1. Indirect Middle-Eastern strategies: the rules of the game
- Rule n° 1
- Rule n° 2
- Syria’s needs
- Rule n° 3
- Iran’s needs
- Arafat’s needs
- The Rejection Front’s needs
- The Hezbollah’s needs
- Rule n° 4
What is known as terrorism, or political violence, has its own objective reality, and exists independently of our capacities of research, whether they be investigative or journalistic. Clandestinity and secrecy being the norm in terrorist organisations, direct knowledge of their nature is available only to their leaders; even then, it would only concern one specific movement (since no real “international” exists); over a certain period of time, due to the high risks of the game.
But while an observer may not totally grasp the reality, he may at least attempt to make it intelligible, by isolating its identifiable, recognizable and stable aspects, highlighting its regular features and revealing its underlying structures.
For the more complex and dangerous forms of terrorism, the Middle Eastern ones, therefore, nothing could be more useful than a corpus of verified data, the genealogies and topologies of these groups and the chains of events they set off, using the widest possible variety of sources. Analysts using this basis of knowledge could then perceive and identify much easier the threats as they appear in times of crisis, and make swift, reliable diagnoses of terrorist acts.
As far as Middle-Eastern terrorism is concerned, particularly the Rejection Front organisations (or Palestine National Salvation Front, its latest denomination) now and the islamic revolutionaries, three questions come to mind:
- What are the internal dynamics of these groups?
- With whom are they affiliated, and to which external powers do they owe allegiance, if any ?
- What can be done to incapacitate them, at least in Europe and in Western countries?
There are two ways of answering these questions:
First, the theoretical approach, the magisterial lecture : the besetting sin of international conferences. An abstract speech, the validity and coherence of which nothing and no-one can corroborate; possibly refutable by other, equally unverifiable theories. “This is what Abu Nidal is like” says one, “and this is what he does”. “Not at all”, retorts another. But since Abu Nidal rarely attends conferences, and will not point out which of the theories is correct, we remain in darkness.
The second approach is the one we have chosen: to base our research on the real situations we have under our eyes.
As of Spring 1988, and after a period of relative peace -as far as transnational terrorism is concerned- following the attacks of the late ’85 to September ’86 period (Rome and Vienna airports, Karachi airport, Istanbul synagogue, the Paris bombings etc.), the transnational Middle-Eastern terrorist nebula is once again taking the offensive. Amid confusion, propaganda campaigns and mediatic noise, all sorts of political, strategic and diplomatic events, as well as acts of terrorism, are taking place. All this muddled activity must have a meaning; but which?
If we can reconstitute the chains of events, understand the inner workings of non-state terrorist entities, show that these groups have both a practical and an exchange value, and pinpoint the rules of this extremely complex game, then we will have achieved our objective and answered our earlier questions.
Xavier Raufer – January 1990
INDIRECT STATEGIES IN THE MIDDLE-EAST: THE RULES OF THE GAME.
It is clear that what has governed the committal of terrorist acts in the Middle East over the last twenty years, is anything but accidental. This is a game with strict rules, as well-known in the area as those of rugby in a Cardiff or a Dublin pub. The rules are obeyed by everyone in the area, be they Muslims, Christians, Jews, Druses or whatever. Every community, every religious sect, every clan knows them by heart; they know from experience that rule-breaking has a very high price : Anwar al-Sadat, Bashir Jumayyil, René Muaw’wad, and a hundred others have paid for the local equivalent of a penalty with their lives. Each one of them has crossed what is locally known as the “Red Lines”. These “red lines” are sometimes physical, sometimes political. Crossing them means war.
The sabotage of peace plans is the favourite politico-military exploit in the Middle East. This exercise in indirect strategy is performed as a show that we have seen five or six times since 1974 : it is perfectly mastered, works to perfection, much to the satisfaction of those who order it, and the Western world looks on in amazement as, yet again, the rabbit comes out of the hat before their very eyes. The “play” generally has three acts:
Act I: the country which is most implicated in the peace plan, pushing Arafat to the front of the diplomatic stage, is severely punished (see P. 17 for the Austrians’ fate, etc.).
Act II: A Jewish personality or house of worship is attacked, in order to stiffen the Israeli “hawks’” resolve, and reduce their “doves” to embarrassed silence.
Act III: A PLO diplomat is assassinated, preferably one engaged in a dialogue with Israel, the result being a cooling of the Palestinian leadership’s pacifist zeal.
Grand finale: all the actors in the play firmly assert that they will pursue the peace process, will not let themselves be intimidated by heinous killers, and so on. Once the dust has settled, everyone discovers that the whole affair has sunk irretrievably into the mud, and move on to something else. Two years later, the play is put on again, and meets with the same success. Act I becomes Act II, etc., and the audience believes the play is entirely new. Only the finale never changes. The stage directors have been, in succession, Iraq, 1974-78, and Syria since then. The actors? Different groups in the Rejection Front since 1974, with Lebanese, Sunni or Shi’ite Islamist additions since 1985 : they now form what is known as the “Carlton Coalition”.
But let us see how the apparently incomprehensible complexity of the Middle-Eastern scene from April to December 1988 can be explained in a more concrete manner, by using the scenario sketched out above.
Rule N° 1:
Each wave of Middle-Eastern terrorism is preceded by a period of confusion, when incomprehensible, not to say unexpected, attacks take place, and when coded declarations, reconciliations, and spectacular break-ups become common occurrences. None of these events can be explained by current affairs, nor by the wars being waged at that moment in the area. They become however significant if one postulates the knowledge, by certain governments, of a future event, unknown to most. All the turmoil is in fact attempted sabotage of, or preparation for, the incoming event by the “initiated”, thus signalling its pending occurrence.
In other words: until April 1988, everything, or nearly everything, is quiet in the Middle East; again, as far as terrorism is concerned. Moreover, under intense pressure from Soviet Union, Algeria, Libya and Saudi Arabia, Hafiz al-Asad had resigned himself to playing along with Yasser Arafat, just until the time is ripe for revenge, of course…
Asad is humiliated by this forced reconciliation, since Arafat, kept informed by his intelligence service of the true military situation in Iran, has been more and more openly courting the Iraqis since the previous year. The plan for this reconciliation would follow these phases:
a) End of the “war of the (palestinian) camps” in Lebanon,
b) Opening of high-level talks between Syria and the PLO,
c) Cancelling of Syria’s considerable debts towards the PLO,
d) Reopening of the PLO offices in Damascus,
e) Management of the Fatah’s military operations from Damascus,
f) State visit to Syria by Arafat.
