Thirty-eight years after being released from Syrian captivity, former Israel Air Force navigator Benny Kiryati met the man he claims saved his life – Dr. Henry Kissinger.
The two met on Wednesday at the gravesite of slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and his wife Leah on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. On Tuesday President Shimon Peres presented the former US secretary of state with an award honoring his "significant contribution to the State of Israel and to humanity."
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Kissinger was greeted at Mount Herzl by Kiryati, a former mayor of Tiberias, and Dalia Rabin-Pilosoph, the daughter of the assassinated premier.
In April 1974 Kiryati's plane was downed over Damascus. The pilot, Captain Yigal Stavi, was killed, and Kiryati, a young lieutenant at the time, was captured.
From left: Kiryati, Kissinger and Dalia Rabin-Pilosoph (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
"Captivity is the ultimate test for a man," he said. "It requires all of one's physical and mental strength."
Kissinger and Rabin worked together to free Israeli prisoners of war held by Syria, but initially Kiryati's name was not on the list of POWs slated for release. "All of the 60 soldiers who were freed - most of them Yom Kippur War POWs – owe their release to Kissinger," Kiryati said.
"My debt is even greater because my name was added to the list only after Kissinger intervened," he added. "If not for his efforts, it's possible that I would not be standing here today."
Dalia Rabin-Pilosoph said Kiryati is one of many Israelis who owe thanks to Kissinger.
"His efforts, along with my father's, to formulate an interim agreement in the aftermath of the war - despite all the difficulties – laid the foundation for the peace treaty with Egypt which was signed by (late) Prime Minister Menachem Begin," she said.