TEL AVIV (Feb. 5)
Israel will continue to take the initiative in its war against terrorism, Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin promised today, even if it sometimes makes mistakes, as happened yesterday when an intercepted private Libyan jet turned out not to be carrying the top terrorist leaders believed to have been aboard.
The war against terrorism must be waged by daring, unconventional means, Rabin told a group of settlers in northern Israel. “We have to show initiative. We have to be daring even if we do not always achieve our objectives in full. Yesterday we did not achieve our full aims, maybe not even partially,” he said. But the Defense Minister stressed that terrorism cannot be defeated on the basis only of retaliation for specific acts.
He said the Arab countries continue to finance international terrorism. They provide terrorist organizations with funds and shelter, training bases and aid via diplomatic pouches. He accused some governments in Europe of not joining the fight against international terrorism and in fact distinguishing between “good” and “bad” terrorists.
ISRAEL WAS EMBARRASSED
Israel was clearly embarrassed by yesterday’s incident which indicated a serious failure of intelligence and a high degree of cunning on the part of terrorist leaders. Israeli intelligence has what it considered sufficient evidence that such Palestinian terrorists as Geroge Habash and Abu Nidal were passengers in the Gulfstream executive jet forced by the Israel Air Force to land at an air base in northern Israel yesterday afternoon.
The Libyan aircraft was enroute from Benghazi, Libya, to Damascus with nine passengers and three crew. The passengers turned out to be Syrian political figures returning to Damascus from a conference of Arab radicals in Tripoli, the Libyan capital. After a thorough check of the identities of those aboard, Israel released the plane four-and-a-half hours after intercepting it.
The two-day conference, chaired by Libyan leader Col. Muammar Qaddafi, was attended by delegates from 22 hard-line Arab movements, including Palestinian terrorist groups opposed to Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasir Arafat. Habash, who heads the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, was among them. He boasted yesterday that he had foiled Israel’s efforts to catch the “big fish.”
Abu Nidal is the leader of the terrorist gang held responsible for the December 27 attacks at the Rome and Vienna airports, which resulted in the deaths of 19 people. His group operates under a variety of names and while it is said to have no more than a few hundred members, its record of assassinations — PLO officials as well as Israelis — makes it one of the most dangerous terrorist organizations. It is supported by Qaddafi and also, according to Israel, by the Syrian government.
Terrorists like Habash and Nidal are wily. They rarely sleep in the same building twice and switch planes at the last minute when they travel. That apparently is what they did when they left Tripoli yesterday.