I ‘A GRAVEYARD FOR PLOTTERS’
By 1951, when king Abdullah annexed the teeming West Bank, and was promptly assassinated by a Palestinian, the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan had become home to the largest number of Palestinian refugees, constituting two-thirds of its two million people. The CIA referred to the capital, Amman, as a ‘Palestinian city’. Jordan was an important Western ally, to which the United States contributed aid worth US$47 million per annum. It was also where the main Fatah bases were situated, from which cross-border raids were launched into Israel. This raised grave problems, not all of them connected with Israeli reprisals, which because of their scale and focused firepower attracted more attention than the spasmodic lethal raids that provoked them.
Very few Westerners have any experience of armed paramilitaries in their midst, unless they have memories of the occupying Wehrmacht or the Provos in Dundalk, a town in Eire nicknamed ‘El Paso’. The posturing arrogance of armed Palestinian fighters compounded older animosities between the refugees and the indigenous Transjordanian population. The Jordanians, like many Arabs, regarded the Palestinians as akin to Jews: better educated, go-getting, more cosmopolitan and more urbanised than they were. In their eyes the Palestinians were cowards who had failed to fight for their own country in 1948. Many Palestinians were correspondingly contemptuous of the ‘barefoot’ Jordanian Bedouin, the fiercely proud nomads who were heavily represented in the Jordanian armed forces. By the late 1960s there were some fifty-two separate armed Palestinian groups active in Jordan. Sometimes Yasser Arafat appeared to be in control of these multifarious groups; mostly he preferred to indulge his lifelong affinity with drama and chaos, for as events unfolded there seemed little method behind his actions as he flitted from one attention-seeking drama to another.
Some of these armed groups were tools of neighbouring states, such as Iraq or Syria, others - notably the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine led by the former medical practitioner George Habash - sought to overthrow reactionary Arab governments, including that of his host king Hussein. As we shall see, the former Fatah member Sabri el-Banna, known as Abu Nidal, would constitute a further layer of complication when as a self-proclaimed rejectionist he declared war on the PLO as well as the Jews and Israelis, while acting as a hired assassin for various Arab governments. His role was emulated with gusto by the freelance Venezuelan Marxist-Leninist murderer Illich Ramirez Sanchez, nicknamed ‘Carlos the Jackal’. The Japanese Red Army would contribute a peculiarly sadistic note to these years. Its internal practices, evident from the tortured corpses of comrades buried around the scene of the winter 1972 siege of its snowy hideaway north of Tokyo, were more redolent of the cultic American mass murderer Charles Manson than of a typical terrorist movement. In addition to the dramatis personae, the tactics employed went international too.
Most of these radical Palestinian factions believed in internationalising their cause through the tactic of air piracy, a crime hitherto mostly confined to political refugees or, in the US where it was most frequent, to extortionists, the deranged and admirers of Fidel Castro, for virtually every hijacked aircraft in the 1960s was diverted from the US to Cuba. Uniquely horrifying because of the vulnerabilities of people held at gunpoint at thirty thousand feet, hijackings occurred so often - for there were no armed sky marshals, passenger screening or reinforced cabins - that pilots took plans of Havana’s José Marti runways on flights south to Florida, the routes where most hijackings occurred. There was even a routine form for the US to complete and lodge with the neutral Swiss embassy in Washington, to extricate stranded aircraft, passengers and crew from Cuba. In the summer of 1968 the tactic was globalised when PFLP terrorists commandeered an El Al flight and diverted it to Algeria, releasing non-Israelis while keeping the Israelis captive, in a clear act of ethno-religious malice. After two months, a threat by the International Airline Pilots Association to boycott Algeria resulted in the release of the hijacked passengers. When in August 1969 two Palestinians hijacked a TWA flight to Syria, the US quietly put pressure on the Israelis to release Palestinian prisoners to secure the freedom of the hijackers’ Israeli hostages. This would not be repeated, pour décourager les autres.1
Israeli armed intervention in Jordan to suppress guerrilla bands at source, and the strutting, extortionate behaviour of Palestinian fighters on the streets of Amman and elsewhere, forced king Hussein to crack down on the state within a state developing in his kingdom. For that is how one Palestinian fedayeen leader recalled it: ‘We were mini-states and institutions. Every sector commander considered himself God… everyone set up a state for himself and did what he pleased.’ Weapons were openly brandished and Palestinian fighters went around in vehicles without Jordanian licence plates. Local policemen were treated with contempt whenever they tried to do their job.
After armed clashes between the Jordanian army and Palestinian fighters, in which the latter allegedly celebrated one victory by playing football with the head of a Jordanian soldier, Hussein instituted a crackdown. He banned Palestinians from roaming around brandishing weapons, while Arafat agreed not to venture cross-border raids without the kingdom’s express agreement. This undertaking, and the many similar agreements between Arafat and Hussein afterwards, were systematically flouted by the Fatah leader whose word invariably failed to bond. In February 1970 Hussein instituted yet another attempt to curb fedayeen activity, in an atmosphere in which Palestinian militants thought Jordan (and Egypt) might betray them in the interests of a US-brokered deal with Israel. At a graduation ceremony for Fatah recruits in August 1970, Arafat warned Hussein: ‘We shall turn Jordan into a graveyard for plotters.’ This tough Palestinian rhetoric was invariably followed by Jordanian appeasement as the king reversed his own earlier measures to constrain the fedayeen.
Armed clashes between Jordanian troops and Palestinian fedayeen grew more serious, including two attempts on the life of the king, in one of which his motorcade was sprayed with machine-gun fire. Both sides sought external support. Arafat thought he had secured promises of military help from Syria as well as from the seventeen thousand Iraqi expeditionary troops permanently stationed in Jordan. However, he also managed to alienate Nasser by criticising his acceptance of a US-brokered peace with Israel. With US assistance, Hussein desperately turned to Israel to see whether it would deter Syria from intervening in the civil war threatening to break out in his kingdom. He also quietly squared the Iraqis, securing an agreement with the army commander, general Hardan al-Takriti, that Iraq’s Eastern Command would not intervene. The deal was even secretly taped by Hussein, and played back to demoralise captured Palestinian leaders. Some time later Iraq’s president Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr explained to the PLO leaders why he had cut a deal with Hussein: ‘you in the Palestinian resistance have nine lives, like a cat. If they kill you, you can rise again. But we are a regime!’2
Hussein’s fear that he was losing control of Jordan was confirmed when in early September 1970 Habash’s PFLP hijacked three aircraft, landing two of them - a Swissair DC-8 and a TWA Boeing 707 - at Dawsons Field, a remote airfield at Zarka in Jordan’s deserts. The hijackers demanded the release of Palestinians held by Israel and various European governments; the US held no Palestinians prisoner, with the exception of the lunatic who had shot Robert Kennedy. A week later a BOAC VC-10 joined the other aircraft, so around four hundred people were trapped in what felt like metal cigar containers left out in the relentless desert sun. The British government of Edward Heath immediately capitulated to PFLP demands by releasing the svelte guerrilla Leila Khaled whom El Al security personnel had delivered to the British authorities after she was overpowered in an earlier hijacking. More concerned with the Soviet Union, China and Vietnam than a second-tier problem like the Middle East, president Richard Nixon persuaded the Israelis to release some Palestinian prisoners, while also insisting on improved security measures on US airlines. The hijacking opened up rifts between the PLO and PFLP, since Arafat did not want all of this international attention focused on Jordan as he prepared to overthrow its government. Fifty hostages remained, not on the three aircraft, which were blown up in a fit of maniacal pique, but in Amman, even as king Hussein and Arafat went to war.
On 17 September loyal Jordanian forces converged on the PLO headquarters in Amman, while Arafat, who had taken no preparatory steps to fight a hot war, impertinently told the king to leave his own country, a demand he repeated later on Radio Baghdad. A ‘Republic of Palestine’ was proclaimed in the northern city of Irbid. Heavily armed Jordanian troops used artillery and tanks to crush the PLO within the refugee camps, in eleven days of fighting that left some three thousand people dead. Seventy Palestinian guerrillas elected to wade across the Jordan to surrender to the Israelis rather than put themselves at the tender mercies of the Jordanians, a telling comment on the fragilities of intra-Arab solidarities. The US reinforced its Sixth Fleet and despatched elements of the 82nd Airborne Division from North Carolina, although they were recalled in mid-air. Israeli armoured convoys rumbled towards the small Syrian tank force that intervened, sending the latter scuttling homewards. After bold intervention by the Sudanese leader, acting as a proxy for the Arab League in Cairo, Arafat was smuggled out of Jordan dressed as a Kuwaiti dignitary. In Cairo, he and Hussein made their respective cases to the Arab leaders, with each accusing the other of betrayal. While they glowered at each other outside the conference room, the Arab leaders on 27 September patched together a deal regularising Palestinian guerrilla activity within Jordan that both men were obliged to accept. Of course, neither did, and fighting erupted again. The new Jordanian prime minister, Wasfi Tal, pushed the guerrillas out of the capital while confining the remainder to ever diminishing pockets around Ajlun and Jerash. After arranging a meeting with the king in Amman, Arafat thought better of it while en route to Amman, and ordered the car to cross over into Syria, while many of his fighters withdrew to Lebanon in what amounted to a second flight. The so-called Nakbah (catastrophe) of 1948 had been joined by the 1970 ‘Black September’ in the Palestinian mythology of noble fighters and dark betrayals. Shortly afterwards, Abu Nidal in Baghdad began broadcasting attacks on his former Fatah colleagues, accusing them of cowardice and condemning them for concluding a ceasefire with king Hussein.
