TEL AVIV (Dec. 29)
Helicopter-borne Israeli commandos raided Beirut International Airport last night, destroying 14 Arab passenger planes and damaging airport facilities without either causing or suffering any casualties and without damage to the many non-Arab airliners parked at the airfield. A Government spokesman said the bloodless raid was in retaliation for last Thursday’s Arab terrorist attack on an El Al airliner at Athens Airport Thursday in which one Israeli passenger was killed and two stewardesses wounded. Damage from the Beirut raid was estimated at $100 million.
(There were reports late today in London from Beirut that two Israeli Air Force jets made a daylight reconnaissance of the airport, in an apparent check of the raid damage. It was reported also that no Lebanese planes were sent up to intercept the two jets.)
Details of the 45-minute night raid were disclosed by a military spokesman at a midnight press conference here from reports from the commandos, all of whom returned safely. The spokesman said the helicopters swooped down on the airport without detection. One group of commandos moved on the airport, another set off smoke bombs on the connecting highway to Beirut to block traffic or military reinforcements. The commandos singled out parked Arab planes and placed detonation charges, destroying nine jets and five turbo-prop airliners, including Boeing, Tavalles and Tridents. Seven belonged to Middle East Airlines, a Lebanese firm, three to Lebanese International Airways and two to Trans-Mediterranean Airways, a cargo operator. Middle East Airlines, one of the main Arab passenger carriers, is partly owned by several Arab countries. A Pan-American Airlines Boeing jet and a British Overseas Airways Comet parked nearby were not touched.
The Israeli raiders were unopposed except for some sporadic shots, apparently from airport police. Using portable loudspeakers, the commandos warned people at the airport, in Arabic and in English, to take cover. The raiders also destroyed fuel dumps. One burning plane touched off fuel in an underground tank, which exploded, setting fire to a hangar. After making sure all explosive charges had detonated, the commandos left for their bases. The airport, one of the busiest in the Mideast, is about 100 miles from the Israeli border.