ISRAEL BEHAVED well, on short notice, in directing a hijacked Iranian airliner to the remote Ovda air base after Jordan and Saudi Arabia forbade it to land. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin told air controllers to keep the plane away from population centers and Ben Gurion International Airport, lest it be a giant terrorist bomb, but to let it down rather than risk the lives of 177 aboard.
Israel's responsibility after the landing was clear, to give food and medical treatment where needed and return the plane and persons aboard to Iran as expeditiously as possible. This is not a time to extract recognition from Iran or rub in its role of condoning selective terrorism. The Iranians flying to the resort island of Kish are not responsible for policy.
And Israel should return the hijacker to Iran, just as in 1988 it returned hijack-kidnappers to the Soviet Union. Any policy to deter aerial terrorism can make no exceptions. Once it does, the policy would encourage such terrorism.
The safety of airline passengers aloft is inextricably linked to that of all others. Israel has been a leading target of such terrorism, and knows that the way to quell it is not to condone retaliation in kind.
The cabin attendant who hijacked the internal airliner in hopes of winning political asylum in the United States may deserve sympathy for wanting out of a constrictive dictatorship. But he put all crew and passengers' lives at risk for his purpose. Were the U.S. to grant asylum or Israel to shield him from extradition, they would encourage more hijacking.
Israel and the U.S. should put the integrity and safety of civil aviation first. When a responsible government does that, there can be no distinction between good and bad hijackers on the basis of the regimes they may oppose. The Iranian government's accusation of Israeli complicity was maliciously wrong, but it would be equally wrong after the fact to establish some credence to it.
The regime in Tehran is tyrannical, but if decent governments wish to prevent airliner hijacking anywhere, they must deter it everywhere.