In 1971 Arafat joined his men in Lebanon, who eventually numbered about 2,400, making Beirut the headquarters for future Palestinian operations. Southern Lebanon was soon dubbed ‘Fatahland’. President Nixon was less polite, asking, ‘Why is Lebanon harbouring those sons of bitches?’ Although Lebanon did not have the large Palestinian presence Arafat had left behind in Jordan, it had other advantages. Beirut was a major cosmopolitan city, for guerrillas were not immune to the high life, with easy access to the international media, some of whom were susceptible to the lure of revolutionary chic. More importantly the Lebanese government was weak and based on delicate ethno-religious compromises that could be undone with the slightest tip in the demographic balance. In 1948 there were already 180,000 Palestinian refugees in camps dotted along Lebanon’s southern coast and in Beirut’s western suburbs. By the 1960s they constituted 10 per cent of Lebanon’s population. Fedayeen fighters in the south attacked Israel’s northern settlements, disregarding the ineffectual Lebanese army and the mounting concerns of Lebanon’s Maronite Christians. Armed clashes between Lebanese troops and Fatah guerrillas led Nasser to broker a deal in November 1969, whereby the Palestinians would co-ordinate their activities with the Lebanese armed forces while refraining from interference in the internal politics of the host country. In reality, this Cairo Agreement included no mechanisms to ensure such co-ordination or to police infractions of it. Moreover, Arafat was increasingly partial to the ambitious Druze leftist Kamal Jumblatt (the Druze were a minority religious sect) and was helping to train the Lebanese Shia Amal militia, evidence of his persistent meddling in the politics of the host country. When Syria’s president Hafaz al-Assad imposed tighter controls on the three to four thousand Fatah fedayeen he had allowed in from Jordan, they decamped and joined their fellow militants in the Arqoub region of southern Lebanon, swelling the number of available fighters.3
With some organisational skill, Arafat and his colleagues set about constructing a state within a state in Lebanon, resembling the one they had been forced to abandon in Jordan. For it is surely noteworthy that just as the Palestinians had baulked at UN partition in 1947, a better deal than they would ever achieve in the ensuing decades, they also repeated in Lebanon the behaviour that had led them to being thrown out of Jordan. Donations from Arab states, above all Saudi Arabia, and the tithe levied on expatriate Palestinians working in Europe, the Middle East and the US were used to construct a parallel polity, with courts, hospitals, schools and training camps for the Palestinian refugee community. The PLO opened some thirty-five industrial concerns, manufacturing a variety of consumer goods, in and around Beirut, with Arafat as chief executive officer of this PLO Inc. In addition to these legitimate activities, PLO militants carried out bank robberies and kidnappings, making their own contribution to the destabilisation of one of the few parliamentary democracies ever to have existed in the Middle East.
Revenge for those blamed for Black September came fast, as Arabs practised the old way of an eye for an eye. At lunchtime on 28 November 1971, the Jordanian prime minister Wasfi Tal went up the steps of the Sheraton hotel in Cairo to meet his wife after a morning of Arab League negotiations. As he crossed the crowded lobby looking for her, a young man, later identified as Essat Rabah, fired five shots into him, scattering his bodyguards. Tal’s dying words were ‘They’ve killed me. Murderers, they believe only in fire and destruction.’ Another assassin, Manzur Khalifa, knelt down to lap up blood from the pool spreading beneath Tal’s body. His lower face smeared red, Khalifa shouted: ‘I am proud! Finally I have done it. We have taken our revenge on a traitor.’ Stumbling towards the commotion, Tal’s wife screamed: ‘Palestine is finished!’ As the assassins were captured and driven away by Egyptian security officials, they shouted triumphantly: ‘We are Black September!’ Two weeks later an Algerian gunman loitering on a quiet Kensington street emptied a submachine gun into the car carrying Zeid al-Rifai, the Jordanian ambassador to London and a key adviser to king Hussein. The ambassador was wounded in the hand. Egypt quietly released on the PLO’s recognisance the four men sent for trial for murdering Tal. They vanished. Similarly, although the French authorities captured Frazeh Khelfa, the man who had shot at the Jordanian ambassador in London, they quickly put him on a plane to Algeria where he was allegedly wanted for earlier offences. Meanwhile, Black September struck at various targets in Europe. Five Jordanians said to have collaborated with Israel were murdered in a St Valentine’s Day-style massacre in a basement in Brühl in Germany. Gulf Oil storage tanks were blown up in Holland, while an Esso pipeline was attacked near Hamburg.
Black September was the terrorist organisation which Arafat founded in Damascus in August and September 1971, initially to wage a terrorist war against the Jordanian monarchy. He admitted as much when, referring to Tal’s murder on PLO Radio, he described the assassins as ‘four of our revolutionaries’. The point of Black September was that it was deniable. In the words of one of its commanders: ‘[Black September] was separate from Fatah so that Fatah and the PLO would not have to carry opprobrium for our operations. The group, as individuals and as a leadership, was responsible for its own successes and failures without compromising the legitimate leadership of the Palestinian people [the PLO].’4
It had a collective leadership, with the officers able to draw upon Fatah and the PFLP’s existing pool of men for each operation. The leaders included the former school teacher Salah Khalef (or Abu Iyad), Abu Youssef (Mohammed Youssef al-Najjar), Ghazi el-Husseini (a relative of the mufti), Fakhri al-Umari, Abu Daoud and Abu Hassan (Ali Hassan Salameh), all senior Fatah figures working under this new flag of convenience. Abu Iyad was head of Fatah’s secretive Reconnaissance Department, Jihaz el-Razd, into which he had recruited the young Ali Hassan Salameh, the son of the renowned Hassan Salameh, with a brief to uncover and kill Israeli double-agents. Arafat sent all of these future Black September leaders on specialised training courses organised by the Egyptian Mukhabarat, the generic name for Arab intelligence agencies.5
At the age of twenty-five, Salameh had walked into the PLO’s Amman offices during the 1967 Six-Day Arab war with Israel. This was a victory of family sentiment. Salameh’s father had been killed when he was six. His mother, and a sister named Jihad, never allowed him to forget the heroic life of his father, or the ancestral home in Kulleh which the victorious Israelis had flattened. For women, and especially mothers and grandmothers, were crucial in fanning the fires of hatred across the family generations, constantly reminding young males of the great deeds of their fathers, or jolting their emotions with idealised details of a way of life the family and an entire people had lost. It is worth quoting the sort of emotional pressures this super-terrorist was subjected to:
The influence of my father posed a personal problem to me. I grew up in a family which considered struggle a matter of heritage which should be carried on by generation after generation. My upbringing was politicised. I lived the Palestinian cause.
When my father fell as a martyr, Palestine was passed to me, so to speak. My mother wanted me to be another Hassan Salameh at a time when the most any Palestinian could hope for was to live a normal life.
Clearly that included him, for it was not automatic that he wished to become a terrorist:
I wanted to be myself. The fact that I was required to live up to the image of my father created a problem for me. Even as a child, I had to follow a certain pattern of behaviour. I could not afford to live my childhood. I was made constantly conscious of the fact that I was the son of Hassan Salameh and had to live up to that, even without being told how the son of Hassan Salameh should live.
It was not a deprived childhood, in material respects, for the father had bequeathed the large sums he had accrued before and during the Arab Revolt. The family lived in Damascus and then Beirut, with Ali Hassan Salameh sent to the famous Maqassed College and then Bir-Zeit university in the West Bank. He spent time at various German universities, studying engineering, but mainly indulging his taste for fancy sports cars and attractive women. Salameh cultivated a macho image, always dressing in black - with gold medallions - and spending a lot of time body-building and learning karate. In 1963 his mother persuaded him to marry a member of the Husseini clan, a union to which the aged mufti gave his blessing, although the groom would quickly embark on extramarital liaisons. The Six-Day War was the first intimation that he was responsive to family obligation, his illustrious name guaranteeing that the new recruit would soon come to the notice of Arafat. That is a key way ahead in many terrorist organisations.6
Black September’s first attempt to outdo Habash’s PFLP in the arena of spectacular hijackings was a disaster. In early May 1972, four terrorists - two men and two women - commandeered a Sabena flight from Brussels to Tel Aviv shortly after it left Vienna on the second leg of its journey. The British pilot relayed to Tel Aviv the hijackers’ demand for two hundred Palestinian prisoners to be released in exchange for the eighty-seven passengers. When the aircraft landed at Tel Aviv, Israeli special forces, disguised in white ground-crew overalls, sabotaged it - draining the hydraulics and deflating its tyres - while negotiators sought to wear down the hijackers. Meanwhile, special forces personnel practised storming a Boeing 707 at another airport, honing their assault to ninety seconds’ duration. It took less than that time to carry out the mission when it happened. One hijacker was shot between the eyes by a soldier who appeared through an emergency hatch; another was killed with a couple of pistol shots. The two females were overpowered and captured. Any rejoicing at this operation proved premature. For Abu Iyad and other members of Black September had been to an international terrorist convention hosted by Habash at the Baddawi refugee camp in Lebanon, where it was decided to thwart attempts to profile terrorists by making use of a sort of double-indemnity method like the murders which two strangers plot while on a train in the 1951 Hitchcock thriller. Here the participating Japanese Red Army became relevant, its very strangeness in a Middle East context almost guaranteeing world interest. Its members were warriors who went to war with Rimbaud poems and small origami dolls in their pockets.
On 30 May 1972 an Air France jet landed at Israel’s Lod airport after a final stopover at Rome on its long flight from Puerto Rico. It was 10 p.m. before the passengers, many of them Baptist and Pentecostal pilgrims visiting the Holy Land, entered the hall to retrieve their baggage. No one paid much attention to three young Japanese men, Takeshi Okidoro, Yasuiki Yashuda and Kozo Okamoto, none of these names being the ones on their passports, which by now had no photographs either, as they lifted three fibreglass cases from the conveyor belt.
