Every so often, a single tweet kicks off a controversy which sends a ripple effect around the world, and that’s exactly what we’re seeing this morning. One tweet has sparked an uproar in the Middle East, triggering rumors about an Israeli plane in Pakistan which allegedly carried Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a secret meeting with Pakistani lawmakers.
Israeli plane in Pakistan for 10 hours?
According to the tweet, an Israeli plane landed in Pakistan after departing from Tel Aviv and passing through Jordan. The aircraft allegedly stayed in Islamabad for about 10 hours before returning to Tel Aviv via Jordan. Pakistani officials deny that an Israeli plane landed in the country, but talk of a supposedly secret meeting between Islamabad and Tel Aviv continues to swirl.
The tweet heard ’round the world came from Israeli journalist Avi Scharf:
Israeli ?? bizjet flew from TLV to Islamabad, #Pakistan ??, on the ground 10 hours, and back to TLV.
Cleared flight-plan with usual 5min groundtime trick in Amman
M-ULTI glex pic.twitter.com/haHn1NU73L
— avi scharf (@avischarf) October 25, 2018
Scharf later followed that tweet up with additional details in two more tweets:
“1/ As my previous post caused uproar in Pakistan, here R all the details i have, and have NOT. Please follow: Bizjet M-ULTI tracked dep TLV (23Oct, 2000 UTC) , hopped Amman, got new sqwk 0757, then over Saudi arabia, and lost track Gulf of Oman (23:00) Sqwk 0757 type: Glex XRS.”
“2/ Re-appeared (24Oct, 00:40 UTC) descending into Islamabad, still sqwk 0757 and type. Desc to 20K feet, and then lost track again After 10 hours (11:20 UTC), re-appeared heading SW from Islamabad, continued same track back to Amman, then TLV.”
Seeing an Israeli plane in Pakistan would be a big deal because the two nations have been at odds with each other for quite some time. Pakistan does not recognize Israel, and the two nations’ aircraft are not even allowed to fly in each other’s airspace. Thus, it’s extremely unlikely that a plane from Israel would land anywhere in Pakistan, except perhaps in an emergency.
Officials deny report of an Israeli plane in Pakistan
According to the BBC, the aircraft in question is a private jet registered in the Isle of Man with the serial number 9394. Multibird Overseas operates the aircraft, which is reportedly chartered for private flights from Ben Gurion.
A Civil Aviation Authority spokesperson told media outlets in Pakistan that Scharf’s assertions about a private jet from Tel Aviv landing in Islamabad are not true. According to Dawn, Pakistani Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry alleged that the claim was merely part of an attempt to sabotage the Black Day being observed by Pakistanis worldwide in condemnation of the violence and bloodshed in the disputed Kashmir region. NDTV adds that Pakistan President Arif Alvi said they are not “establishing any kind of relations with Israel.”
The alleged trip occurred the day before Netanyahu visited Oman — the first time an Israeli premier has visited the country in more than two decades — which is why so many see a visit to Pakistan as being plausible right now. In fact, even some high-level Pakistani lawmakers are starting to demand an explanation.
Pakistani leaders call for an explanation
Chaudhry and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Ahsan Iqbal exchanged tweets with the information minister and asked him to “explain the exact situation.” Chaudhry answered that Prime Minister Imran Khan isn’t Nawaz Sharif, and “nor does his cabinet have fake Aristotles.” He emphasized that they wouldn’t hold a secret meeting with Israel or India.
However, Iqbal believes Chaudhry’s response suggests Islamabad is hiding something. Sherry Rehman, vice president of the Pakistan People’s Party, also called for an explanation for the Israeli plane in Pakistan.
For its part, Israel has been rather quiet on the rumor about an Israeli plane in Pakistan. However, there was one report that could refer to the possibility indirectly. According to The Jerusalem Post, a senior Israeli official said that other than Oman, “there will be other” visits with other Arab nations that Israel doesn’t have diplomatic relations with.
Oman is the first Arab nation Netanyahu has visited of all the Arab nations Israel does not have relations with. He reportedly spent about 12 hours in Oman on a visit they had spent about 18 months preparing for.
Debate over establishing relations with Israel
Pakistan’s Daily Times published an opinion piece with the pros and cons for Pakistan to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. Pakistan was founded specifically as a Muslim nation, which allies the nation closely with Palestinians and pits it against mostly-Jewish Israel.
One big issue many Pakistanis have with the reports of an Israeli plane in Pakistan is the conspiracy theory about a “Zionist-Hindu-Crusader” plot. However, the Daily Times notes that no one has ever presented any evidence that Israel has moved against Pakistan. The newspaper also declared that Israel’s close relations with India — Pakistan’s enemy — “does not count.”
Further, it alleged that Pakistan is the one that has been “shunning” Israel, rather than the other way around. The Times argued that after 70 years of opposition, it may finally be time for the two nations to establish relations.
“It may have made sense in the decades past for Islamabad to ignore the State of Israel — in symbolic solidarity with the Palestinian people,” the newspaper wrote. “But it is high time that Pakistan re-examine its stance and assess how does its stance benefit the Palestinians and much more importantly what does Islamabad gain vis-à-vis its own national interest.”