FEAR IN THE SKIES: Can Hamas Really Disrupt Commercial Flights to Israel?

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Dr. Raphael G. Bouchnik-Chen

During the last short round of hostilities between Hamas and Israel (November 12-13), the Islamist organization’s spokesperson threatened to launch long-range rockets towards Tel Aviv, as well as towards Ben-Gurion Airport. The Israeli Airports Authority adjusted flight routes to Ben-Gurion for incoming flights in response to the Hamas threat.

This was not the first time that Hamas has threatened to disrupt regular commercial flights to Israel by mentioning Ben-Gurion as a potential target. Hamas is well aware that the airport, as the main venue into Israel, is a spectacular strategic asset, so a message regarding the airport is likely to be taken seriously by the Israeli authorities.

Hamas did, in fact, enjoy a remarkable success during 2014’s Operation Protective Edge by dramatically shaking up aerial traffic into Israel. The group launched a long-range rocket that hit the town of Yahud, which is one mile away from Ben-Gurion. Hamas learned that it can leverage flight restrictions to its advantage, even if only as a propaganda factor. Hamas believes that if it so much as mentions Ben-Gurion Airport in the context of potential retaliation targets, Israel has to take notice and will therefore be deterred.

Technically speaking, Hamas missiles and rockets are indeed capable of reaching a radius beyond 70 km, potentially threatening much of Israel. This was demonstrated in 2014, though most of the missiles/rockets fired towards Tel Aviv were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome. Still, it is rational to wonder whether this hazard turned out to be a critical factor that caused Israeli decision makers to advocate for military restraint even as Hamas’ provocations were arrogant and bloody.

In practical terms, the flight bans imposed in 2014 by the US FAA and later by the European Aviation Safety Agency (July 23-24) were drastically and needlessly over-dramatic. Israeli Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz called them “unnecessary” on the grounds that “Ben-Gurion Airport is safe and completely guarded … there is no reason to hand terror a prize.”

Ben-Gurion Airport is Israel’s gateway to the rest of the world, servicing more than 90% of the country’s incoming and outgoing passengers. The flight bans therefore had a profound psychological effect on the country, in addition to the economic damage inflicted on the tourism business.

On July 23, 2014, the US State Department spokesman said, “The FAA’s notice was issued to protect American citizens and American carriers. The only consideration in issuing the notice was the safety and security of our citizens.” In fact, the US flight ban was a blunt sanction encouraged and possibly initiated by the Obama administration to send a clear message to Israel to immediately cease the military operation in Gaza.

For the Obama administration, the FAA decision was the perfect instrument with which to pressure Israel. Obama made his own standpoint on the conflict perfectly clear at the time, stating that he would like to see an “immediate cessation of hostilities.” In an interview with CNBC on July 24, 2014, he said of the flight ban: “I think what happened here was in light of some scary moments a couple of days ago, the FAA took some prudent action.”

Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) responded by questioning the administration’s decision to ban flights to Israel while at the same time announcing continuing aid that would be funneled to Hamas. “Aiding Hamas while simultaneously isolating Israel does two things,” he said. “One, it helps our enemy. Two, it hurts our ally.”

Cruz went on: “President Obama has just used a federal regulatory agency to launch an economic boycott on Israel in order to try to force our ally to comply with his foreign policy demands…Security concerns in Israel are hardly breaking news, and given the exceptional challenge Israel faces, Ben-Gurion has rightly earned the reputation as one of the safest airports in the world due to the aggressive security measures implemented by the Israeli government.”

Michael Bloomberg, New York’s former mayor, said: “The flight restrictions are a mistake that hands Hamas an undeserved victory and should be lifted immediately. I strongly urge the FAA to reverse course and permit US airlines to fly to Israel.”

With time, it has become apparent that the FAA’s travel ban into and out of Ben-Gurion Airport in 2014 was never justified, raising tough questions about the motives behind the US move. Civil aviation regulations worldwide are based on the professional guidance of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a UN specialized agency that sets global aviation standards. The ICAO is the umbrella body that clarifies the legal framework governing the role and responsibilities of states and airlines with respect to risks to civil aviation arising in national airspace.

The shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on July 17, 2014 by a Russian missile from Ukraine was a chilling warning on the dangers of unsettled airspace. “War zones come and war zones go and it’s certainly true that airlines are taking a more conservative approach since MH17,” said Jan Richter, an analyst at the Germany-based Jet Airliner Crash Data Evaluation Center.

That incident clearly manifested the weakness of the ICAO as an authoritative body. A senior ICAO official admitted that “different political perspectives” among member states have rendered the ICAO “unable to provide a common global assessment of risk for aviation operations.”

