Israel scrambles fighters to intercept unresponsive aircraft carrying Tony Blair

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Israel scrambled two fighter jets to intercept a suspicious aircraft that was failing to respond to air traffic control (ATC) and had moved into attack positions, only to discover that it was carrying International Middle East peace envoy and former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Tony Blair.

The aircraft was an executive private jet carrying delegates including Blair from Sinai, Egypt where they had attended the World Economic Forum to Bethlehem on Wednesday when the aircraft entered Israeli airspace and failed to respond to multiple demands from ATC to identify itself, it emerged yesterday. Amid terrorism fears, the Israeli Air Force scrambled two fighters as is standard procedure for unresponsive aircraft. These then manoeuvered themselves above and behind the aircraft, which is an aggressive position considered optimal should a shootdown be required.

The fighters were then able to make direct contact with Tony Blair's flight, which then identified itself and informed the fighter pilots of who was on board. It later turned out the aircraft had suffered a technical fault that had prevented them hearing ATC's request for identification.

Matthew Doyle, a spokesman for Blair who was on the flight, said "Mr. Blair was one of a number of delegates on a flight back from the World Economic Forum in Sharm e-Sheikh. We were not aware of any problem at the time, and have not been notified of any issue with the flight." He also said they only found out after reporters began asking them what had happened.

The Israeli Defense Force refuses to comment on operational matters, but officials speaking anonymously have confirmed the incident occurred.