In Sorrow and Esteem

The death of Captain Asaf Ramon, a fighter pilot and the son of a fighter pilot, shocked the entire State of Israel yesterday. For one rare moment - in the flash of the explosion as Asaf's plane crashed in the Hebron Hills, like a reprise of the flash when the space shuttle Columbia was lost with his father Ilan on board in 2003 - light was shed on that sector of Israeli society that is too often taken for granted: young people, some continuing in the path of their fathers, some sons or siblings who have lost loved ones, who volunteer to risk their lives every day to protect the country. The sorrow that encompassed Israel yesterday is another aspect of the tribute to their sacrifice.

Ilan Ramon represented two faces of Israel. The first, the warrior on battle fronts near and far, as one of the eight pilots who bombed the nuclear reactor near Baghdad. The other, on an even more far-reaching front of science and technology, as the first Israeli astronaut. Asaf Ramon, who was determined to follow in his father's footsteps, fell like his father in the line of duty.

Almost three decades after the flight of Ilan Ramon and his comrades deep into Iraq, Israel faces an even greater nuclear threat, even farther away - this time from Iran. Asaf Ramon's comrades might be required to fly farther, risking their lives to an even greater extent in their sorties. The decision is in the hands of statesmen, but the building of the capability and, during the hour of decision, utilizing that capability, is in the hands of those who, as happened yesterday, risk their lives not only during missions but in training as well.

The public is divided over Israel's security policy. The pilots themselves, like other soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces, have varying opinions on what is right, permissible and prohibited in combat. However, the existence of these essential controversies must not allow us to forget the devotion of those who have given their lives - in the air, on land and at sea. They are not the only ones to put their lives on the line, and the risks they take do not grant them the authority or the pretension to chart political policy. Yet without them there would be no debate, and there would also be no Israel.

A harsh blow was delivered yesterday to two intertwined families, the Ramon family and the family of the Israel Air Force. For one brief moment, in sorrow and esteem, all of Israel shared in this grief.