An embarrassing incident took place Thursday at Seoul’s international airport, when Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman refused to have his bag scanned in the x-ray machine before boarding a flight to Beijing. After a lengthy discussion, the South Korean security guards allowed Lieberman to pass without undergoing the security check.
The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that conducting a search on Lieberman was in violation of international diplomatic protocol.
The incident happened as Lieberman wrapped up a two-day visit in the South Korean capital, which marked 50 years of diplomatic relations between Seoul and Jerusalem.
Officials at Incheon airport told a South Korean news agency that security personnel repeatedly asked Lieberman to put his bag through the x-ray machine, as all passengers are required to do, but that he refused to do so. The guards explained to Lieberman and his entourage that if will not be allowed on board the plane if they refuse to undergo the security scan.
“The minister’s bag did not fall under the exemption category and required a security check as per regulations,” said an airport police official who also spoke on condition of anonymity. “In most cases, diplomats also comply well with the security checks, so (the minister’s) refusal was unusual.”
Lieberman’s office confirmed the details of the incident. “Contrary to international protocol, security personnel in South Korea’s airport wanted to check the Foreign Minister, his security guards and his entourage,” it said in a statement. “This is not customary in diplomatic missions. There was a discussion between representatives of the Israeli embassy in Seoul and South Korean security officials.”
During his visit, Lieberman’s also surprised his South Korean hosts when he said Israel is still considering purchasing South Korean training planes for the Israeli Air Force. “The option is still open,” Lieberman told reporters in Seoul.
Lieberman’s statement contradicts an announcement made two weeks ago by the Israeli Defense Ministry, according to which it has chosen the Italian M-346 as the army’s new training plane, and plans to purchase 30 such planes in a deal worth a billion dollars. The South Korean T-50 training plane was the other main contender.
A few hours after Lieberman’s statement, the Israeli embassy in Seoul stated that “there is nothing new” and that the decision not to purchase the South Korean planes has already been made.