Israeli Officials Work Feverishly to Clarify the Johannesburg Situation

After 10 p.m. tonight the Israeli government was still attempting to piece together a clear picture of ongoing events in Johannesburg as piecemeal and sometime contradictory reports flowed in from news media. A team headed by Premier Yitzhak Rabin centralized the information-collating and digesting process in the Prime Minister’s office and ministers were periodically updated by telephone.

The Cabinet broke up its special session at 5:30 p.m.–after only half-an-hour–when it became clear that the full facts were not yet in. Working with Rabin were his top aide, Mordechai Gazit, his military adviser, Col. Poran and other officials. The Foreign Ministry Director General served as liaison with his ministry which kept an open line to the Israel representatives in Johannesburg. Foreign Minister Yigal Allon who was in Paris was hourly kept informed.

The impression of informed observers here was that the Israel government was leaving the situation very much in the hands of the South African security authorities. No Israeli official, it was understood had been sent to Johannesburg from here, Contacts with the authorities, it was further learned, were confined to providing information–Israel was not attempting to provide advice and certainly not directives to the South African military and police chiefs. Officials here were fairly tight-lipped on these contacts and on whether there was any top-level contact between Rabin and John Vorster, Prime Minister of South Africa.

The officials here refused to say whether Yitzhak Unna, Israel’s Ambassador to South Africa, had been instructed to enter the building or not, Informed observers believed, however, that Unna had been ordered to keep out, the consideration being that in a show-down (which, to judge by Vorster’s statement to Parliament was to be expected), his life along with those of the other hostages would be in grave danger and his presence inside the Consulate would have achieved little practical gain.

Addressing the opening of the Seventh International Book Fair here this evening, Rabin said the attack was perpetrated by “enemies of human culture whom the enlightened, civilized world must condemn and extirpate.” He said the assailants’ aim was murder and their method was murder. At 11 p.m. the Cabinet was again called into session for an updated report from the Premier.

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