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Soldiers Punished for Failing to Prevent Terrorist Assault

March 9, 1988
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Four junior officers of the Israel Defense Force were sentenced to 35 days in military prison Monday, hours after they encountered three heavily armed terrorists on a Negev road who seized their car and went on to hijack a bus, resulting in the deaths of three Israeli civilians and the wounding of 10 others.

The swift justice was meted out by the commander of the officers training school at Mitzpe Ramon, in the Negev, where the officers were billeted. They were punished for disobedience of standing orders to carry weapons at all times.

The officers, who have not been identified, were unarmed and wore civilian clothes on the way to a sports event, when their Renault military car was halted by the terrorists. Had they been armed, they would have been expected to fight the terrorists, possibly averting the hijack and the subsequent casualties. Unable to defend themselves, they fled the scene.

The training school commander stressed Tuesday that he repeated his orders daily, to all officers and trainees at the school, to carry weapons at all times. “Even if one of my officers is on leave in Tel Aviv, say, I expect him to be able to take part in an anti-terrorist or other military operation at any and all times if he encounters such a situation,” the commander was quoted as saying.

Maariv reported Tuesday that the terrorists are believed to have infiltrated Israel from Egypt in the area of Mount Horesha, southwest of Mitzpe Ramon. Another terrorist gang infiltrated in the same area a month ago, but was swiftly apprehended.

The two incidents indicated a failure on the part of Egypt to catch terrorist infiltrators before they reach the Israeli border.

But Israel’s warning system also failed Monday. There is no electronic border fence in the Mount Horesha area and stormy weather apparently erased the terrorists’ footprints, which might have been spotted by Israeli border patrols.


Maariv writer Sheffi Gabai quoted Arab sources as saying that Egypt has assured Israel it is doing all it can to prevent terrorist infiltration. However, since Cairo re-established relations with the Palestine Liberation Organization, the PLO, assisted by some Egyptians and Palestinians living in Cairo and northern Sinai, has been building up forces for attacks on Israel, Gabai reported.

Israeli commentators attributed the bus hijacking and other recent escalations of terrorist activity in Israel to efforts by the PLO leadership to sabotage the Middle East peace process.

The bus was hijacked on the Beersheba-Dimona road. It was carrying employees of the Dimona nuclear facility, mostly women, to their jobs. While most of the 50 passengers managed to escape when the bus was halted, about a dozen remained aboard.

The only male passenger was reportedly shot to death by the terrorists while IDF officers were bargaining with them to gain time for border police to assemble to storm the bus.

Two women passengers were killed and nine were wounded when an elite unit of border police, specially trained in counterterrorist tactics, stormed the bus and killed the terrorists in an operation that lasted less than a minute.

It remained unclear Tuesday whether all of the casualties were the result of terrorist gunfire. Gen. Dan Shomron, the IDF chief of staff, said in Tel Aviv Tuesday that it was difficult to determine if any of the dead or injured were shot by Israeli forces. But he said there was a “high degree of probability” that all of the casualties were caused by the terrorists.

A doctor at Soroka hospital in Beersheba, who treated the wounded, said he thought at least one of them was hit by Israeli bullets.

The bus hijacking overshadowed the visit of Swedish Foreign Minister Sten Andersson, who arrived in Israel on Monday. It marred a dinner for Andersson hosted Monday night by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.


Andersson told reporters the attack on the bus was a “very stupid act” that could have a “negative effect.” He said Sweden deplored all such acts.

But an hour later, at the dinner, he did not delete from his prepared remarks a call on Israel to recognize the PLO. “A terrorist act which we strongly condemn further underlines the need for a peaceful solution,” he said.

Peres asked his guest why Sweden seems to prefer the PLO as a negotiating partner with Israel, rather than Jordan, of which most West Bank Palestinians are citizens. Nobody has brought them more suffering than the PLO, he said.

“I wonder what makes some of the Swedish people think that the PLO is superior to a Jordanian-Palestinian option,” Peres added.

Premier Yitzhak Shamir, who also spoke in Jerusalem Monday night, said, “The extent of our difficulties is illustrated by the events of the last 24 hours, when our security services prevented a potentially dangerous terrorist attack in the North and this morning three PLO terrorists tried to hijack a bus and in the subsequent military clash, all three murderers were killed. But to my deep sorrow, we lost three of our own people in the bus and a number were injured.”

The terrorist attack in the North occurred Saturday night, when an IDF patrol intercepted and killed three terrorists attempting to infiltrate Israel through the southern Lebanon security zone.

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