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Claims of Entebbe conspiracy lack credibility

06/08/2007

A subscriber to the MidEastWeb news service asks for clarification of two British articles publicizing a claim that Israel helped a radical Palestinian group hijack an Air France airbus to Entebbe, Uganda, in 1976.

"I had trouble accurately interpreting the ... article on the Israel hijack role," the subscriber writes. "Did it indicate the previous article ... was not true?"

The question refers to articles distributed June 1 by BBC News and by the Telegraph. The BBC reported that a document found in British government archives contended "that Israel itself was behind the hijacking." The Telegraph, treating the archived material with greater accuracy, described the allegation as an "extraordinary claim that Israeli intelligence may have had a hand in an airline hijacking before sending in commandos to rescue the hostages at Entebbe." The rescue took place July 4, 1976.

The articles in question do not provide a basis for believing the conspiracy claim. Nor does the archived document reveal any evidence for the allegation. This leaves the credibility of the allegation dependent on faith in its source.

The BBC gave an incomplete description of the source. The BBC article, by Dan Parkinson, characterized the source only as an "unnamed contact" of a British diplomat in Paris.

Peter Day of The Telegraph reported that the British diplomat's source was "a contact in the Euro-Arab Parliamentary Association." This information was available to the BBC, which did not include it in its story.

The BBC's omission of information about the source made its story look less than convincing. The Telegraph article provided enough description for a reader to understand that the allegation of a conspiracy appeared to come from an Arab source hostile to Israel.

Neither the BCC nor the Telegraph reported how the British diplomat, David Colvin, first secretary of the embassy in Paris, came to know about the allegation. According to Colvin's own report June 30, 1967, the source telephoned him. Colvin wrote:

"A contact in the Euro-Arab Parliamentary Association rang me on 29 June to say that according to his information, the hijacking was the work of the PFLP, with help from the Israeli secret service, the Shin Beit (sic)."

Colvin also reported: "My contact said that the PFLP had attracted all sorts of wild elements, some of whom had been planted by the Israelis."

This was the conspiracy allegation in its entirety.

In reporting this allegation, Colvin did not offer it as factual or comment on its credibility. He mentioned it in the body of a dispatch which begins: "It might be useful to record some of the theories which are circulating here about the hijack."

The context of the conspiracy allegation is a claim by Colvin's source that the real target of the hijacking was not Israel or France but rather the Palestine Liberation Organization. According to Colvin, the source described the hijacking as "designed to torpedo the PLO's standing in France and to prevent what they [the PFLP] see as a growing rapprochement between the PLO and the Americans."

Colvin did not provide a transcript of this conversation. In his summary, the allegation linking Israel and the PFLP is devoid of names, dates, places or other specifics of the purported conspiracy. The absence of these standard reporting elements suggests that Colvin's source did not provide supporting details and may have been peddling a piece of deliberate disinformation.

Nowhere in his report did Colvin address the apparent inconsistency of the claim that the Shin Bet was involved in a foreign operation. The Shin Bet, known in Israel as the Shabak, was and is an internal-security agency. The Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations, popularly known as the Mossad, was responsible for actions outside Israel. Neither the BBC nor the Telegraph noted any of this in their recent articles.

Also missing from the current press accounts was any description of the political context in which Colvin's Euro-Arab parliamentary source delivered the allegation. In 1976, no Arab nation had diplomatic relations with Israel, and PLO policy called for armed struggle to destroy the Jewish state. The Marxist-Leninist PFLP, the second-largest faction in the PLO after Yasser Arafat's Fatah, pushed for greater militancy.

At the time, a Euro-Arab parliamentary secretariat existed in Paris. This was a result of the 1974 creation in Damascus of the Arab Interparliamentary Union with nine Arab countries and the PLO as founding members. Euro-Arab Parliamentary Dialogues took place twice a year, rotating each time to a different European or Arab city.

The source of the conspiracy allegation may have been someone from the secretariat, or an Arab parliamentarian or PLO representative who attended a Euro-Arab Parliamentary Dialogue which took place in Paris in May 1976, the month before the hijacking.

Later in the first week of June 2007, the BBC amended the online version of its article, transforming the unnamed source into an "unnamed contact from the Euro-Arab Parliamentary Association." This revision, last updated June 6, was unannounced and it brought the BBC story into line with what others had already quoted from the archives.

A text of the original BBC article appears in message #38464 of MidEastWeb news service for June 1, 2007.

-- Joseph M. Hochstein, Tel Aviv

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000592.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

by Joseph M. Hochstein @ 11:53 PM CST [Link]

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