Instead of exiting through customs, they laid the cases on the floor and withdrew grenades and Czech VZI-58 submachine guns. They raked the baggage hall with gunfire, pausing to toss grenades amid their fellow passengers. The hall filled with smoke, noise, screams and the pungent reek of cordite. The pilgrims’ leader, Reverend Manuel Vega, saw his wife shot dead before a sharp pain hit him in the chest. Fortunately for him, what would have been a fatal bullet lost propulsion as it passed through his pocket Bible. Twenty-four people were killed, and a further seventy wounded, before Yashuda was accidentally shot by one of his comrades and Okidoro blew his own head off with a hand grenade that exploded prematurely as he tried to throw it through the luggage aperture to the parking bays. Only Okamoto attempted to escape via the airport runways, throwing grenades at stationary planes as he weaved past, before a brave El Al employee managed to floor him. During interrogations - which yielded a response from the silent Japanese only when the Israelis (falsely) promised to supply him with a revolver and a bullet to commit suicide - Okamoto shed some light on how he and his Rengo Sekigun (Japanese Red Army) comrades had decided to turn an airport into a charnel house, with spidery channels or long splashes of blood between corpses and abandoned luggage.
The son of a primary school head and a teacher, Okamoto had studied agriculture at a minor college, quickly becoming disillusioned with the ‘mere masturbation’ of student politics with silly posters of Che Guevara on the college dorm walls. He followed his elder brother Takeshi into the Red Army, his first task being to screen to students a movie entitled Declaration of World War by the Red Army and PFLP. In September 1971 he went to Beirut for military training. In early summer 1972 the PFLP put him through a more rigorous programme including handling explosives, the last three days being devoted to the layout of Lod airport. He then embarked on a sightseeing trip to Europe with his two comrades, the cover needed for them to board the Air France jet as it made its final stop at Rome from Puerto Rico. In keeping with the bizarre, cultic character of the Red Army, whose chief casualties hitherto had been members sexually abused, tortured and done to death by their comrades, Okamoto made several Delphic utterances about desiring to become a star within Orion, the fate he wished to share with his victims. Sentenced to life imprisonment, Okamoto eventually converted to Judaism, using nail clippers to perform a botched circumcision that nearly killed him. He currently lives somewhere in Lebanon after his release from prison in 1985 as part of a hostage exchange involving three captured Israeli soldiers who were swapped for 1,150 Palestinians.
Responses to this attack varied. In Japan, where the father of another terrorist had been so ashamed that he hung himself, Okamoto’s own father wrote the following to the Israeli authorities: ‘For forty years I thought I had devoted myself faithfully to the education of our young people. Please punish my son with the death sentence without delay.’ The Japanese government also paid substantial compensation to the families of the victims. In Puerto Rico, Japanese engineers at the Panasonic factory were advised to leave the country because of the intensity of popular outrage provoked by the events at Lod airport. Libya’s eccentric leader colonel Ghaddafi typically held the Japanese up as a model for the Palestinians: ‘Why should a Palestinian not carry out such an operation? You will see them writing books and magazines full of theories, but otherwise unable to carry out one daring operation like that carried out by the Japanese.’7
As if this enormity were not enough, Black September was plotting its most spectacular attack. The pretext was that the International Olympic Committee had brusquely ignored a request from the Palestinians to be represented in September 1972 at the Munich Games. More relevant was possibly the presence of some six thousand print, radio and television journalists, with the first live satellite broadcasts - the US media pioneered this in 1968 - capable of reaching audiences of billions. A huge television tower would ensure that the world watched as sports commentators found themselves spectators at a massacre, with both commentators and terrorists having a vested interest in the telling detail and the longevity of the unfolding drama. The modern dialectic of commentators, studio-based experts and terrorists had come of age.
The projected attack, on a small Israeli team consisting mainly of fencers, weightlifters and wrestlers, was plotted by leading figures in Fatah and Black September, namely Abu Iyad, Abu Daoud, Fuad al-Shamali, and Ali Hassan Salameh. ‘We have to kill their most important and most famous people. Since we cannot come close to their statesmen, we have to kill artists and sportsmen,’ in the words of Fuad al-Shamali, the Lebanese Christian who plotted the Munich attack before his death in August 1972 from cancer. These men selected the two leaders of the attacking terrorist team, while the latter in turn selected six accomplices from a pool of men put through specialist training somewhere in Lebanon. These six then received intensified training, especially in jumping from high walls, at an Egyptian secret police facility near Cairo. Insofar as these men had any common profile it was that they had grown up in the Chatila refugee camp in Beirut and four, including the team leader Luttif Afif, code-named ‘Issa’, had studied or worked in Germany. One had worked on the construction of the Olympic Village; another had been a cook or waiter in one of the canteens; a third had a German wife.
Their weapons arrived in Germany in late August 1972. Abu Iyad shepherded a well-dressed middle-aged Arab couple through Frankfurt airport. A customs officer stopped them and asked to inspect their suitcases, much to the annoyance of the supposed businessman, who protested loudly. The first and only case he opened revealed piles of women’s underwear which in turn triggered voluble protests from the man’s wife. The customs officer waved them through. The other two cases contained grenades, pistols and eight AK-47 Kalashnikovs. Abu Daoud met the group and helped store the weapons in lockers at Munich’s railway station; he then waited for the attacks in his hotel room. Ali Hassan Salameh flew to East Berlin to watch the discomfort of the Federal Republic unfold from the safe haven of its Marxist-Leninist rival.
The full terrorist team met for the first time at a restaurant in Munich station on the eve of the attack. It was code-named ‘Ikrit and Birim’ in honour of two Maronite villages that the Israelis had destroyed in 1948. It commenced at 4.30 a.m. on 5 September when eight Palestinians, wearing tracksuits and carrying heavy sports bags, sauntered towards the fence surrounding the Olympic Village. A group of drunken Americans returning from a party obligingly helped them climb the fence. They made for Connollystrasse 31, one of a series of low-rise flats where athletes and their trainers were housed. There they donned ski masks and took out weapons from the sports bags. Using a key they had purloined, the group quietly tried the lock of the door to apartment 1. This scratching sound awoke a wrestling referee called Yossef Gutfreund who, half asleep, went to the door. On seeing armed men through the crack, he used his capacious bulk to keep them outside. Gutfreund’s desperate shouts led a weightlifting trainer to smash a window and flee outside. The terrorists forced their way past Gutfreund and burst into the apartment. The wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg grabbed a fruit knife and slashed at Luttif. Another terrorist shot Weinberg in the face. Taking Weinberg with them, the terrorists went past apartment 2, which contained more Israeli athletes, and headed along the street to apartment 3 where the weightlifters and wrestlers lodged. They were captured and taken back out into the street towards apartment 1. In that moment a wrestler managed to break loose and flee into an underground car park. The wounded Weinberg smashed one of the terrorists in the face, breaking his jaw, before he was scythed down by submachine-gun fire and left dying in the street. As lights flashed on as a result of the commotion, the terrorists herded their captives back into apartment 1 and up its internal stairs. At that point, a weightlifter called Yossef Romano, who was on crutches because of a ligament injury, hurled himself at his guards. He was shot dead and left in the middle of the floor of the room where the Israeli hostages were held. At around 5 a.m. the first calls alerting the head of the Munich police and, forty-five minutes later, Golda Meir’s government began to make this a major diplomatic, as well as a human, crisis.
Hostage-taking is the simple preliminary to the more complex process of demands and negotiation. The attack had been facilitated by major security lapses. The Israelis themselves had not made enough of where their team was housed, in a building with direct access from the street, nor had they insisted on having armed security guards. Keen to dispel memories of the 1936 Berlin Games, the Bavarian authorities had decided to convert policemen into friendly stewards, equipped with walkie-talkies and a smile rather than pistols and submachine guns, to underline the ‘Peace and Joy’ theme of their Games. Access to the Olympic Village seemed incredibly easy to effect.8
The Black September team had been given two sets of written terms; the first demanded the release by 9 a.m. of two hundred Palestinian and foreign terrorist prisoners, including the two female Sabena hijackers and Okamoto; the second offered an extended period for negotiations, but demanded a plane to fly the terrorists and their captives out of Germany, preferably to Egypt or Morocco. These conditions were backed up by threats to execute their hostages by specific deadlines. In practice the first demand was otiose since the deadline had almost expired before the first senior German officials in Bonn had been notified of these events. Initial negotiations with Issa were conducted by the Munich police chief, Manfred Schreiber, first on the telephone and then face to face. During these meetings Schreiber wondered whether he could seize the grenade clasped in Issa’s hand as the two men talked across a low balcony. Since the Israeli government ruled out any hostages-for-prisoners exchange, the ball was firmly in the Germans’ court, their only option being to spin out the negotiations - postponing the looming deadlines - while they considered what to do. One delaying tactic was to introduce a senior political figure into the talks who could guarantee whatever bargains were struck, this being the lot of Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the federal government interior minister. At one point he courageously offered to enter the apartment to see the Israeli captives; he was horrified by the sight of them tied to chairs, with Romano’s corpse on the floor, and bloodstains and bullet holes up and down the walls. This visit reinforced the feeling among the Germans that they were dealing with fanatics.
While German negotiators tried to wear down their terrorist interlocutors, the Bavarian police took up positions for a rescue attempt. This collapsed at the initial hurdle as thousands of spectators sitting on neighbouring high ground cheered the police on as they crawled over rooftops, while the Palestinian terrorists in Connollystrasse 31 watched their approach on television. Recognising that storming a building in which terrorists had had time to entrench themselves was a bad idea, the Germans decided to effect the hostages’ release somewhere along their transfer from Connollystrasse to a neighbouring airport. Gradually a plan evolved to fly the terrorists and their hostages in two helicopters to a military airfield at Fürstenfeldbruck, where the terrorists would become vulnerable to police snipers as they crossed to a waiting Lufthansa jet primed to fly them to a destination yet to be determined. This plan went awry when the police suddenly flew the snipers back to the Olympic Village, having thought they could bushwhack the terrorists as they went through an underground car park to the helicopters. On an inspection, Issa noticed figures flitting about in the car-park shadows and demanded a door-to-door bus to the helicopters instead. The five police snipers were hastily returned to the airport. At around ten, eight terrorists emerged, guns at the ready, and shepherded their nine hostages - all bound together - on to the bus. Two helicopters lifted them into the night sky towards Fürstenfeldbruck airfield. Already there was a major flaw in the police plan because until then they had assumed there were only five terrorists. Now there seemed to be eight, with only five snipers to shoot them. Soon there would be four more hostages; the four crew of the police helicopters flying the terrorists to Fürstenfeldbruck.
