223. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in France1

208286. Subject: El Al Aircraft Hijacking.2

In somber presentation, Israeli Charge Argov appealed to Acting Assistant Secretary Davies for USG help to extent possible in regaining hijacked airplane and Israeli citizens. Israel approaching other governments also. Argov stressed they taking restrained public line in order leave Algerians maneuver room. Nonetheless Argov pessimistic about success.
Argov concerned that other Palestinian groups may seek to emulate this feat. He noted this was new dimension of trouble for Near East, in field which had not been affected for past 20 years. He expressed fear that this now about to occur, if Algerians [Palestinians?] get away with it. Foresaw prospect of adverse effect on tourism.
Davies replied USG, of course concerned about hijacking, which we have own interest in opposing. Principle of hijacking is profoundly troublesome. He willing consider what we could do. He thought direct USG approach to Algerians useless (Argov agreed), but perhaps approaches by third countries might help, especially France and Italy.

Action addressees accordingly requested approach their governments (Secretariat for USUN) make following points:

USG concerned over serious blow to international civil air transport which likely arise if hijacking of El Al aircraft permitted to stand. Aside from dangerous stimulus hijacking might provide to mentally unbalanced individuals, this incident, if not quickly redressed, might stimulate competitive hijacking attempts which could have disastrous impact on international civil aviation in Near East. We think all principal [Page 439] civil air transport powers have major interest in trying to avert such a potential disruption of air traffic. We hope governments will make these points strongly on their own initiative to Algerian Government.

For Cairo: Hope you can impress on UARG how potentially dangerous this matter is. Hope UARG would see its way clear to urge Algerians to release plane and Israelis. We have ominous precedent of consequence of sinking of destroyer Eilat in mind.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, AV 12 ISR. Confidential. Drafted by James K. Matter (NEA/IAI); cleared in draft by Williams Beal (E/OA), and in substance by Parker (NEA/UAR) and Peter Sebastian (AF/N); and approved by Davies. Also sent to Rome, Cairo, and USUN, and repeated to Algiers, Tel Aviv, London, and Montreal for USRep ICAO.
  2. Israeli El Al flight 426, bound for Tel Aviv from Rome, was hijacked by three Palestinian commandos 25 minutes after it took off from Rome on July 22 at 10:30 p.m. On instructions from commandos, the plane made a forced landing at Algiers in the early morning of July 23. The plane carried 38 passengers and a crew of 10. Two of the passengers were U.S. citizens. On landing at Dar El Beida airport, the plane was surrounded by Algerian security forces. Israeli Prime Minister Eshkol publicly accused the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine for the hijacking, and warned the UAR, where the Palestinian group had its headquarters, that Israel would hold the UAR responsible for its acts. (Memorandum from Thomas Hughes to Secretary Rusk, July 24; ibid.)