JERUSALEM (Feb. 19)
The machine-gun attack by Arab terrorists on an El Al airliner Tuesday in Zurich drew a veiled warning to the Arab states today from Israel Transport Minister Moshe Carmel. His warning was directed apparently at least in part against Lebanon, for he told the Knesset (Parliament) in an hour-long speech that Lebanon must “eradicate” the “nest of terrorists” who three times used her territory as a base of operations against Israel.
He voiced this claim despite the assertion of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, based in Amman, Jordan, that its guerrillas shot up the Boeing 720B airliner at Kloten International Airport. The London Evening Standard quoted official Lebanese sources as saying that none of the guerrillas, went to Zurich through Lebanon. Earlier, Transport Minister Carmel asserted that one of them had proceeded to Zurich by way of Damascus. The Damascus airport is less than 40 miles from Israeli positions on the captured Syrian Golan Heights.
“Israel has both the moral strength and the operational ability,” he said, “to break the backbone of the attackers’ organization. However, it would be better if the Arab states themselves would restrain the terrorist gangs.”
The Government meanwhile decided to send a circular letter to all United Nations members via the General Assembly president pointing out that protection of civil aviation is the concern of all. The message will ask that they consider measures to prevent a recurrence of attacks like the one in Zurich and the Dec. 26 terrorist attack on an El Al airliner in Athens airport that resulted in the death of one Israeli. Israel will also approach the International Civil Aviation Organization, a UN agency based in Montreal, and the International Air Transportation Association, a pilots group, with the problem. The case will also be taken up in foreign capitals.
High level consultation in Government continued all day as authorities tried to determine what course of action–political, diplomatic and possibly military–should be taken. Israel reacted to the Athens incident by sending helicopter-borne commandos two days later to destroy 13 commercial aircraft on the ground at Beirut Airport. The terrorists who shot up the aircraft in Athens had come from Beirut. That incident led to a condemnation of Israel in the Security Council and the subsequent embargo by President de Gaulle of France on all arms and military equipment to Israel. The terrorist act was not mentioned in the UN resolution.
The big question confronting the Government was whether or not to order another deterrent reprisal raid. An angry Israeli public was demanding one swiftly, and Israeli papers reflected their mood. The daily Lamerhav said: “The sabotage of airways cannot be one-sided.” And Hayom, published by the right-wing Gahal (Herut-Liberal parties alignment), put it this way: Israel “must react because her neighbors understand no other language.”
STATE DEPARTMENT CALLS UPON ISRAEL NOT TO RETALIATE
But the Government was apparently not prepared to rush headlong into a military response, possibly taking into account Washington’s call for “utmost restraint.” Shlomo Argov, a minister temporarily in charge of the Washington Embassy, was called to the State Department by Assistant Secretary of State Joseph J. Sisco to discuss the dangers to Mideast peace posed by the Zurich attack.
It was learned that Mr. Argov, standing in for Ambassador Yitzhak Rabin, was read the same statement that Department spokesman Robert J. McCloskey gave the press. Mr. McCloskey condemned the Zurich attack and other attacks on civil aviation as “deplorable and senseless.”
Such provocative attacks,” he said, “only add to the tension in the Middle East where the utmost restraint is essential if efforts to achieve peace are to have any prospect of success.” Yesterday, the State Department said, “We are concerned by the threat…to the safety and freedom of international civil aviation.”
Mr. McCloskey declined to say whether Mr. Sisco had made a direct appeal to Mr. Argov against an Israeli military reply. He said, however, that the Nixon Administration would raise the matter at a meeting beginning Monday in Montreal of the International Civil Aviation Organization council.
Secretary-General U Thant of the United Nations and the British Foreign Office, both of whom condemned the Tuesday attack, strongly urged Israel not to take retaliatory measures lest the delicate Middle East balance be upset and current peace-making efforts negated.
(United States Ambassador to the UN, Charles W. Yost, was quoted yesterday as saying, “The Israeli Government would be advised to keep in mind the reaction of world opinion in light of previous events. Right now the outrage will be focused on those who committed the act, and Israel would be well advised to keep it there. We will do our best to help.”)
Mr. Carmel told the Knesset that Israel has information that all three attacks on El Al planes in the past year–including a hi-jacking last summer of an aircraft en route from Rome to Tel Aviv–were plot- ted in Lebanon. The guerrillas, he said, departed from Beirut.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine has an office in Beirut. It has claimed responsibility for the three incidents. The responsibility for the attacks rests, Mr. Carmel said, not only with assailants themselves but also with the states where they organize, train, plan attacks and from which they set off on their “murderous journeys.” Recalling the Security Council’s failure to cite the reason for the Beirut attack in its Dec. 31 resolution, he said that its “unilateral attitude” undoubtedly encourages hi-jacking, assaults and murder. “The conscience of the Council members and the world cannot remain clear when, in the wake of this resolution, the attacks were renewed,” he declared.
Mr. Carmel warned the Arab states Tuesday that the Zurich attack could have consequences for Arab civil aviation as grave as those inflicted on Israeli aviation. He emphasized, “We shall not tolerate a situation where Israeli civilian planes are attacked with impunity while civilian Arab planes continue to fly without disturbance.”
(In Chicago, Israel’s Ambassador Rabin said he would not be surprised if Israel ordered a reprisal action. He told newsmen, “Israel cannot let her airline and her civilian population be hurt and do nothing.” He said that the full public support he has promised Arab commandos made President Nasser of Egypt at least partially to blame for the incident. Gen. Rabin was in Chicago for speeches.)
Mr. Carmel’s warning that “Israel reserves its right to protect its planes and citizens wherever they are,” was given Knesset endorsement. Israel attaches major importance to El Al as its lifeline to the world. Surrounded on all sides by enemies except on its Mediterranean shore. Israel has developed the airling to play a prime role in the State’s growth and development.