Nine "Rebel" Pilots Suspended

Foreign Ministry officials say that the "rebel pilots' letter" will require an intense public relations campaign to counter the expected propaganda attacks on Israel.

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IAF Commander Gen. Dan Halutz has suspended the nine active pilots who signed last night's "pilots' letter" from further flights. They will be summoned for talks with their base commanders, and if they do not retract their position, they will apparently be discharged from active duty. Those who do retract will be able to fly again only if approved by Gen. Halutz.

Twenty-seven "rebel" Air Force pilots sent a well-publicized letter last night - IAF Commander Gen. Halutz said he received his copy via the media - saying that they refuse to take part in bombing missions against terrorist leaders in Arab towns. Only nine of the signatories are in active service.

They wrote that such missions are "unethical," as they endanger and sometimes kill or wound innocent women, children, and other civilians. In interviews with the press, they did not hide the fact that their action is a "political" one, and that it stems from their political philosophy opposing Israel's presence in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. The pilots wore uniforms during the interviews, in opposition to army regulations forbidding reserve soldiers from speaking to the press while wearing army uniforms.

Foreign Ministry officials say that the pilots' letter will require an intense public relations campaign to counter the expected propaganda attacks on Israel.

IDF leaders reacted with resentment towards the pilots. IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Yaalon said, "I see political statements dressed up in uniform. This is totally illegitimate. The option of pilots refusing orders because of political claims is absolutely forbidden." IAF Chief Gen. Halutz reacted sharply: "We will hold them to the letter of the law. For the headlines, they call themselves pilots... when in fact 18 of them are not even on active duty... and only two of those serve in units in which they could be called on the missions in question... Some of them are merely serial petition-signers."

More to the point, Halutz said, "The IDF is the most ethical army in the world that I know of. We have no intention of harming civilians, and if it happens that they are harmed, we have apologized."

One of the signers, Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yiftach Spector, was once a commander of Dan Halutz, and served as head of IAF Operations. His current successor in that position, Gen. Eliezer Shakdi, said, "The letter itself was not ethical. Most of them have not been on active duty for a long time, yet they are taking cynical advantage of their past service to express their civilian political opinions."

The letter states, "We, both active and former pilots, who served and continue to serve the State of Israel many weeks each year, object to carrying out attack orders that are illegal and unethical, of the type that the State of Israel carries out in the territories. We, who were taught to love the State of Israel and contribute to the Zionist enterprise, refuse to take part in air attacks in the center of civilian populations. We, for whom the IDF and IAF are integral parts of us, refuse to continue to strike at innocent civilians."

Brig.-Gen. (res.) Effie Eitam, currently Israel's Minister of Housing, called upon the Defense Minister to discharge the pilots: "This is a grave blow to the army's fighting spirit... it knowingly serves the interests of the worst of Israel's enemies."

Deputy Education Minister Tzvi Hendel said, "The ethical level of the extreme left-wing has dropped to an unprecedented low, and it is absolutely unacceptable. This bunch of dissenters must be punished particularly strongly, as their actions are akin to wartime treachery."

Gen. (res.) Amram Mitzna, a Labor MK, took a lukewarm approach, saying that the letter has an "aroma of rebellion," but blamed Prime Minister Sharon's policies and said that the letter was "political/ethical." Meretz MK Zahava Gal'on, on the other hand, justified the pilots' action and said that Israel's "occupation of the territories" is at fault.


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