Nepal entered the aviation age with the Dakota, the DC-3, as its workhorse. That aircraft was the Model T Ford of its times, simple, repairable, reliable. It didn’t have enough power to gain altitude rapidly, but if it could circle around a couple of times it could fly high enough to get over most of the rugged Himalayan foothills and connect Kathmandu with population centers in the plains below. It could accomplish in hours what had previously taken weeks. It was instantly popular.
When I arrived in the early ’70’s it was still the workhorse for the Royal Nepal Airlines and the pilots who flew it were the popular avatars of modern times coming to that isolated kingdom. It was from them that I learned their particular nightmare: trying to get high enough to get over the next ridge and finding yourself in a canyon that narrows to the point you cannot reverse direction. You’re boxed in on both sides and don’t have enough power to get over that ridge ahead of you. It dawns on you that you’ve erred in your judgement, you are not going to make it over the top, and there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it except keep going till you crash.
The nightmare served a useful purpose, in that it encouraged my pilot friends to be extremely careful when it looked like they might be flying into that kind of situation.
This morning, as I read the latest news about mayhem in Libya, Iraq, Gaza, and other regional trouble spots, it seemed as though the whole region was teetering on the brink of going up in flames. I thought of our nation’s pet country, Israel. Have the Israelis so erred in their judgment that they now find themselves inextricably implicated in a situation that will necessarily end in disaster? Have they gone too far with their present hard-nosed policies and attitudes to extricate themselves? Have they, in short, already passed the point of no return?
The Middle East is shaking off the brittle skin of the post-colonial era and is searching for a new persona. It isn’t pretty but birth pangs seldom are. Very little about the process is predictable, except for the certainty that the vast majority of the new state forms that emerge will be profoundly hostile to Israel.
Nobody can predict in detail how the drama will play, and certainly Israel can be expected to face its new challenges with courage and intelligence. But courage and intelligence didn’t help that pilot in the Nepalese nightmare.
Israel under Rabin had set a different course and Oslo ratified a change in direction that would have avoided the present dilemma. But Rabin and Oslo are history. Is it too late to get back on the Oslo flight plan? I suspect it is. And I expect that future historians will see the last couple of decades as the critical period during which Israel passed the point of no return.