”We are taking the threats seriously.” Stephen Heckscher, Spokesman for Trans World Airlines in London
July 7 1988
The US Air Force Military Airlift warning, issued on July 5, was picked up by the US State Department and was broadly distributed. The warning has been disseminated via computer bulletin board.
Two dozen airline and airport officials interviewed around the globe have stated that security had been intensified as a result of the warning. In light of Iranian threats of reprisal, flights of American-flag carriers are under special scrutiny.
Among the new security measures, a higher percentage of baggage going into the cargo hold is being X-rayed for explosives. Also, more inspections are conducted to make sure that someone does not check baggage onto a flight without getting aboard afterwards.
NB. Obviously, this is done to reduce the chance that a terrorist could put a bomb on a flight without boarding it. Yet, as we shall see later – during the month of October – this measure is ineffective for certain type of flight.
”It’s clear that the people with responsibility for safety are much more careful whenever there is a political or military event that brings a lot of threats in its wake,” said Jacques Reder, spokesman for the Paris Airport Authority. ”It is obvious that certain American companies and certain flights to the Middle East are particularly vigilant,” Reder added.
In West Germany, the Department of Transportation sent a message to all airlines asking them to be especially careful.
Pan Am is on high alert. ”We have reviewed and redoubled our security measures,” said Henry Auerbach, Pan Am’s regional managing director for northern Europe.
Moreover, as a result of Iran’s threats of retaliation, Pan Am has stopped its three weekly Frankfurt-to-Karachi flights, which pass over the Persian Gulf region.
”As a direct consequence of the Gulf Iran Air Airbus incident, Pan Am will no longer fly over Iran or the straits of Hormuz,” said one Pan Am official in West Germany.
Instead, Pan Am passengers bound from Frankfurt to Karachi will be flown to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where they will transfer to Arab flag carriers for the flight to Karachi.
The Pentagon investigation begins
Today, the USS Vincennes has arrived off Bahrain. The six-man team of American naval experts began their investigation of the downing of the Iranian airliner.
”The investigation has begun,” a Navy spokesman confirmed. The group is headed by Rear Admiral William Fogarty. The team includes five specialists, all military officers. One is an expert on the Aegis system of computer-linked radar and weapons aboard the Vincennes.
This expert analysis is much awaited.
The advanced radar system proved unable to identify the Airbus positively as a commercial airliner. Pentagon officials have said the Aegis sys interpreted signals from the airliner as emanating from an Iranian F-14 fighter jet. One of the goals of Admiral Fogarty’s team is to explain very clearly this mystery.
Washington said that the investigation will be completed within 15 days. ”We will do everything we have to,” Admiral Fogarty said.
A Navy spokesman warned that the investigators will conduct their inquiry in secret and that they will make no public statements during the course of their work.
The experts will re-examine the computer interpretations of the Iranian airliner and question Captain Will C. Rogers III, the commander of the Vincennes, as well as the members of his crew.
According to a Western expert, ”Fogarty and his team will want to reconstruct the whole sequence of events, second by second.”
The war goes on
Waves of Iraqi planes and helicopter gunships attacked Iranian troops along the war front today and hit Iranian oil installations for the second time in 24 hours. A military communiqué said jets and helicopters flew 349 combat missions, inflicting severe losses in men and equipment.
Iraqi jets have attacked oil installations at Imam Hassan. The communiqué also said that the Iraqi forces had destroyed the Gorreh pumping station.
Iranian General disputes US version
The Vincennes had 21 minutes to identify an Iranian jet before it downed the Iran Air jetliner, Brigadier General Mansour Satari, the commander of the Iranian Air Force, said today.
Admiral William J. Crowe Jr., the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said the Vincennes had only three to four minutes to make a decision.
The Iranian commander told Western reporters the attack was deliberate. Satari also faulted the American command and their control system.
Satari said the ship should have been able to tell whether the craft was civilian or military in less than 10 seconds.
The top Iranian General also said the civilian aircraft used an ”Identification, Friend or Foe” system to emit signals different from signals used by military planes.
PLO admitted at G.A. debates
Today, the UN status of Palestine – previously registered as the PLO – was extended to allow participation in General Assembly debates. Palestine is however not allowed to participate in the voting.
On November 22 1974, the United Nations General Assembly granted the Palestinian Liberation Organization – PLO – observer status. On January 12 1976, the UN Security Council voted 11-1, with 3 abstentions, to allow the PLO to participate in a Security Council debate, although without voting rights.
(After the Palestinian Declaration of Independence, the PLO’s representation was renamed Palestine. In numerous Resolutions by the General Assembly, the PLO was declared the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian People”. In the 1993 Oslo Accords, Israel recognized explicitly this status of the PLO.)
The reader may wonder why I have chosen to include in this series some material regarding the PLO. Two reasons will be mentioned at this point. Firstly, the intelligence gathering capability of the PLO in the Mideast should not be underestimated. Secondly, one can always expect the worst when Arafat is making progress towards a peaceful settlement.
Regarding the former reason, it is worth pointing that the PLO never bought the idea that Libya was the culprit behind the Lockerbie bombing. In March 1989, PLO sources would reveal – for the first time – that the PFLP-GC led by Ahmed Jibril had received US$ 10 Million for the bombing of Pan Am 103. They suggested – without evidence – that the money came from Tehran.
As regard to the predictability of Arafat opponents’ actions, I will merely quote investigative journalist David Yallup who wrote in his book – The hunt for the Jackal – the following with respect to the Achille Lauro Hijacking in October 1985.
“A negotiated settlement to the issue of Palestinian independence that excluded Syrian involvement was not on Assad agenda. It has never been. It will never be.”
NOTES AND REFERENCES