This scenario is still in place when the funeral of Abu Jihad takes place in Damascus, in April 1988. But at the end of that month, Syria discovers simultaneously that:
a) Iran is simply waiting for an excuse to accept U.N. resolution 598 (the ending of the Iran-Iraq war);
b) unofficial talks have started between the PLO and the United States in Stockholm, and are likely to become official in time.
Now, while on the one hand the end of the Iran-Iraq war is a considerable source of anxiety for Asad, depriving him of his favourite role on the local stage (that of the arsonist-firefighter), even so much as a hint of peace between Israel and its neghbours would be mortally dangerous to his own community. Only the spectre of the “Sionist enemy” could justify strict military mobilisation in Syria, and legitimize the 10% Nusaïri/Alawite minority’s crushing domination over the 90% Sunni population.
The Iranians in fact hold out one last hope: that of making Kuwait, Iraq’s hinterland and vital financial backer, relent. This is the reason for the last indirect action in the Iran-Iraq conflict, the hijacking of a Kuwaiti Airways Boeing 747, flight KU 422 from Bangkok to Kuwait. But the result is a stalemate: the hijackers disappear in Algiers, 362 hours later, but Kuwait do not give in and refuses to free the 17 Islamic Jihad militants detained in Kuwaiti prisons. Iran is therefore obliged to halt warfare at last.
Thus the scene suddenly changes for Syria and Iran. All the pieces in the chess game move, and all the carefully constructed alliances in Lebanon change too.
What are, then, the needs of the various protagonists in this Middle-Eastern politico-military drama, in the Spring of 1988? I repeat, need, since:
Rule N° 2:
Manœuvres in this region always take their source in the most cold-blooded “real-politik”. At best, ideals are flourished in order to legitimize actions, or at worst, simply to wrap them up in disguise. Abu Nidal and Ahmad Jibreel, for instance, fervent admirers of Mao Zedong strategies, found it quite easy to espouse the Koran; Hafiz al-Asad, renowned Pan-Arabist, allies with Persians against Iraq; and, as for Arafat, in the very same month, in 1979, he declares to Imam Khomeyni that he will, under his guidance, free the islamic city of Jerusalem, and to Saddam Husayn that Palestine would be the child of a progressist union by Arab nationalists… As the old Tsarist Russian proverb says, “Word of honor given to a moujik means nothing to a nobleman”…
Inspire fear in the region : show its striking power : in other words, neighbours should not seek to gain profit from a passing weakness, or else….
The chess board, in effect the battlefield, for this game is of course Lebanon. Syria’s first priority is to strike at the centre of the anti- Asad coalition, comprising the PLO, the Christian Lebanese Forces, and Iraqi local allies. This backbone is Arafat’s forces, and so the Palestinian leadership is “punished” in four different ways:
a) By Amal, Syria’s ally, who set off the “war against the camps”, in the Beirut suburbs (Chatila and Sabra), and in South Lebanon (Ain Helwe, Rashidiyeh, Myeh-Myeh etc.).
b) By the Rejection Front’s Palestinian dissidents (Abu Musa, etc.), who hunt down Arafat’s supporters in North Lebanon, in Tripoli, Badawi etc.
c) By Abu Nidal, targeting Greece as Arafat’s main European patron, and comiting the massacre on the “City of Poros”; this because Asad was offended at Arafat’s choosing to leave Lebanon, at the time of his expulsion, by sea via Athens, rather than by land via Damascus.
d) By Ahmad Jibreel, who punishes him indirectly, through the Americans who had reopened talks with the PLO, by blowing up Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie in December 1988.
At the same time, Syria strengthens its control over its more indisciplined Lebanese allies, and more particularly over the Hezbollah in the Southern suburbs of Beirut. It now keeps a much tighter rein on the Party of God.
Needless to say, the diabolical skill with which Syria accomplished all owes nothing to chance, and constitutes our :
Rule N° 3:
The leading actors on the Middle-Eastern stage each have their own characteristic style of terrorism or of punishment – in short, the administration of terror – whether in the region or further afield, depending on their history and culture. The Alawite style is that of an tiny minority, in constant danger of extermination, and therefore highly skilled at dissimulating strategies and covering its traces. When confronted with a major problem or a hostile manœuver, the Syrians will never openly counter-attack. First of all, they will give in, and verbally agree to any demand. Reconciliation with Arafat ? Fine ! With Saddam Husayn ? A marvellous idea ! Egypt to return to the Arab camp? Whenever they like…. all this being couched in flamboyant Pan-Arabic declarations. In a word, Hafiz al-Asad is the very essence of union. At the same time, the Syrian leaders deploy a vast assortment of tricks, including terrorism, to sabotage and destroy in practice what they have had to agree to in theory. Never is a country, a community or an individual more in danger than when they are welcomed with open arms in Damascus, and when the régime’s press smothers them with compliments. Arafat himself, who is an old hand at this kind of game, was taken in like a novice.
Iran needs to maintain its capacity to scare and to strike, mainly from its Lebanese base (the Hezbollah and its acolytes), and also to keep up the blackmail on several Western nations by means of hostages. It also needs to spread propaganda among the Sunni Muslims in the Mashriq, and more particularly among those in Palestine (the Islamic Jihad of Palestine, Hamas, the Palestinian Hezbollah, etc.)
The PLO leader knows he is progressing, but his progress in various domains must be balanced; otherwise, his boat could be overturned :
- massive progress in the media, because of the Intifada.
- considerable diplomatic advances, for example the talks with the United States, his reception in France, etc.
- But he also has to make “military” progress, and this is where the problems lays. Arafat knows that he must convoke a general congress of Fatah without delay, the first one in nearly ten years. The virulent criticism of his dicatatorial attitude and his disregard of democracy, from dissidents such as Abu Nidal or Abu Musa, having found echoes in the lower echelons of his own movement. Now, according to the statutes, the leadership of the Fatah should be renewed by a vote in which at least half of the voters are “fighters”; and the Palestinian rank-and-file creed is still armed struggle. If Arafat means to get the “fighters” on his side, he has to strengthen his fighting forces in South Lebanon, and build up near Israel the embryo of a Palestinian army, which could, from there, supply the Intifada in the West Bank and Gaza. So the Palestinian camps in South Lebanon have to be freed from Amal’s grasp, and a compromise found with Nabih Berri.
