Mounting wave of terror against Israelis and Jews, in Israel, in the areas and abroad, culminating with the murder of three Israelis in Larnaca's harbour, led the government of Israel to seek new ways to combat terror. Since it was evident that the attacks were masterminded by the PLO and the various organizations under its umbrella, Israel decided to attack the PLO headquarters in Tunis. In a daring, long distance aerial raid, Israeli planes bombed a PLO base in Tunis, some 4800 kilometers from Israel. 60 terrorists were killed, including some senior members of "Force 17. " Arafat was not in Tunis at the time, but his headquarters was hit. The reasons for the raid were given in the following press conference by Defense Minister Rabin, Chief of Staff Moshe Levy and Air Force Commander Amos Lapidol:
Mr. Rabin: For a long time now, we have been aware of, have felt the effort of the terrorist organizations - first and foremost the terrorist organizations of the PLO headed by Arafat - to carry out attacks from everywhere and anywhere that Israelis or Israeli targets are to be found: In Israel and abroad. As long as PLO terrorism, or any other terrorism operates against Israel, Israel will fight against it. Israel will determine the manner of combat and the site of the attack in accordance with its own considerations exclusively. The target this time was not personnel directly involved with operations, but the headquarters that decides, plans and directs the attacks, whether from the north or in the administered areas or from the sea, and against Israelis, such as the abhorrent murder of the three Israelis in Larnaca. This operation was designed to clarify that no PLO element anywhere in the world has immunity. The long arm of the IDF will be able to reach, hit and punish. This was the aim of the operation, and I believe that as such it attained its entire goal.
There will be some who will no doubt argue that such an operation will harm the prospects of the peace process. Israel wants peace, Israel wants to further the peace process. But if there is anything that harms the prospects of the peace process, it is the PLO's terrorist effort headed by Arafat - and therefore it is inconceivable that even though we want peace, we will not combat terrorism in all its forms.
In conclusion, I want to express, through the chief of staff and the commander of the air force, my deep appreciation for the IDFs planning capability, for the IAF's operational ability - this was an operation which was carried out to perfection. Congratulations to the IDF, the air force, to those who planned and carried out this operation.
Chief of Staff Levy: We are dealing here with a preliminary summation of the attack. The target was a central PLO command post which operates as a full-fledged headquarters. We have had many reports since this headquarters was set up - for about three years - on direct and indirect activities of implementing terrorism [from the base]. The headquarters is more or less a separate camp around 700 meters by 700 meters on the sea shore, in an area called Hamain A-Shatt. The problems we faced in this attack were of range - about 1,300 nautical miles, or 2,300 kms.; the second problem was one of precision: It's true that the camp is separate, but there could be civilians or civilian structures or civilian activity in direct proximity to it. We also paid special attention to a school, a kind of boarding school, which is directly proximate to the command post.
There are more buildings in the command post than those we attacked. We attacked central buildings, such as the building in which the PLO's head, Yasser Arafat, has offices; an adjacent building connected with that; a building containing the HQ of "Force 17" and an adjacent building containing communications and perhaps also lodgings; and another building which contained a command post of the organization of these forces and operations: These are the building that were chosen, attacked and hit.
We knew before the attack that PLO and terrorist circles in various places estimated that an Israeli attack or blow or operation could be forthcoming, mainly in the wake of the murder in Larnaca, which seems to us a particularly problematic operation: A kind of process of cold-blooded murder abroad with an entire apparatus designed to hide the fact that those behind this murder are precisely those persons who say they know nothing about it - as though they want to attain the impact of the attack without being ready to bear its consequences. I think that despite these advance appraisals, according to what we have seen until now, the attack in fact came as a surprise in many senses. We know of dozens of casualties - as of now I would put it at between 30 and 50 killed, and a larger number of wounded.
I want to conclude by saying that the war against terrorism must be constant - I think that this is one of its expressions - it must also be systematic and diversified with respect to the places and methods regarding which we will implement our force, as we find appropriate. Congratulations to those who succeeded in giving us the information - the anonymous intelligence corps - and to those who carried it out: The air force and those who took part in the implementation. To the best of my estimation, the implementation was fully consistent with what was planned.
Air Force Commander Lapidot: Today at about 11:00 hours we attacked a PLO command post in Tunisia. Taking part in the attack were a number of air force war planes. Within the attack target, which is a relatively large area, a number of command buildings were designated for us for destruction. The targets were destroyed. All the targets designated for destruction were hit accurately. All our planes returned safely. What characterizes this operation for the air forces is a long flight range; in fact, this is the longest offensive operation carried out by the air force to date. In this operation we made use of the means of ammunition which are suitable for destroying the targets on the one hand, while refraining from hitting civilians or buildings not connected with these headquarters on the other hand. As I noted, we succeeded in hitting and destroying the command posts that were designated.
Summary of Question and Answers:
Asked whether the PLO bases in Jordan were also not immune from such attacks, Defense Minister Rabin said: "I repeat that no PLO terrorist target is immune, no matter where it is located, against attack by us. I don't want you to draw conclusions from this regarding if and when we will decide to attack such a target. I will add no more." As to whether the attack will harm the peace process, Mr. Rabin said he had heard that Egypt was suspending the Taba talks, but said he thought it was "in the interest of Egypt and Israel alike" to clarify the points in dispute between the two countries. He said that he believed that even if there were to be a certain suspension, "the process will continue because it is in the interest of both our countries." As for peace talks with other countries, the defense minister said it was "inconceivable that terrorism should operate against us but that we will not operate against it in the appropriate manner, with an overall approach, and with freedom in choosing the targets and the means for the war against terrorism."
Mr. Rabin said also that "the time has come to hit at not only the implementers, not only the intermediate levels, not only the instigators, but at the upper echelon that takes the decisions to execute terrorist operations, and the headquarters that serve the upper echelon."
Mr. Rabin said he did not know whether Tunisia had been directly warned against harboring terrorists, but said that senior Israeli officials had often asserted that Israel would not be able to acquiesce in the free activity of terrorists. "We have no interest in a confrontation with Tunisia," he said. "The target was not Tunisia. The target was PLO headquarters dealing in terrorism which are in fact in a state of extraterritorial control in the area where they are situated in Tunisia."
Air Force Commander Lapidot said there had been no attempt to interfere with the Israeli planes during their mission.
Asked whether the U.S. had been informed in advance, Mr. Rabin replied: "Israel is an independent state where taking steps vital to our security is concerned. With respect to terrorism in particular, we take decisions on our own. We informed the Americans, as we did others, only after the completion of the actual operation."