According to the ICAO’s latest Conflict Zones Risk Information report, based upon October 19, 2015 clarifications, the three threats posed to civil aviation operations near conflict zones are 1) surface to air missiles (SAMs); 2) man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS); and 3) air to air attacks. There is not a single word about rockets or ballistic missiles.

Having excluded those weapons as threats to civil aviation, questions should be raised when the ICAO as well as state air safety bodies, impose flight prohibitions upon Israel whenever rockets and/or ballistic missiles are involved in the battle arena. A flight ban was put in place in January-February 1991 during Operation Desert Storm in Iraq. While the threat cited to justify the ban in 2014 was rockets from Gaza, the threat cited in 1991 was ballistic missiles from Iraq.

The double standard put on display during these events was manifested once again very recently, when ballistic missile barrages were launched on an almost daily basis by the Yemenite Houthi rebels towards several Saudi main airports (King Khaled International Airport north of Riyadh, as well as the Abha, Najran, and Jizan regional airports). No flight prohibitions were even considered in light of these attacks. Where Israel is concerned, the flight bans reflect the Pavlovian conditioning inherent in international standards.

The flight prohibition enforced on Ben-Gurion Airport in 2014 was a form of political pressure exerted on Israel by the Obama administration to stop the Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip, not a reflection of genuine safety concerns. This suggests that Hamas threats to “close the Israeli sky” are little more than mere propaganda.

Dr. Raphael G. Bouchnik-Chen is a retired colonel who served as a senior analyst in IDF Military Intelligence.

(c) The Algemeiner Journal



  1. Does the Israeli government still not realize that Israel lives with miracles daily and it’s only thanks to the Torah being learned and prayers said that Hashem is protecting us? And this – Torah and prayer – is what they need to enforce all over Israel, instead of forcing Yeshiva boys and girls to join the anti-G-d army.

  2. this is precisely why the Israelis have been working to get other airports around the country to be used for commercial travel. most famously the airport in eilat

  3. DEFENSE OF THE HOLYLAND on truepeace.org

    (every word is pertinent today!)

    Based on discourses of the Lubavithcer Rebbe, Rabbi Menacherm M. Schneerson

    What right do we have to the Holy Land? 
    In the beginning G-d Created Heaven and Earth (1)….Rashi’s commentary on this very first statement of the Torah follows: 
    “..It was not necessary to begin the Torah (whose main objective is to teach commandments) with this verse…. And what is, therefore, the reason that it begins with Genesis? Because if the nations of the world will say to Israel: ‘You are robbers because you have conquered with force the lands of the seven nations (of Canaan) they (Israel) can answer: ‘He created it (as described in Genesis) and gave it to whomever was proper in His eyes. Of His own will He gave it to them (the non-Jews) and of his own will He took it from them and gave it to us!’ 
    Actually it is not necessary to use this quotation from Torah to establish the tenure rights of the people Israel for the land of Israel. This point is made strongly and continually elsewhere in the Torah – even to the extent of identifying the people and the land as one. The accomplishment of Rashi’s explanation, quoted above, is to publicize the fact to all people – and to emphasize that the giving of the land is nothing less than an expression of the Divine will. 
    No one denies that the land of Israel was once in gentile hands. Indeed, this fact is conceded in Psalms: “The power of His work He has declared to His people in giving them the heritage of the nations.” (2) By the will of the Al-mighty, the land was once the heritage of the nations, and by the will of the Al-mighty it was given to His people.

