While Americans were celebrating their independence from the British Empire with displays of fireworks and other patriotic observances, another anniversary was pointedly not being observed, or even much noted, in Israel: on that day in 1976, a daring raid by Israeli commandos freed the hostages of Air France flight 139, held by PFLP terrorists and members of the German “Revolutionary Cells,” at the Entebbe airport in Uganda. The plane had been originally headed to Paris from Athens, but the hijackers diverted it to Benghazi, Libya, for refueling, and then on to Entebbe, where Idi Amin greeted the terrorists as friends and allies. The raid, launched on the night of July 3 and carried out until the morning of July 4, caught the world’s attention as a heroic and entirely justified operation aimed at freeing innocent victims of terrorism. Score one for Israel. The effect of this incident on world opinion, especially within the U.S. and Britain, was to increase sympathy for the Israelis and paint a portrait of the Palestinians as violent brutes. And that may very well have been the real motive behind the operation, according to secret documents recently released by the British government.
Among the cache of documents is a memo by David H. Colvin, then first secretary of the British embassy in Paris, who averred that a contact in the Euro-Arab Parliamentary Association had told him the “hijack was the work of the PFLP [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine], with help from the Israeli secret service, the Shin Bet.” The operation, wrote Colvin, was “an unholy alliance” and “was designed to torpedo the PLO’s [Palestine Liberation Organization] standing in France and to prevent what they see as a growing rapprochement between the PLO and the Americans.” Colvin detailed a very plausible scenario whereby Israel stood to benefit:
“Their nightmare is that after the November elections, one will witness the imposition in the Middle East of a Pax Americana, which will be the advantage of the PLO (who will gain international respectability and perhaps the right to establish a state on evacuated territories) and to the disadvantage of the Refusal Front (who will be squeezed right out in any overall peace settlement and will lose their raison d’être) and Israel (who will be forced to evacuate occupied territory).”
Colvin went on to say that “the PFLP had attracted all sorts of wild elements, some of whom had been planted by the Israelis.” The document cache also contains a report from another British official citing a reporter for the Liverpool Post, Leo Murray, whose inside sources confirmed the hijacking was all about internal Palestinian politics, at least from the PFLP’s perspective.
From the Israeli perspective, however, the propagandistic effect of the Entebbe incident on Western opinion, particularly in the United States and France, was crucial. The U.S. was seen as an unreliable partner who had to be manipulated into rejecting PLO proposals for an independent Palestinian state, and the French, who were in favor of some kind of equanimity in negotiating a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, also needed to be educated as to the inherent inability of the Palestinians to make peace.
The Israeli response to the Colvin revelations has been outrage, disbelief, and the denigration of this account as an “anti-Semitic conspiracy theory.” Yet it isn’t that hard to believe the Israelis would launch a false-flag operation in order to generate diplomatic and political blowback helpful to their cause – and it wouldn’t be the only example of covert Israeli aid to the more militant wing of the Palestinian movement in order to undercut the PLO. Go here for the story on how the Israelis succored and funded Hamas in its early days as an Islamist irritant in Arafat’s side.
And then there is the Lavon incident, in which the Israelis sent agents into Egypt, who then planted bombs in American and British facilities, including a USIA library and a British-owned movie theater: the idea was to pin the blame on the Muslim Brotherhood and show the Americans – who were tilting toward Egypt’s rising leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser – that the Egyptians were unreliable allies.
The Entebbe narrative reiterated and dramatized the Israelis’ insistence that they had the “right” to reach beyond their own borders in their “war on terrorism” – an early version, if you will, of the Bush Doctrine. Yet the Colvin memo shows that this official story was and is just a cover for an act of supreme cynicism and ruthlessness that would cause Machiavelli to blush.
Three hostages, one Israeli soldier, 45 Ugandan soldiers, and six hijackers were killed in Operation Thunderbolt. Particularly disturbing is the fact that the hijackers, once in Benghazi, separated out the Israeli and Jewish passengers from the rest, letting the Gentiles go and taking the remainder to Entebbe.
To think that this heinous act was carried out with the cooperation and collusion of Israeli intelligence may seem counterintuitive, yet this is precisely the sort of crazy decision too-clever-by-half government officials would make in pursuit of that formless concept known as “the national interest.” This floating abstraction, of course, is whatever government officials say it is, and since ideology and ambition can make the most egregious acts seem necessary and even virtuous, no doubt the Shin Bet officials who colluded with the PFLP did so thinking they were serving Israel’s cause.
In any case, the “divide and conquer” strategy has always been the linchpin of Israel’s strategy for survival, and this is true right up to the present day, when a U.S.-Israeli “redirection,” as Seymour Hersh calls it, is behind a recent pro-Sunni tilt designed to exacerbate the Sunni-Shi’ite split in the Muslim world. The idea is to unite America’s traditional allies in the Middle East against Iran and the rising “Shia crescent.”
“By way of deception, thou shalt make war” – that’s the motto of the Mossad, Israeli’s main intelligence agency, and it doubtless inspires its various auxiliaries, such as Shin Bet. Israel, a small country beset by legions of hostile neighbors, has relied not only on its military prowess – often likened to that of Sparta, another completely militarized, socialist state – but also on pure duplicity to achieve its goals. In evaluating Israel’s actions, and especially in trying to understand what is going on in the Middle East, it is best to always keep this in mind. When it comes to that troubled region, the realization that events are not always what they seem is the beginning of wisdom.