TEL AVIV (Feb. 17)
The savage killing of three Israeli army recruits over the weekend by Arab guerrillas has stunned the country and badly tarnished the reputation of the Israel Defense Force, long hailed as one of the best disciplined and effective fighting forces in the world.
The soldiers, two of whom were immigrants from the former Soviet Union, were hacked to death as they slept in their lightly defended training billet at about midnight Saturday.
A fourth soldier suffered moderate wounds and is believed to have injured one of the three assailants, who escaped with stolen IDF weapons.
The IDF, which was still searching for the assailants Monday, is reeling under charges of negligence from the top levels of government.
The incident is the worst blow to the IDF’s prestige since a lone terrorist from Lebanon, crossing the border silently by hang-glider, killed six soldiers and wounded seven at an IDF base near Kiryat Shmona in Upper Galilee on the night of Nov.25, 1987.
The latest killings were part of a weekend of soaring tension and bloodshed barely a week before the bilateral peace talks between Israelis and Arabs were to resume in Washington.
According to radio broadcasts from Lebanon, amplified by loudspeaker in Arab towns and villages of the West Bank, the blow at the IDF was struck by the Black Panther group of Yasir Arafat’s Al Fatah branch of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
HEZBOLLAH LEADER GUNNED DOWN
Israel, convinced it was the work of Fatah even before the Black Panthers boasted of it, sent its air force on a fierce retaliatory strike Sunday against the Palestinian refugee camps at Ain Hilweh and Rashidiya in southern Lebanon. They are considered hotbeds of Fatah activity and have been bombed many times before by the Israelis.
This time, according to local reports, four people were killed, including two children, and nearly a dozen others were wounded.
In an apparently unrelated event Sunday afternoon, Israeli helicopter gunships, under the protective cover of jet fighters, blasted a motorcade in Lebanon carrying Sheik Abbas Musawi, leader of the Shi’ite fundamentalist Hezbollah.
Musawi, his wife, Shihan, and their 5-year-old son, Hussein, were killed, along with seven bodyguards, in a hail of machine gun and missile fire that set their cars aflame.
Hezbollah is held responsible for at least 20 of the 45 armed attacks in southern Lebanon since the Middle East peace conference that opened Oct. 30 in Madrid.
The pro-Iranian group has been trying to sabotage the peace talks by provocations, intimidation and violence.
Observers said it was unlikely that the assassination of Musawi was connected with the attack on the IDF encampment because it was too precise and well-planned an operation to have been organized in a few hours.
The attack on the IDF camp also bore the earmarks of a carefully planned operation. The killers used silent weapons — axes, knives and a pitchfork–to slaughter their victims.
The dead were identified as Pvt. Ya’acov Dubinsky, 30, from Carmiel; Pvt. Yuri Preda, 33, of Jaffa; and Cpl. Guy Friedman, 20, of Zichron Ya’acov, who was in charge of the training unit for the weekend. They were buried in their home towns Sunday.
The wounded recruit is Pvt. Sergei Zatziriyani, 29, of Haifa.
IMMIGRATED THREE YEARS AGO
Dubinsky, Preda and Zatziriyani immigrated from the Soviet Union about three years ago but were in the IDF only three weeks.
As with most immigrants, their military service had been deferred, and they were undergoing a condensed basic training course before being posted to reserve units.
The target was an unfenced training camp known as Nahal Training Base 80, at Galed, at the southern end of the Carmel range.
It is adjacent to a base used by Nahal, a branch of the IDF consisting mainly of soldiers who combine military and agricultural duties.
Israeli police say they have not completely ruled out the possibility that Israeli Arabs may have cooperated with West Bank Palestinians in preparing the attack. They base that on the high level of local intelligence that must have been supplied to the assailants.
The IDF chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Ehud Barak, has appointed a senior officer, Maj. Gen. Nehemia Tamari, to investigate the incident and submit a report to General Headquarters, probably before the end of the week.
He will try to establish how the attackers managed to penetrate the unfenced camp inside Israel proper without being discovered, then escape unharmed.
The investigation also will establish whether guards were correctly posted and if all IDF standing orders were obeyed.
Other questions are why the IDF placed raw recruits, with little or no experience handling weapons, in an open, barely defended area under the command of a corporal, instead of a more senior, experienced soldier; why the guard on duty had no ammunition for his rifle; and why the nearby Nahal unit did not immediately go to the aid of the recruits and organize a prompt search for the attackers.
A ‘SHAME AND A DISGRACE’
The incident is already referred to by the IDF top brass as a “major blunder,” indicating a general laxity of army discipline.
Former Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan, until recently minister of agriculture, called the incident a “shame and a disgrace” to the entire defense establishment.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, facing an election in June, told the Cabinet on Sunday that the incident was a “most serious” one “involving negligence.”
The attackers struck apparently after careful, systematic reconnaissance.
They approached the training camp from the east and skirted a row of five empty tents, whose occupants were on weekend leave. They attacked the center two of a row of four tents on the far side of a small square that contained the unit headquarters tent.
The attackers carried axes and knives. Their pitchfork was apparently picked up en route.
They murdered two soldiers in their sleep. A third soldier at the far end of the tent awoke to find himself menaced with a knife. By his account, he struck the intruder with his rifle just as he was being stabbed.
At that moment, the corporal in charge of the unit, awakened by the noise, left the command tent firing his rifle. He was fatally stabbed by one of the attackers.
The sound of shooting aroused the Nahal soldiers in a group of tents more than 300 yards away. But by the time they got organized for action, the assailants were gone.
Meanwhile, the violence of the weekend is having repercussions. On Monday, following the killing of Musawi, Katyusha rockets landed in Galilee and in the southern Lebanon security zone. No one was hurt and no damage was reported.
Later Monday, an Arab worker stabbed his Jewish employer in the back in the fields near Moshav Shuva in the Gaza Strip. The victim, Rafi Shmuel, 34, was taken to Soroka Hospital in Beersheba.