TEL AVIV (Aug. 17)
The whereabouts of the Iraqi Air Force pilot who defected to Israel yesterday in a Soviet-built MIG-21 and landed safely with an escort of Israeli military jets were a closely-guarded secret in Israel today, after the pilot met with newsmen at a press conference here last night and following the display of his aircraft to foreign diplomats in Israel. It was indicated that he feels himself completely satisfied after spending his first night in a friendly atmosphere here.
The incident was the first known instance of a flight of a MIG-21 into a non-Communist or non-Arab country. The MIG-21 is one of the advanced Soviet military jet fighter planes. The jet landed at an airfield somewhere in Israel after it was sighted by two Israeli Mirage jets in the center of Israel and in the vicinity of the Israeli-Jordanian border. The pilot waved the wings of the plane, an international sign meaning “request permission to land.”
The pilot, a captain in the Iraqi Air Force whose name was not disclosed, told the press conference that he had decided to desert a long time ago and had prepared for his departure in advance. He said he had sent his wife and children abroad. He disclosed that he had written to the commander of the Israeli Air Force asking permission to come to Israel. The request was sent in two envelopes which were mailed by a third party in Cyprus, he said.
He said that one of the reasons for his decision was that he was a Catholic in a Moslem country and felt that he was discriminated against. He explained that he had chosen Israel rather than a Moslem country, such as Turkey or Iran, because he believed that Israel would not expel him. He said another reason was that he opposed the Iraqi war on its Kurdish minority. He also told the newsmen that he had been in the Iraqi Air Force 10 years and that he had spent four months in Russia training.
The Israeli Air Force commander said he had been expecting the Iraqi captain for the last 10 days and had ordered Israeli planes to be on the lookout for him.