A former security chief for El Al said that the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 points directly to Iran.
Isaac Yeffet, who served as head of global security for Israel’s national carrier in the 1980s and now works as an aviation security consultant in New Jersey, said investigators were correct in homing in on the two fake-passport carrying Iranian passengers on the doomed flight, and they have wasted valuable time by exploring other leads.
“What happened to this aircraft, nobody knows. My guess is based upon the stolen passports, and I believe Iran was involved,” he said. “They hijacked the aircraft and they landed it in a place that nobody can see or find it.”
In the immediate aftermath of the aircraft’s disappearance, which occurred last week during a standard night flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, Malaysian officials and the media were fixated on the story of two Iranians who had made it onto the plane with stolen passports. As the days wore on and the investigation uncovered new and confusing details, with officials admitting that the plane could have traveled for as long as seven hours without radio contact, and that its potential location could be anywhere from northern Kyrgyzstan to the southern Indian Ocean, attention has shifted to the pilots and to far-flung conspiracy theories. This is a misstep, said Yeffet, and one that would not have happened in Israel.
“This would never have happened on an Israeli plane,” says Yeffet. “An El Al aircraft was hijacked for the first and last time in 1968. Since then, there has not been a single flight where security did not check every single name.”
However, it would have taken more than just a pair of Iranians with forged documents, Yeffet said, to pull off such an astonishing crime. “I can’t believe for a second that if these people planned to hijack the aircraft, it was just them,” he said. But based upon the tried-and-true Israeli intelligence strategy of profiling, the pilots, he said, are unlikely suspects.
“We are talking about a captain who is 53 years old, who has worked for Malaysia Airlines for 30 years, and suddenly he became a terrorist? He wanted to commit suicide? If he committed suicide, where is the debris?”
Adding that the captain in question, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, was known to be happily married and comfortably well-off, Yeffet said the profile simply does not fit. “From the United States to China to Japan, everybody is searching for this aircraft or piece of it. And there is no sign. So in my opinion, the aircraft was hijacked. And it was an excellent plan from the terrorists, to land in a place where they can hide the plane and no one can find it.”
Lt. Col. (Res.) Eran Ramot, a former IAF fighter pilot and the head of aviation research at Israel’s Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies, however, drew other conclusions.
“It would be very complicated [for someone other than the pilot to have flown the plane],” Ramot said, based on the stunning revelations that the flight not only made a total U-turn from its planned route but also dipped in between radar points for hours and had all of its tracking systems manually turned off. “It takes somebody that knows how to operate an airplane like this.”
Like Yeffet, Ramot believes the plane was being intentionally flown to a secret location, and he went as far as to say he is holding out hope that the 239 passengers and crew who were on board are still alive.
“We don’t know any better yet,” he said. “One of my theories is that the airplane landed in Bangladesh. It could reach there, it’s very close to Afghanistan. It could have landed on airstrip there, and everybody on board is still alive. It could be done.”
Asked what would have happened if the plane – which went undetected for hours as it blipped across Malaysian radars – had entered Israeli airspace, Ramot said, “It would not go unnoticed, that’s for sure. Action would have been carried out, the least of which would have been an interception to escort it.”
That doesn’t mean that the Malaysian military wasn’t paying attention, he added. It’s simply that in Israel, the margin for taking chances is significantly reduced.
“It’s a matter of atmosphere,” he said. “Here, every blip on the screen is suspicious because that’s the way we live. That’s our daily program. I can’t imagine they pay as much attention, but if a blip runs wide or runs strange, I would expect them to notice.”
Pini Schiff, one of Israel’s top aviation security experts, said that if there is any comfort that Israelis can take from the story of MH 370, which is proving to be one of the most confounding aviation disasters of all time, it is that it could never happen to a plane flying out of Ben-Gurion International Airport.
“It simply wouldn’t happen at Ben-Gurion,” he said. “The level of security at Ben-Gurion and on all El Al planes is so high, there is nothing more they could do… Nations are not spending billions of dollars the way the Israeli government is protecting Israeli aviation, because the threat against Israeli aviation is so high. What we are doing in Ben-Gurion is an operation that is not being done in any other airport in the world. Not in the United States, not in Britain, not in Germany, not anywhere.”
Like his colleagues, Schiff said that his guess is as good as anyone’s as to the fate of MH 370, but he also believes there’s a good possibility that it has been brought down, intact, on a hidden runway in some far-flung corner of the world.
“It will be found. It may take a month or a year, but eventually, it will be found,” he said. “This aircraft didn’t vanish. It exists somewhere in the world, and it will be found, probably in one piece.”