INCREASINGLY the finger of suspicion is being leveled at Iran for an act of terror which sent a TWA plane crashing into the sea off the coast of New York last week. The US National Transportation Board sits tight-lipped. Reluctant to reveal embarrassing details about poor security arrangements at US airports, it is stalling. Months may pass before it issues its report on the crash.
The US, Federal Aviation Administration, in turn, gives the impression that spending millions on costly safety devices to save lives isn't that important. In a frantic effort to pin the blame on "foreigners" the FAA has sent agents to check security at airports in Athens and Tel Aviv. We suggest they concentrate on airports in the US. In contrast, FBI sources openly admit that they are "actively investigating claims" that a bomb caused the TWA disaster. This follows information from Israeli and European intelligence sources who suspect that a terrorist bomb caused that flash in the sky spotted by eyewitnesses seconds before the disaster.
Ali Fallahian, Teheran's international terror campaign chief, has reportedly trained scores of volunteers for his "human bombs." Fallahian was certainly impressed by the way suicide bombers successfully blew up US and French military targets in Lebanon in 1983. He also saw how simple it was to use Hamas suicide pawns to kill over 200 bus passengers and pedestrians in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and other cities earlier this year.
Three months ago Lebanese-born Hassin Makdad lost both legs, an arm and one eye when he accidentally blew himself up in a hotel room in east Jerusalem. In hospital, begging doctors to save his life, he was so grateful at having recovered consciousness that he began to detail how Iranian instructors trained him together with an elite group of other volunteers to become a "heroic human flying bomb" for Allah.
Armed with a stolen British passport and lethal redex explosive hidden inside a simple Sony radio given him by Beirut's Iranian embassy he was told to board a plane to Israel via Zurich. This choice was deliberate. The Swiss have the tightest security in Europe where Israel-bound planes are concerned. A guarded bus drives passengers to an isolated building protected by armed vehicles. They are then taken to the plane together with their luggage. Ali Fallahian knew that if his plan succeeded in Zurich it would work anywhere.
Swiss security personnel failed to spot Makdad's radio bomb. Nor was his false British passport in the name of Andrew Newman picked up by Israeli border control. The terrorist revealed that his orders were to use his prepaid El Al ticket to fly out of Tel Aviv and explode the plane shortly after takeoff, just as TWA 800 blew up soon after setting off on its flight to Paris. But Makdad was careless in priming his aerial weapon. He wrecked part of the hotel as well as crippling himself.
AN EXPERT on aircraft security told us: "Reports that there were two explosions on TWA 800 are perfectly logical. The first small blast was a bomb. You don't need much to to cripple a plane. It succeeded. The second blast was the full tanks of fuel exploding. After travelling frequently in the US the expert found security there lax. It is virtually non-existent on Paris-bound planes on the assumption that Moslem terrorists are not hostile to France.
The security aboard TWA 800 was "no better" than on the PanAm plane that blew up over Lockerbie in 1988 killing 270 passengers and local people. The expert said it was clear that TWA 800 wasn't blown up by a bomb designed to go off automatically at a predetermined height, as happened at Lockerbie. For that it would have had to be above 20,000 feet. Last week's explosion took place at a much lower altitude.
It is also possible that the initial explosion was a simple bomb armed with a metallic detonator which can be fitted to a key ring. When the terrorist passes through a detection gate and his keys set off the alarm, he simply hands them over with an apologetic smile. "Think about it," the security expert said.
"Have you ever seen a security guard examine what's on a key ring?"Once aboard the plane all the suicide bomber has to do is plunge the detonator into place, setting off the explosion.
There is another alternative. Any passenger can board a plane in Toronto or Oklahoma and ask for his luggage to be forwarded to his Paris-bound flight. There are no known checks on this type of luggage at US airports. The theory is that if the luggage fits the passenger and the passenger fits the luggage, there is no need to check. "Where have US security chiefs been over the past few years?" the expert asked.
"It doesn't seem to have registered yet that hundreds of Iranian-directed Moslem maniacs are emerging from the Middle East woodwork, only too ready to die for a cause, slobbering over the promised virgins waiting them in paradise."
Not only did the evil mind behind the TWA bomb intend to embarrass the "Great Satan" on the eve of the Olympic Games; his action may also have been an act of revenge for the life imprisonment of Sheikh Omar Abdel- Rahman, mastermind of the bomb attacks against New York skyscrapers, and the arrest of Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook, a top Hamas official. Likely also on his grievance list is the jailing of Abdel-Rahman's aide, Ramzi Yousef.
One needs to exercise some skepticism regarding German motives in helping get the remains of two Israeli MiAs returned to Israel. True, the remains of Yossi Fink and Rahamim Alsheikh have finally been buried in their homeland. And the efforts of mediator Bernd Schmidbauer are surely sincere, despite his close contacts with Fallahian. Yet Germans and Israelis who talk about Hizbullah and Iranian "humanity" are naive and misguided.
The harsh reality is that the Germans are now Iran's chief trading partner. They sell Teheran advanced technology, threatening the whole region. That German aid is playing a major role in Teheran's bid to become a nuclear weapons power. The Iranians are already using German "compassion" to enlist European aid in campaigning against a new US bill severely restricting trade by US companies with Teheran. "We expect European powers to oppose these American measures," is the mullahs' message.
(c) Jerusalem Post 1996
Uri Dan & Dennis Eisenberg are authors of The Mossad: Secrets of the Israeli Secret Service and other books on the Middle East.