'Post' contributor target of terror plot

Document exposes 1975 Palestinian assassination plan in Australia.

Isi Leibler 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Isi Leibler 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Isi Leibler, a frequent contributor to the Op-Ed pages of The Jerusalem Post discovered on Sunday night that he had been one of the targets of a Palestinian assassination plot in 1975. According to intelligence documents released on Sunday, terrorists planned to kill pro-Israel politician Bob Hawke (who was to become prime minister in 1983), then Israeli ambassador Michael Elizur, Leibler and journalist Sam Lipski. Leibler learned of the plot from his son Jonathan, a Ra'anana-based lawyer who came across it by chance when surfing the Internet. "I knew that there were pressures against me, but I did not know that I was a target for assassination," Isi Leibler told the Post. Leibler said found it rather surrealistic to be looking back in the context of Australia 30 years ago, while living now in Jerusalem and facing an even more menacing, existential threat, he said. Liebler, who settled here eight years ago, said he would write to the Australian authorities, to ask for an explanation as to why he was not told at the time. He also intends to learn as much about the foiled assassination as he can. Lipski, who while working in Washington as the correspondent for the national daily The Australian, also wrote for the Post and maintained an association with the paper long after he stopped being a regular contributor. Like Leibler, Lipski was unaware he had been a target, although he did suspect that someone might have been out to get him. Lipski, who is now CEO of the Pratt Foundation, told the Melbourne daily The Age that he was surprised that ASIO - the Australian Security Intelligence Organization - had not told him at the time. But he said the Jewish community had been given general warnings about the possibility of high-profile figures being sent parcel bombs. "I did look over my shoulder for a while," he said. "I hope they at least sent a police car down the street from time to time." The information came to light with the release of 1976 Australian cabinet documents, which had been classified for 30 years. The details were in a secret ASIO report that had been presented to the cabinet of prime minister Malcolm Fraser. The report described the terrorist threat to Australia at a time when Palestinian groups were hijacking aircraft and carrying out attacks aimed at Jewish institutions in Europe and the Middle East. ASIO identified a key figure in the plan as Munif Mohammed (Ahmed) Abu Rish, who came to Australia in 1974 claiming to be a journalist and indicated he would return in 1975 to plan the ambassador's assassination. The terrorists were reportedly given fake passports by Palestinians living in Australia. Abu Rish was apparently diverted on to other tasks by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and did not return. He was reportedly killed mistakenly in 1993 by the IDF in Gaza. ASIO became concerned about potential Palestinian terrorist activity in Australia long before 1976. As far back as 1972, 15 letter bombs addressed to Israeli diplomats and members of the Jewish community were intercepted in Australian post offices. Based on its intelligence sources, ASIO believed that the letter bombs had been sent by the Black September terrorist wing of Fatah, some of whose members entered Australia at various times in the early 1970s. The main clue to date that anything had been seriously amiss can be found in Hawke's biography. Although there is no specific mention of the assassination plot, there is a reference to the distress he suffered in 1973 when he was telephoned by a man claiming to be from Black September who threatened the lives of his children. The report in The Age refers to Hawke's address to the Zionist Federation in Sydney in January 1974, when he broke down while urging an end to the government's policy of neutrality in the Middle East conflict. "I know that if we allow the bell to be tolled for Israel, it will have tolled for me, for us all," he said. While Lipski pursued a high-profile career in both the electronic and print media, working for the Jewish as well as the general press, Leibler became the president of Victorian Jewish Board of Deputies and later president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. In both capacities, Leibler had close contacts with influential politicians, especially Hawke, both when Hawke headed the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and later when he became prime minister. Although Hawke was already well-disposed toward Israel, it is possible that Leibler, Lipski and other members of the Jewish community had something to do with enhancing his ardently pro-Israel attitude.