Israel media review

The military that knew too little: What the press is saying on November 25

A deadly air force training flight crash has investigators and reporters stumped, and Netanyahu keeping his under-the-radar trips from his army chief spark worries of danger

Soldiers inspecting the site of a plane crash in which two Israeli soldiers were killed near the Bedouin city of Rahat on November 24, 2020. (Dudu Greenspan/Flash90)
Soldiers inspecting the site of a plane crash in which two Israeli soldiers were killed near the Bedouin city of Rahat on November 24, 2020. (Dudu Greenspan/Flash90)

1. Questions after the crash: IDF investigators are puzzling over the crash of a training plane carrying an air force instructor and a cadet learning to fly, which appeared to occur out of nowhere.

  • According to an IDF spokesman, the weather at the time of the crash was fine and the pilots did not radio the tower to report any sort of malfunction.
  • “There were no signs ahead of the crash,” Kan reports, noting that instructor, later named as Itay Zayden, was an experienced fighter pilot and the cadet, Lihu Ben Bassa, had been in the program for four months. “They were in contact with the tower, flew at the correct height, at the proper speed, the weather was nice, and there was no emergency signal or and no special contact with the ground ahead of the accident.”
  • Nonetheless, Channel 12 news, which first reported that investigators believe the crash may have been caused by a problem with the plane’s rudder, changes tack by Wednesday morning and forwards a whole bunch of other theories, from a bird hitting the cockpit to a lack of concentration, to a sudden medical emergency (it says the IDF has ruled out suicide), though the bottom line is nobody knows anything yet.
  • “In the air force they estimate that this was a sharp, quick and perhaps surprising incident which required the pilots to focus on dealing with the issue immediately, in such a way that they did not manage to report in over the radio. According to the assessments, the two were busy exclusively with trying to save themselves and the plane.”
  • The channel notes that the plane had no black box or ejector seat, but was set up in such a way that the instructor could take control in case of emergency.
  • Aviation expert Aaron Lapidot tells the channel that from eyewitness descriptions “it seems that the pilots tried to carry out some sort of emergency landing.”
  • “The fact that the plane glided and then bounced into the air and then crashed could point to the pilots trying to bring the plane down with an emergency landing after discovering a malfunction that necessitated a landing,” he says.
  • Yisrael Shaffir, the former head of the IDF’s flight training program, tells Army Radio that “it was one of two things — a mechanical failure or a loss of control of the plane. In this case, the lack of communication with the ground does not help.”
  • Walla reports that the ground crew did not even know the plane had crashed until it got a report from a civilian helicopter flying nearby about an aircraft on fire and black smoke rising from the ground. “At that point, the control tower and ground crew at the Hatzerim air base tried to raise the pilot and cadet by radio, and when no response came they understood that something out of the ordinary had occurred.”
  • Israel Hayom’s Yoav Limor writes that the IDF believes the mechanical malfunction theory to be the most plausible, and that the flight was a simple one, with no maneuvering, in order to test if the cadet had the skills to continue in the course. But he expresses confidence the army will figure it out eventually.
  • “Past experience teaches that even in the most complicated and opaque cases, air force crash investigators manage to find out the causes of the crash at the end of the day,” he writes.

2. Plane and simple? Yedioth Ahronoth notes that the crash was the first fatal incident the plane, a Grob G120A, has been in since the IDF brought it into service in 2002.

  • “According to IDF sources, the plane was considered reliable with no known malfunctions,” it reports, though it also notes that on September 13, the air force grounded the fleet of training aircraft after one was forced to make an emergency landing due to damage to its front.
  • “This is a plane made from very new and advanced materials, and today is the only plane used by flight cadets at the start of their training,” a flight instructor tells Israel Hayom.
  • Nonetheless, the paper also notes that in 2004, the front wheel of a G120A refused to lower during a training flight. The plane still managed to land safely, without the wheel.
  • Zev Raz, another former head of the flight training program, tells Army Radio that in the past, crashes like this were just part of training. “We would have something like this every few weeks. We thought it was just part of the thing. With time, we the army learned to reduce the rate.”

3. The right stuff: While the plane is probed for clues, the press also looks at the two lives lost amid an outpouring of grief from friends and family.

  • Ben Bassa is described as someone who dreamed of becoming a pilot, but was humble about making his dream come true.
  • “He came into class and said offhandedly that he had passed the test [to get into the course], and we were really excited and he didn’t understand the excitement — he was modest and restrained,” a high school friend tells Kan.
  • “He was a special and humble guy,” another friend of Ben Bassa tells Army Radio. “Though he dreamed from a young age of getting into the pilots’ course, he didn’t feel the need to tell everyone he had been chosen. We were happy and excited for him.”
  • Yedioth pulls out Ben Bassa’s yearbook, in which he wrote, “In 10 years I’ll be a pilot.”
  • As for Zaydan, it notes that the crash occurred “just a few dozen meters” from his home on a neighboring kibbutz (in actuality it was about four kilometers, 2.5 miles, away).
  • Lior Reiser, a close friend of Zaydan, tells Channel 13 that he had moved to the kibbutz about five years ago and immediately had an impact on everyone around him: “When Itay would talk it was impossible to miss it — you could hear him from every corner. The kids adored him. He was dominant, opinionated, critical and would blow people away. We’re broken. Now that he’s not around, there’s an endless emptiness.”

