TEL AVIV (Aug. 12)
Defense Minister Moshe Dayan assumed full responsibility today for the Israeli Air Force intercepting an Arab-owned jetliner and forcing it to land in Israel. Speaking at a midnight press conference at his home, Dayan said Friday night’s action was part of Israel’s struggle against terrorism, a struggle which he said other nations were reluctant to wage.
The Cabinet, meeting today in the wake of world criticism and a scheduled Security Council meeting tomorrow, reiterated its stand “to fight terrorists whenever possible before they are able to act. Cabinet ministers stressed that Israel had no choice but to act on its own because of the lack of action by other nations against terrorism.
However, the Israeli Pilots Association issued a statement deploring the interception. Itzhak Shaked, Association chairman, said here the Lebanese plane was a civilian aircraft and on a civilian flight and Israeli military planes interfered with it. As an association fighting terror in the air the Israeli group could not condone such an action even if it was to capture the world’s number one criminal against civil aviation. Shaked said.
FEARED MORE TERRORIST ATROCITIES
Two Israeli jets intercepted a Middle East Airlines Caravelle jet Friday night with 81 persons aboard minutes after it left Beirut and forced it to land at an air base in Israel. It was allowed to return to Beirut after two hours during which the Israelis checked the identities of the 74 passengers and seven crew members. It had been learned by Israeli intelligence sources that four terrorist leaders, including Dr. George Habash, chief of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, were aboard. Israel feared that the terrorists might be preparing for another terrorist act such as the one Israel said the PFLP had committed last Sunday in Athens and the earlier hijacking of a Japan Air Line jumbo jet.
It is believed that Israel was planning to intercept Iraqi Airways flight 006 which stops in Beirut on its London-Baghdad run. But the flight was delayed in Vienna for three hours Friday and Iraqi Airways chartered the Caravelle making it flight 006A. The Israelis seized the wrong plane. According to a PFLP spokesman, the four Palestinian leaders “smelled something fishy” and decided not to board the 006 flight the last minute.
In Beirut, a Palestinian spokesman admitted that several guerrilla leaders were scheduled to take the Lebanese Middle East Airlines Caravelle airliner chartered by Iraqi Airways but because of a last minute delay in departure they changed their minds. The spokesman refused to confirm or deny that among those who had been scheduled to take the Baghdad flight were Dr. Habash and one of his chief aides, Salah Salah. However, Beirut Airport sources said both men were originally booked for the flight.
WILL CONTINUE TO BATTLE TERRORISM
The Israeli public seemed disappointed at the failure of the mission although a small number of Israelis were dismayed at the tactics used. However, observers in Israeli saw the action as justified following the failure of the United Nations Ad Hoc Committee on International Terrorism to reach any agreement on the problem. (See separate story). Dayan said in a television interview yesterday that the aim of the interception was to capture a number of terrorist leaders including Dr. Habash. He said terrorist leaders would now be more frightened.
The Defense Minister said Israel would not be satisfied with a purely defensive struggle against terrorism. “We cannot act as they do in the films about the wild west where the hero waits and keeps ready to draw his gun and hits first only when the other tries to shoot or hurl a grenade,” Dayan said. “We have to fight the terrorists who are fighting us,” he said. He explained that this meant hitting the terrorists whenever Israel has the opportunity and information enabling it to strike at their centers and where it would do the most harm to their operations.
Dayan said that Israel will continue to battle terrorism and noted that “Israel will miss no opportunity to hit the terrorist organizations.” He added that anything that prevents these groups from carrying out their acts of murder must be done. He noted that no one was injured in the action.
In considering the expected denunciations for the action Dayan said. “The direct way to end the terror is to fight it everywhere and the whole world should give a hand in this war.” Dayan noted that up to now 110 terrorists have been captured and 70 of them were released. “This is what we known” he said. “What we do not know is the ransom, the money and the agreement on and under the table that respectable states are concluding with the terrorists. It is not we who are conducting this war. But this war is directed against us.”
CRITICISM DOES NOT END TERRORISM
The Cabinet reiterated today its stand “to fight the terrorists wherever possible before they are able to act,” said Health Minister Victor Shemtov following the Cabinet meeting. Both Shemtov and Transportation Minister Shimon Peres stressed that with the lack of action on the part of other nations and the U.N. Israel had no choice but to act on her own to fight terrorism.
Peres said in that respect there was no change in the Israeli policy. He rejected criticism that the Israeli interception act might jeopardize Israeli efforts against terrorism in the world. “Before criticizing the interception,” Peres said, “one must do something to prevent terrorism.” Shemtov added that Israel was not going to make interception “a method.”
This is the line Israel is expected to adopt in its diplomatic contacts and in the Security Council meeting tomorrow. Israeli delegates to the Council were instructed to warn friendly members of the Council against Arab attempts to take advantage of the Israeli action and to divert public opinion from the recent Arab terrorist acts.