Two Air Force Officers Blamed for Not Challenging Syrian Jet

Two high-ranking Israel air force officers have been held responsible for failing to challenge a MiG-23 jet fighter flown through Israeli air space on Oct. 11 by a Syrian air force pilot.

Gen. Dan Shomron, the Israel Defense Force chief of staff, said Monday night that he has ordered official reprimands for an air force colonel who was duty officer at the time and a lieutenant colonel. He did not identify them.

Shomron told military correspondents he was acting on the findings and recommendations of a two-man committee he appointed last week to investigate the incident.

The 52-page report submitted to the chief of staff earlier Monday charged the colonel with “an error in judgment” and his subordinate with “faulty reporting.”

A copy was sent to Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin. It will be discussed in secret session by the Inner Cabinet.

Shomron said the entire report would be made public except for security-sensitive material.

It found no fault with the air force’s detection and defense apparatus.

The supersonic Syrian jet was flying at high speed and low altitude when it crossed the Israeli border into the northern Golan Heights. It was picked up and tracked instantly by air force radar and other monitoring devices, the report said.

WAS TRACKED BY RADAR

All mandatory procedures were put into effect by the air force defense system according to standard practice.

However, they were halted “at some point” because of a faulty report leading to an error in judgment, the report said.

The committee, headed by Brig. Gen. Herzl Bodinger, recommended that the air force reprimand the colonel for poor judgment and inform the lieutenant colonel of his faulty reporting, “which contributed to the error in judgment.”

Shomron said that as a rule, if an unidentified aircraft enters Israeli air space, it is deemed to be hostile and every effort is made to bring it down.

That should have been the case with the Syrian MiG. But there is always the possibility that a lone plane will enter Israeli air space “on a one-way ticket,” the chief of staff said.

He said it was “highly unlikely” that a single plane even on a bombing mission would pose a real threat.

Many other signs of preparation for hostile activity would have been detected, allowing the air force time to significantly reinforce the defense apparatus, Shomron explained.

The Syrian pilot, Maj. Mohammed Bassem Adel, said at a news conference last Friday that his instruments indicated he was being tracked by Israeli radar from the moment he crossed the border until he landed at a civilian air strip near Megiddo, about four minutes later.

He said he flew at over 800 mph, at about 150 feet, and turned off all electronic systems that could signify hostile intent.

Adel has reportedly asked for political asylum in Israel. He says he will not return to Syria, where he has been branded an “abominable traitor.”

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