THE REJECTION FRONT’S NEEDS
Those Palestinians hostile to the PLO need even more desperately than Arafat to get into South Lebanon, near Israel. They accuse Arafat of impotence and could prove their superiority by making spectacular attacks in “occupied Palestine”. Arafat speaks, but we act, is their motto. The presence of this fighting force in the South necessarily involves an alliance with one of the two powers controlling the area: Amal, or the Hezbollah. As Amal is becoming friendlier towards the PLO, a change of partners soon takes place, like in a quadrille, between the different military forces in South Lebanon. Once this is over, Arafat and Amal form a more-or-less solid block, with a limited lifespan, as usual, and the Rejection Front and the Hezbollah have moved closer to each other. The Rejection Front’s main motive is money, apart from geographical constraints. Khadaffi, their main source of cash, is paying less and less, before stopping altogether. Iran gradually replaces Libya and encourages an alliance between the rejection Front and the Hezbollah.
THE HEZBOLLAH’S NEEDS
Over and above the convulsions on the Lebanese scene, and the odd fightings here and there, the Hezbollah has a serious problem after the cease fire between Iraq and Iran: it has to legitimize its struggle. All the propaganda around “today Karbala, tomorrow Jerusalem ” is now obsolete. Some other islamic reason for firing enthusiasm and mobilising the masses had to be found. The Intifada provides this reason. From Summer1988 onwards, the radios and Hezbollahi publications refer constantly to the Palestinian uprising, naturally emphasising its Islamic character. But propaganda is not enough; action in the service of the Intifada must follow, and so a “Palestinian Hezbollah” is created, and an alliance with the most radical members of the uprising, the Rejection Front, becomes a necessity.
In December 1988, once the dust has settled, the politico-military scene in Lebanon is as follows:
* The so-called “Carlton Coalition”, a multi-purpose tool for local, regional and international situations, appears, under Syrian and Iranian co-patronage, each of the two godfathers trying, as usual, to take the lion’s share. This Coalition, today, is the only one carrying out “Special Operations Abroad”, these following as well precise protocols:
A spectacular transnational attack, such as Lockerbie, the UTA DC10 bomb, or the wave of attacks in Paris in September 1986, is always motivated by strategical reasons. The doctrine governing its use is similar to that for nuclear weapons, both being extremely dangerous, reserved for an extremely grave threat, and for self-defence only. So in fact all the claims from groups asking for the release of this prisoner or that are simply pretexts, smokescreens to hide their instigator from the public view, if not from the the targeted government, and increase the reigning confusion.
* Syria’s traditional allies do not deviate from their strategic allegiances, but on the other hand, allow themselves to make tactical alliances on the battlefield which might seem atypical, but which serv both parties and are logical given the local situation, such as that of Amal and Arafat in the South.
* Arafat himself has set up a series of local alliances which would give vertigo – not to say headaches – to an expert in Byzantine intrigues. He shares south Lebanon with Amal Shi’ites, while keeping the lines of communication open with the Hezbollah; and, since he is an enemy of Syria, he is best friends with the Christian military, and particularly with Michel Aoun, Iraqis’ favourite puppet in the area. In northern Lebanon, he has maintained close ties with Saïd Sha’aban, Amir of the Islamic Unification Movement, even though the latter is a declared ally of Iran. But both control the surviving members of the Syrian Muslim Brethren, which could be a useful weapon against the Alawite leadership if necessary.
TERRORISTIC COALITIONS UNDER SYRIAN AUSPICES, OR SYRIAN-IRANIAN CONDOMINIUM, 1984-1989
I – Presentation of the interested parties
In order of creation, or of public appearance.
PFLP – General Command
(Palestinian) Syria, Lebanon, 1968
Fatah – Revolutionary Command (Abu Nidal)
(Palestinian), Iraq, Bahgdad, 1974
(Lebanese), Lebanon, 1982
“Tawheed”, Islamic Unification Movement
(Lebanese), Lebanon, 1982
Fatah-Provisional Command, or Fatah-Intifada
(Palestinian) Syria, Lebanon, 19831
Palestine National Salvation Front
(Palestinian), Syria, Damascus 1985
*(Rejection Front): The PFLP-CG, the Fatah-RC and the Fatah-I form a common “operations room” during the second quarter to act against Jordan in local and transnational terrorist acts, according to Arab sources. The sponsor is Syria, and support and logistics are provided by the Sai’qa, which is kept out of sight in view of its direct link with Damascus. The spearhead is Abu Nidal’s Fatah- RC. Operations will be signed “Black September”.
*(Rejection Front) Abuh Khaled al-Amleh, the Fatah-I second-in-command, publicly announces that a joint command with the Fatah-RC has been created.
*(Rejection Front/Islamist co-production) A restaurant near the American base at Torrejon, Spain, used by American soldiers, is bombed, resulting in 18 dead, and over 80 injured. This is a reaction against the attack on Sheikh Fazlallah’s home in Bir al-Abed, in the Southern suburbs of Beirut, a month earlier.
*(A co-production from the Rejection Front and Islamists) The First Secretary of the Jordanian Embassy in Ankara is assassinated.
*(Another Rejection Front/Islamist co-production): Bombs at the offices of the Jordanian airline, Alia, and of British Airways in Madrid.
*(Rejection Front: PFLP-GC) Bomb attacks against the offices of NorthWest airline, and the Copenhagen synagogue: 1 dead, 27 injured. Claimed by the “Islamic Jihad”.
*(Rejection Front/Islamists): Ahmad Jibreel (PFLP-GC) and Abu Musa (Fatah I) officially received by the Iranian president Ali Khamene’i, and the prime minister, Mir Husayn Mussawi, in Tehran, as “true representatives of the Palestinian People”.
*(Rejection Front: PFLP-GC) Bomb attack against the office of the Israeli airline El Al in Amsterdam: slight damage. Claimed by the “Islamic Jihad”.
Precise date unknown: (Rejection Front) PFLP-GC instructors assist in training a Fatah-RC commando which in September 1986 attack a Pan Am jet on Karachi airport. (53 dead, 100 injured).
