If it is true that jihadists are behind Saturday's Russian plane crash in Sinai, it would have "massive implications" for Egypt and other parties, including Israel, says Professor Yoram Meital, Chairperson of the Chaim Herzog Center for Middle East Studies and Diplomacy. A terrorist group affiliated to Islamic State in Egypt claimed responsibility for the downing of the passenger plane, which was carrying 224 passengers and crew, all of whom died.
Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail told a news conference late on Saturday that there did not appear to be any unusual activity behind the crash but added that the facts would not be clear until further investigations had been carried out. A team of investigators arrived at the scene on Sunday and experts would begin examining the black boxes at the civil aviation ministry in Cairo within hours, judiciary and ministry sources said.
Meital tells The Jerusalem Post that there is not enough information yet to understand what happened with the flight, but if jihadists were behind it he says it would be "a completely new game. It's not a terror act in keeping with what happened in the past four years which is mainly fighting between Egyptian armed forces and jihadists, and a few episodes of terror attacks by jihadists against tourists," he explains.
He stresses that the vast majority of violence has been between Egyptian soldiers, police and jihadists, and if the latter were behind the plane crash, "the cards would be reshuffled" as it would show that they have both the capabilities and intention to carry out such an operation. "What we know for certain is that, it emphasizes the struggle within Sinai between the Egyptian armed forces and this group (Wilayat Sinai) that declared a couple of months ago its affiliation to Islamic State. The second point that we know is that as Russia intensifies its direct involvement in Syria, the Islamic State and its supporters put Russia on their agenda, and this is clear from the statement that was released yesterday by the Islamic State affiliate in Sinai."
Former Israeli ambassador to Egypt Zvi Mazel tells the Post that he finds it hard to believe that ISIS was behind the plane crash: "ISIS does not have the sophisticated missiles and the means to shoot a plane flying at the height of about ten kilometers." Mazel notes, however, that the area where the plane crashed is a combat ground between ISIS terrorists and the Egyptian army. "But it's not enough to be sure that they are really capable of doing it," he hastens to add.
Egypt’s former minister of civil aviation, Wail al-Madawi told Russian news outlet RT that only a state can have the resources needed to bring down a commercial aircraft flying at such a height. "I am a former air force officer, and I have the expert knowledge that taking down a plane flying so high requires the kind of capacities only a state can have. It requires some very significant resources: One would need search radars, radars to locate the plane, radars to control the fire. Only a state can have such resources, no militant group like that can," RT quoted him as saying.
"As we know, those kind of Islamic terrorist organizations -- from our experience in Israel and the whole Middle East -- every time there is a disaster that happens in the enemy's camp, they take responsibility. This is kind of propaganda to drag down morale," Mazel asserts. "So we never believe these people unless we see some real proof."
The former ambassador further notes that the plane was 18-years-old and had taken off and landed 21,000 times, thus the international team of investigators -- which includes Russia, Egypt, France and Germany -- will need to probe whether the vehicle's maintenance was to a sufficient standard.
Reuters contributed to this report