TEL AVIV (Feb. 9)
The Transport Ministry’s Civil Aviation Authority announced today it has established new flight paths for civilian aircraft arriving at and departing from Israel. The measure was taken in response to threats by Libya, Syria and various terrorist groups to retaliate for the interception by the Israel Air Force last Tuesday of a private Libyan plane which Israel had reason to believe was carrying top terrorist leaders.
Israel’s intelligence proved false in this case and the plane, a Gulfstream Executive jet enroute from Benghazi, Libya, to Damascus, was released four-and-a-half hours after it had been forced to land at an air base in northern Israel.
The reprisal threats were not specific but they are taken seriously here and in other countries. Terrorist leader Abu Nidal, one of those presumed to have been aboard the intercepted plane, warned civilians to stay off Israeli and American airliners. Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi charged that the U.S. Sixth Fleet, operating near Libyan waters, had pinpointed the private plane for the Israel Air Force.
Greek civil aviation authorities who operate air traffic controls in the eastern Mediterranean jointly with Cyprus, have also assigned new flight paths well away from Libyan air space, Maariv reported today. A spokesman for El Al, Israel’s national airline, said today the Libyan threats have had no adverse effects on bookings.
TRYING TO JUSTIFY THE INTERCEPTION
Israeli officials, meanwhile, sought to justify the interception as having been within Israel’s rights under international law. Transport Minister Haim Corfu issued a statement Friday to that effect. He cited the principles laid down in a resolution of the international Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a United Nations agency, in May, 1984.
He said the resolution recognized the right of every country to force the landing of a civilian aircraft in its territory within the framework of the right to defend its sovereignty, if there is a reasonable basis for believing that the aircraft was being used for purposes inconsistent with that right.
Israeli officials have pointed out that the intercepted plane was not a commercial airliner carrying paying passengers on a regular route but a private plane not subject to ICAO regulations chartered to carry home participants in a conference in Tripoli, Libya where terrorist activities were discussed and probably planned.
According to these officials, there was sufficient intelligence information to indicate that prominent terrorist leaders were in the plane and to justify the intercept order.
Some sources said that Nidal and George Habash, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, may have actually boarded the plane in Libya and promptly left by another door to mislead foreign agents who may have been watching the aircraft. Terrorist leaders have been known in the past to switch planes at the last minute.