*(Rejection Front: PFLP-GC) Offices of NorthWest airline in Stockholm bombed. Office damaged; “Islamic Jihad”.
*(Rejection Front – Islamist co-production) A PFLP-GC/Hezbollah joint commando, on the point of attacking an objective in upper Galilee, is intercepted by an Israeli patrol near its border.
SEPTEMBER-DECEMBER: The new dialogue between Arafat and the United States shows a risk of a new Middle-Eastern peace offensive, and is immediately countered by the Rejection Front. Following the rules for indirect warfare prevalent in the area, the counter-offensive is three-pronged: propaganda, terrorism, and diversionary manœuvers. The Palestinian “popular committees”, hostile to Arafat, federate in a highly visible manner in November 1988, at a meeting in a camp near Tripoli, in Nortern Lebanon. In early December Sheikh Asad al-Tamimi, presented as the “political and spiritual guide of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad” lashes out at “the Jews and their agents” (in his terms, that means Arafat). He calls for an alliance with the Palestine extremist secularist movements. One week later, Ahmad Jibreel, the leader of the PFLP-GC, warns: “The active forces of Arab nations are capable of countering the latest American manœuvers and their policy of betrayals”.
On December the 20th, the Rejection Front’s threatening propaganda receives an enthusiastic support from the “International Conference to support the Palestine Intifada”, an extraordinary gathering of the leaders of Beirut’s politico-military scene at the Carlton Hotel. Those present are the Tripoli Islamic Unification Movement (Sheikh Saïd Sha’aban, Sunni), the Palestine Islamic Jihad (Ahmad Hassan Muhanna, Sunni), the Iraqi Al-Dawa (Abu Muhammad, Shi’ite), the PFLP-GC (Ahmad Jibreel, secularist),the Hezbollah (Ibrahim al-Amin, Shi’ite), the Palestine National Salvation Front (Abu Musa, secularist), and finally the Fatah-Revolutionary Command (Abu Nidal, secularist, represented by Mansur Hamdan). Altogether, an exceptional “prize list”. Citizens from twenty nationalities held hostages, ranging from French to American and including Russians. Hijacking, car-bombs, assassinations, suicide vehicles, and ten different varieties of bomb. You name it, they had done it, from the streets of Paris to Pakistan, from Stockholm to Morocco, under a hundred different masks.
Here, at the Carlton Hotel in west-Beirut, the most colossal accumulation of transnational terrorism experts is gathered, invited by the Lebanese Sheikh Maher Hammud, a Sunni. What do they say? That they are united. That the Jihad must continue. That Arafat is a traitor and deserves to die. That America is going to pay. The next day, Pan Am’s flight 103 explodes in mid-flight over Lockerbie.
*(Rejection Front-Islamists) Summit meeting between Sobhi Tufeïli (Hezbollah) and Ahmad Jibreel (PFLP-GC) in Damascus. Union to “face and abort the Sionist, imperialist enemy’s plots”; “fraternal atmosphere”.
*(Rejection Front-Islamists) Summit meeting between the Hezbollah and the Palestine National Salvation Front: “France’s objective is to support Michel Aoun in the ruinously expensive war he is waging against the Islamic and Nationalist forces of Palestine and Lebanon”….”Let us close ranks to protect ourselves from foreign intervention”.
An amazing scene: a Lebanese Communist Party delegation officially visits the Hezbollah Majlis. The two parties agree to ” close ranks between nationalist and Islamic forces”. For these two implacable enemies – the Hezbollah has murdered anything remotely resembling a communist in areas under its control, ever since it came into existence – to be nice to each other, even if they only pay lip-service, means that the Syrian pressure must have been enormous, as must have been its desire to unify the ranks among its partisans.
(By the way, all the Hezbollah communiqués published since August 1989 referring to the activities of its highest instance, the Majlis Choura (consultative assembly), mention that it “meets in the Beirut suburbs”. Before this, no mention was ever made of the Majlis’ location, but it was common knowledge in Lebanon that it met in Baalbek. Under Syrian control, that is. Does the relative autonomy the Majlis enjoys in the southern suburbs make it freer to act ? And does it mean that Syria would seem “innocent” if the Hezbollah undertook a transnational terrorist campaign? In Africa, for instance?
III A TENACIOUS CURSE: ARAFAT’S “PATRONS” AND INTERLOCUTORS, 1981-89
What is the surest, almost infallible, way for a country in the Middle East, Europe, even for one of the superpowers, to court disaster? To receive Arafat with all due honors, and/or encourage or initiate a peace plan in the Middle East, in which the PLO has a significant role. If a proof is needed, here are the countries and heads of state falling into this category.
* Austria, Bruno Kreiski: Attack on a Viennese synagogue (grenades and machine guns) in August 1981: 2 dead, 18 injured.
December 1985: a similar attack against Vienna airport; 3 dead, 47 injured.
* Italy, Bettino Craxi: A similar attack on the Rome synagogue in Octo ber 1982: 1 dead, 36 injured.
December 1985, an identical attack on Rome airport, 16 dead, 75 in jured.
* Jordan, King Hussein: (see Black September)
* Greece, Andreas Papandreou: Massacre on the cruiser “City of Poros” in July 1988, similar style, 11 dead.
* Spain, Felipe Gonzales: Yasser Arafat is received with great cere mony by Felipe Gonzales and King Juan Carlos in January 1989. In May the Spanish Ambassador’s residence in Beirut is crushed under 240 mm shells and the Ambassador is killed. It was the only diplo mat’s residence to be singled out thus, and the only heavy shelling in the area occurred here. In the Syrian camp, it was whispered that this “treatment” was did not occur by chance… This deplorable inci dent was distressing indeed, since:
Rule N° 5:
In the Middle East, you never have enemies. No-one will ever look you straight in the eye and say “Stop arming and supporting so-and-so, or else !”. You will simply, without clear warning, be the victim of a spectacular attack. The very person who ordered it will be the first to send you his condolences, lament over the disaster, and denounce the despicable killers who….
Shortly afterwards this same person will contact you again. He will explain that new attacks are rumoured, and that he himself is doing his best to stop them. He will ask for a gesture to placate these mysterious terrorists, over whom he has some “influence”. Why not suspend – momentarily, of course – the arms deliveries to X, we were recently talking about? Or balance things out by delivering also some weapons to Y? So, your friend will have excellent arguments to defend you… As a reward for his ministrations, your new friend will content himself with a few favours of an economic, or a military variety. Oh, and, while you’re at it, just a few words of praise in the press…
* The United States of America, George Bush: Pan Am flight 103 des troyed over Scotland in December 1988, two months after the official re-opening of talks between the PLO and the United States in October (270 dead).
