The consequences of ‘deals’ with antisemitic terror

European governments struck 'deals' with Palestinian terrorists, in exchange for what was deemed 'limited' concessions and collateral damage, but In too many cases that meant expendable Jewish lives.

 ROME’S GREAT SYNAGOGUE. The 1982 attack was claimed to be a surprise to Italian authorities, though they had been warned of threats to Jewish targets in Italy.  (photo credit: REMO CASILLI/ REUTERS)
ROME’S GREAT SYNAGOGUE. The 1982 attack was claimed to be a surprise to Italian authorities, though they had been warned of threats to Jewish targets in Italy.
(photo credit: REMO CASILLI/ REUTERS)

On October 9, 1982 – the end of Sukkot – a group of five Palestinian operatives attacked the Great Synagogue in central Rome with hand grenades and submachine guns, killing a two-year-old – Stefano Gaj Taché – and wounding 37 worshipers.

The attack was claimed to be a surprise to Italian authorities, though they had been warned of threats on Jewish targets in Italy, in particular, and in Europe in general following the June 1982 “Peace for Galilee” military operation, meant to break Palestinian terrorist networks in Southern Lebanon. A side effect of the operation was scores of European terrorists fleeing home from the PLO training camps... and, with them, a new wave of terrorism in France, Italy and Austria, among others.

So why did the Italian security establishment express surprise in 1982? Why had there been no police stationed next to the synagogue, as has been the case ever since?

Perhaps because of the so-called “Lodo Moro,” a secret pact of non-belligerence between the Italian state and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, part of the PLO, that had been responsible for the deadly Rome-Fiumicino airport massacre (34 killed, more than 20 wounded) a decade earlier, on December 17,1973. 

This “deal” – that owes its name to then-foreign minister Aldo Moro, but was brokered by the Italian intelligence services – allowed the PFLP freedom of passage with weapons and explosives on the peninsula, often aided by Italian subversive groups, in exchange for a guarantee not to attack Italy or Italian interests abroad. It was a verbal agreement only, but emerged during the work of an Italian parliamentary commission of inquiry in the late 1990s, and was then picked up by the media in 2015 (Quotidiano Nazionale, October 8).

 Palestinian militants of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) burn representations of an Israeli flag and a US flag during a protest against Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in Gaza City December 7, 2017.  (credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM) Palestinian militants of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) burn representations of an Israeli flag and a US flag during a protest against Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in Gaza City December 7, 2017. (credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM)

The Lodo Moro did not include the Fatah Revolutionary Council, a.k.a. the Abu Nidal Organization (ANO), which was the opposition of the PLO. The Rome Great Synagogue terror attack was, in fact, Abu Nidal’s brainchild. The only known perpetrator of that attack, Osama Abdel al-Zomar, is free, reportedly living in Tripoli, Libya.

Lacking the privilege of another deal, the Fatah Revolutionary Council would strike Italy again in 1985, at the Fiumicino airport’s El Al and TWA desks – leaving 19 killed and 140 injured.

That same year, despite Lodo Moro, the PFLP hijacked the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro, where Jewish-American paraplegic Leon Klinghoffer was shot and thrown overboard. The aftermath triggered an intense diplomatic crisis between the United States and Italy.

Following the 1980s’ spate of terror attacks against Jewish targets in Europe, our office was informed of a similar “verbal deal” struck by French intelligence (DST) with ANO, to the effect that offered “freedom of movement in France in exchange for a moratorium on violence on French territory.” Lacking a reliable source, we initially dismissed such an outrage. Recently, the deal was acknowledged in an interview with a former head of the DST security service, Yves Bonnet (Le Parisien, August 8, 2019).

This writer had been approached by an Air France pilot, who claimed that arms from Venezuela were sent by sea to French Caribbean regions Martinique and Guadeloupe. From there, they were flown to Paris on what were considered domestic flights, not subject to customs regulations. Reportedly, the arms then reached the PLO “embassy” in Paris. Samuels raised the question with an adviser to President François Mitterrand, but received no response. On May 24, 1982, the French Embassy in Lebanon was bombed, leaving 12 dead and 30 wounded. In July, PLO “ambassador” to France Ibrahim Souss was called to the Élysée regarding arms arriving in France.

On August 9, the Abu Nidal terror group machine-gunned Goldenberg’s restaurant in the Paris Marais Jewish Quarter, leaving six dead and 22 wounded. It was apparently then that – according to whistle-blower Bonnet – the Paris “deal” between the secret service and the terrorists was made. In those years, similar deals were struck with Palestinian terrorist organizations on a regular basis, for example, in Austria.

During a September 1973 train station hostage crisis, Austria had concluded a confidential negotiation with the Palestinians, brokered in a frenzy of meetings, in the presence of the ambassadors of Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq. The Austrian government gave in and, in exchange for the release of the hostages, allowed safe passage to the terrorists but promised to no longer grant transit facilities for Soviet Jews who emigrated to Israel through Austria.

Another terror attack took place in 1975, led by Carlos “the Jackal” for the PFLP, against an OPEC meeting in Vienna, that saw three killed and others taken hostage. The Austrian government caved in again, allowing a radio broadcast calling for Arabs worldwide to launch a “total liberation war,” followed by the terrorists’ safe passage to Algeria, with their hostages, and subsequent ransom.

The progressive opening of secret archives will shed more light on such cases. Together with the Italian-Jewish community, the Wiesenthal Center urges the Italian government to unveil the related files. In decades of research and conjectures, patterns and constants do emerge:

Though terrorist groups had different origins and ideological mindsets, many operators had trained together in Lebanon and kept in touch afterward, sometimes ideologically entwined, as was the case of the military-sports-group Hoffmann, involved in the 1980 Oktoberfest bombing, whose leader, Karl-Heinz Hoffmann, had brought several members to be trained by Fatah in Lebanon. The PLO had apparently decided that, once trained, antisemitic extremists, from far Right or Left, would be used against Israeli or Jewish targets;

Several governments – in the Middle East and North Africa, but also beyond, encompassing the East-West divide – have willingly colluded with terrorist activities: financing, sheltering and training operatives to use as “deniable” pawns of their own power games;

European governments struck “deals” – as deniable as possible, but also quite concrete and detailed – namely with Palestinian terrorists, in exchange for what was deemed “limited” concessions and collateral damage;

In many cases, those “concessions,” de facto, meant facilitating criminal cooperation, arms trafficking, exchange of intelligence with terror groups, legitimizing hate and violence;

In too many cases, that “collateral damage” meant Jewish lives as expendable.

Mea culpa is due for the dire and shameful consequences of deals with terrorists. In his 2015 inauguration speech, Italian President Sergio Mattarella recalled that “[Italy] has paid several times, in the not too distant past, the price of hate and intolerance. I want to remember only one name: Stefano Taché, who was killed in the cowardly terrorist attack on the synagogue in Rome in October 1982. He was only two years old. He was our baby, an Italian baby.”

We add: “May all the victims of European ‘deals’ be remembered.”

Shimon Samuels is director for international relations of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Alex Uberti is a researcher and consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center – Europe.