4. Don’t tell Aviv: Haaretz reports on other matters the army does not know about, specifically army chief Aviv Kohavi, whom it says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not trust.

  • “According to [senior defense] officials, the prime minister is repeatedly ignoring Kohavi’s demands for decisions and budgets to carry out various security missions. And when it comes to sensitive topics, there is almost no cooperation,” it reports.
  • Damningly, it says that Kohavi only found out from the media about Netanyahu’s trip to Saudi Arabia, which included his military secretary, an officer subordinate to Gantz, and could have been disastrous had anything gone wrong.
  • “A few hours before takeoff the military secretary calls the chief of staff or his close associates and informs them of the journey,” a former military official familiar with the issue tells the paper. “There is no need to give details about the subject of the talks or who will be participating, but just the fact of the flight, the time of takeoff, the flight path, and the estimated time of return.”
  • “What would happen if a plane carrying the prime minister, the head of the Mossad, and the military secretary would be forced to make an emergency landing in hostile territory because of a malfunction?” he adds. “What would happen if they had to bail out and it would be necessary to rescue them from the sea or from hostile territory? It’s simply scandalous that the chief of staff or the defense minister isn’t informed about such a flight. IDF officials must make sure the plane landed at the destination and returned without being under threat.”
  • At least Kohavi knows about the meeting now. One cannot say the same for US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
  • Haaretz’s report includes speculation that Netanyahu sees Kohavi as an apparatchik of partnerival Benny Gantz, and a future political threat, leading to the disconnect. In Yedioth, Yossi Yehoshua bemoans the fact that the army has become caught in the middle of the political ruction between the two.
  • “These battles are creating an intolerable situation that has crossed the line and is damaging Israel’s security,” he complains.
  • At least Netanyahu’s plans to visit Bahrain aren’t being kept secret. “A historic moment,” Israel Hayom calls it, noting that it will be Netanyahu’s first public visit to Manama, and after that Abu Dhabi, writing matter of factly that he’s visited both in secret before.
  • Speaking to Army Radio about the Gulf gallivanting, minister Tzachi Hanegbi says the main subject of Netanyahu’s trips is “Iran, Iran, Iran,” and even if Iran is not the only subject, it broadcasts a message of a unified front.
  • “What’s exciting is the fact that this cooperation could lead to the isolation of Iran, that we’ll know how to act together, not apart as we worried about for many years, against the provocative actions and schemes of the Iranians, even if the US government is not so involved,” he says.
  • “Until now Israel has not needed to lead the campaign against Iran because the leader of the free world did it. If the US returns to the nuclear deal, Israel will need to make decisions on its own,” he adds.

5. But are the Jews good for the Jews: ToI’s Jacob Magid takes a look at the newly revealed national security and diplomacy team backing Joe Biden’s foray back into the nuclear deal, including most notably Antony Blinken, who, perhaps you have heard, is Jewish.

  • “Former colleagues of Tony Blinken who spoke with The Times of Israel could not have been more effusive in their praise for the longtime diplomat,” he writes.
  • “He’s a mensch above all else,” Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations executive vice president Malcolm Hoenlein is quoted saying.
  • JTA’s Ron Kampeas writes that Blinken’s comments about his family’s Jewish immigrant heritage “served to signal the incoming administration’s commitment to reverse two signature policies of Donald Trump’s presidency: drawing down America’s profile overseas and drastically cutting refugee intake.”
  • “More women, more Jews,” reads the Yedioth headline about Biden’s picks.
  • But is he Jewish enough? Israel Hayom’s Akiva Bigman tweets, “After four years of a president good for Israel who was presented as a Nazi despite appointing Jews (and even Orthodox ones), get ready for a president bad for Israel who is presented as [the biblical] Joshua son of Nun, because he has a few Jews in his cabinet.”
  • After someone replies that he doesn’t get why their religion matters, as if “the shit they throw at Israel will be kosher,” he responds that “I’m not sure that the Jews with Biden even know what kosher is.”
  • At least that’s just a tweet. Ultra-Orthodox news site Kikar Hashabbat’s story on Blinken comes with this doozy of a headline: “Openly married to a goy and supports Israel: Meet Antony Blinken.”
  • The story notes that Trump surrounded himself with Jews and Biden is doing so as well, “with one big difference.”
  • “To nobody’s surprise, the Jews around Joe Biden are Jews who have unfortunately intermarried to a large degree, identify with various Reform streams and are significantly different from the faces we have gotten used to over the last four years.”
  • Those able to look beyond the fact that Blinken might not wash negel vasser every morning or daven to the Aibishter with enough kavana may find him to actually be a solid statesman who even some Israelis think will be good for the Jewish state, reports Haaretz’s Allison Kaplan-Sommer.
  • “Blinken knows Israel very well; he knows the issues, he knows the main players, he knows everything there is to know about us,” former Israeli embassy in US chief Lior Weintraub tells her. “He built warm, close relationships with Israeli officials who served in Washington D.C., and we had a lot of respect for him, for his professionalism and his approach. From the Israeli point of view, this appointment opens the door for a good start [with] the Biden administration.”
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