TEL AVIV (May. 31)
Top Israeli officials are holding Jordan responsible for a terrorist infiltration over the weekend that claimed the life of an Israeli watchman and might have led to a bloodbath on the Eilat beach.
But such a disaster was averted when Israeli security forces gunned down two heavily armed terrorist frogmen after they swam ashore south of Eilat early Saturday morning and murdered the night watchman at a Hebrew University research facility.
One of the killers was shot to death in an exchange of fire with police and Israel Defense Force soldiers shortly after the murder. The second was wounded and captured. Both apparently reached Israel by swimming from Aqaba in Jordan, less than four miles away.
Two other terrorists are believed to have drowned during the swim. All apparently belonged to an extremist Moslem religious organization.
According to the IDF high command, the type and quantity of their weapons and equipment indicated that the infiltrators planned a large-scale massacre of Israeli and foreign vacationers on the beach at Eilat, one of Israel’s major seaside resorts.
The murder victim was identified as Yosef Shirazi, 55, of Eilat. It was his second day on the job as night watchman at the Hebrew University’s Marine Biology Research Institute. According to the security service contractor that hired him, the job did not require him to be armed.
Shirazi was patrolling the institute grounds near Coral Beach, on the road from Eilat to the Egyptian border outpost at Taba, when he was shot to death at about 7 a.m. local time.
His assailants had changed from their scuba gear into track suits under which they wore bullet-proof vests.
The suits were designed to carry a large selection of arms, which included two Kalachnikov assault rifles with many rounds of ammunition, about 40 hand grenades and an LAW shoulder-mounted missile launcher.
In addition, a copy of the Koran was packed in the water-tight weapons containers that the invaders are believed to pushed ahead of them in their swim.
JORDAN DENIES RESPONSIBILITY
Defense Minister Moshe Arens and Benjamin Netanyahu, a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, held the Jordanian authorities responsible for the attack. They said the assailants carried weapons in use in the Jordanian army.
But Jordan denied responsibility or any connection with the incident Sunday. An official spokesman declared that Israel had no proof the infiltrators came from Jordan. He suggested they might have crossed the Sinai border from Egypt or come from “another country bordering on the Gulf.” The only other country is Saudi Arabia.
After first reports of the incident, top IDF brass flew to Eilat. They included the chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Ehud Barak; the commander of the southern region, Maj. Gen. Matan Vilnay; and the commanding officer of the Israeli navy, Micha Ram. They praised the prompt reaction of the IDF and local police and agreed that a major tragedy had been averted.
The shot that killed the watchman was heard by a passing taxi driver, who told his dispatcher by car phone to send the police.
The police arrived in minutes. They were told by four Israelis who had been sleeping on the beach that they had seen two men with rifles crossing the road and making for an IDF post in the overlooking hills.
The police, joined by soldiers, quickly tracked the gunmen and subdued them after a brief exchange of fire.
Eilat was closed to visitors for several hours after the attack while police and troops searched the area to make sure no other infiltrators had penetrated.
Hotels were instructed to keep their guests indoors until the all-clear was given. While local residents seemed tense Sunday morning, foreign visitors swam and sunbathed as usual.