24 July 2014
Earlier this week the FAA banned American airlines from flying into or out of Tel Aviv, Israel, after a Hamas rocket landed within a mile of the city's airport. Last night the authority lifted the ban after studying the situation -- and after hearing loud complaints from pro-Israel politicians and opinionators in this country. Objectively speaking, it looks like Hamas has a far smaller chance of hitting a passenger plane, if they're even targeting one, with their rockets than the Russophile Ukrainian separatists had with their more sophisticated technology. The Malaysian airliner incident of last week has made aviation authorities very cautious, however. The problem with their approach, from a political standpoint, was that the flight ban could hurt Israel's economy if sustained, while any disruption of normal travel routines is seen as a "victory" for terrorists. I can't say whether pressure from pro-Israeli politicians contributed to the decision to lift the ban, but the whole story had a familiar ring to it. During Israel's punitive operations in Gaza, we've heard constantly that the Israelis have urged civilians by every means possible to evacuate areas likely to be bombed or attacked, while Hamas has exhorted those same civilians to stay where they are. For this, Hamas is accused of heartlessly endangering civilian lives simply so they can accuse Israel of committing atrocities, while the Hamas point of view, presumably, is that those civilians have a right to stay where they are without being bombed, even when rockets are fired at Israel from their neighborhoods. The situation with the FAA isn't exactly the same, since a third party rather than a belligerent was warning civilians away from danger. But one crucial detail is the same: one of the belligerents, or a lobby of foreign sympathizers -- the latter represented by Michael Bloomberg -- repudiated the warning and urged civilians not to take precautions. There may still be a meaningful difference in degree here, depending on the relative risk to an airline passenger compared to the risk to a Gaza city-dweller. Many may sincerely believe that there is no great risk of a Hamas rocket hitting the airport, much less an airplane. But it will still be fair to ask, should Hamas bring down or even damage a plane, who bears responsibility for the casualties. Supporters of Israel are adamant about holding Hamas responsible for civilian deaths in Gaza so long as Hamas appears to discourage civilian evacuations. By analogy, if political pressure led to the lifting of the flight ban, the politicians, foreign or domestic, should be held responsible if Hamas hits an American plane.