After EgyptAir hijacking, Israeli Air Force jets take to skies


The Israeli Air Force scrambled its jets after the hijacking of an EgyptAir plane traveling from Alexandria to Cairo.

The plane was taken to Cyprus on Tuesday morning after a passenger threatened to blow himself up. It was not known if the passenger had a bomb strapped to himself, though he was treated as if he did.

EgyptAir flight MS181, landed in Larnaca, located on the southern coast of Cyprus, where the hijacker allowed most of the 81 passengers, including several Americans, and crew off the plane. Four crew members and three foreign passengers remained on board, according to the Egyptian aviation minister.

The hijacker was arrested by Cypriot security officials the same afternoon, ending the standoff.

The case has not been ruled a terrorist incident, as the would-be bomber reportedly had asked to see his estranged wife.

“It is not something which has to do with terrorism,” Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades told reporters.

The Israeli war planes were deployed to protect Israel’s airspace, the IDF said.

“IDF planes were called up in light of the hijacking of an Egyptian plane to ensure Israeli airspace was not breached. When the plane landed in Cyprus, they returned to their base,” the IDF spokesman said.

EgyptAir hijack ends with passengers freed


An EgyptAir plane flying from Alexandria to Cairo was hijacked and forced to land in Cyprus on Tuesday by a man with what authorities said was a fake suicide belt, who was arrested after giving himself up.

The passengers and crew were unharmed. Eighty-one people, including 21 foreigners and 15 crew, were on board the Airbus 320, Egypt's Civil Aviation Ministry said in a statement.

Conflicting theories emerged about the motives of the hijacker, an Egyptian. A senior Cypriot official said he seemed unstable and the incident did not appear related to terrorism. The Cypriot state broadcaster said he had demanded the release of women prisoners in Egypt.

In the midst of the hijack, witnesses said he threw a letter on the apron at Cyprus's Larnaca airport, written in Arabic, and asked that it be delivered to his Cypriot ex-wife.

After the aircraft landed at Larnaca, negotiations began and everyone on board was freed except three passengers and four crew, Egypt's Civil Aviation Minister Sherif Fethy said.

Soon afterwards, Cypriot television footage showed several people leaving the plane via the stairs and another man climbing out of the cockpit window and running off.

The hijacker then surrendered to authorities.

Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides said the hijacker had threatened to blow himself up and demanded that the aircraft be refueled and head to Istanbul.

“It looks like he realized his demands would not be met, allowing the last two hostages, Britons, to flee the aircraft. He also tried to leave, running out. He was arrested,” said Kasoulides.

“The explosives on him were examined. They weren’t explosives, but mobile phone covers.”

Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said the hijacker would be questioned to ascertain his motives. “At some moments he asked to meet with a representative of the European Union and at other points he asked to go to another airport but there was nothing specific,” he said.

“ABNORMAL” HIJACKER

Egypt's Civil Aviation Ministry said the pilot, Omar al-Gammal, had told authorities that he was threatened by a passenger who claimed to be wearing an explosive belt and forced him to divert the plane to Larnaca.

Reached by telephone, Gammal told Reuters that the hijacker seemed “abnormal”. Sounding exhausted, he said he had been obliged to treat the man as a serious security threat.

Photographs on Egyptian state television showed a middle-aged man on a plane wearing glasses and displaying a white belt with bulging pockets and protruding wires.

Television channels showed video footage of the hijacker, identified as Seif Eldin Mustafa, 59, being searched by security men at a metal detector at Borg al-Arab airport in Alexandria.

Interior Ministry officials said he was expelled from law school and had a long criminal record, including robberies.

Fethy, the Egyptian minister, said authorities suspected the suicide belt was not genuine but treated the incident as serious to ensure the safety of all those on board.

“We cannot say this was a terrorist act… he was not a professional,” Fethy told reporters after the incident.

EgyptAir delayed a New York-bound flight from Cairo onto which some passengers of the hijacked plane had been due to connect. Fethy said it was delayed partly due to a technical issue but partly as a precaution.

The hijacked plane remained on the tarmac at Larnaca throughout the morning while Cypriot security forces took up positions around the scene.

EGYPT'S IMAGE

The incident will deal another blow to Egypt's tourism industry and hurt efforts to revive an economy hammered by political unrest following the 2011 uprising that ousted veteran ruler Hosni Mubarak.

The sector, a main source of hard currency for the import-dependent county, was already reeling from the crash of a Russian passenger plane in the Sinai peninsula in late October.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has said the Russian plane was brought down by a terrorist attack. Islamic State has said it planted a bomb on board, killing all 224 people on board.

The latest incident raised renewed questions over airport security, though it was not clear whether the hijacker was even armed. Ismail said stringent measures were in place.

Passengers on the plane included eight Americans, four Britons, four Dutch, two Belgians, an Italian, a Syrian and a French national, the Civil Aviation Ministry said.

Cyprus has seen little militant activity for decades, despite its proximity to the Middle East.

