My Mideast Punchlines: memories….

Iran announced Saturday that its military “unintentionally” shot down the Ukrainian jetliner that crashed earlier this week outside Tehran, killing all 176 aboard, after the government had repeatedly denied Western accusations that it was responsible.

A military statement carried by Iranian state media said the plane was mistaken for a “hostile target” after it turned toward a “sensitive military centre” of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The military was at its “highest level of readiness,” it said, amid the heightened tensions with the United States.

biffThis incident inevitably brought back personal memories for me. As a freelance journalist way back in October, 1973, I was aboard the first El Al plane to fly to Israel following the outbreak of the Yom Kippur war. Accompanying me were Yael and our baby son, Max. Yael wanted to be with her parents. Five of her six brothers were fighting on various fronts. It was a night flight, and we were told to keep the cabin window shutters lowered. Of course, we were aware that we could be shot down. Egypt’s SAMs (surface-to-air missiles) were not as accurate as today’s, but they still managed to down 102 Israeli warplanes. However, we had inordinate faith in Israel to protect us. Once over the eastern Mediterranean, I peeked out of my window. Reassuringly, we were being shepherded by Israeli jet fighters into a blacked out Ben Gurion airport. The mood was sombre. Many passengers were ex-pat reservists voluntarily returning to their units. Some would not survive the war. They were the real heroes.

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