228. Telegram From the Department of State to the Mission in Geneva1

214874. For Flott2 from Root. Ref: Geneva’s 4310.3 Subject: Hijacked El Al Airliner.4

Commend your effective response to Khelladi.
You may, at discretion, amplify remarks reported reftel as follows:
USG not involved in hijacking in any way whatsoever and has no control over Israeli reaction to the event; assumption to contrary would be false and misleading.
Washington read decision last Algerian Cabinet meeting to postpone determination re disposition plane, passengers and crew as indicative of GOA desire for time in which to employ resources of diplomacy. If this interpretation correct, GOA’s decision constructive. However, we not sanguine much time likely be available for this purpose and we hope GOA will tailor its expectations of diplomatic possibilities to realities of situation. Signs of impatience following GOA’s postponement decision already apparent. We unaware what Israel authorities likely do but disturbed lest they consider GOA’s decision backward step.
We note in any event that overwhelming international opinion opposes continued detention plane and occupants, that GOA’s linkage political and juridical aspects in this context does not provide internationally acceptable grounds for further detention civil airliner [Page 447] and occupants seized while on “innocent passage”, and assume therefore that pressures will mount sharply once more if no agreement achieved.
We are repeating separately State tels 214832,5 336 and 397 for your background only.8
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, AV 12 ISR. Confidential; Priority; Limdis. Drafted by Peter Sebastian (AFN), cleared by Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Joseph Palmer II and Atherton, and approved by ARN Country Director John F. Root. Repeated to Algiers and Tel Aviv.
  2. Frederick W. Flott, assigned to the U.S. Mission to the European Office of the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva.
  3. In telegram 4310 from Geneva, August 3, Flott reported that the Algerian Charge Khaled Khelladi called on him on August 2 to discuss the crisis over the hijacked Israeli airliner. Khelladi explained why Algeria had not yet released the Israeli plane, noting, among other things, that Israel and Algeria were formally at war. Flott responded that while international opinion applauded the release of some of the passengers, Algeria was becoming an accessory after the fact in a case of piracy by holding the aircraft an unreasonable length of time. In the course of the conversation, Khelladi said that if Israeli authorities were to liberate some Palestinian prisoners of war, not as a quid pro quo but as a humanitarian gesture, Algerian investigation of the case could be accelerated. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, AV 12 ISR)
  4. See Document 223.
  5. Telegram 214832 to Tel Aviv, August 3, responded to Israeli requests for a public U.S. statement designed to put pressure on Algeria to release the plane, and for a new round of U.S. diplomatic efforts to the same end. The Department felt that both would be counter-productive. (National Archives and Records Administration, Central Files 1967-69, AV 12 ISR)
  6. In telegram 214833 to Tel Aviv, August 3, the Department reported the continuing Israeli belief that the United States should use its influence through third countries to help resolve the impasse with Algeria. (Ibid.)
  7. In telegram 214839 to Tel Aviv, August 3, the Department noted that the Italian Government had suggested a U.S. demarche to Israel urging a cessation of propaganda attacks and a “symbolic gesture” by Israel to help facilitate a settlement. The telegram reported that the United States had encouraged Israel to pursue a diplomatic solution but was reluctant to go beyond that in encouraging a settlement. (Ibid., AV 12 IT)
  8. Flott made the points outlined in this telegram to Khelladi on August 5. Khelladi noted that his government was in touch with the Italian Government in search of a resolution of the crisis. (Telegram 19114 from Paris, August 6; ibid.) Assistant Secretary Battle met with Ambassador Rabin on August 5 to offer continuing support for Israeli efforts to free the plane. Rabin indicated that Israel had concluded that because the hijacking had occurred in Italian air space Italy was the logical country to help break the impasse. (Telegram 215913 to Tel Aviv, August 6; ibid.) On August 7 Battle spoke to the Italian Ambassador to encourage Italian efforts to find a solution. The Ambassador stated that Italy felt that a solution might depend on an Israeli gesture after the plane was released. Battle indicated that the United States could not suggest such a gesture and considered that Israel should decide the matter. (Telegram 216974 to Tel Aviv, August 7; ibid.) On September 1 an agreement arranged through the good offices of Italy led to the release by Algeria of the El Al plane and remaining passengers and crew. (Washington Post, September 2, 1968)