* France, François Mitterrand: A UTA DC 10 was blown up over Africa in September 1989, four months after Arafat was received in Paris in May (170 dead).
Those wishing to double the risks of disaster must make sure they are defying both Syria and Iran at the same time, even though the two countries’ reasons to hit you might be different. For example, France and the United States in Lebanon, in 1982-3. As far as Syria was concerned, the two countries had no business in what it considered as its own back yard. Islamic Iran considered that the presence of Christians in Islam amounted to starting a new Crusade. Nevertheless, the result is:
April 1983: a sacrifice-mission vehicle into the United States Embassy in Beirut: 63 dead.
October 1983: A sacrifice-mission vehicle into the French parachutist and US marines headquarters: 330 dead. Not forgetting the wave of hostage-taking among French and American citizens in Lebanon in the years following.
The latest known case of the “Curse” effect is that of France. Since May 1989, our country has successively
a) received Yasser Arafat with great pomp,
b) raised the PLO bureau in Paris to the rank of Palestine General Delegation;
c) sent part of the french fleet to patrol the Mediterranean before Beirut.
None of these initiatives could be criticized as such (whereas the “intervention force” sent to Lebanon in 1982 was a dramatic mistake), but have the risks of such actions been weighed? Has the government realised that no-one has managed to avoid severe “punishment” in previous years, in such a case ? Have all the counter-measures been taken?
IV A CONCRETE CO-PRODUCTION: “BLACK SEPTEMBER”, 1984-85
In 1984, Yasser Arafat and King Hussein of Jordan decided to suggest a Middle-East peace plan to the international community, based on the creation of a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation. Shortly afterwards, in :
MARCH 1984: A bomb explode at the Amman Intercontinental Hotel. 2 injured. Two further bombs are defused in front of the British Consulate and Cultural Centre.
OCTOBER 1984: Bomb attempt near the Ammam home of Hani al-Hassan, a member of the Fatah CC and a prominent member of the PLO.
NOVEMBER 1984; A diplomat in the Jordanian Embassy in Bucharest, Romania, is assassinated.
MARCH 1985: Grenades thrown at the offices of the Jordanian airline Alia, in Nicosia, Cyprus, and Athens and Rome. 5 injured.
APRIL 1985: Rockets (RPG 7’s) fired at the Jordanian Embassy in Rome, and at an Alia jet at Athens airport. The latter did not explode.
JULY 1985: A Jordanian diplomat assassinated in Ankara.
AUGUST 1985: Machine-gunning and grenades thrown at the Alia offices in Madrid.
The “Black September” attacks stop abruptly in September 1985. A month later, Jordan ceased to help the Muslim Brethren who had taken refuge on Jordanian soil, and forbid any anti-Syrian operations originating in Jordan. As if by magic, the Arafat-Hussein dialogue got hopelessely bogged down around the same time, finally to break off in February 1986.
V THE HEZBOLLAH INTELLIGENCE PALESTINIAN CONNECTION
The main intelligence service in the Hezbollah is the Special Security Organization, created on the advice, and with the help, of the Iranian Pasdaran unit (Guardians of the Revolution), garrisoned in the Bekaa valley since Summer 1982. It was shortly after the start of the Israeli invasion that the Shi’ite networks and militant Islamist organizations which had already been in operation for ten years in Lebanon (before 1979, to prepare the forthcoming Islamic revolution in Iran, and after 1979, to serve it), came out into the open and federated under the name of Hezbollah. The situation in Lebanon, a mixture of civil war and clanic- religious fighting, plus foreign intervention and occupation as a bonus, made it a necessity to have a good intelligence service, to ward off possible infiltrations and nasty surprises. The model chosen was that of the PLO/Fatah Intelligence services, firstly because they were efficient, but mainly because most of the leaders of the Hezbollah Special Security Organization had concrete experience of how those services operated.
At the start of the 80’s, one of the leaders of the Palestinian intelligence in Lebanon, Mahmud al-Natur “Abu Tayeb”2 who was in charge of Palestinian security and installations in Lebanon, recruited a considerable number of young Shi’ite Lebanese fascinated by the Palestinian resistance. They fought in South Lebanon, and undertook Force 17’s “dirty jobs”. Some of them felt abandoned after the PLO left Beirut in the summer of 1982, and returned to their communities and their faith. The talents of Sheikh Muhammad Husayn Fazlallah, preaching in Imam Reza’s Mosque in Bir al-Abed (southern suburbs of Beirut), did a lot for the return of these prodigal sons. Their elders, Ibrahim al-Amin, Sobhi Tufeïli etc., who were an average age of 35 at the time, had received a classical religious education in Iraqi seminaries in Karbala and Najaf, or Iranian ones in Qom and Mashhad, and totally lacked practical experience in intelligence. This first wave of young Shi’ites trained by the Palestinian intelligence services was followed by their brothers who had followed Arafat to North Lebanon, until his expulsion from Tripoli in December 1983.
In the years following, these youths kept in touch with the Palestinians who had remained in Lebanon, mainly those in the Rejection Front, but not in the South, in the Tyre and Saïda areas, where the Arafat supporters were able to remain in the absence of Syrian occupation.
As far as the PFLP-GC was concerned, the connection was mostly assured by Hafiz Qasim Dalqamoni (at present in prison in West Germany), who was himself a strict, very pious Sunni Fundamentalist, with politico-religious ideas not far from the Hezbollah.
VI THE IRANIAN “MODERATES” AND TERRORISM IN 1989
Iran has clearly been doing its best to improve its image since Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was elected president. But does this mean that its conduct is exemplary as far as terrorism is concerned? Are the government of the Islamic Republic now disciples of Saint Francis of Assisi, or of the Mahatma Gandhi? Hardly, as the following facts, which are undisputed since they are publicly recognized, prove:
JUNE 1989: Atallah Bayahmadi, the leader of a group of right-wing Iranian resistants against the Islamic régime, based in Paris, is assassinated after being drawn into an ambush and killed, in Dubaï, United Arab Emirates.