    What should be the overall outlook and attitude for the Jewish statesman or diplomat in representing Israel’s case before the members of any other nation? 
    The Right Way: The Jew chosen to represent his people must be aware that although we are still in exile, before the advent of the Messianic era, nonetheless we must not adopt a servile attitude before others. On the contrary, our representative’s attitude must imply: “Listen, I am a Jew. I am a representative of the Jewish people. I am a representative of Yiddishkeit, and the following are my rightful demands.
    ” True, we are in exile amongst the nations of the world. We do not rule over them and consequently we cannot dictate to them. The Al-mighty has seen to it that in our present Galus (exile) we do have to approach other nations for our needs. It is therefore necessary to speak their language and to address them diplomatically. But the Jewish representative does not have to ask for the Holy Land; he must declare clearly that the Land belongs to us by Divine Right. 
    This uniquely Jewish combination of openness, firmness, and diplomacy is an ancient heritage of Israel from our forefather Avraham (Abraham). Avraham asked the Hittites politely to give him a burying-place for his wife in Hebron. Avraham declared, “I am a stranger and a sojourner with you.” (3) The Midrash interprets: “If you agree to my request, you can regard me as a stranger (who is entirely dependent upon your good will). But if not, I am a sojourner (settler and citizen) and can take what I desire by right – since G-d has promised this land to me and my children.” (4) Avraham’s diplomacy was to be polite and to imply to the Hittites that the conditions could be discussed. If money was an issue, he was ready to pay 400 full shekels of silver. But the actual granting of the land could not be argued – for his right to the Holy Land was a Divine Mandate. 
    The Wrong Way: Instead of declaring firmly that the Holy Land is ours by Divine fiat, some approach the representatives of other nations in an entirely different manner. They say that there was a certain non-Jew, Lord Balfour by name, who lived in London and who issued a “paper” in 1917, declaring that the Jews should have the Holy Land as a “national home”. One who presents such a claim based on non-Jewish sources automatically implies that he has no proof from Jewish sources! The statesmen from the other nation can retort, “Very well, one non-Jew indeed issued such a paper, but 140 non-Jews now say the reverse. That person (Lord Balfour) had no right to make such a declaration over the Holy Land.” The statesman does not know how right he is. “That person,” indeed had no rights over the Holy Land! For it was the Al-mighty’s desire to give the Holy Land originally as “a heritage to the nations” and it was His Divine will to take it away from them and give it to his people Israel. 
    When we ask other nations for arms it is indeed necessary that we “pray for the welfare of the city,” (5) and that our request be channeled through their government – for we are still in Galus. However, the content of our request dare not be couched in false terms, or based upon claims that have no spiritual validity, for two reasons – first and foremost, for this is the opposite of Torah, and secondly, because the results of such a request will be counter-productive. The above wrong approach (which, tragically, has been used in presenting our case for the Holy Land during all these years) has led to the current situation, in which the whole basis for our claim to the Holy Land vacillates. This is not all surprising, for it was built on a shaky foundation, built on a “paper” issued by a non- Jew who dwelt in London. 
    What kind of an overlord was he over the Jews? What kind of authority did he have over “the land upon which the eyes of G-d your G-d, gaze from the beginning of the year till year’s end”? (6) Our representatives pursuing this false approach inquire of other non-Jews: “Where are the borders of our Holy Land? Up to which geographical boundary does the inheritance of the Jews extend? What are the inner allusions of the “paper” issued by the non-Jew in London?” Why follow such a weak path? We have an ironclad claim: “The power of His work he has declared to His people in giving them the heritage of the nations.” (2) Why rely on diplomatic counseling? Why make compromises, plots, conspiracies? Why “Wheel and Deal” and make business transactions as regards what belongs to other nations and what belongs to Israel? The Al- mighty in His Torah has clearly indicated the borders of the Land of Israel,……This is the land etc…to its borders (7) This is the one single approach which has until now not even been tried. All other versions of diplomacy and statesmanship have been tried and have failed. We have tried behind the scenes diplomacy and financial transactions; we have sought the confidence of influential leaders etc. etc., and today we see to what state of affairs this has led. The only approach which the non-Jews deep down really understand is one based upon our Holy Torah which they also regard with reverence as “the Bible.” When a Jewish representative abandons this approach, he abandons his own wealth; he abandons the source of his strength, he abandons his true claim. 

    What would a sincere, strong stand accomplish? 
    One example of what a strong stand could accomplish can be seen from the events of the recent past, when the Premier of Egypt, Mr. Sadat , suddenly suggested a proposal of peace and came on a mission of peace to visit Israel. What was it that motivated him to suggest a peaceful approach? It was his observation that the Jews were beginning to speak with strength, and were not displaying any fear of the nations. He observed that the name of G-d was being invoked with ever-increasing frequency and intensity in statements issuing from the Holy Land. There were those in Israel who were beginning to adopt the ancient cry, “We encamp in the name of our G-d.”(8) This had a profound effect upon Sadat. (Though his physical intelligence might not have perceived the importance of this renewal of attachment to G-dly values, his soul perceived it.) Sadat was aware, furthermore, that Jewish soldiers stood on the borders and had the capacity to destroy his armies. He saw that they had chariots and horses and all the implements of war. He was instilled with fear; an honest analysis of the situation told him that it would not pay for him to start a war with these Jews. This is the reason he came with a peace proposal. 
    From this episode – and many others – it is evident that only when we take a strong, fearless, and uncompromising stand that we can have any beneficial effect upon our relations with other nations. 

