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Tue, May 08, 2007

Israeli Passenger's Iran Diversion Ends On Hopeful Note

Scientist Says He Was Treated Very Well

Sometimes, international diplomacy works best when actual governments have nothing to do with it. An Israeli scientist whose plane was forced to make an unscheduled stop in Iran this weekend initially feared the worst... but Benny Medvedev says after some tense moments, his hosts were quite gracious.

Medvedev was one of 123 passengers onboard a Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul to India, when the plane was forced to make the first of two emergency landings in Tehran due to mechanical issues. The scientist says the was "terrified" when the plane landed in the Iranian capital Friday -- as the Iranian government denies Israel's right to exist, and the two nemeses maintain no diplomatic relations.

"For the first hour I was terrified to death," Medvedev told the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot. "Like everyone else I serve in a (Israeli reserve) combat unit ... I didn't want to get off the airplane but I didn't have a choice."

After being denied his request to remain onboard the plane by the pilot, Medvedev attempted to blend in with a group of British tourists... but Iranian security officials knew he was onboard, and walked directly to him.

It was then that this story took an unexpected and welcome turn, reports The Associated Press.

"They told me, 'We know you are Israeli but you don't have anything to be worried about. We will help you with anything you need,"' said Medvedev, who works as a researcher at Israel's Institute for Earth Sciences.

Israel's Haraatz newspaper reports Medvedev, along with the other passengers, were forced to spend the night in the airport's international lounge. The Israeli scientist says he was allowed to send an email to his boss, relating the incident to him.

When Medvedev's boss reported the incident to Israel's Foreign Ministry, officials initially feared the worst. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni received regular updates on Medvedev's situation throughout the day, and the Israeli consulate in Mumbai was also contacted.

But Medvedev says he was treated just as well as the other passengers -- slightly better, in fact, even after the Turkish Airlines plane was forced to once again return to Tehran on Saturday, due to yet another mechanical problem.

"The security people treated me very well," Medvedev told Israel's Y-Net. "I even received a gift of a wooden music box. They invited me to visit again and I invited them to visit Israel, when there will be peace."

When... not 'if'...



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