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Publisher\Editor Don Canaan

                      Sept. 21, 1995, V3, #174
All the News the Big Guys Missed

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Hijacked Plane Leaves for Teheran

By Al Pessin (VOA-Jerusalem)

The hijacking of an Iranian airliner to Israel Tuesday focused attention on the hostile relationship between the two countries. There was some hope the incident might ease that hostility, but it appears it has not.

Israel says it was a good Samaritan, allowing a hijacked plane to land after the pilot declared he would crash otherwise for lack of fuel.

And now it has left for its journey home, with all its passengers and crew members on board, except the hijacker. The Iranians left an air force base in southern Israel about 31-hours after they had arrived. They waited through Tuesday while Israeli investigators questioned the hijacker and members of the airplane's crew. After Israel's government decided early Wednesday they could go, they waited until after dark while a problem with the plane's landing gear was fixed.

The hijacker, who has requested political asylum, is in police custody in Eilat. The police have identified him as 29-year-old Jabari Rizah, a flight attendant on the hijacked plane. Israel earlier said five other passengers had also asked to stay, but that did not happen.

The hijacking was plagued by political considerations from beginning to end. Israel was at first reluctant to allow the Iranian plane to land. Then its release was delayed while the crew was interrogated. Upon departure, Israel Radio said the plane had to fly a long route north over the Mediterranean, over Turkey and then into Iran, because it could not get clearance to fly over Arab countries after departing from Israel.

Initially, the Israelis were concerned that the pilot's report of a hijacking could be a ruse designed to convince Israel to allow a plane loaded with explosives or terrorists to land. But Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said even though it was an Iranian plane, and there was some risk involved, he did not want to be a party to a tragedy if a plane full of innocent civilians went down.

In Iran, officials responded to the move by accusing Israel of planning the hijacking, and later called Israel an illegitimate regime which has terrorism, abduction and inhuman measures at the top of its activities.

Iran refers to Israel as occupied Palestine and contends that Israel has no right to exist. Iran opposes all efforts by the Palestinians and Arab countries to make peace with Israel, and Iran is believed to be financing and directing a proxy war against Israeli forces in southern Lebanon by the Hizbullah guerrillas.

Israel considers Iran a terrorist state and accuses it of holding an Israeli airman who has been missing for nine years.

The deputy director of Israel's Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies, Ephraim Kan, says the hijacking is not likely to change the mutual animosity. "I'm doubtful whether this hijacking is going to significantly affect the relationship between Israel and Iran. I would not expect the Iranians to do any gesture toward the Israelis. I'm not sure whether they are going even to thank us, so I don't expect any real change in the relationship."

Some in Israel have said the plane and at least some of its passengers should be held until Iran agreed to release the missing airman, Ron Arad, or at least provide some information about him, or open a dialogue.

Arad's mother, Batya, was among them. She visited the hijacked Iranian passengers and asked them to urge their government to release her son. She put a sticker on the Iranian plane which read, "Free Ron Arad," and she gave each of the 11 children among the Iranians a sticker put on their shirts. After the encounter with Arad, one careful Iranian woman told a reporter "I feel sad for the family, but I believe whatever my government says about this story." Iran says it does not know anything about the fate of Arad.

But not everyone in Israel thought the plane should be held, and that is the view which prevailed when Rabin and his senior security advisers met Wednesday morning and decided to release the plane and all its crew and passengers, except the hijacker. Israeli Education Minister Amnon Rubinstein said the government might have put future Israeli hijack victims at risk if it had held these Iranians as hostages.

And Prof. Moshe Ma'oz of Hebrew University says such an effort would have been illegal, and would likely have failed anyway. "We are not going to use the same tactics as the Iranians -- blackmailing or something. We have a different political culture, I suppose."

Still, Ma'oz says Israel was justified in keeping the passengers overnight in order to allow time to investigate whether there were any senior officials or army officers on the plane. He says Israel needed to take advantage of this rare opportunity to learn anything it could about the missing airman, the situation in Lebanon, internal Iranian politics or any other issues.

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