JULY 1989: Abdurrahman Qasemlu, a Kurdish anti-Iranian leader of high repute, is drawn into an ambush and shot in Vienna, Austria.
AUGUST 1989: Bahman Javadi, a leader of the clandestine Iranian Communist party, is drawn into an ambush and shot in Larnaca, Cyprus.
A Palestine Hezbollah was formed in the occupied territories: the “Hezbollah-al Farouk Companies”. “Our fight has started with stones… it will continue with guns and booby-trapped cars”.
SEPTEMBER 1989 A bomb attack at the British Club in Bagdad, Iraq: 23 injured.
* President Rafsandjani officially receive a delegation of the Lebanese Hezbollah: Ibrahim al-Amin, Husayn Mussawi (whom Western intelligence held responsible for the 1983 attacks against the American Embassy, the Drakkar post and the Marines barracks in Beirut: over 360 dead), and Husayn Khalil, chief of Hezbollahi intelligence. At the reception, the Minister for Foreign Affairs announced that “Iran will continue to assist you (“you” being the Hezbollah) spiritually and financially”.
Husayn Sheikulislam, Iranian vice-minister for Foreign Affairs, charged with Africa and the Arab world (and former leader of the “Students following the Imam line” who mounted an assault on the American Embassy in Tehran in November 1979), officially meets Sohbi Tufeïli and Hassan Nasrallah of the Hezbollah, Ahmad Jibreel of the PFLP-GC, Abu Musa of the Fatah-Intifada, and Saïd Sha’aban of Tawheed, at Tehran airport.
Were these but a series of coincidences? At any rate, with “moderates” like these, one wonders if extremists are really necessary.
BRIEF POLITICAL CHRONOLOGY OF THE POPULAR FRONT FOR THE LIBERATION OF PALESTINE-GENERAL COMMAND.
Ahmad Jibreel was born in Ramleh, under British mandate, in 1935, and he and his family fled to Syria when the 1948 “disaster” occured. He was then aged 133. Attracted by the armed forces, he became a cadet in the Syrian army, and then an officer. Like many of his colleagues of Palestinian extraction, he did not approve of the union of Egypt and Syria under the name of United Arab Republic, in 1958, and he left the army with the rank of captain.
In 1959 he founded a small movement, the Palestine Liberation Front, PLF, which made several guerilla attacks into Israel but was mostly an intelligence outfit for the Syrian army. The ties between Jibreel and the Syrian army intelligence go back now for over thirty years…
When the Fatah was created, and began operating on Israeli soil too, attempts at cooperation were made with the PLF, but in the end it was the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine that Jibreel chose to join on its constitution at the end of 1967. He was to be responsible for the military section of the Front, which was all he was interested in. In March 1968 the tension grew high between the PFLP and the Syrian government. George Habbash, imprisoned in Damascus until November, was in serious danger of being liquidated. The interregnum was assured by the Front’s second-in-command, Nayf Hawatmeh. Under his leadership, the PFLP’s tendency to revolutionary waffle and Marxist-Leninist rhetoric grew to such an extent that the August 1968 congress was worthier of a left-wing radical sect than of a Liberation Movement devoted to armed struggle. Captain Jibreel, a man of order, became exasperated and clashed with Nayef Hawatmeh. The logical result – a split – occured in October 1968.
Jibreel was thereafter to build his own movement on a few simple principles:
- No vague ideological waffle.
- Alliance, to date indefectible, with Syria.
- Need to build an international force (air/sea/land commandos).
- Emphasis laid on commando action, the main task of the resistance.
Jibreel called his movement PFLP-GC, symbolically insisting upon the importance of armed struggle and recalling his own role as military head of the unified PFLP in 1967-8.
In 1970, the PFLP-GC joined the Unified Command, the military arm of the Palestinian Resistance, and during 1970 and 71, Jibreel even sat on the PLO Central Committee, without his own movement having joined the organization.
In 1974 opinions changed: the PFLP-GC joined the PLO, and Talal Naji, then second in command of the Movement, was elected to the Executive Committee (ECPLO) in Cairo in June 1974. This did not stop Jibreel from strongly protesting at Arafat and the PLO’s gradual movement towards accepting the West Bank and Gaza, known as “Little Palestine”, as a homeland nor did it stop the PFLP-GC from participating in the constituting assembly of the Rejection Front in Bagdad on 16 and 17 June of the same year, while continuing to sit on the ECPLO. Indeed, in November 1974 Talal Naji actually accompanied Yasser Arafat to Moscow.
This game, apparently illogical and incomprehensible, becomes clearer if the Syrian needs at the time are taken into account. The Rejection Front was at that time an Iraqi-Libyan co-production, and it seemed wise to have irons in their fire, if only for sabotage purposes; Arafat and Syria were on a collision course in Lebanon, where a serious crisis was looming, and people close to him were indispensible, to give him the kiss of death if necessary. At that time, the PFLP-GC had between 3 and 400 Fidayn spread out between Syria and Lebanon.
1976: Civil war rage in Lebanon. The Syrian army’s justification for intervening alongside the Christians, was sabotage and provocation, executed by the PFLP-GC, thus playing the role assigned by the Syrian intelligence. But Syria’s growing domination in Lebanon was looked upon with anxiety by their Iraqi brothers/enemies, who were also active in Lebanon, through the intermediary of the Rejection Front.
Whereas Jibreel and the majority of the PFLP-GC followed the Syrian line unhesitatingly, two of his lieutenants at the time, Ta’alat Yakub and Mahmud Abu’l Abbas broke away, along with some of the troops, and declared that they were the true PFLP-GC, faithful to the Rejection Front; they allied with George Habbash and his PFLP against Jibreel. The situation degenerated and in December 1976, heavy firing broke out in the Southern suburb of Beirut, in Sabra and Chatila, between Jibreel’s supporters and Abbas and Yakub’s followers. The Syrian army and Arafat’s Fidayn separately managed to restore order. The ECPLO fincally decided in April 1977 that only Jibreel and his followers had the right to the name PFLP-GC, and therefore to a seat on the ECPLO. Cocking a final snook, Abbas and Yacub then baptised their group the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF)4. One month later, the Rejection Front – still under the patronage of Iran and Iraq – offically recognized the split and excluded the PFLP-GC. The Rejection Front thus reunited its own troops in late Spring 1977.. until the next upset, the next game of musical chairs: in this case, Anwar al-Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem in November 1977.
