Israeli paraglider sails into Syria

Story highlights

  • Israeli officials say they think an Israeli-Arab deliberately paraglided into Syria to join rebels
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the paraglider's citizenship will be revoked
  • The man's family says he was blown off course and the government should help bring him home

Golan Heights (CNN)Israelis are great fans of paragliding. Warm, clear weather and stunning scenery make it a popular weekend sport.

But this past weekend, one Israeli went paragliding in a different direction.
    The man, a 23-year-old Israeli Arab, allegedly flew over the line that separates Israeli-controlled Golan Heights and Syria. His fate remains unknown. CNN is not naming the man due to a gag order issued by the Israeli government that restricts any reporting on his identity or details of the investigation.
    On the other side of that line, the Syrian landscape looks lifeless. Motorcycles occasionally speed down roads as the crack of gunfire and the thud of heavy firepower fill the air. Some areas are controlled by the Syrian government. Others are controlled by a patchwork of rebel groups, including al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria.

    Missing paraglider or rebel recruit?

    On Saturday night, the Israeli military and intelligence launched a massive operation to try to find the paraglider, but then called off the search when officials concluded he had flown into Syria to join rebels there.
    "We were not certain that it was an Israeli who made a mistake or an Arab-Israeli ... that actually intended to go," the Israeli military said. "We are working on the assumption now that he intended to go and the ISA (Israel Securities Authority) is investigating."
    Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the circumstances of the flight were being investigated.
    "His family are being questioned," Rosenfeld said. "It seems that it was something that was possibly coordinated ahead so that he could cross the border."
    The man's family is adamant that he was simply blown off course and brush off the suggestion he intentionally flew into Syria. They insist he was more interested in sports than politics.

    Netanyahu: 'We will act to revoke his citizenship'

    Less than 24 hours after the incident, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a Cabinet meeting that the consequences for the flight were clear.
    "Last night, an Israeli citizen crossed our border in the Golan Heights in order to join the enemy in Syria. We will act to revoke his citizenship. This is how we will act in any such incident," Netanyahu said. "Whoever joins the enemy to fight against Israel will not be an Israeli citizen."
    The man's family said stripping his citizenship isn't right. His uncle insists the Israeli government should do all it can to bring him home, regardless of how he ended up in Syria.
    "Even if the boy was brainwashed," he said, "Netanyahu is still responsible for him. He is an Israeli citizen."
    Israel, the uncle said, has shown rigor and determination as it's tried to track down Jewish citizens who were kidnapped or crossed borders by mistake.
    "We Arabs are constantly being tested for our loyalty," he said. "But we are loyal citizens."
    A small number of Israeli-Arabs have traveled to Syria to fight, but none has ever taken a direct flight there.