Israel scrambled warplanes 'in case of hijacking threat'

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The Independent Online

Israeli warplanes scrambled as soon as news broke of the Taba bombings. Military sources would not elaborate but analysts suggested the most likely reason was to intercept any hijacked Egyptian plane that might try to crash on an Israeli city as part of a broader international terror offensive.

Israeli warplanes scrambled as soon as news broke of the Taba bombings. Military sources would not elaborate but analysts suggested the most likely reason was to intercept any hijacked Egyptian plane that might try to crash on an Israeli city as part of a broader international terror offensive.

They recalled that Israel closed its airspace with similar prudence after the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington. In the event, there was no hijacking and the jets returned to base. Unlike Hamas leaders after suicide bombings inside Israel, there was no visible target for revenge.

Ephraim Sneh, a retired general and former deputy defence minister in a Labour government, said: "The enemy is very elusive, so you can't take retaliatory measures."

Egyptian bureaucracy delayed entry of heavy lifting equipment and military rescue teams for five hours. Despite its frustration, Israel stuck to the rules of the diplomatic game. Ministers were agonisingly aware that 15,000 of their citizens were spending the Sukkot holiday, the Feast of Tabernacles, in Sinai, but Ariel Sharon's government chose not to violate Egyptian sovereignty.

The army's home front command, whose engineers and medics have seen service in civil and military disasters, waited until they had permission to cross the border from Eilat.

"You don't put at risk the fragile peace with Egypt," Ron Ben-Yishai, a military commentator, explained. "Peace with Egypt is a strategic asset for Israel. You have to bite the bullet."

In the wake of the Red Sea bombings, Israel is urging Egypt to eradicate what it claims is a terrorist support infrastructure in the Sinai peninsula. Ra'anan Gissin, the Prime Minister's spokesman, said: "The weapons they smuggle into Gaza can also be used against Egypt on Egyptian soil."

Israeli military intelligence detected the fingerprints of al-Qaida. Others agreed. For once, they believed Palestinian denials of involvement.

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