Uproar over claim about Israeli jet landing in Islamabad

Published October 28, 2018
A Bombardier Global Express jet. ─ Wikimedia Commons
A Bombardier Global Express jet. ─ Wikimedia Commons

ISLAMABAD: The government on Saturday strongly denied that a private business jet flew to Islamabad from Tel Aviv (Israel) via Amman (Jordan) and went back, but opposition parties, dissatisfied with official clarifications, called for a “convincing explanation” on the matter.

The editor of Israeli newspaper Haaretz’s English edition, Ami Scharf, started the controversy by claiming in a tweet that the jet travelled to Islamabad from Tel Aviv and remained on ground in Pakistani capital for nearly 10 hours. He said the jet made a brief stopover in Amman on the way to Islamabad because of which it got a new call sign and became an Amman-Islamabad flight.

Take a look: Travelling to the forbidden land — A Pakistani in Israel

Mr Scharf asked in a tweet: “Who flew from TLV to Pakistan this week?”

Govt denies Israeli journalist’s assertion but opposition seeks ‘convincing’ explanation

It is claimed that the aircraft bearing tail number M-ULTI landed in Islamabad on Oct 24 at 5:40am. The journalist, citing data of flight tracking website flightradar24, said the plane descended from 40,000 feet to 20,000ft near Islamabad before going out of coverage. The aircraft reappeared 10 hours later heading south-west from Islamabad. It followed the same flight path for the return journey making a landing in Amman and then taking off for Tel Aviv.

The mysterious trip happened a day before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the first visit to Oman by an Israeli premier in over 20 years. That visit too was kept secret till Mr Netanyahu tweeted a video of a meeting and reception in Amman.

A spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority rejected the claim about a private jet that originated its flight from Tel Aviv visiting Islamabad and said there was no truth in any Israeli aeroplane landing at any Pakistani airport.

Pakistan does not recognise Israel and, therefore, doesn’t have diplomatic relations with it. Therefore, the landing of an Israeli aircraft at a Pakistani airport, except for emergencies, would be highly unlikely. However, it is important to note that the aircraft is registered in the Isle of Man, but is operated out of Ben Gurion for chartered flights.

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the claim was a conspiracy to sabotage the Black Day being observed to condemn Indian atrocities in occupied Kashmir and discredit the Pakistan government and state institutions before the public.

That led to an exchange of interesting arguments on Twitter between Mr Chaudhry and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Ahsan Iqbal when the latter asked the government to “explain the exact situation”.

The minister sharply hit back saying, “Imran Khan is neither Nawaz Sharif nor does his cabinet have fake Aristotles. We will not hold secret dialogue with Modi and nor would do so with Israel.” Mr Iqbal responded to the tweet saying the way information minister had angrily reacted showed “there is something fishy”.

In Multan, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi also said the Israeli plane story was baseless.

On the other hand, Pakistan People’s Party vice president Sherry Rehman said the government should explain who came in the aircraft. The decisions that would be taken without taking the nation into confidence would not be acceptable, she said.

Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (Fazl) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman said the aircraft story vindicated their stance about the incumbent government.

As the government clarifications came in and the opposition criticism grew, Mr Scharf put out more details. “As my previous post caused uproar in Pakistan, here are all the details I have, and have not...” he tweeted. He then gave the time when the aircraft began it descent into Islamabad and the registration details of the jet.

He further said: “Pakistan government issues denial. I’m sure @flightradar24 can tell what was final altitude and when landed. But I assume they won’t”.

Analysts questioned the motives of the Israeli journalist behind making the claim.

At the end of the day, Mr Scharf himself put the authenticity of his own claim to question by saying he was not sure if the plane landed at Islamabad and might have just flown over the city. But, at the same time, he noted that there was no point in descending from 40,000 feet to 20,000ft over Islamabad if the aircraft were to continue its journey further north, where the mountains were very high.

Pakistan and Israel have long maintained undeclared contacts at lower level and the only known interaction took place on Sept 1, 2005 between the then foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri and his Israeli counterpart Silvan Shalom.

Published in Dawn, October 28th, 2018

Download the new Dawn mobile app here:

Google Play

Apple Store

Opinion

Climate & youth

Climate & youth

Disillusionment and anxiety are on the rise among youth as they confront the diminishing prospects of a better tomorrow.
Our exclusivity syndrome
Updated 17 Oct 2021

Our exclusivity syndrome

Pakistan needs at least a minimum level of inclusivity that can keep alive democratic values.
Shafqat Kakakhel
Updated 16 Oct 2021

Shafqat Kakakhel

COP26 has to achieve consensus on several issues.

Editorial

Carnage in Kandahar
Updated 17 Oct 2021

Carnage in Kandahar

Pakistan’s anti-extremism policy is in many ways half-baked and inconsistent.
17 Oct 2021

Sanctity of contracts

PAKISTAN is facing yet another international dispute before the International Centre for Settlement of Investment...
17 Oct 2021

New sports policy

THIS week, the Pakistan Football Federation Normalisation Committee chief Haroon Malik was in Zurich to hold ...
Diminishing freedom
Updated 16 Oct 2021

Diminishing freedom

DESPITE the serious reservations of digital rights activists and tech companies, the federal government has...
16 Oct 2021

Dirty politics

IN her outburst against Prime Minister Imran Khan this week, PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz may not have taken names but...
16 Oct 2021

Decreasing emissions

THE announcement by SAPM on Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam that carbon emissions in the country came down by 9pc...