The original police plan had assumed that at least two terrorists, including Issa their leader, would seek to inspect the waiting Lufthansa Boeing jet on the tarmac. They could be shot or captured by police masquerading as flight crew in and around the aircraft, while the snipers simultaneously shot their ‘three’ comrades guarding the hostages in the two helicopters. On inspecting the Boeing the police commandos realised their own potential vulnerability once bullets started flying around its flimsy interior. Taking German democracy too far they held a vote and refused to take on the mission. That left the snipers on their own. The helicopters bearing the terrorists and their captives landed, their stationary rotor blades casting confusing shadows because a handful of badly positioned floodlights had been switched on. Not only did the police snipers, who were amateur competition marksmen rather than uniformed assassins, not have a clear line of fire, but they had not been equipped with radios to communicate with each other or their controllers. They had no helmets or protective vests either, which meant that they lacked confidence to shoot from exposed positions. Their rifles lacked both long barrels and telescopic or night sights, meaning that when they fired it was not very discriminating. Issa and his deputy inspected the Lufthansa jet, quickly realising that something was amiss. As they ran back towards the helicopters, the police snipers opened fire, bringing down Issa’s deputy with a shot in his leg. So did the terrorists, who, lying beneath the two helicopters, raked the surrounding buildings with automatic gunfire. As police bullets whacked into the two helicopters, the terrorists inside machine-gunned their Israeli hostages, blowing up one of the helicopters with hand grenades. This turned into an inferno, carbonising the bodies of the hostages inside. After two and a half hours of gunfire, it emerged that five of the terrorists had been shot dead, and all nine hostages had been killed. The remaining three terrorists survived and were captured by the police. As the world mourned the dead athletes, the bodies of the dead terrorists were flown to Libya where they were welcomed as martyrs. Ali Hassan Salameh quietly slipped out of East Germany to Lebanon where he was accorded a hero’s welcome. Arafat himself embraced him saying: ‘I love you as my son.’
III WAR OF THE SPOOKS
Munich was a tactical failure for the Palestinians but a strategic success. They had not succeeded in having a single Palestinian terrorist released, and two-thirds of their men had died along with the Israeli hostages. However, an indifferent world could no longer plead ignorance of the Palestinian cause, since nearly a billion people had watched these events on television and many more had probably read about them in their newspapers. The PLO was inundated with recruits in the Arab world. Moreover, they had forced their way into an international event from which they had been excluded, albeit in a way that was the antithesis of the Olympic spirit. The fiasco on the airport tarmac had other repercussions, notably in the field of counter-terrorism. President Nixon instituted the first Inter-Departmental Working Group on Terrorism, under national security advisor Henry Kissinger. US airport security was considerably tightened, through screening of passengers and their baggage, and the close scrutiny of Arabs seeking visas. European governments took the more radical step of forming specialised anti-terrorist units to effect the rescue of hostages. These included Germany’s Grenzschutzgruppe Neun, or GSG-9, France’s Groupe d’Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale (GIGN) and the counter-revolutionary warfare detachment of Britain’s SAS. It was not until 1977 that the US formed something called Blue Light, the precursor of its Delta Force, the model being the German border police’s GSG-9.
Israel’s response to this international outrage against its sportsmen was immediate, once the nation had recovered from the initial shock of Jews being murdered on German soil three decades after the Holocaust. Warplanes bombed ten Palestinian guerrilla encampments in Syria and Lebanon, causing two hundred civilian casualties. Three armoured columns clanked and rumbled into southern Lebanon, destroying over a hundred houses of suspected PLO guerrillas. Such attacks may have expressed Israel’s rage and fury, but they did not touch the leaders of Black September in their Beirut apartments. More focused operations were launched, albeit with the risk of killing or maiming postmen and zealous secretaries. Israel had done this before. In the mid-1950s Israel had assassinated two Egyptian colonels whom they blamed for orchestrating horrifying fedayeen attacks on civilians within Israel. Both men were killed by bombs hidden in books. In the early 1960s Israel waged a campaign of intimidation, kidnapping and assassination against German engineers and scientists helping Nasser develop long-range rockets. A number of innocent people were also maimed or killed as the targets did not always oblige by opening their own mail.
Immediately after Munich, several Fatah leaders in Algeria, Egypt and Libya were seriously injured by mysterious letter bombs. By way of retaliation a Mossad agent in the Israeli embassy in Brussels was lured to a cafe where a putative Arab double-agent suddenly shot him in the body and head. A short while later, Black September members assassinated a Syrian radio reporter in Paris who had allegedly collaborated with Mossad. A total of sixty-four letter bombs arrived at Israeli embassies; one exploded in London killing an agricultural attache eagerly expecting a package of seeds from Holland. It worked on the same principle as a mousetrap. As soon as the package was opened, it released a spring detonator which set off a strip of plastic explosive. Israeli letter bombs severely injured Palestinian student activists in Bonn and Stockholm.
This tit-for-tat climate influenced the Mossad chief, Zvi Zamir, who after returning from Munich - where he had watched the shambolic performance of the Germans, who ignored his sage advice - urged prime minister Golda Meir to focus on bringing terror to the terrorists by assassinating the leaders of Black September and anyone who had helped facilitate its Munich operation. General Aharon Yariv was brought in to force discrete Israeli intelligence agencies to pull together in the common cause, while computers were introduced to speed up the collation of intelligence data on people with complex Arabic patronymics and operational pseudonyms.
The modus operandi was clothed in pseudo-legality. Israeli overseas intelligence would gather information on a terrorist suspect, building up a dossier that became the basis of an indictment. Acting as ‘prosecutor’ the head of Mossad would then present this to the prime minister and members of her (or his) cabinet, constituting the judge and jury. There was no ‘defence’ attorney. A special Mossad unit, code-named ‘Caesarea’, led by a veteran agent, who may have been named Mike Hariri, forty-six years old, would then set in motion operational planning. Over time Caesarea developed three specialised sub-services. Logistics experts arranged lodgings and transport, and usually spoke the local language of the target theatre. Surveillance teams, including a large number of women, kept the target under observation, sometimes for months at a time. The killers, who worked in pairs - and were known as number 1 and number 2 - were drawn from Israeli special forces. Usually they were covered by two others to expedite their getaway. There were also experts in bomb making and burglary whom we have still to encounter. Once an assassination was imminent, the plans would be referred back to the prime minister’s Committee X for a final verdict. So much for the theory.
In fact, the targets for these assassinations were chosen as much for their operational feasibility as for the subject’s links with the Munich slayings, as Mossad figures have subsequently conceded. This is an important point which needs to be heard from the horse’s mouth, a senior intelligence officer involved:
You didn’t need blood on your hands for us to assassinate you. If there was intelligence information, the target was reachable, and if there was an opportunity, we took it. As far as we were concerned we were creating deterrence, forcing them to crawl into a defensive shell and not plan offensive attacks against us. But in this field there is also a slippery slope. Sometimes decisions are made based on operational ease. It’s not that the assassinated were innocent, but if a plan existed, and those were often easiest for the soft targets, you were condemned to death.
In other words, the preliminary analytical intelligence on a given person could be bent or sensationalised by the operatives who carried out these assassinations because of that target’s relative accessibility.
The first ‘soft target’ was Wael Zu’aytir, a thirty-six-year-old translator at the Libyan embassy in Rome, whose chief claim to fame was an Italian translation of One Thousand and One Nights. He mixed in sophisticated Italian literary circles and had an Australian girlfriend. He had had nothing to do with the Munich attack, although he stupidly claimed that the Israelis themselves had plotted it, but he had been interviewed by the Italian police in connection with Palestinian terrorist attacks on oil installations in Italy. This probably sealed his fate. Entering his Rome apartment building one autumn night, carrying a bag of groceries, he was shot twelve times by Mossad agents using .22 revolvers muffled with silencers. The agents, as well as Hariri and Zamir, who oversaw the operation, were out of Italy within four hours of Zu’aytir’s demise. Any residual scruples Israel may have had about such operations disappeared when Black September hijacked a Lufthansa flight on 29 October 1972 as it neared Cyprus en route from Damascus to Frankfurt. The lead hijacker explained to the terrified pilot that this was Operation Munich, the aim being to secure the release of the three terrorists held in the wake of Fürstenfeldbruck. If they were not released by the German authorities, he and his colleagues would blow the plane up in mid-air. The German government immediately obliged, taking the three men to Riem airport. Suddenly their hijacker rescuers diverted the Lufthansa jet to Zagreb, where they circled the aircraft which was already running low on aviation spirit. The Germans hastened to fly the three prisoners to Zagreb, where the hijacked plane also landed. Instead of releasing the thirteen passengers and crew, the hijackers took the three Palestinian prisoners on board and ordered the pilot to fly to Libya. The suspiciously sparse complement of passengers has suggested to some that this entire saga had been arranged by the German government and the PFLP, which carried out the hijacking, in order to be free of their three terrorist prisoners before Germany became the victim of more terror. Be that as it may, a physically sickened Golda Meir immediately sanctioned the next Caesarea operation.
