Fiamma Nirenstein

Being an Israeli pilot in the skies of Gaza

General (in Reserve) Israel “Relik” Shafir is one of the eight pilots who in 1981 was selected to destroy Saddam Hussein’s Osirak nuclear reactor. His wingman was Ilan Ramon, the astronaut who in 2003 lost his life in the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster. With 31 years incredibly adventurous service, Shafir participated in the most daring of operations, and no one can respond better than he to the question that has been tormenting the world since the Israeli Air Force started to bomb the Gaza Strip seven days ago, and which has provoking the loss of more than 170 lives.

General, the Israeli army is honoured as being the most moral in the world. Why, therefore, have 170 people been killed so far during your attacks, causing widespread international protests?

“Let us try to imagine that a murderer, who has brought his family along, has taken possession of a protected refuge from which he can shoot pupils in a school, and let’s try to imagine thatyourson is one of them. The murderer is behind a window, and so the police wait, hoping that he will distance himself from his family so they can stop him. But at some point he goes to the window, holding his rifle ready to shoot at your children. His family could be close to him, but unfortunately you have no choice: it is your duty to stop him, even if it costs you sorrow and criticism. Hamas’ weapons are pointing at our children; around one of their launch pads, which is about to fire, there is a crowd of people, some of whom are extraneous; you would like to wait, but the missile is already on the ramp, you need to stop the terrorists and to overcome the objection provoked by the view of unrelated people. Your people are under attack, you have to use your bullet. ”

General, the EU, and the UN have criticized the Israeli Army. Too many deaths, they claim, on occasion there is the impression that you have an itchy trigger finger.

“This couldn’t be further from the truth: the process is enormously slow, while the war might be over on the first day. Just think to yourself what could be done if our air force used only part of its strength. Instead we select objectives carefully, even while our civilian population is suffering. The chain of command is very complex: it starts from the secret services with information on the location and importance of the objective, then there are 27 verification videos which are sent to a central command to corroborate; only then does the pilot receive his operational order, if there is no danger to civilians. ”

And at this point the pilot takes off, but can he not be stopped by anybody?

“Quite the opposite, again. It is the commander who decides if the target of the operation involves individuals unrelated to Hamas, and he who decides whether to continue the operation. He can always abort it, cancel it, or postpone it. Moreover, for 30 seconds, we can deflect the launched projectile. It is our duty, not only our choice, to abort the operation if it will provoke victims extraneous to the conflict. ”

But often the operation is carried out the same?

“Very rarely, and if it is, it is because we are faced with a unique opportunity. In other words, it is because the weapons on the ramps are going to be used now, or because the person from Hamas is a ticking time bomb, who we will not have another occasion to stop.As is also known, if there are innocent people in the vicinity, or within the facilities that have to be hit, we attentively distribute flyers, and repeatedly phone to invite people to leave. In addition, before we hit the target with a shell, we launch a shot intended to make a noise (we call it a “knock on the roof”) so as to scare the population in the area which is about to be bombed. ”

Have you ever found yourself in these situations?

“Almost all of us are”

And what is it thatguaranteesyou make the right choice?

“A very careful selection of pilots, who must, above all, respond not to technical, but moral choices. A pilot, who is admitted to the course, must demonstrate that he has the right set of values​​: every human life is sacred, an entire world in itself. We must be sure that those who carry out difficult tasks do not take the lives of people who have nothing to do with Hamas. ”

But the rule does not always work. What are your deep feelings when this happens?

“The feelings…everyone has their own. But even if one has a feeling of defeat, we have to immediately get back in the field. We do not possess a Gaza yellow pages, we don’t know exactly who Hamas has placed to guard the arms, at his back perhaps he too doesn’t even know; only they know. ”

You argue that caution has caused less loss of human lives. The international public opinion doesn’t think so…

“Consider that more than a thousand missiles have been fired at the Israeli population; and that there have been about 170 Palestinian deaths after we hit 1,535 targets, including 33 underground bases, eight weapon manufacturing sites, four Hamas headquarters”.

Yet the war hasn’t ended. Would you enter Gaza with ground troops?

“At a very personal level, I would say no. We have already brought their military level to what it was 20 years ago. Egypt has closed their source of supply to them. Hamas wants many deaths to attract attention, but it is in crisis: we have to let their cease-fire take place, and we will follow suit. ”

Why doesn’t the world understand?

“Well, I was named after my grandfather, who died in a concentration camp, like the other 80 thousand Jews from Vilna. There has never been a lot of sympathy for our cause, those persecuted by imperialism are preferred, including the Palestinians. We must seek peace, and save our people. “

About the Author
Fiamma Nirenstein is a journalist, author, former Deputy President of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, and member of the Italian delegation at the Council of Europe.