ROME (Feb. 6)
A book recently released in Italy implicates Israel in the mysterious crash of an Italian domestic passenger plane in 1980 in which 81 people lost their lives.
Israeli officials have denounced the findings of “The Fifth Scenario,” by journalists Claudio Gatti and Gail Hammer, as “ridiculous.” And Italian journalists have pointed out that the new explanation for the crash — an accidently fired Israeli missile — is full of holes.
The June 27, 1980, crash of an Itavia Airlines DC9 into the Mediterranean Sea on a flight from Bologna to Palermo, Sicily, has remained one of the great mysteries of Italy’s postwar period.
Examination of wreckage recovered from the seabed, near the island of Ustica, northwest of Sicily, indicated that the plane was probably either destroyed by a bomb or — more likely–shot down by a missile.
Despite nearly 14 years of investigation, however, it has never been established who placed the bomb or who fired the missile, whichever it was, or why it occurred at all, although it is assumed that the missile would have been fired in error.
Various theories have pointed a finger at Libya, France, Italy or the United States, with the hypothesis that the Itavia plane was either hit by a missile that went astray during a training exercise, or that it got caught in some other type of cross fire.
There have been many accusations of cover-up.
According to the theory propounded in “The Fifth Scenario,” Israel — under direct orders of then Prime Minister Menachem Begin — sent two Phantom jets, along with support planes, to intercept a French cargo plane that was transporting enriched uranium from France to Iraq for its nuclear reactor.
SPECULATION ON BEGIN’S DEPRESSION
The fighter jets, the theory states, mistook the Itavia DC9 for the plane carrying the uranium and shot it down.
According to the book, the Israelis had learned that two shipments of uranium would be made: one on June 25 and the other June 27. The book says the June 25 shipment from Marseilles took place without incident.
The French plane that was supposed to leave on June 27 did not take off, according to “The Fifth Scenario.” Therefore, the book claims, the Israelis fired at a plane in the anticipated air coordinates, only to down in error the Italian passenger jet, which took off two hours late.
The book claims it is this tragedy that prompted Begin’ heart attack and collapse in the Knesset on June 30 and that led to the start of a mental collapse that forced him out of politics.
According to the book, opposition to Begin’s plan to shoot down the French plane may have led to Defense Minister Ezer Weizman’s resignation a month before the tragedy.
The book says Israeli Col. Ran Goren, head of the Israeli air force’s operational department, was removed from his position as punishment and sent to the United States, ostensibly to take part in a study course.
Goren has denied the claim in an interview with the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot and the spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Rome has categorically denied the accusations.
“It is a ridiculous story, the fruit of an imagination that is too fertile,” the spokesman said.
“Israel has nothing to do with the tragic affair of Ustica. It is not the first time that someone has tried to unload on Israel the responsibility for some occurrence that has not been resolved. It is time to stop this deplorable behavior,” he said.
Andrea Purgatori, writing in the Milan daily Corriere della Sera, said the book included much documentation but left unresolved questions.
“Is it possible that the Mossad would not have ascertained that the French cargo plane did not leave Marseilles?” he wrote.
“Is it possible that the Israeli pilots, so efficient and well-trained, would have mistaken a DC9 for an Airbus A-300, with its lines and dimensions so different?
“Is it possible that no suspicion of responsibility by Jerusalem ever emerged in all these 14 years of investigation? And is it possible that the counterespionage services of France, Italy and the United States remained in the dark about what happened?” Purgatori asked.