TEL AVIV (Feb. 21)
Israeli experts, analyzing the costly Egyptian effort to free 15 terrorist-held hostages at Larnaca Airport in Cyprus over the weekend, blamed the failed aspects of the mission on a general log in worldwide attempts to fight international terrorism. But they also found serious flaws in the way the Egyptians organized and executed the commando raid that left 15 Egyptian soldiers dead.
The two Palestinian terrorists, who on Saturday had killed Yousef el-Sabai, editor-in-chief of the semi-official Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram in a lobby of the Hilton Hotel in Nicosia and then seized hostages and tried to flee Cyprus in a hijacked plane, surrendered to Cypriot authorities. A half dozen Arab and other countries refused to permit the terrorists to land the plane. The hostages and the 57 surviving commandos, including 16 wounded, returned safely to Egypt where they were welcomed as heroes at Cairo Airport.
The Egyptian failure seemed all the more glaring against the background of Israel’s spectacularly successful rescue-raid an Entebbe Airport in Uganda on July 3-4, 1976 and last year’s similar feat by West German commandos at Mogadishu, Somalia. But the Israelis were not gloating. In fact, security circles here stressed that any and all efforts to fight terrorism were welcomed and if the action failed, all civilized nations were the losers.
OPERATION FAULTED ON THREE COUNTS
The experts, who said they based their opinions entirely on media accounts of the events at Larnaca, faulted the Egyptian operation on three counts: lack of proper intelligence information; lack of coordination; and lack of surprise.
They said the Egyptian commandos were unaware of the fact that when they landed at Larnaca the terrorists had already agreed to release the hostages and surrender themselves. They also lacked basic knowledge of the airport’s layout, the position of the Cypriot airliner in which the hostages were held, the position of the hijackers and the presence of the Cypriot national guardsmen.
The Egyptians for some reason, possibly fearing a breach of secrecy, did not inform the Cypriot authorities in advance of their intention to mount the commando rescue mission. The Cypriot guardsmen were, in any event, unaware of it and opened fire on the Egyptians.
Finally, the Israeli analysis said, the Egyptians lost whatever element of surprise they may have had when their soldiers opened fire in all directions the moment they emerged from their Hercules transport plane. Their shooting triggered return fire from the Cypriots which took the high tall of Egyptian lives.
Other sources noted that the Israeli raid on Entebbe was carried out only after a week of fruitless negotiations, was the first of its kind and therefore came as a stunning surprise. The Israelis knew every inch of Entebbe Airport which they in fact had built. They were opposed by ill-trained Ugandan soldiers. The West Germans landed at Mogadishu with the full cooperation of the Somalia government. All of those favorable elements were lacking to the Egyptians, the sources said.