Between 1977 and 1979, the Middle-Eastern power game was as follows:
Egypt had moved out of the anti-Israeli front, and competition was growing between Syria and Iraq for leadership of the Arab world. Since Egypt was becoming moderate, Syria had to harden its position. Iraq was trying to regain balance and was busy on its own territory trying to contain the convulsions caused by the beginnings of the Iranian Islamic revolution. A discreet move from Bagdad to Damascus, under cover of a brief Iraqi-Syrian honeymoon, was made by the hardliners (Abu Nidal, etc) in the Rejection Front.
June 1982: the Israelis invade Lebanon and advance towards Beirut. Their objective : eradicate all organized Palestinian presence from the country. This had its advantages for Syria, who, according to a number of observers, only defended itself perfunctorily from its Lebanese strongholds, after their air force had been seriously hit at the outset of the conflict. Once Arafat and his men, and most of the Fatah and PLO leaders had been shipped from Beirut, the Syrians held Lebanon alone; Lebanon, described as “the cockpit of the Arab world” by one diplomat, in spite of seven years of civil war. For all kinds of underhand business could be plotted here, under cover of a suitable conflict.
But Syria knew that Arafat was already preparing to return to Lebanon, to the North this time, in the Tripoli area dominated for two years already by an islamist Sunni militia called “Tawheed”, the Islamic Unification Movement. Its Amir, Sheikh Saïd Sha’aban, was Arafat’s friend; Tawheed and the Fatah were old allies: together, they had helped, trained and armed Syrian Islamists in open revolt against Hafiz al-Asad’s Nusaïri/Alawites since the end of the seventies. Although the latter had had Sha’aban and Arafat’s protégés crushed at Hama only a year before, the reconstitution of another Arafat-Sha’aban team, a Lebanese-Palestinian Sunni force of several thousand armed men , at a stone’s throw from the Syrian border, was dangerous indeed. 1983 was therefore devoted to putting banana-skins under Arafat’s steps – a well-known routine.
THE ASAD-ARAFAT QUARREL
Kamal Jumblatt, who has had a number of conversations with Asad, reports that Palestine, for him, was simply the Southern part of Syria, and thus that he did not see the need to recognize a separate Palestinian State. Right from the start of his career, he learnt to be wary of Palestinians: in the period (1970) before his coup d’état, his rival, Salah Jedid, used the Sai’qa against him, then the Defence Minister. On his arrival in power, Asad beheaded the Sai’qa and replaced its pro-Jedid leaders by his own men.
1976: Syria supported the Christians in Lebanon. When the Lebanese Forces destroyed Tal-al-Zaatar, a Palestine camp located in the Christian district, they had both Syrian and Israeli advisers at their sides. At that time, many of the fighters in the Sai’qa and the Syrian brigade (“Yarmuk”) in the Palestine Liberation Army (PLA) deserted and joined the PLO. Only one organization remained unconditionally pro-Syrian: Jibreel’s PFLP-GC.
1983: Syria organized and supported Abu Musa’s5 split from the Fatah, and set up the Palestinian v. Palestinian war in Tripoli between August and December, which culminated in the second eviction of Arafat from Lebanon in two years…
1984: When the PLO wanted to organize its PNC in Algiers, Syria blocked the whole business and it had to be held in Amman.
1985-6: Syria organized the “war on the camps” in Lebanon, between Amal’s Shi’ite militia and Arafat’s followers: over 2000 dead.
February 1983: Jibreel took part in the 16th PNC in Algiers, and launched a powerful offensive against Arafat. “No” was the byword: no to the Israeli “doves”, no to the Reagan plan, no to the Fez plan, no to talks with Moubarak, no to negociations with Hussein of Jordan.
May 1983: After insisting several weeks, Arafat was finally received in Damascus by Asad. The objective was reconciliation. And indeed, the next day, the press in Damascus reported a “cordial” and “positive” meeting. Three days later, the armed forces of the Fatah split: with the help of Syrian troups, the Palestinian units garrisoned in the Lebanese Bekaa valley mutinied under Abu Musa. The idea of secession gained ground and soon Abu Musa was joined by 5 other senior officers in the Fatah, 6 of the Revolutionary Council’s 70 members (the Fatah’s equivalent to a central committee), and even by Khaled al-Fahum, president of the previous Palestine National Council.(PNC).
August 1983: Arafat, comes back to Tripoli as planned. Tit for tat, he encouraged rebellion in the PFLP-CG and accepted the defectors in the ranks of the PLO: five leaders from Jibreel’s movement, including Abu Jaber Mahmud, together with some of the PFLP-GC soldiers based in Northern Lebanon.
Thus, around the town of Tripoli and the nearby camp of Baddawi, a Palestinian siege by other Palestinians. The besieged were Arafat, his troops and his Lebanese allies. The besiegers were the Fatah dissidents – Abu Musa’s Fatah-Intifada -, Ahmad Jibreel and Abu Nidal’s Fidayn, and The ALP’s Syrian brigade. The Syrian army provided all that was needed, directed the artillery and blocked the exits. Arafat was obliged to leave for Tunisia in September 1983; thus Syria was free to play the Palestinian game just as it wanted.
November 1984: the PFLP-GC is excluded from the PNC.
A Palestine National Salvation Front, the ambition of which was to become a counter-PLO, is created on 25 March 1985, according to a press conference held in the PNC building in Damascus. At that time its members were G. Habbash’s PFLP, A. Jibril’s PFLP-GC, the PLF (Ta’alat YaKub’s branch), Abu Musa’s Fatah Intifada, Samir Gawsheh’s Palestine Popular Struggle Front, and Issam al-Qadi’s Sai’qa6. The new-born PNSF was presided over by Khaled al-Fahum, who had been dismissed from his post as president by the 17th PNC in Amman in 1984.
Thus the Palestinian stage now contained the following actors:
a) The emblematic figure of Yasser Arafat, with troops spread over Tunisia, Yemen and Iraq, momentarily absent from the battle field but immensely popular among the Palestinian people.
b) A considerable armed force, with impressive transnational terrorist capacity, but which had no popular support, nor popular, or at least well-known leader, and above all, no independence regards their Syrian patron.
Since that time, the story of the PFLP-GC is mostly that of its alliances on the Lebanese scene and its spectacular actions, whether internationally or on the Lebanese-Israeli scene (see next paragraph).
