By M D Nalapat
November 07, 2015
Was it a bomb or a missile that brought down Kogalymavia 9268 over the Sinai desert on October 31? From the start, there have been determined efforts at floating theories about the crash, including that the tail section could have come apart because of maintenance issues. When it became impossible to deny the reality of the claim by ISIS (Daesh) that it had brought down the aircraft, the explanation given was that there was a bomb on board which exploded after the aircraft had reached cruising altitude, or after a pre-selected ( by the bomber) length of time.
The pilots of the airctaft sought to reach a higher level soon after they apparently saw trouble ahead, and if there had been an explosive device programmed to go off in flight at cruise, the same would have exploded earlier, leaving the pilots with no time to fly the aircraft higher, from cruise altitude to the 33,500 foot level it had reached before descending to the 28,375 feet it was at when communications with the aircraft or within the vessel ceased. As for a timer-activated bomb, departure schedules from Sharm-al-Sheikh airport are often so erratic that it would have been impossible for a bomber to calculatejust when the aircraft would reach its cruise altitude. Another possibility was not even mentioned, that of a suicide bomber on board, because of the fact that the passengers have each been identified as having no possible connection with terrorism, as would have been the case had there been a young Chechen onboard
Was ISIS (Daesh) being accurate when it claimed that the aircraft was brought down by a missile? A rash of reports have come out that such a development would have been impossible at the height at which the aircraft was travelling when it was brought down. The US-made
shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles that have been made available to ISIS (Daesh) courtesy the “moderate opposition” has a range of around 24,000 feet at the most, while Russian-built SAMs have a unique “signature” that - according to media reports - was absent from the scene of the destruction of the airctaft. However, what if it was not a SAM but a lorry-mounted anti-aircraft missile of 35,000 feet range of the same type as is being used by NATO forces? Certainly Russian technical assets would have been able to decipher such a signature, although diplomatic considerations may prevent Moscow from making public the news. The NATO alliance would naturally wish to keep secret a situation where a missile once in their armoury was used by a terror group to kill 224 crew and others on a passenger aircraft.
However,a sequence of events has been presented by those with experience in such matters that could explain how and why the aircraft met its end. While those making the assertion testify to its accuracy, it needs to be remembered that in the absence of evidence other than hearsay, the sequence of events narrated can only be regarded as hypothetical. According to these individuals, those in high positions in a member-state of NATO were angered by what they saw as repeated intrusions into their territory by Russian aircraft engaged in bombing ISIS (Daesh) targets in Iraq and Syria. They therefore decided to make available two units of lorry-mounted anti-aircraft missile systems to the “moderate opposition”, so that these could get transported to Syria and used on incoming Russian aircraft engaged in hostile actions against what NATO and its partners define as the “moderate opposition”.
Unfortunately, the Russian military aircraft were too sophisticated to get taken down by the relatively untrained crew handling the systems they had been presented by a member-state of the NATO alliance. And once a system was used, the provenance would immediately be clear. It was then decided to send one of the systems to the Sinai, to be used against civilian aircraft belonging to the NATO alliance rather than to Russia, as the latter would be certain to respond in a way that the forner has yet to do on the ground, content as even the US is to deliver pinpricks rather than jabs to ISIS (Daesh) forces on the ground in Iran and Syria.
The vehicle on which the anti-airctraft system was mounted was driven across Jordan to the Sinai, camouflaged both by the penetration of ISIS-friendly elements within the security agencies of the region as well as the fact that it would be deemed impossible that a terror group rather than a legitimate force would transport such equipment in the open. There are patches of the Sinai where security is low to zero, and once the vehicle reached this section of Egypt, it was taken to a location in the effective control of those in sympathy with the aims of ISIS. Less than a month later, mistaking the Russian aircraft for that belonging to an airline in a NATO member-state, the system was activated. A pilot on board flight 9268 saw the missile coming at his aircraft and sought to avoid it through going to a higher altitude, before deciding to dive in another effort to escape the projectile. The manouevre did not help, and the aircraft was hit. Presumably the fact that it was a missile rather than an onboard explosive decice would have been clear to those countries proficient in the technical means needed to track and lock on to missile systems. Ordinarily, Moscow would have no interest in keeping secret the reality of an aircraft being hit by a NATO-supplied system, but the country has been undergoing substantial pain as a consequence of US-EU sanctions, so if silence as to cause of the disaster would result in a significant dilution of sanctions, it may be regarded as a price worth paying, especially as the 224 citizens on board the targetted flight are no longer among the living.
What is needed is an accounting of the weapons used by ISIS (Daesh) against its foes, including the types and provenance, based on battlefield remnants and spent ammunition. Unless such a flow be checked, as well as the equally toxic flow of cash to the terror group from well-wishers scattered across the region, this cancer will spread to an extent dangerous for the stability of the Middle East. Keepiong silent about the truth may serve a short-term,tactical purpose. But in order to beneficially affect the long-term, in order to gain strategically, it may be necessary for truth to be revealed, so that the ugliness visible may be identified and eliminated rather than be allowed to continue by a policy of stealth and secrecy.
M D Nalapat is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.