By: P. David Hornik
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Israelis were shocked on Sunday to learn that 20-year-old Assaf Ramon, son of the late air force pilot and astronaut Ilan Ramon, had been killed in a training accident when his air force plane crashed in hills south of the West Bank city of Hebron.
Ilan Ramon died along with six other astronauts in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003. In 1981 Ramon, who was the son of a Holocaust survivor, was the youngest of eight pilots to take part in Israel’s bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor in Baghdad.
Assaf, 15 when his father died, announced soon after that he intended to follow in his tracks. Before enlisting in 2006 he said: “I want to be a pilot in the air force. But I really want to be an astronaut one day. This desire became very strong after the Columbia accident. I want to share my father’s experience, and to understand what he felt. I think I’ll feel closer to him that way.”
Just three months ago Assaf graduated (see footage here) from his pilot-training course as valedictorian of his class.
On Sunday night, as leading military and political figures gathered at the home of Ilan’s widow and Assaf’s bereaved mother, Rona Ramon (Assaf also leaves three younger siblings, one of whom, a brother, is also in the IAF), Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu stated: “This is a dreadful tragedy for Rona Ramon, the entire Ramon family, and the entire nation. It is rare that a private tragedy pierces the heart of the nation with such strength. Today we all grieve the death of Assaf, who fell from the heavens like his father Ilan. There is no comfort, only tears.”
There are precedents regarding sons of leading Israelis who died in air force training accidents. In 2000 Yonatan Begin, son of cabinet minister Benny Begin, died along with his navigator in a crash in the Mediterranean. In 1987 Gil Ivri, son of former IAF commander and ambassador to the United States David Ivri, died in a crash in southern Israel. In 1981 Yoram Eitan, son of the late chief of staff and cabinet minister Rafael Eitan, died in a crash also in southern Israel.
The difference in this case was that Assaf Ramon already came from a bereaved family, and as such Rona Ramon had to grant her approval—which she did—for her son to serve in a combat unit. Asked in a Monday-morning radio interview about his conversation with her the night before, Netanyahu—whose brother Yonatan died in 1976 in Operation Entebbe—said: “I think she is going through hell right now. Something I have seen and experienced up close. It is double bereavement, which is almost a biblical tragedy of a father and son following their love for the skies, and ascending to the heavens in iron chariots, and coming back down in chariots of fire.”
This disaster, the focus on the air force, the reminder of Ilan Ramon’s role in 1981, come at a time when the Israeli air force may again be the only thing standing between the country and destruction.
President Barack Obama’s decision to accept Iran’s offer to hold talks, based on Tehran’s submission of a five-page letter that did not even mention its nuclear program, means giving Iran additional months—even before imposing sanctions that are also certain to fail—to complete work on its bomb.
As Israeli intelligence minister Dan Meridor told Reuters on Saturday, “The time is now. There is no more time to waste [on Iran], and that’s not only the Israeli perspective, it’s much more general.” The problem is that his was a lone voice.
Assaf Ramon was buried next to his father in a military cemetery on Monday afternoon, in the village of Nahalal in the Jezreel Valley. The cemetery is on a hill overlooking the Ramat David air force base.
P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Beersheva. He blogs at