    What is it that instills fear into the hearts of our nation’s compromisers? 
    We are told by the Torah that there might come a time in our bitter exile when some of our people will be possessed by an illogical fear, a “faintness of heart”. They will flee – imagining that they are under pursuit by an enemy – when in reality they are fleeing from the sound of a leaf driven by the wind.(9) Today we see the unfortunate fulfillment of this prophecy. There are some of us who allow themselves to be frightened by threats issued by other nations: they stand in fear and trembling. But who is it that they fear – a torn leaf driven by the wind! For when a member of another nation attempts to rob a Jew of something connected with Torah and Mitzvos, something which is his rightful property, the person is violatining one of the basic seven Noahide laws for all humanity.(10)By this violation he severs the inner G-dly source of his own vitality. He is no longer a leaf connected to a tree, but a leaf torn from a tree, driven here and there by the wind. Yet these faint-hearted individuals are so terrified of the “torn leaf” that they attempt to instill their brother Jews with a similar fear. 

    Who qualifies as an “expert” to decide policies for defense of the Holy Land? 
    The answer to this question is crystal clear. According to the law of the Torah if a person is sick and must take advice regarding his therapy (for example whether or not he should undergo an operation) he can take into account neither the opinion of “good friends”, nor of neighbors, relatives, plumbers, electricians, nor even of learned professors of philosophy, history, mathematics, etc. etc. The one and only individual qualified to give an opinion on this matter is an expert in the field – a doctor. In exactly the same way, the only person whose opinion is to be considered as regards retaining or returning parts of the Holy Land is a military expert, a general in the field. The opinion of all the politicians, diplomats and statesmen in the world carries no weight whatsoever in this question according to the Torah . At stake in the doctor’s decision is the life of one individual; at stake in the expert’s decision are the lives of hundreds and thousands of our people! In the three wars that have been fought in the Middle East we have seen time and again that the military experts, the generals in the field, declared unequivocally that if such-and-such an area were given back to the enemy it would bring about loss of life. Along came the politicians and said that “because of political considerations we dare not anger other nations; we must listen to them and return this territory.” Later, this dastardly action cost tens and hundreds of Jewish fatalities. This distorted attitude reached a nadir of debasement in the Yom Kippur war, when our representatives, knowing of the impending invasion by their enemies, informed Washington (knowing that this information would immediately become known all over the world) that they would not start a war! Even more, they gave assurances that they would not even make an effective mobilization before being attacked. They did not deceive Washington either; they indeed kept their word. They did not make the necessary military preparations – an act which cost our nation hundredsof fatalities! 

    From a Torah perspective, what is the central issue today in regards to the defense of the Holy Land? 
    The Issue: The issue is Pikuach Nefesh, danger to life. Make no mistake about it. From a Torah perspective nothing else is the real issue here: the interpretation, significance or wording of UN Resolution No. 242 is not the issue. The central issue is Pikuach Nefesh, the endangering of the lives of all the inhabitants of the Holy Land posed by the proposed return of certain areas of land. 
    Torah Law Speaks: The following is the definitive verdict of our Divine Torah law, as expressed in the Shulchan Aruch.(11) If a band of idolators have surrounded a Jewish City (on the Shabbos), if their intention is only to rob, we may not desecrate the shabbos to defend our property. If their intention is to kill – or even if their intention is unknown, but there is reason to suspect that it might be to kill – then, even if they have not yet arrived, but are only preparing their attack, we are to go forth against them with weapons and we may desecrate the Shabbos for this purpose. However, if the city in question is close to the coast, then even where their intention is only to rob ‘straw and stubble’, we desecrate the Shabbos to defend the city against them, for if we will not do so, they might capture this (strategic) city – and from there it might be easy for them to conquer the land. 
    The ruling is clear, and the current circumstances in the Middle East are far more severe than those portrayed in the above passage, for the following reasons: First, every point on the map of the Holy Land, every settlement, can be considered as “a city close to the coast (or border)” due to the extremely vulnerable nature of Israel’s geography. An enemy could obviously conquer the hinterland far more easily once it has captured any strong point near the border. Second, there is no question of the invading enemies having their eyes only on despoiling “straw and stubble”; they announce their murderous goals very openly! A question could be posed about this Torah ruling. The desire is to rescue the Jews from the hands of their enemies. Since we are the “smallest of all the nations”, we need the Al-mighty’s help in our battle. If so, why should we take weapons and desecrate the Shabbos? Should we not better recite Tehillim (Psalms) for our deliverance, or engage in Torah Study etc.? The unequivocal ruling of the Shulchan Aruch is resoundingly clear. The Al-mighty desires that, in this case, we should go forth against them well armed, and, if necessary, we are to desecrate the Shabbos for this purpose. The course of action mandated by the Torah is one manner of serving G-d. Just as one must study Torah and fulfill the Mitzvos so must he perform his bounden duty with regard to the prevention of danger to life. “


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