Friday, October 03, 2003

While torturing Israeli civilian captive, Elhanan Tenenbaum, we are told, his Hizbullah captors tore out all of his teeth. He was not a healthy man before he was kidnapped, we're told, and he's not holding up very well.

Shvuyim are captives. There has been a lot of talk here of Shvuyim lately. In the days leading up to Yom Kippur, talk always turns back to that war, that terrible war. This year this is especially so, because this year is the thirtieth anniversary. This year the reminiscence coincides with negotiations for a prisoner swap. A rather bizarre prisoner swap according to what has been published: One barely alive Israeli and three bodies, for two hundred or so terrorists (Although what the other side is getting hasn't really been published so this is mainly Media speculation, apparently). And what of IAF navigator Ron Arad? Israel is negotiating the release of Hizbullah's Mustafa Dirani, the one man who was directly responsible for his capture and for, at least, the first period of his captivity. Dirani is regarded as the only viable bargaining chip for Ron's release or for attaining information about his whereabouts, or the whereabouts of his body, if he is no longer alive.

Yesterday there was a documentary on channel 10 about the famous IAF flight squadron "201", known as "The One". They had a tough time of it in the Yom Kippur War. They were less prepared than other squadrons and their first missions at the beginning of the war were disastrous. They lost fourteen planes. Seven pilots were killed, and fourteen were taken captive. The ones who fell in Egyptian territory were relatively well treated. Those who found themselves on the ground in Syria weren't so lucky.

So you've got these guys telling their horrifying stories of the torture and cruelty they endured and you're thinking, why bail out? Why not go down with your plane? Is it part of their code of honor, or something, to stay alive? To endure a fate worse than death? Brave men.

Being a shavuy in Israel, a captive, is not some far off notion. Everyone knows someone who was a shavuy. And everyone was in the army and has therefore seriously considered this eventuality at some point or other. The shvuyim are like our own children. We all await their return.

* * * *
Towards the end of the film about the "201" flight squadron, the pilots being interviewed began to speak about certain unnamed pilots' in the squadron who didn't fulfill their duty during the war. There was talk of those who wouldn't fly. And of shellshock that went untreated. Then they spoke of a sort of hearing that was held for one of the pilots by his peers, the other pilots, at some point, to decide if he could remain in the squadron, considering his behavior. His name wasn't given.

This article in Ynet (Hebrew link), quoting a new book about the war, written by Ronen Bergman and Gil Meltzer, leads us to understand that the person in question was actually none other than the squadron commander 'Y'. I will translate a short excerpt:

8th October 1973 – The commander 'Y' disappears
Two days after the beginning of the war, 'Y' returned from (studies in) the USA. But instead of coming straight to the squadron, he went home and stayed there for another two days.

One of the pilots said, "We all liked 'Y' but he wasn't a strong character. When he was on his way to Israel and he heard the entire story about "Model 5" (The Squadron's mission on 6th October which ended in disaster - I.J.) and about all those killed and the other pilots that were hurt, without anyone knowing how they were, he broke. 'Y' wasn't just any squadron commander. He was carrying on his back quite a lot of difficult feelings as a result of another security affair. (From things I have been reading, the affair the pilot is referring to here could very well be the felling of the Libyan civilian airliner (Hebrew link) that mistakenly flew over Sinai in February 1973, and that was feared to be a suicide mission headed for Tel Aviv, WTC style. Although I have no links to support this, and it should therefore be regarded by readers of this as unsubstantiated hearsay, Bish and I have been reading lately on Israeli forums that 'Y' was directly responsible for this occurrence. It has been claimed that he was the pilot in the fighter plane that unsuccessfully attempted to force the airliner to land, with a disastrous result. Only seven survived the ensuing crash. I'll explain why this has come up lately, in a moment – I.J)

"He was also suffering from jetlag and was unwell. At some point, a few people in the squadron, especially the more senior ones, realized that he didn't want to begin flying again. He didn't have a lot of close friends in the squadron, but anyone who could talk to him at home, did so, in an attempt to persuade him to return to the squadron. We tried to persuade him to return immediately to flying and regain his confidence, and feel that it was not the end of the world. …"


On the 8th October he returned to command the squadron (I think this must be a print mistake. Logically, based on the story given here, it should be the 10th – I.J). On the 13th October he flew with Navigator Jetlani on a mission to attack the Damascus International Airport. On the way there, over Bethlehem, they aborted the plane because of a technical problem. During the abortion, 'Y' broke his back and did not return to command the squadron. …

So why is former squadron commander 'Y' of interest in Israel today, and why am I making a point of recounting this story? Because according to Israeli current affairs forums he is Lieutenant Colonel Y. Zemer, number five on the list of signatories of the so-called Pilots' Letter (Hebrew link).

Is it right, I ask myself, that such a man, with such a problematic air force history, should be signing such a letter? He may be a good man. He may mean well. He certainly must have quite a lot on his conscience, poor man. I just don't think he should be signing such a letter, that's all. It is not right. It is a deception.

By the way, two of the pilots have already publicly retracted their signatures, claiming that they misunderstood the meaning of the letter. For some reason, their names remain on the site. Another, the most important and highest ranking of the signatories, Brigadier General Yiftah Spector, argues that the wording of the letter does not call for refusing to serve. He says it is just badly written and therefore people have misunderstood its meaning. (Update: I've just read the letter again. There can be no mistake about its meaning. I think it is quite well written and very clear. I don't get it. Gen. Spector must be hallucinating. This is the English version, I don't like linking to this site but I can't find another English one right now. Note that the list of signatories given here is incomplete. The missing names are those of the pilots among the signatories who are currently employed as El Al pilots and they are chicken. LOL.).

Shabbat Shalom.