Air terror of the times: The '70s

By the time the Sayeret Matkal forces heard about the Air France Flight 139 hijacking in June 1976, many of them were unfazed.

By the time the Sayeret Matkal forces heard about the Air France Flight 139 hijacking in June 1976, many of them were unfazed. Hostage taking and skyjacking were rampant in the region during those years, increasing dramatically after the 1967 Six Day War, with the founding of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which used skyjacking as its signature method. The PFLP, which described itself as a Marxist-Leninist organization with the goal of "liberating all of Palestine," was against any negotiations with Israel. "They started hijacking Israeli planes and when that became more difficult, they focused on other international air carriers with routes to Israel," says international terrorism expert Dr. Boaz Ganor of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. "Skyjackings were used to try to release hardcore PFLP members from Israeli and other international prisons, to send a message to the Palestinian public of strength, to compete with the other Palestinian organizations and to recruit new members," he explains. The PFLP carried out a series of skyjacking and hostage taking operations in the late '60s and 1970s, starting with the November 1968 hijacking of an El Al plane that was taken to Algiers. After 40 days, all the hijackers and all the hostages were released. The outcomes were not always that clean, however. In 1970, the PFLP blew up a Swiss Air flight to Tel Aviv, killing all 47 passengers. The PFLP frequently partnered with other Marxist terror groups, like the Japanese Red Army for the Lod Massacre in 1972 and the German Baader-Meinhof Gang for the 1976 skyjacking to Entebbe. Israel, like most countries at the time, did not have a policy on negotiating for hostages, and dealt with each situation on its own merits, says Ganor. "One of the most interesting side effects of Entebbe was that Rabin really spelled out an official statement," he says, "and it was the first time it was ever practiced." The [philosophy] was much more sophisticated than "not negotiating," says Ganor. "A military solution was always preferred. The second part was that if you don't have a military or possible military solution, then you negotiate with the terrorists seriously to find a compromise and consensus to end the conflict. There are always practical, tactical negotiations to release tension and find tactical solutions, like bringing food and water. Strategic negotiations will be if there is no prospect of a military solution." Entebbe also raised eyebrows and questions around the world. Though many United Nations member states tried and eventually failed to pass resolutions condemning Israel for violating a sovereign state, the international community started debating if a nation can hold a military operation on foreign soil if it really constitutes self-defense. An official of the United Nations Secretariat from 1945-1986, Sir Brian Urquhart, wrote in a recent article on international law that the Entebbe raid "is now credited as a precedent for extending the right of self-defense to protecting nationals abroad." After Entebbe, the UN member states also called for and soon passed a resolution against skyjacking and hostage taking. Entebbe had other far-reaching effects, says Ganor. "Other countries started immediately forming special forces units." -L.G.F.