Mahamoud Hamshari was a thirty-eight-year-old Palestinian with a PhD in history. He acted as the PLO’s mouthpiece in Paris. As an unofficial diplomat he lived in some style on the Rue d’Alésia, with his French wife Marie-Claude and his daughter Amina. He saw nothing untoward when an Italian journalist asked for a meeting, although the man was a Mossad agent seeking Hamshari’s address and phone number. The same man lured Hamshari out of his apartment long enough to allow burglars from Mossad’s Keshet unit to case the premises, photographing the interior from every angle. A second visit by the burglars enabled them to affix a thin slab of plastic explosive under the telephone on the desk where Hamshari worked during the day. A small detonator was wired to an antenna capable of picking up coded radio signals. Late the next morning, Hamshari took a phone call. ‘Hello?’ he asked. A voice said: ‘Can I please speak with Dr Hamshari?’ ‘He is speaking,’ Hamshari replied. At that point the apartment erupted as an explosion showered glass on to the street below. Hamshari died three weeks later in hospital, still muttering about the mystery Italian journalist. The method of his murder, since he could just as easily have been shot on a dark street, was indicative of how Mossad was readily learning from terrorists. A bomb attack in Paris would attract press and public notice in a way that shooting would not, arousing fear among Palestinian terrorists. As a former Caesarea operative elaborated: ‘If I could take them down with a missile from twenty miles away, I would.’ That came in the future too. The third target was a thirty-six-year-old PLO representative, Hussain Abu-Kair, who operated from the Olympic hotel on Nicosia’s President Makarios Avenue. As far as anyone knows, he was the PLO’s clandestine contact with the Soviet KGB, which provided arms and training for Fatah militants. He does not appear to have had any direct involvement with the Munich killings. Keshet burglars got into his hotel room and placed a remote-activated bomb under his bed. On 25 January 1972, Abu-Kair returned to his room late at night, briefly switched the light on and off and went to bed. Outside, someone flicked a switch which blew him apart. In April 1973 the Caesarea team shot dead Dr Basil al-Kubaissi, a law professor at Beirut University, as he left an expensive restaurant in Paris.
Israeli counter-terror operations in Europe forced Black September to mount its attacks in remoter places considered to be softer targets. On 28 December 1972, Black September terrorists invaded the Israeli embassy in Bangkok, taking advantage of the festive atmosphere surrounding the investiture of the Thai crown prince. Six Israeli diplomats were taken hostage. Only the intervention of the Egyptian ambassador prevented a bloodbath; the weary terrorists (and the ambassador) were flown from Bangkok to Cairo.
This very public setback so infuriated Ali Hassan Salameh that he insisted on a further operation that appalled even his Fatah colleagues because of its political ramifications. Urgency was added when an alert Jordanian army patrol managed to detain Abu Daoud, masquerading as a Saudi sheikh, but carrying out reconnaissance for a Black September attempt to hold Jordanian ministers hostage so as to effect the release of a thousand Fatah members from the kingdom’s prisons. In order to free Daoud, Black September launched an attack on the Saudi embassy in Khartoum just as the ambassador was hosting a party for the outgoing deputy chief of mission at the US embassy to Sudan. Local PLO figures made all the preparations for the attack, with a Fatah official driving the terrorists to the embassy, where they burst into a diplomatic reception. Extraordinarily, a secret US navy listening post in Cyprus had already recorded Arafat and Abu Iyad in Beirut discussing the arrival of operatives for something codenamed ‘Cold River’ (Nahr al-Bared) with the PLO’s representative in Khartoum. The National Security Agency passed this information on to the State Department, but there were then delays as the two agencies tried to decide the importance of the information. Urgent messages now arrived at the State Department from the embassy in Khartoum, about events at the Saudi reception. There, the terrorists separated out the US ambassador, Cleo Noel, and his deputy, George Moore, as well as the Belgian charge d’affaires, Guy Eid, whom they mistakenly and maliciously imagined was Jewish. It soon became clear that Egyptian mediation was pointless since the Palestinians were bent on killing someone. The orders to ‘carry out Cold River’ came from Arafat in Beirut, unaware that his conversations with the terrorists in Khartoum were being monitored by the US and Israel. A gentleman to the last, Noel apologised to his Saudi host for ruining the party. The terrorists took the three diplomats down to the basement where they were shot several times, starting from the feet and working upwards until they were dead. Arafat called half an hour afterwards saying: ‘Have you carried out Cold River yet? Why didn’t I hear about this? Why wasn’t it on the news?’9
Salameh also set in motion a plot to assassinate Golda Meir when Black September learned of her plans to visit the Holy Father in Rome. Having personally scouted her likely route from Rome’s Fiumicino airport into Vatican City, Salameh determined that his best shot would be with a Russian shoulder-launched missile as her plane landed. Cases of such rockets were moved by yacht from Dubrovnik to Bari in Apulia and then transported to Rome. Fortuitously, Mossad intercepts on the phone of a high-end Brussels call-girl used by PLO clients revealed calls from Salameh to a flat in Rome. He spoke in code about moving fourteen ‘cakes’. The Rome address was traced and searched, and the Israelis found scraps of paper relating to Russian missiles, including instructions on their use. They and the Italian police then scoured Fiumicino airport a few hours before the prime minister was scheduled to land. The Israelis soon intercepted one of two terrorist teams and managed to capture one of its members. With little time to lose, they beat him up, and extracted the information that another team lay in waiting, one of the few occasions when excessive force has directly proved of any use. By chance, another Mossad agent patrolling the airport in his car noticed a cafe-van with three strange tubes protruding from its roof. Not taking any chances, he rammed the van, which turned over, trapping the terrorists inside with their missiles akimbo even as Meir’s plane prepared to land. The plot had failed.
In April 1973 the Israelis struck at three Palestinian leaders living in neighbouring seaside apartment blocks in the a-Sir district of Beirut. They were Abu Youssef, the second in command of Fatah, Kamal Adwan, the young commander of Fatah operations inside Israel, and Kamal Nasser, the PLO’s Christian chief spokesman. Although the first two were heavily engaged in acts of terrorism, they had no discernible links with the killings in Munich, while Kamal Nasser was a propagandist rather than a fighter, a distinction some might regard as too precious. While Mossad provided the intelligence picture for this raid, it was conducted by Israeli special forces, Sayaret Matkal, under the command of lieutenant-colonel Ehud Barak, Israel’s future prime minister. His deputy was Yoni Netanyahu, the elder brother of another future Israeli politician. The planning for the attack, in the heart of a city with a population of a million and home to dozens of international terrorists, was meticulous. Agents landed from a submarine carried out reconnaissance, establishing that a private beach on a spring night was most likely to be clear of fishermen or young couples, while the night-time cold would keep hotel guests away from their balconies. The entire operation was rehearsed at the construction site of two apartment blocks in northern Tel Aviv, much to the consternation of neighbours who began to wonder about armed men moving in and out of buildings.
On the night of 9 April, sixteen commandos were ferried from Haifa to Beirut in torpedo boats and then transferred to inflatables, which they paddled on the final voyage inshore. The parting words of the IDF chief of staff were ‘Kill the bastards’ which left no room for any ambiguity about attempting to capture the PLO leaders. In Beirut they were met by Caesarea agents masquerading as tourists who used wide American sedans to drive these bulky and heavily armed figures to their target. There was one further act of deception. Barak and Amiram Levine were dressed as women, with Barak in a brunette wig and Levine done up as a blonde. They brazenly walked, arm in arm with their respective ‘boyfriends’, past two Lebanese policemen who did not give these couples a second glance. At the apartment blocks, things suddenly speeded up. Three commandos raced up to the sixth floor and inserted strips of explosive into the door frame of an apartment. After receiving a signal from Barak, they burst into the apartment and shot dead Abu Youssef, killing his wife too. Other commandos hit Kamal Nasser, as he worked on a speech at his desk, having rejected Abu Iyad’s request to sleep over, which saved the latter’s life. Kamal Adwan was shot in front of his wife and children before he had managed even to aim the AK-47 by his bedside. Ziad Helou, one of the assassins of Wasfi Tal, was badly wounded in the attack, having narrowly missed being killed by the Jordanians the previous week.10 An elderly Italian lady who was roused by the commotion was shot dead by the Israelis as she opened her door. By this time a gun battle was raging in the street below, as the brunette and blonde sprayed bullets from their Uzis at Palestinian security guards and Lebanese policemen. A police jeep was blown up with a grenade, killing all its occupants. Elsewhere in Beirut, Israeli paratroopers carried out further attacks, blowing up an apartment block housing militants from the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. All these commandos and paratroopers left Beirut the way they had come before dawn broke. The Mossad logistics team left their rental cars neatly parked in line with the ignition keys on the dashboards. As angry Palestinians attended their three leaders’ funerals, Israelis basked in the expert ferocity of their armed forces as displayed in this operation ‘Spring of Youth’. There were also furious anti-government demonstrations in Beirut, for many Palestinians and Lebanese leftists suspected that the Lebanese authorities had turned a blind eye to this audacious Israeli strike. Increasingly open clashes between the Palestinians and government forces led president Franjieh to authorise the Lebanese air force to dive-bomb the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps, which were hotbeds of Palestinian militancy.
Flushed with this success, the Israelis continued their ‘Wrath of God’ campaign against Palestinian targets. Although he had no apparent links to Munich, in April 1973 the PLO’s replacement representative in Cyprus was killed by a bomb in his hotel room. A few months later, a key Black September associate of Ali Hassan Salameh momentarily let down his guard by leaving his hotel in Athens to buy a newspaper, giving Mossad enough time to burgle his room and leave a bomb under the bed. Just before dawn the next day he woke to answer the telephone to a strange caller, and was blown to smithereens when the line went dead. In June, two Palestinians who had been reconnoitring El Al’s offices in Rome were blown up in their Mercedes. Before the month was over, Mossad struck at Muhammed Boudia, an Algerian working as a theatre director in Paris, who while having no connection to Munich had been responsible for the attacks on the oil-storage facility at Trieste in August 1972. His fatal mistake was to make his security checks a habit. Living in Paris he drove a grey Renault 16 whose underside he carefully inspected each morning. Burglars broke into the car at night, while he visited a girlfriend, fixing a landmine packed with nuts and bolts under the seat. When Boudia got into the vehicle and switched the ignition key he was blown to pieces and engulfed in flames. Black September immediately took its revenge when a Palestinian gunman shot dead colonel Yosef Alon, the Israeli deputy defence attache to the embassy in Washington, on his suburban lawn as he went to garage his car after returning from a party.
