Today we are surrounded by international terrorism. No continent, no country, no city—no airport—is immune from it. But in 1976, much of the world believed that terrorism was Israel’s problem, and it was viewed as one might from a good seat in a theater. You could watch it unfold, but not have to worry that it would affect you.
The Entebbe story, by now, is well known. An Air France airliner with 248 passengers aboard, bound for Paris from Tel Aviv, was hijacked after a stop in Athens by four terrorist operatives from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-External Operations (PFLP-EO), and the German Revolutionary Cells. The plane was flown to Uganda, where 94 Israeli hostages were separated from the other passengers (who were released) and held captive until the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), in its legendary operation, freed the hostages. Lt. Col. Yoni Netanyahu, the commander of the unit that made the rescue, lost his life in the action. Dora Bloch, an elderly hostage transferred to a hospital in Entebbe, is believed to have been killed by Ugandan intelligence agents in the wake of the raid.
The rescue came after a spate of hijackings of El Al and other airliners by Palestinian terrorist groups. The Entebbe operation, with its logistical challenge of flying 2,500 miles to liberate the hostages, was Israel’s unequivocal answer to the then-growing menace of the PLO and off-shoot groups either allied to it, or operating on their own. For Israel, and for its supporters worldwide, coming three decades after the Holocaust, the stark message that Jews in distress could be rescued by the long arm of the IDF, was as re-assuring as it was miraculous.
My sense at the time was that diplomatic and media opinion saw PLO-inspired terror as somebody else’s problem. Indeed, even those who experienced home-grown terror, such as the United Kingdom at the hands of the IRA and Spain, from ETA, refused to see Palestinian terror against Israel and Jews worldwide as akin to their own problems. How shortsighted they were.
Palestinian terror groups wrote the primer for others who would come later. When, in 1985, wheelchair-bound Leon Klinghoffer was killed and thrown overboard on the Achille Lauro cruise ship by operatives of the Palestine Liberation Front, it personalized the utter disregard for human life that drives the terrorist mind.
Israel was left to fight those battles by itself. When it tried to destroy the PLO infrastructure in Lebanon in 1982, it largely received international opprobrium. Some European leaders, and others, instead accommodated—or warmed—to Yasser Arafat. Instead of seeking to isolate, undercut and eliminate the threat he and others posed to the international order, he was increasingly seen as a “wily” statesman. But to him, and his cohorts, the message was clear: terror pays.
Today, terror knows no borders, and does not differentiate amongst countries or peoples. To the victims of it, it is just a matter of being lucky—or unlucky—of being at the wrong place at the wrong time, or not. ISIS/ISIL, Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and any number of other groups compete to carry out one outrageous act after another. The beheadings of journalists Daniel Pearl, James Foley and others were only what we saw. Much of the havoc wreaked by these groups, and by those inspired by them, escapes our attention. There is just too much of it to keep track. The internet and satellite TV have brought terror into our living rooms and offices, and it has now reached the point where we are inured to much of it, because we sense that the next day will bring something more horrific, more devastating into view. Our lives now revolve around those threats, from airport terminals to the TSA public service advertisements and posters, exhorting us: “if you see something, say something.”
No doubt, when the history of this period is written, it will be called something like “the era of Islamic extremist terror.” In the midst of it, there is no shortage of opinions as to how to defeat it. Defeat it we must, but where is the international unity necessary to achieve that objective? Europe, until relatively recently, actually debated whether or not Hezbollah is a terrorist organization. It decided, in its infinite inability to face reality, that it is, but that it also has a “political wing.” In Beirut, the Hezbollah leadership surely drew its own conclusions and has acted accordingly, by emasculating Lebanon’s sovereignty, acquiring ever-more-weapons, and fighting alongside its patron Iran in Syria and elsewhere.
If this era is to be known as the moment when ISIS/ISIL terror was stopped in its tracks, international equivocation and complacency cannot be considered options. A shrugging of diplomatic shoulders will continue to embolden those who either inspired, or carried out, the most recent atrocities in Orlando and Istanbul.
Not Brexit, nor trade issues, nor climate change nor any other top-draw matter should deter what passes for the international community from acting decisively to defeat ISIL/ISIS at its source.
Do we need any further evidence that avoidance of this imperative will be at our peril?
Daniel S. Mariaschin is the executive vice president and CEO of B’nai B’rith International. As the organization’s top executive officer, Mariaschin directs and supervises B’nai B’rith programs, activities and staff around the world.