369. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Israel1

293154. Subject: Israeli Attack on Khaldeh Airport.

1.
On instructions Secretary Rusk Assistant Secretary Hart called in Moishe Raviv, senior Israeli Embassy officer present in Washington, evening December 28 to lodge immediate protest at Israeli action along following lines:
(1)
USG extremely disturbed by Israeli action. While attack against El Al aircraft at Athens cannot be condoned, this was carried out by individuals and we know of no indications that GOL was in any way involved. To contrary there are strong indications that GOL has been seeking to cope with terrorist problem. Lebanese basic intentions and concern are indicated by their regular participation in Mixed Armistice Commission meetings with Israel.
(2)
Certainly Khaldeh International Airport and the many people therein were not involved. This is a very busy international airport with people of all nationalities present. Our preliminary reports indicate extensive damage resulted and although we have no knowledge of casualties it seems likely that there will be some.
(3)
Assistant Secretary Hart stressed that he had been instructed by the Secretary to make protest in strongest terms and to make clear that we simply cannot have this kind of violence in the Near East. This incident is of particular concern when it involves international airport used by many nations. The people at the airport and the facilities thereon certainly in no way could be related to Athens incident.
(4)
The Israeli action is particularly unfortunate coming on the heels of the US announcement of agreement to sell Phantom aircraft to Israel.
(5)
GOI should know both President and Secretary are deeply concerned. If this case should be taken to the Security Council, the GOI will find the US strongly opposing this Israeli action. We will support condemnation.
(6)
As a personal observation, Ambassador Hart said that the Israeli action did not improve the capability of the Government of Lebanon to deal with terrorist organizations but will in fact impair it. This will not produce the result intended by Israel but will arouse a spirit of revenge among people who up to now have not been involved and who have wanted not to be involved.
2.
Mr. Raviv responded that he would transmit our views to Jerusalem. Speaking from a paper he made the following points.
(1)
It is a fact that the individuals perpetrating the outrage in Athens came from Beirut.
(2)
It is a fact that the communique of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLOP) also came from Beirut.
(3)
Beirut is the center and headquarters for some organizations including PFLOP. Israel’s view is that no government harboring such organizations can be immune from responsibility for actions of these organizations. The savage attack on Israeli aircraft on an international flight struck at Israel’s vital life-line. No Government can permit this to happen.
(4)
If case comes to Security Council, GOI hopes that USG will view incident in context of what has been going on in past months in Beirut and elsewhere.
3.
Ambassador Hart responded that we find a great difference between the action of two deranged or misguided individuals who happened to come from Beirut and the action of a government using its armed forces to violate the air space of a country and to attack its international airport. We believe this an inexcusable retaliatory act striking at innocent people and facilities and also greatly impairing US interests. We understand the deep feelings motivating the Israelis but noted that we have some provocation from Cuba in the form of hijacking aircraft and imprisoning American citizens. The quality and nature of US actions in handling these problems are in stark contrast to those of Israel. To hold the Government of Lebanon wholly responsible and then to express this by striking at innocent people and international facilities is incomprehensible. We consider this a dangerous escalation all out of proportion to the provocation.

For Tel Aviv: Ambassador Barbour should seek to see immediately either Prime Minister Eshkol or Foreign Minister Eban to express USG concern making points made by Ambassador Hart. You should stress that USG deeply shocked by action for which we can find no justification. Holding Lebanese Government responsible for action of individuals will be most difficult to defend. More importantly, we believe this will change the whole nature of GOL-Israeli relationship in which Lebanese sought to limit use of Lebanese territory to the full extent of its capabilities in face of general public support for Palestine Liberation movements.

Rusk
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27 ARAB-ISR. Confidential; Flash. Drafted by Davies, cleared by Root (AFN) and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs George S. Springsteen, and approved by Hart. Repeated to Beirut, Amman, Cairo, Jidda, Kuwait, Aden, Tripoli, Tunis, Algiers, Rabat, London, Paris, Athens, Ankara, Tehran, Jerusalem, Rome, Bonn, and Moscow. Walt Rostow repeated the text of the telegram to President Johnson at the LBJ Ranch in White House telegram CAP 82946, December 29. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Israel, Vol. XI, Cables and Memos, 12/68-1/69)