Mention of the US raises another reason why Mossad was so keen to kill Ali Hassan Salameh, beyond his responsibility for Munich. Since 1969 he had been in contact with Robert Ames, the head of the CIA Beirut station and a key Agency analyst of the Middle East. The CIA was interested in recruiting senior Fatah figures, probably to forestall attacks on Americans around the world. Mistaking his man, Ames twice offered Salameh huge sums of money (on one occasion US$3,000,000) only to be rebuffed by the playboy terrorist, who had money enough. These contacts, which doubtless came to the notice of Mossad, increased the urgency of killing Salameh.
In 1973 Mossad began to assemble plausible evidence that he was in Scandinavia, searching for a soft Israeli target on Europe’s northern periphery. When agents in Switzerland monitored the movements of a twenty-eight-year-old Algerian, Kemal Benaman, who flew from Geneva to Copenhagen and then on to Oslo, they thought they had a firm lead. A dozen Mossad agents were flown to the Norwegian capital to trail Benaman. When Benaman drove north to Lillehammer, they followed him. They thought that one of the men he met in a cafe was Ali Hassan Salameh. This person was tracked in turn, even into the municipal swimming pool where he was watched by an innocent-seeming female bather as he chatted in French with another Arab or North African swimmer in the middle of the pool. Agents followed ‘Salameh’ to an apartment in the Nivo district where he appeared to be living with a pregnant Norwegian woman. That he went about on a bicycle or by bus and appeared to know the small town well did not seem to raise any questions. When Mike Hariri’s agents contacted Zvi Zamir for authorisation to kill this personage, any queries were perfunctory. Late one night ‘Salameh’ and his girlfriend left a cinema showing Where Eagles Dare and took the bus homewards. Holding hands they walked up the hill to their flat. A car pulled up on the opposite side of the street, two men jumped out, and shot ‘Salameh’ ten times with silenced Berettas. He was in fact a young Moroccan waiter, with an extra job as a pool attendant, called Achmed Bouchiki, out for a night with Toril Larsen Bouchiki, his expectant wife. Any meetings with Arabs or North Africans he had had were chance encounters in which, far from home, he had merely desired to speak languages that came easier to him than Norwegian.
This time, the Mossad agents were not allowed to go quietly into the night. They had stuck out like sore thumbs in a small provincial town where their Mediterranean appearance and clumsy surveillance operations had aroused suspicions. As they headed back to Oslo in their rental cars, the Norwegian police were not idle, having noted the licence plate of a car that sped out of Lillehammer on the night of the attack. They detained a foreign couple who tried to return the car to the airport rental firm, and quickly broke their badly rehearsed cover story. The man was an Israeli citizen of Danish origin who, suffering from claustrophobia, cracked the moment he was shown a police cell. This led to the arrest of two further foreigners, a ‘British’ teacher from Leeds and a ‘Canadian’ freelance journalist who had spontaneously decided to visit Norway after a chance meeting at Zurich airport. When the police searched the belongings of the first couple, they uncovered addresses and phone numbers that led to two further names of persons who turned out to be lodging at the home of the security officer at the Israeli embassy in Oslo. Although Hariri managed to get out of Norway along with the two trigger-men who had shot Bouchiki, six of his agents were now in Norwegian custody. Five of them received sentences of up to five and half years’ imprisonment as accessories to premeditated murder. Their testimony included the Tel Aviv phone number of Mossad -which was rapidly disconnected - but Israel denied all responsibility for their actions.
While this fiasco convulsed Mossad, forcing it to suspend the series of assassinations, Black September launched a vicious attack at Athens airport. In August 1973 two young Palestinians produced guns in the departure lounge and began blasting their fellow travellers. They killed three American tourists and an Indian passenger, wounding a further fifty-five. The two men then surrendered. The Greek government let them go when Palestinian terrorists hijacked a Greek ship in Karachi. Despite these killings of Americans, in early November 1973 Ali Hassan Salameh had a meeting in Morocco with general Vernon Walters, the deputy director of the CIA. He agreed to suspend attacks on US citizens. One unexpected result of their accord was that Salameh warned the CIA of an imminent plot to kill national security advisor Henry Kissinger with a missile attack as he landed in Beirut for talks. The pay-off came the following year when, as Arafat flourished an olive branch at the UN in New York, revealing a shoulder holster under his upraised jacket, the CIA entertained Salameh at the Waldorf Astoria. In 1975 Salameh provided Force 17 guards for Americans evacuated in a convoy from Beirut as civil war erupted, a gesture for which he was received in person at the CIA’s Langley headquarters. Two years later, after Salameh had married Georgina Rizak, a one-time Miss Lebanon cum Miss Universe, the CIA paid for the couple’s honeymoon in Hawaii and threw in a no-expenses-spared visit to Florida’s Disney World. Despite these amicable relations, technically the CIA denied that Salameh was its agent when the Israelis inquired some time in 1978. That sealed his fate.
Mossad teams arrived in Beirut to keep a close watch on Salameh’s movements. He spent his afternoons with his second wife Georgina in an apartment on Beka Street. A female Mossad agent rented an apartment there, posing as a batty English artist, who worked for a Palestinian orphans’ charity and fed feral cats. Another Mossad agent pretended to be a Canadian selling kitchenware to local Beirut shopkeepers. In mid-January 1979, Israeli frogmen swam ashore at Beirut and handed over a package to Mossad agents. The agents returned to a safe house and built thirty kilograms of hexagene explosives (a very potent bomb material) into a rented VW car. They parked this in Beka Street where Salameh was wont to visit Georgina. On the afternoon of 22 January, Salameh left her apartment, intending to visit his mother’s flat to celebrate the third birthday of his niece. He and his two bodyguards got into his Chevrolet, while three other guards followed in a jeep. As this convoy passed the parked VW it exploded, killing eight people including all of Salameh’s guards. He died an hour later in hospital from a shrapnel wound to his brain. A hundred thousand people came to his funeral. Photographs show Yasser Arafat with his arm consolingly draped around Salameh’s thirteen-year-old son.
By that time, the PLO leadership had itself decided to turn off Black September, because its depredations were becoming counter-productive. Abu Iyad and a trusted colleague devised a novel solution that did not involve killing them. They travelled to PLO offices in Middle Eastern countries with large Palestinian populations. They identified about one hundred of the most attractive girls they could find, urging them to go to Beirut on a mission of great national importance. There they were introduced to members of Black September. The latter were told that if they agreed to marry these women, they would receive US$3,000, a fridge, a gas stove and a television, as well as a regular job in a nonviolent PLO-affiliated organisation. If they had a child within a year, they would receive a further US$5,000. Many of these men did marry, settled down and started families. To test their resolve, the PLO handed them legitimate passports and asked them to go to Geneva or Paris on PLO business. They mostly refused, not wishing to jeopardise their settled existence. Modified versions of this decontamination strategy have been tried from Northern Ireland to Saudi Arabia, but it seems to have been the PLO that pioneered it.11
Although it is invariably overlooked, the PLO were also victims of another campaign of assassinations running parallel with the activities of Mossad. Several PLO breakaway factions advertised themselves as ‘rejectionists’, opposed to Arafat’s ceasefire with king Hussein and, from his 1974 UN address onwards, to his readiness to negotiate a political settlement with the Israelis. From 1974 onwards there were clandestine contacts between the Israelis and Palestinian moderates, which were informally institutionalised through the Israel-Palestine Friendship League. The Austrian socialist chancellor Bruno Kreisky and the former French premier Pierre Mendés-France were important facilitators of these dialogues.12 Although Fatah continued to hit Israel through guerrilla activities, it scaled back its involvement in international terrorism. The rejectionists included George Habash’s PFLP, Ahmad Jibril’s PFLP-General Command and, last but not least, Abu Nidal, whom the Iraqis cultivated as their Palestinian client at a time when the PLO in Lebanon seemed to be slipping under the suasion of their Syrian rival for dominance within the pan-Arab national socialist Baath movement. Abu Nidal was the first terrorist to turn murder into an international business, although he has had many rivals since. He was not the first, nor the last, terrorist to enjoy violence for its own sake, an Arab Nechaev for our times.
Born in 1937 in Jaffa, Sabri Khalil al-Banna, or Abu Nidal, was one of the many sons, by a maid turned wife, of a wealthy citrus-grower, for whom the exchange of luxurious homes with servants for refugee tents may have been too much to bear. After periods as an odd-job man in Saudi Arabia, Nidal returned to Nablus in the West Bank working as an electrician, and then moved to the Jordanian capital where he founded a trading company named Impex that provided a cover for his increasingly murky political activities. Abu Iyad sent him to run the PLO office in Iraq, about two months before king Hussein obliterated the PLO in Jordan. In Iraq, Abu Nidal vented his fury at the direction in which Arafat was taking the Palestinian movement. His first independent operation, code-named ‘The Punishment’, was to take hostage eleven Saudi diplomats in the Paris embassy so as to secure the release of Abu Daoud from the Jordanians, and to distract attention from the Non-Aligned Conference which, to the annoyance of Iraq’s leaders, Algeria was hosting. This maverick operation, which did secure the release of Abu Daoud after Kuwait paid Jordan US$12,000,000, was condemned by Abu Iyad, who sent the current Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, to Baghdad to reason with Abu Nidal. He failed and stormed out of the meeting. Abu Nidal was expelled from Fatah in March 1974.
In late 1974 Nidal announced the formation of ‘Fatah: The Revolutionary Council’. The Iraqis paid Nidal a monthly retainer of US$150,000 plus a one-off golden-hello of between US$3,000,000 and US$5,000,000. They also handed over various training facilities and US$15,000,000 worth of Chinese weapons originally earmarked for the PLO. War was declared between these Palestinian factions when the PLO’s Fatah killed Abu Nidal’s friend and former Black September member Ahmad Abd al-Ghafur in Beirut, where he was putting in place the logistics for major terrorist strikes against Western interests that would have been blamed on the PLO itself.
