One consequence of the 1967 war was an escalation in terrorist activities by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), which often provoked Israeli reprisals.
The Syrian government became one of the principal sponsors of the Palestinian radicals, allowing many groups to set up their headquarters in Damascus, and even creating its own faction called Saiqa. Syria's leaders did not allow the Palestinians too much freedom, preventing them from creating a state within a state, as they would do in Jordan, and barring terrorist incursions from Syrian territory to prevent Israeli retaliation.
After 1967, the scale of terrorism intensified, with the PLO increasingly choosing to attack Israeli targets, or simply Jews, outside the Middle East. This was the height of hijacking and other heinous activities. Here are a few "lowlights" of the 1970s terrorist campaign against Israel:
- May 1970 - 12 Israelis were killed when Palestinian terrorists attacked a bus carrying schoolchildren at Moshav Avivim in the Galilee.
- September 1970 - Pan Am, Swissair, and TWA planes carrying a total of 400 passengers were hijacked from Amsterdam, Zurich, and Frankfurt. The TWA and Swissair planes were forced to land in Zerqa, Jordan, and the Pan Am flight in Cairo. All three were blown up after the passengers were freed.
- May 1972 - Three Japanese terrorists working for the PFLP machine?gunned passengers at the Lod airport in Israel, killing 27 and wounding 80. Most victims were Puerto Rican Christians.
- April 1974 - Eighteen Jews were murdered as three Palestinian terrorists attacked an apartment block in Israel's northern city of Kiryat Shemona.
- May 1974 - Palestinian terrorists attacked a school in the Israeli town of Ma'alot, killing 24 Israelis and wounding 62 more.
- July 1975 - Palestinians bomb Jerusalem's Zion Square, killing 15 Israelis and wounding 62 more.
- March 1978 - Palestinian terrorists hijacked two buses on the Haifa-Tel Aviv coastal road, killing 35 Israelis and wounding 82 more.
By far the most serious threat the PLO posed was not to Israel, however, but to the regime of King Hussein.
Through the years in the refugee camps in Jordan, the Palestinians became increasingly militant and powerful. By the late 1960s, they controlled the camps, openly brandished their weapons, and had a strong enough army to threaten King Hussein's regime.
The king concluded an agreement in July 1970 with the PLO's new leader, Yasser Arafat, but the ink was hardly dry when Palestinians hijacked TWA and KLM airliners and landed them at the airport in Amman.
The passengers were ultimately rescued, but the incident escalated the tension between the Palestinian radicals and Hussein, and armed clashes soon began to break out between the king's troops and the PLO. On September 19, Syrian tanks crossed the Jordanian border to support the Palestinians.
The Israelis were naturally alarmed by a conflict not far from their borders, and were worried that a PLO takeover of Jordan would pose a grave threat to their security. The United States was also concerned by the developments because King Hussein was viewed as a pro?Western moderate in the region, while the Syrians were backed by the aggressive Soviets.
King Hussein requested that the U.S. launch air strikes to protect Jordan, but Nixon preferred to have Israel intervene.
King Hussein requested that the United States launch air strikes to support his forces. Nixon, however, preferred to have Israel intervene. The Israelis were prepared to do so, with Hussein's acquiescence, but Hussein's troops rallied and drove the invaders out before it became necessary for Israel to join the fight.
After Hussein's forces repulsed the Syrians, they turned on the PLO, killing and wounding thousands of Palestinians and forcing the leadership along with thousands of refugees into Syria and Lebanon. The incident came to be known among Palestinians as Black September.
The brief threat to Hussein had a number of significant repercussions:
- Israel's willingness to come to the king's aid, albeit out of its own self?interest, created warmer relations between Hussein and the Israeli leadership, which facilitated periodic secret meetings to try to make peace. Jordan has never again been involved in military action against Israel.
- Israel's willingness and ability to defend a U.S. ally was also its first demonstration of its strategic value to the United States.
- The flood of new Palestinians later critically destabilized Lebanon, and the PLO leadership eventually re?created its own state within a state there.
During the summer of 1972, the Olympics were held in Munich, Germany. The German government desperately wanted to put on a great show for the world and do what it could to erase the awful memories of the last Olympics held in the country ?- the 1936 Berlin games, which Adolf Hitler used as a propaganda tool to promote his image and ideas of Aryan superiority.
Instead, those awful memories were not only resurrected, they were made worse by the nightmarish events of September 5.
At 4:30 a.m., five Arab terrorists wearing track sweat suits climbed the 6-foot fence surrounding the Olympic Village. Although they were seen by several people, no one thought anything was unusual since athletes routinely hopped the fence; moreover, the terrorists' weapons were hidden in athletic bags. These five were met by three more terrorists, who are presumed to have had credentials to enter the Village.
Just before 5:00 a.m., the Arabs knocked on the door of Israeli wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg. When Weinberg opened the door, he realized something was wrong and shouted a warning to his comrades. He and weightlifter Joseph Romano attempted to block the door while other Israelis escaped, but they were killed by the terrorists. The Arabs then succeeded in rounding up nine Israelis to hold as hostages.
At 9:30 a.m., the terrorists announced that they were Palestinians. They demanded that Israel release 200 Arab prisoners and threatened to kill the athletes unless the terrorists were given safe passage out of Germany. Israel offered to assist the German police and send its own counter?terror force to rescue the hostages, but the Germans wouldn't allow them to help.
After hours of tense negotiations, the Palestinians, who, it was later learned, belonged to a PLO faction called Black September (named for the date of the war with Jordan), agreed to a plan in which they were to be taken by helicopter to the NATO air base at Firstenfeldbruck. There, they and their hostages would be flown to Cairo.
The terrorists and their hostages were then taken by bus to the helicopters and flown to the airfield. In the course of the transfer, the Germans discovered that there were not five terrorists but eight, and they didn't have enough marksmen to carry out the plan to kill the terrorists at the airport.
After the helicopters landed at the airport around 10:30 p.m., the German sharpshooters attempted to kill the terrorists and a bloody firefight ensued. At 11:00 p.m., the media was mistakenly informed that the hostages had been saved, and the news was announced to a relieved Israeli public.
A month later, a Lufthansa jet was hijacked, and the West German authorities freed the Munich terrorists.
Almost an hour later, however, new fighting broke out, and one of the helicopters holding the Israelis was blown up by a terrorist grenade. The remaining hostages in the second helicopter were shot to death by one of the surviving terrorists. A total of 11 Israeli athletes were murdered.
Five of the terrorists were killed along with one policeman, and three were captured. A little over a month later, on October 29, a Lufthansa jet was hijacked by terrorists demanding that the Munich killers be released. After the West German authorities freed the terrorists, the plane was released.
An Israeli assassination squad was assigned to track down the Palestinian murderers, along with those responsible for planning the Olympics massacre. Eventually, eight of the 11 men targeted for death were killed. Of the remaining three, one died of natural causes and the other two were assassinated, but it is not known for sure if they were killed by Israeli agents.
Excerpted with permission from: "The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Middle East Conflict," by Mitchell Bard, Ph.D. (Alpha Books - Macmillan USA)