A botched attempt by Egyptian commandos to storm a hijacked airliner at Larnaca airport led to the disruption of diplomatic relations between Cyprus and Egypt in 1978.

In 1988, a Kuwaiti airliner which had been hijacked from Bangkok to Kuwait in a 16-day siege had a stopover in Larnaca, where two hostages were killed.

Terrorism of ’70s Forced Israeli Move


The dates and times are all one blur. What remains crystal clear, however, is what it was like to be an Israeli in the early 1970s, when the phenomenon of international terror began: Japanese terrorists landing at Lod Airport and gunning down dozens of pilgrims just arrived from Peru; German terrorists trying to shoot down an El Al airliner taking off from Kenya; the hijacking of Israeli and foreign aircraft en route to Israel; attacks by the Red Brigades on Israelis and on embassies in London and Seoul, and in Athens, Paris and Rome. And, of course, the horrible massacre at the Munich Olympics.

Israel’s response to the Munich killings was the targeted assassination of the perpetrators, a strategy that became the basis for Steven Spielberg’s new film, “Munich.”

To understand Israel’s decision, it’s necessary to understand what that time was like. Nowhere on earth, it seemed, was it safe to travel, let alone do so openly as an Israeli. The attacks were at home, abroad, everywhere. And the attackers — in addition to the Palestinians, Syrians, Lebanese, Yemenite and other assorted members of the various arms of the Palestinian liberation movements — were radicals from half the member states of the United Nations.

In the early 1970s, when on my first work trip abroad, I remember receiving written instructions from my travel agent, obviously supplied by the authorities, that I was to wear or show no overt sign that I was an Israeli, such as carrying an El Al travel bag, for example, and I was advised to buy a cover for my passport so that only immigration officials and not others in line would know my nationality.

But it was more than that. Suddenly, Israeli embassies around the world needed to implement new security regimes costing hundreds of millions and fully guaranteeing nothing. Every Israeli delegation traveling abroad, especially after the Munich massacre, needed professional security protection. Every suitcase going onto every flight to and from Israel needed to be checked; every check-in counter turned into a fortress.

Israel was again being strategically challenged, despite its string of successes: the 1967 War — when Israel conquered the Sinai, the West Bank and the Golan Heights, re-united Jerusalem and destroyed Arab air forces as far away as Iraq; its steadfastness during the War of Attrition along the Suez Canal; and its ultimate victory in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

This time, it was a different kind of enemy playing on a different battlefield. And while not posing an existential threat to Israel, this danger threatened to cripple the country economically, physiologically and diplomatically. It was something that could not go unchallenged. If not confronted, the threat would bask in its own success and grow. It had to be defeated.

Assigned by Prime Minister Golda Meir to mastermind the effort was a diminutive figure by the name of Aharon (Arele) Yariv, a retired major general who had served as Israel’s head of military with distinction for nine years. He had retired in 1971 and had subsequently served as a minister in Meir’s government.

What he headed was not a rogue operation made up of foreigners; nor was his mission vengeance. He was chosen because he was trusted by the prime minister and respected by the head of the Mossad (the Israeli intelligence agency), as well as by the senior echelons of the military. And he had the skill, ingenuity and experience to understand the new threat and to formulate Israel’s strategic response.

The strategy Yariv developed — and one that has been refined ever since, culminating in the current concept of “preemptive targeted killing” — was not to waste energy and resources to go after the rank-and-file echelons of terrorist movements but their operational capabilities and leadership.

“Use a scalpel not a sledgehammer,” he once told me in the temporary offices he had set up on the second floor of a cinema adjacent to Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Circle in the mid-70s.

“Place them on the defensive, and they will suffer operationally, having to defend themselves, rather than having the luxury of only having to think about how to plan the next attack on Israel,” he said in an interview that was off-the-record at the time. “When one of their leaders is exposed, they wonder who exposed him. That leads to mistrust in once-cohesive and secretive organizations. They look to find the leak. It distracts and weakens them.”

Was Israel’s campaign against the terror movements effective or did it lead to more terror in revenge for Israel’s actions?

The question is not really relevant. In declaring its war on terror in the 1970s, Israel was responding to a threat of international proportions and strategic consequences; it was not on a campaign of vengeance.

These terrorists were not the Nazis of the past who deserved retribution but a new enemy using new means on new turf and requiring a new answer. The answer was Yariv’s policy of going for the jugular in order to strangle the body. It was pinpoint, effective and ultimately successful at the time, despite the mistakes — like the killing in Lillehammer, Norway, of an innocent waiter, Ahmed Bushiki, wrongly identified by Israeli agents as a terrorist.

The overall capabilities of the terrorist movements dropped dramatically; international terror groups, including the Red Brigades and others, faded into history. And international cooperation to challenge terror was born. Yariv and the Israeli government demonstrated that while one may not be able to fully defeat terror, it can be thwarted.

Hirsh Goodman is the author of “Let Me Create a Paradise, God Said to Himself,” published in April by PublicAffairs and a senior fellow at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.

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