At this stage, Abu Nidal was a minor figure, temporarily eclipsed by the more exotic and publicity-hungry celebrity terrorist Carlos the Jackal (Illich Ramirez Sanchez). Sanchez was born in Caracas in October 1949, the spoilt son of a millionaire Stalinist who would bask in the son’s exploits. Never straying far from the paternal tree, Sanchez attended a guerrilla training camp run by the Cuban secret service - the Dirección General de Inteligencia - and then the Lumumba university in Moscow, where the KGB identified future guerrillas, saboteurs and terrorists from among its twenty-thousand-strong corps of foreign students. Always the ladies’ man, despite the corpulence that since childhood had earned him the nickname ‘El Gordo’ or ‘the Fat One’, Carlos was expelled for ostentatious skirt-chasing among the earnest comrades. He seems to have gone to the Middle East to fight against the Jordanians, gradually being accepted as an associate of Habash’s PFLP. By the early 1970s he was living near his mother in London, ostensibly studying at the London School of Economics - even then notorious for welcoming any foreigner with an open chequebook - but in one reality living the life of a Latin American playboy, whose fashionable revolutionary chat-up lines appealed to the credulous young women he gathered around him, using their homes as arms stores and safe houses. The other reality surfaced when on 30 December 1973 Carlos forced his way into the St John’s Wood home of the president of Marks and Spencer, and shot Joseph Sieff in the face. A month later, the same elusive figure opened the door of the Israeli Hapoalim bank in Cheapside and threw a bomb into the lobby injuring a typist. El Gordo had mutated into ‘the Jackal’, a name given to him by journalists familiar with Frederick Forsyth’s 1970 bestseller. Carlos resurfaced in Paris. In August 1974 bombs exploded at the offices of papers deemed sympathetic to Israel. The next month a hand grenade was thrown into the Drugstore nightclub, this being an attempt to add extra pressure on the French government to release a Japanese Red Army operative, at a time when JRA terrorists had taken the French ambassador to the Netherlands hostage with the aid of guns and grenades supplied by Carlos. In January 1975 there were two successive attacks, using Russian-made rockets, against El Al flights leaving Orly airport. All of these attacks were the handiwork of Carlos.
His luck temporarily ran out when Lebanese security police detained Michel Moukharbel in Beirut, for he was responsible for administering the logistics of Carlos’s outrages in Paris. They kept him for five days before allowing him to leave for France, where the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (or DST) kept an eye on him and eventually arrested him. Moukharbel eventually volunteered the address of the fat youth the DST had photographed him with, although he insisted that the man was of no importance. Three DST agents took Moukharbel to the address, a flat on the Left Bank’s Rue Toullier, although as their shift was about to end they checked in their weapons before leaving, a time-saving gesture that proved mistaken. The sound of guitar music and the Mexican song ‘Give Thanks for Life’ drew them to a small flat where the lead DST officer entered, leaving Moukharbel with his two colleagues along the hall. The DST agent chatted amiably with the fat young man in sunglasses who was the life and soul of a small party for his fellow Latin Americans. Then the inspector decided to go up a gear by calling in Moukharbel to see what would happen when the two men were confronted with one another. That was a mistake. As the three agents and Moukharbel entered the apartment, Carlos pulled out a .38 Czech automatic and in seconds had shot Moukharbel and two of the agents dead. The lead DST agent was wounded in the neck. While British and French police put together the various links between the spate of assassinations and bombings both countries had recently experienced, Carlos slipped out of Marseilles on a fruit-boat bound for Algeria.
Carlos re-entered the spotlight when with remarkable audacity he and various Arab and German colleagues shot their way into the headquarters of OPEC (the Organisation of Petroleum-Exporting Countries) in Vienna shortly before Christmas 1975. An Austrian policeman and an Iraqi security guard were clinically assassinated by a German woman terrorist. A Libyan economist who tried to wrestle Carlos’s submachine gun away from him was killed when the Jackal used his free hand to whip out a 9 mm automatic. These people meant business, and now they had eleven oil ministers cowering under their guns, including Iran’s Jamshid Amousagar and Saudi Arabia’s Ahmed Zaki Yamani, both of whom they intended to kill as representative of the most reactionary Gulf-region monarchies. For, in addition to a diffuse desire to strike at multinational capitalism, the raid was probably a warning from the progressive supporters of the Palestinians, that is Algeria, Libya and Iraq, to the conservative Arab states and the shah of Iran. The Austrian chancellor Kreisky rapidly caved in to terrorist demands which were backed up by threats to shoot a minister on the hour. One lighter moment came when an Iraqi mediator asked to know who they were dealing with. ‘We are revolutionaries, not criminals,’ replied Carlos, ‘we are the Arm of the Arab Revolution.’ ‘But you are not Arab,’ exclaimed a perplexed Riyadh al-Azzawi. Within hours, the Austrian interior minister was hugging Carlos farewell on the tarmac as the group and their hostages took off in a DC-9. Although the Nigerian minister felt sufficiently relaxed to ask the Jackal for his autograph - ‘Flight Vienna-Algiers 22/xii/75 - Carlos’ - Yamani and the Iranian spent the flight under the cloud of his threats to shoot them. The plane landed at Algiers and then took off for Tripoli. Carlos boasted that the Libyan prime minister would be there to greet them and to provide them with a fresh jet with the range to reach Baghdad. True to form, the Libyan prime minister slept soundly in his bed, while the jet failed to materialise. Back they returned to Algiers where, probably in exchange for a king’s ransom, they eventually released the eminent hostages and disappeared. A swelling folder of press cuttings about his crimes was as important to Carlos as his burgeoning bank accounts.13
In April 1975 unknown gunmen had tried to assassinate the leading Maronite in Lebanon, Pierre Gemayel, at a ceremony to consecrate a church. Before the morning was over, Maronite gunmen had massacred twenty-eight Palestinians as they journeyed by bus to Ain Rummaneh. Inter-communal fighting escalated, becoming all-out war when, not without reason, Gemayel accused the PLO of abusing Lebanese hospitality and called for a referendum regarding the Palestinians’ continued presence in his country. This prompted Kamal Jumblatt, the leader of a so-called Lebanese National Movement, to demand the removal of the right-wing authoritarian Maronite Phalangists from the coalition government. When the Maronites besieged three Palestinian refugee camps, massacring the inhabitants of Dbayeh, Palestinian guerrillas shelled and overran the small town of Damour, killing most of its inhabitants.
The responses of the wider Arab world to this conflict were disappointing when viewed from Arafat’s perspective. The Egyptian president Sadat’s preoccupation with a unilateral peace deal with Israel meant that Arafat could not bank on the support of the largest and most powerful Arab country. To his suspicious mind, it seemed that Egypt was doing a deal at the expense of the Palestinians. Worse, although Syria’s wily president Assad had begun by supporting the Lebanese radicals and Palestinians, he switched to the Maronites when the former seemed like winning and Jumblatt had bluntly warned him to keep out of Lebanese politics. When Arafat presumptuously upbraided Assad, the Syrian leader shouted: ‘You do not represent the Palestinians more than we do. Don’t you forget … There is no Palestinian people and there is no Palestinian entity. There is only Syria.’ There was some truth in much of that.
With Israeli and US approval, in June 1976 twelve thousand Syrian troops moved into Lebanon. Under their protective cover, the Maronites attacked the vast Palestinian refugee camp at Tal al-Zaatar. After a siege of fifty-two days the thirty thousand inhabitants were forced to surrender, some of them being killed as they departed. Following some eighteen months of fighting, Saudi mediation resulted in Lebanon being carved into spheres of influence, all supposedly guaranteed by a Syrian Arab Deterrent Force. The PLO alone had lost an estimated five thousand casualties. They soon included their local protector, Kamal Jumblatt, who felt Assad’s vengeance when he was shot dead at a Syrian roadblock in March 1977. Iraq also unleashed Abu Nidal against the Syrians, who had committed the major sin of turning their guns against the Palestinians in Lebanon. He dubbed his campaign of bomb and gun attacks against such Syrian interests as airline offices and embassies around Europe and the Middle East ‘Black June’ after the date of the Syrian invasion of Lebanon. This culminated in an attempt to assassinate the Syrian foreign minister at Abu Dhabi airport, an attack that resulted in the death of the United Arab Emirates minister of state for foreign affairs. After Saddam Hussein came to power and went to war with Iran, Abu Nidal was used to assassinate exiled Iraqi dissidents, in between his endeavours to kill such senior PLO leaders as Abu Iyad, whose men came to Baghdad attempting to kill Nidal in turn.
They had good reason, for, commencing in January 1978, Abu Nidal had launched a campaign of assassination against PLO moderates, especially those in contact with Israeli peaceniks or who advocated a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem. In that month the PLO’s representative in London, Sa’id Hammani, was shot dead by Kayid Hussein, one of Abu Nidal’s Tunisian gunmen. That summer Abu Nidal’s organisation struck at Ali Yassin, Fatah’s spokesman in Kuwait, Izz al-Din Qalaq, its man in France, and narrowly missed Yusif Abu Hantash, in the PLO’s Islamabad offices. In 1981 they killed Heinz Nittal, a Vienna city councillor and close friend of chancellor Kreisky, in a clear warning that the latter should halt his attempts to develop Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. The PLO knew exactly who was to blame, firing rockets into the Iraqi embassy in Beirut and attacking Nidal’s offices in Tripoli. Although some claim that Nidal’s ‘strategy’ was being ‘manipulated’ by Israeli agents secreted within his organisation, this seems unlikely, given that his terrorists simultaneously carried out attacks against soft Israeli and Jewish targets across Europe, that being a euphemism for shooting up worshippers in a Viennese synagogue and throwing grenades into a party of schoolchildren in Antwerp. In April 1983 Nidal’s men murdered the prominent PLO dove Isam Sartawi at a socialist conference in Portugal. These killings were carried out by gunmen who had survived the rigours of Abu Nidal’s various training camps. Since Abu Nidal at one point thought that his own wife was a CIA agent, one can only imagine the levels of paranoia that prevailed in these hellholes, recreations of camps he had himself received training at in China and North Korea. He insisted on the old Communist practice of making recruits constantly rewrite their autobiographies, with the slightest inconsistency resulting in bouts of monstrous torture in Section 16, the interrogation and punishment block. Those who failed this test ended up buried in the desert.
