunderstood "by friends and family as a refusenik, when I am not."

Col. Ran, however, maintained that the occupation of the territories had blurred Israel's perception of "good and bad, between allowed and forbidden."

Both before the holiday weekend and after, the IDF maintains that it is among the "world's most moral armies if not the most moral."

While the letter was mailed Friday the IAF has yet to welcome Col. Ran back into its fold. A senior source in the IAF told the Jerusalem Post that the "Air Force has received the letter. We will examine it closely and will weigh what steps to take."

According to sources among the refusing pilots the likening of refusing pilots to traitors infused the movement with greater support. By Sunday an ace pilot, Lt. Col. Eli joined the refusing group.

Eli, a fighter pilot instructor crediting with downing an unusually high number of enemy aircraft added his name to the list of 27. The refusenik sources said that his decision hinged on Halutz's threat to punish flight instructors with especial severity, and will likely attract more pilots "disgusted," with the IAF's treatment of some of its most veteran pilots.

The IAF curtly responded that "We recognize no such the letter. We have never heard of this pilot and it could even be an impostor. That a supposed-pilot tells the press he refused to serve means nothing until it is not handed the commander of the IAF."

"That is odd," said Captain Yonatan, one of the refusing pilots, "because Lt. Col. Eli has flown in the same squadron as Dan Halutz." Some of the pilots were taken aback by the fierce response to their letter. "It is hard to be called a traitor or a coward by friends with whom you've flown for years," said Capt. Yonatan.

Refusing flight instructors deserve a harsher punishment than the rest, all nine active duty pilots were grounded last Thursday, because they were not "the people who should educate the next generation of pilots."

One of the refuseniks, Brig. Gen. Yiftah Spector, arguably Israel's most legendary ace, served as Halutz' flight instructor in the 1970's.

Reports of the 27 pilots' refusal to serve in the territories and their staunch objection to targeted killings sent both the Israeli public and the IDF into upheaval last week. It was the first time in the history of the state that pilots, traditionally considered Israel's cr me de la cr me, refused to carry out orders. That some of the pilots, though long out of active reserve duty, were among Israel's all time top guns, sharpened the IDF's and the government's efforts at damage control.

In a letter the refuseniks stated that Col. Ran's backtracking on his refusal indicates "the enormous difficulty that stood before us," as they embarked on making what will undoubtedly be known as a historic decision.

They took pride in the fact that Col. Ran, stood by the group's ideals, saying that his retraction is largely based on his wish to fly, and the shame heaped on him by family, friends and most critically, by the IAF