A Brief History
On February 21, 1973, the Israeli Defense Force sent American-built F-4 Phantoms to shoot down a Boeing 727 operated by Libyan Arab Airlines. Flight 114 had taken off from Tripoli and was headed to Cairo when it got lost over Egypt due to weather and equipment malfunction.
The two Phantoms intercepted the jet liner over the Sinai desert after it had strayed there from the Suez Canal. The Sinai had been occupied by Israel since the 1967 Six-Day War. The failure of Egypt to shoot missiles at the plane, and the seeming approach toward a secret Israeli nuclear (possibly bomb making?) facility exacerbated the situation, especially since Israel was in a virtual state of war with its Arab neighbors (and in a real war a few months later).
The intercepting F-4s fired warning shots from their 20mm cannons and attempted to get the jetliner to follow them to land at Rephidim Air Base. Interpreting the lack of response from the jetliner’s crew as failure to comply, the fighter jets riddled the hapless plane with cannon fire, bringing it down in a crash. Only 5 of the 113 people aboard the ill-fated Boeing survived, among them the co-pilot.
The United Nations failed to take action against Israel, although the International Civil Aviation Organization, comprised of a board of 30 nations, did condemn what many regarded as cold-blooded murders. Even The United States did not agree with the Israeli rationale and also condemned the action.
Historically, Jews have been on the receiving end of many atrocities over the years, perhaps more than any other group of people. The country of Israel has also been the target of attacks and terrorist incidents since its creation in 1948, again perhaps more than any other country. This history of being attacked, murdered and terrorized has likely made Israelis just a tad jumpy and perhaps more likely to react harshly to provocation.
After the infamous Munich Olympic terror attack on the Israeli team in 1972, the Mossad, the secret police of Israel, allegedly went on a killing spree in order to assassinate those persons responsible for the attack. Unfortunately, those reprisals resulted in the murder of an innocent waiter in Norway and the murder of numerous Palestinians who may have had nothing to do with the terror attack.
During the 1967 Six-Day War, Israeli fighter jets pummeled a United States Navy ship, the USS Liberty, which was clearly marked and in international waters. Repeated passes strafing the hapless ship with rockets and cannon fire were followed by napalm bombs being dropped on the Liberty and finally by attacks by torpedo boats, in which the Liberty was hit by a torpedo. Luckily, the U.S. ship did not sink, but it was severely damaged, and 34 men aboard were killed, one of whom was a civilian. Another 171 of the crew were wounded. The Liberty was a “research” ship, actually an intelligence-gathering ship, and looked nothing like a destroyer, as the Israelis had claimed it did. Certainly the huge American flag displayed by a desperate crew could not have been mistaken for being Egyptian or Russian!
When President Lyndon Johnson was informed the Liberty had been attacked and torpedoed, he assumed it had been by the Soviets. The U.S. was rightfully outraged, but conditions of the Cold War kept the alliance with Israel from disintegrating. Speculation that Israel mounted the attack on a known U.S. intelligence ship to keep the U.S. in the dark about Israeli activities has not been proven, and many other controversies surrounding this incident exist.
When any country takes military or covert aggressive action, it is almost inevitable that innocent lives will be lost or at least affected. Most countries, including Israel, try mightily to preclude such collateral damage, but in the end, these things happen. Over all, Israel has probably become more careful to avoid civilian and innocent casualties than probably its enemies, but nonetheless it has made mistakes. As have the United States and just about every other country.
Question for students (and subscribers): Under what circumstances would a country’s air forces be justified in shooting down a passenger airliner? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Allen, Robert J. Beyond Treason Reflections on the Cover-up of the June 1967 Israeli Attack on the USS Liberty an American Spy Ship. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012.
Oren, Michael B. Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East. Presidio Press, 2003.
The featured image in this article, a photograph by Piergiuliano Chesi of 5A-DAH, the Libyan Arab Airlines Boeing 727 that was involved in the incident, in 1972, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.
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