By Summer 1989, the PFLP-GC’s military force relied on roughly one thousand Palestinian Fidayns, but also on a small “foreign legion”, comprising Eritreans, Libyans, Syrians and Tunisians. Although the PFLP-GC headquarters are in Damascus, and exert great influence over the Palestinian camps in Syria, the great majority of its commandos are in Lebanon.
CHRONOLOGY OF THE PFLP-GC’S MAIN OPERATIONS (GUERILLA AND TERRORISM)
FEBRUARY: Swissair jet blown up and destroyed on a Zurich-Tel Aviv flight.
*On the same day, an explosion occurred in the baggage hold of an Austrian Airlines plane on a Frankfurt-Vienna flight.
*Letter bombs sent to Israeli addresses from Frankfurt.
JULY: Attempt to blow up an El Al plane during a Paris-Tel-Aviv flight.
SEPTEMBER: Attempt to blow up an El Al plane during a London-Tel-Aviv flight.
DECEMBER: +/- 15 letter bombs sent to Israeli addresses from Yugoslavia and Austria.
APRIL: Letter bombs sent to the Israeli pavilion at the Hanover Industrial Fair in West Germany.
AUGUST: Attempt to blow up an El Al plane on a Rome-Tel Aviv flight.
DECEMBER: Letter bombs sent to Israeli addresses from Singapore.
APRIL: Suicide attack on the Israeli Colony of Kiriat Shmonah. Three PFLP-GC Fidayn mounted an assault on a building, killing 18 Israelis and injuring as many again. After four hours of fight during which two Israeli soldiers were killed, the Fidayn committed suicide by detonating their own grenades.
JUNE: Bombing attempt against El Al personnel in Copenhagen.
SEPTEMBER: Three Israeli soldiers captured near Beirut. They were held captive until May 1985, then exchanged for 1150 Palestinian prisoners detained in Israel.
JANUARY: A PFLP-GC unit was intercepted in London as it was preparing to assassinate the PLO representative.
FEBRUARY: Israeli fighter planes intercepted a Libyan civil aircraft flying over the Mediterranean towards Syria, and forced it to land in Israel, hoping that it carried extremist Palestinian leaders. They were disappointed. The next day, during a press conference held in Tripoli, in the presence of the Fatah-Revolutionary Command leaders, those of the PFLP, those of the PLF, of the Palestinian Communist Party and of the Fatah-Intifada, Ahmad Jibreel declared “It is the Americans and Sionists who have inaugurated this method (of intercepting civil aircraft), and they must take the consequences. (…) We hope that you will make this warning very clear to the civilian populations, so that they will no longer travel on American and Israeli airlines. We do not consider ourselves responsible for what could happen.”
NOVEMBER: Two PFLP-GC Fidayn , piloting motorized deltaplanes, flew over the Israeli “security zone” established in South Lebanon. One was shot down near the border, and the other landed in an Israeli military camp. He opened fire on the soldiers and threw grenades (6 dead, 7 injured) before being killed or comiting suicide.
OCTOBER: Some 15 Palestinians connected with the PFLP-GC were arrested in West Germany, in Neuss (near Düsseldorf), Hamburg, Frankfurt, and West Berlin. Amongst them was one of the Front’s important members, Hafiz-Qasim Qalqamoni, an Intelligence executive. Two booby-trapped radio-cassette players and a micro-computer of the same type as the Toshiba radio which was to blow up the Pan Am Boeing 747 over Lockerbie on 21 December shortly afterwards, were found in one of the network’s apartments, in Neuss.
MAY: A network connected with the PFLP-GC was arrested in Uppsala and Stockholm, Sweden (around 15 people). This network would seem to have been responsible for attacks signed by the “Islamic Jihad”, perpetrated in Sweden, Denmark and Holland in 1985 and 86.
1 Apart from Abu Musa, the main leaders of the Fatah-I are Abu Khaled al-Amleh and Abu Ali Mahdi Bseisso. The Fatah-I has not succeeded in spreading its influence outside zones controlled by Syria since it was created, and even within these zones, it is in competition with other Palestinian organizations which have a more warlike image, such as Jibreel’s or Abu Nidal’s. Nor has the Fatah-I accomplished much in the area of transnational terrorism: its actions have simply been a bomb on the Israeli Embassy car park in Nicosia, Cyprus, in October 1984, and an attempt to blow up an El Al flight, with a booby-trapped suitcase, in Madrid in June 1986. (A Fatah-I “resident” in Madrid, Nasser Hassan al-Ali, gave a suitcase supposedly containing heroin to a local crook, Isaias Manuel Jalafe, to be “delivered” to Tel Aviv, the idea being that the suitcase would explode an hour after take-off. Clumsy handling, or the “courier’s” unfortunate curiosity, caused the detonator to go off, but not the bomb. 13 people in the departure lounge were injured).
2 Today, Abu Tayeb is the chief of “Force 17” and he is in charge of the PLO’s new paramilitary territorial organization, the “Popular Army”, in the occupied territories. The latter is one of the command structures of the Intifada.
3 According to reliable sources. One other source reports him as being born in Jaffa in 1937.
2 The PLF has suffered several splits since then, one of which took place in 1983 between Abu’l Abbas and supporters of Iraq, and Ta’alat Yacub, now dead, and followers of Syria. According to the PLO (November 1989), Abbas, now General Secretary of the PLF, has reunited the group.
5 “Abu Musa”: his name is Saïd Muragha. Born 1927, a graduate of Sandhurst military academy. A colonel in the Jordanian army. Joined the Fatah during the Jordan-Palestine war in 1970. In 1982, led the PLO defence against the Israelis, before Beirut. In 1983, became assistant military chief of the PLO in Lebanon, and commanded the Yarmuk brigade of the PLA.
6 In 1989, the PNSF comprised only the PFLP-GC, the Fatah-I, the Sai’qa, and Arabi Awwad’s Palestine Revolutionary Communist Party.
2. Terrorist coalitions in recent times
- The interested parties
- A tenacious curse : Arafat’s “patrons”
- Rule n° 5
- A concrete “co-production” : “Black September”, 1984-85
- The Hezbollah intelligence’s Palestinian connection
- The Iranian “moderates” and terrorism in 1989
3. One of the main partners in the coalition: the PFLP-General Command
- Chronology of the main PFLP-GC attack