Although the PLO had suffered a major defeat in the first Israeli invasion of the Lebanon, it was not a calamity. For, among the fiefdoms into which Lebanon was divided, there was one for the loser too. Arafat was able to have his state within a state, based in the Farqhani district of west Beirut and stretching southwards to the Litani river on Israel’s northern border. This emboldened Arafat to transform his guerrilla fighters into a pastiche regular army, including sixty defunct Soviet T-34 tanks and an arsenal of anti-aircraft guns and rocket launchers. Apparently oblivious to the geostrategic changes ushered in by Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem, which effectively freed the newly elected Likud government of Menachem Begin to concentrate on its northern border, Arafat sanctioned a pointless Fatah seaborne terror raid north of Haifa, which resulted in the hijacking of a bus and the deaths of thirty-four Israelis and all but two of the raiders. Israeli public pressure for retaliation was massive. On 14 March 1978 some twenty-eight thousand Israeli troops in huge armoured columns rumbled across the border, flattening Lebanese villages and killing two hundred PLO fighters. Sadat condemned the guerrilla raid and Israel’s retaliation; Syrian troops prudently kept out of the way until this juggernaut had turned homewards. Before they left, the Israelis installed a friendly Maronite Christian militia to provide an added line of defence in addition to the UN interim force in the buffer zone along their northern border. A pattern of violence that continues over thirty years later involved relatively under-reported Palestinian cross-border attacks, to which the Israelis regularly responded with either air strikes or expeditions using their prodigious armour, a spectacle that enabled the Palestinians to posture as David versus Goliath to an international media that always found the response more newsworthy than whatever had provoked it, not being interested either, it seems, in who ordered the guerrilla fighters on the border to attack Israel.
Violence flared up again in the summer of 1981 when, following Israeli air strikes in southern Lebanon, the PLO embarked on a sustained two-week campaign of launching Katyusha rockets into northern Israel, causing thousands of Israelis to flee southwards, increasing demands on the government to do something to stop it. The Israeli air force was despatched to bomb west Beirut, where it killed three hundred and injured a further seven hundred, in yet another display of raw firepower that was starting to alienate much uninvolved opinion, for the Israelis were neither parsimonious in their use of expensive ordnance nor too scrupulous about where they used it. Arafat derived some consolation from an American-brokered ceasefire which implicitly meant that the Israelis had recognised the PLO terrorists. Although Arafat was by this time involved in back-channel negotiations designed to win US recognition of the PLO, the new Israeli defence minister, Ariel Sharon, was effectively conducting Israel’s foreign policy, and held discussions with a US interlocutor, Alexander Haig, whose mind seems to have been distracted by the prospect of higher office. Sharon came away from meetings with Haig in May 1982 convinced he had the green light for major operations in Lebanon, although Haig had in fact given him a vaguely qualified red. Sharon discreetly flew into Lebanon to establish a Christian-Jewish partnership designed to recast the Lebanon after a successful Israeli invasion. Israel stepped up pressure by annexing the Golan Heights, to test Syria’s non-existent resolve, and by ousting pro-PLO mayors in the occupied territories. On 3 June 1982 Sharon got his pretext for war when Abu Nidal’s men shot the Israeli ambassador to Britain as he left a function at London’s Dorchester Hotel. When told that this renegade Palestinian terrorist was responsible, the Israeli army commander Raphael Eitan remarked: ‘Abu Nidal, Abu Schmidal.’
The Israeli air force returned to bomb west Beirut, killing sixty people, and prompting the PLO to fire rockets over the southern border. On the morning of 6 June Israeli armoured formations, with forty thousand troops, crossed into Lebanon, while navy units landed near the PLO stronghold of Sidon. Although the Israeli cabinet had earlier vetoed Sharon’s most expansive war plans, the headstrong commander immediately set about implementing them, escalating the war from a limited campaign to secure Israel’s northern border from Fatah attacks to a radical attempt to reorganise the politics of Israel’s northerly neighbour. Any prospect of Syrian intervention disappeared when the Israeli air force destroyed a quarter of Syria’s air force in a brief series of engagements. Israel did not entirely have things its way, however, since the Maronite leader Bashir Gemayel, son of Pierre, proved highly resistant to being used as Sharon’s cat’s-paw, thus removing one of the lynchpins of the general’s battle plans. That left Sharon and Arafat to slog it out personally. Arafat was also subjected to mounting pressure from a newly formed Lebanese Council of National Salvation, consisting of his Sunni Muslim allies, to get out of Lebanon before the Israelis blew it apart. Although Arafat felt pricks of conscience about the disaster he had brought upon his friendly hosts, he also spoke darkly of Beirut becoming a Palestinian Stalingrad. Libya’s madcap ruler Ghaddafi helpfully suggested that the PLO commit collective suicide in Beirut rather than leave. Arafat sourly remarked that he would have fought to the last if Ghaddafi had not failed to provide weapons. This was possibly overly melodramatic because as they negotiated their evacuation with Ronald Reagan’s envoy, Philip Habib, the PLO team were insistent on the shipment of their fleets of BMWs and Mercedes, and other manifestations of the good life in their Beirut strongholds.
Although Israel was under considerable pressure to conclude a ceasefire, Begin and Sharon unleashed a final eight-day assault on west Beirut itself, hoping to kill Arafat as a tangible sign of victory. He switched from bunker to bunker as the Israelis attempted assassination by F-15. They failed to notice the shocking effect of sustained aerial bombing and shelling on wider international opinion, one of the major flaws in their future responses to cross-border terrorism. This prompted a tense telephone exchange between Reagan and Begin. ‘Menachem, this is a holocaust,’ the president remarked. ‘Mr President, I’m aware of what a holocaust is,’ the Israeli leader replied. The bombing ceased and the PLO prepared to embark on its third exodus, having brought nothing but chaos and violence to Lebanon. Nearly eleven thousand Palestinian fighters were shipped out on vessels chartered by the US. Arafat himself left for Greece on the Atlantis, his final destination being Tunis, as remote from Palestine as it is possible to be in the Arab world. He left a city in ruins with nineteen thousand dead and another thirty thousand wounded. Four hundred Israelis had also died.
The killing was not quite over. On 14 September the long hand of Syria’s Assad reached out to Bashir Gemayel, the president elect of Lebanon, who was killed by a bomb that destroyed his east Beirut headquarters. Israeli troops took the opportunity to comb west Beirut to hunt down any remaining Palestinian fighters. They also enabled Phalangist militiamen to enter Palestinian refugee camps at Sabra and Chatila on the same pretext, where they butchered anywhere between seven hundred and fifteen hundred people, depending on whose figures are deemed most reliable. This massacre appalled international opinion and many Israelis including such patriots as Abba Eban, the former foreign minister, while the monomaniacal former terrorist Menachem Begin merely commented: ‘Goyim are killing goyim, and the world is trying to hang the Jews for the crime.’ Israel was starting to pay in hard-won moral capital, along with the IDF its most precious asset.
Beyond the wars that destroyed the Lebanon, some of the more extreme Palestinian factions were joining Carlos the Jackal as freelance murderers working for the highest bidder, activities they combined with extortion. While Carlos, having broken with the PFLP, hired himself out to the Romanian secret service or the East German Ministry of State Security (the Stasi) to kill dissidents or to attack Radio Free Europe in Munich, Abu Nidal had switched his allegiances from the Iraqis to the Syrians. They saw him as a useful weapon against Jordan whose king was encouraging the Muslim Brothers against the Syrian Baathists while claiming that he could do the best deal with Israel on behalf of the Palestinians.
Commencing in the autumn of 1983, Nidal’s carefully constructed international terror network, which he directed while posing as a businessman based in Communist Warsaw, killed the Jordanian ambassador to India and wounded Jordanian officials in separate attacks in Athens, Madrid and Rome. Jordanian diplomats were also murdered in Ankara and Bucharest. Jordan responded with a series of hits against Syrian diplomatic and commercial interests until the two countries concluded a ceasefire of sorts. Abu Nidal also increased his formidable financial resources, having embezzled US$11,000,000 from the Iraqis in the course of an arms deal before they encouraged him to leave the country. Much of his activity was indistinguishable from criminality. He personally taped ‘requests’ to the rulers of the Gulf states for donations to the ‘true’ Palestinian revolutionary movement, giving them six months to comply. If they did not, then they received a shorter communication: ‘I will kill you! I will kidnap your children and your princes! I will blow you up!’ Shortly after that a Gulf Air jet was blown up in mid-air by a bomb as it landed at Abu Dhabi airport. When two UAE diplomats were attacked in Paris and Rome, the UAE ruler reluctantly transferred US$17,000,000 to Abu Nidal’s accounts. Similar extortion was focused upon Kuwait which agreed to pay Nidal a large monthly retainer. When the Kuwaitis showed signs of reneging on this deal, nine people were murdered and nearly ninety injured in simultaneous bomb attacks on cafes in Kuwait City. In 1985 Nidal used three of his assassins to kill his brother-in-law and five-year-old nephew when the former refused to acknowledge Nidal’s co-ownership of a substantial house in Amman. Meanwhile, Nidal quietly put out feelers to Libya’s colonel Ghaddafi, who had decided to employ him to kill exiled Libyan opponents of his regime and for strikes against his ‘imperialist’ Western enemies. Ghaddafi provided generous facilities for Nidal’s organisation in and around Tripoli, including free telephone calls and the transport of weapons through diplomatic bags. Like Carlos, the most feared international terrorist had become a hired gunman for a rogue state, the international revolutionary rhetoric starkly revealed as hollow words signifying nothing.