St. Petersburg Times

Print storySubscribe to the Times

Pilots to be disciplined for protest

By Associated Press
Published September 26, 2003

JERUSALEM - Israel on Thursday temporarily grounded reserve air force pilots who - in an unprecedented protest - condemned airstrikes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as "immoral" and refused to fly such sorties.

The declaration by 27 pilots, including nine on active duty, was widely criticized in Israel as subversive at a time of war, but it also revived a flagging debate on the ethics of Israel's three-year war on Palestinian terrorists.

The protest struck a nerve because many Israelis believe their military has higher moral standards than that of their neighbors, and that other countries would have been much more ruthless.

The military is also seen as an institution that binds the fractious nation; Israelis get jittery at signs of cracks in the ranks. The air force in particular is considered key to Israel's survival. Critics also say such talk gives ammunition to Israel's enemies.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the pilots would be dealt with swiftly.

"Everyone can express his opinion, but it is unacceptable that a group of people in the military would interfere in a subject that does not apply to them," he told Israel TV.

The air force quickly tried to contain the damage. Commander Maj. Gen. Dan Halutz said the nine active pilots, grounded for now, could face suspension and perhaps military jail if they don't recant.

He said the protesters are a tiny minority among thousands of pilots. Hundreds of pilots began circulating declarations Thursday in support of their commanders.

Only veteran leaders of Israel's dovish left, including Yossi Sarid and Shulamit Aloni of the Meretz party, defended the pilots.

The group of 27 is informally led by Brig. Gen. Yiftah Spector, a highly decorated retired pilot who, according to Israeli media, took part in the bombing of an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981.

World and national headlines
  • Do-not-call list hung up again
  • Congress finds compromise on $368-billion defense bill
  • Microchip leads cat home after 10 years
  • Powerful quake rocks Japan; hundreds hurt
  • Time to test the waters
  • Nigerian in stoning case freed
  • U.N. finds more uranium traces in Iran
  • Manned launch is imminent, China says
  • 4 Arabs, 1 Israeli killed in two raids
  • Pilots to be disciplined for protest
  • Pope returns to his usual schedule

  • Election 2004
  • Graham's slow start may change Iowa plan
  • Democrats target each other

  • Iraq
  • Blast kills 8 Iraqis, injures 13
  • Council official dies five days after attack

  • Nation in brief
  • Espionage suspect monitored earlier

  • Obituary
  • Scholar and leading advocate for Palestinians in U.S. dies

  • Washington in brief
  • Nursing home rules announced

  • World in brief
  • New tropical storm forms near Bermuda
  • Back to Top

    © 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
    490 First Avenue South • St. Petersburg, FL 33701 • 727-893-8111