IN MY recent article on the part played by President Hassan Rouhani of Iran in the bombing of PanAm 103 over Lockerbie on December 21, 1988, I stated that Israeli intelligence had warned MI6 that Heathrow was the likely target for planting a bomb on a passenger aircraft but the warning was ignored because of a major rift between British and Israeli intelligence services. A number of readers have expressed curiosity about the episode.
During tensions in the Gulf earlier that year the US Navy had negligently shot down a packed Iranian Airbus. Israel and American intelligence soon learnt that for a multi-million dollar bounty Ahmed Jibril’s Syrian-based “Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, General Command” – experts in planting bombs on passenger planes – had been contracted by Iran to destroy an American airliner in revenge. Infiltrated Israeli agents also learnt that Heathrow was the prime target for the planting of a bomb on a US plane and British intelligence was duly alerted.
The significance of that warning was its prescience. Detailed scrutiny of the totality of the Lockerbie evidence proves conclusively that, contrary to the official story, the suitcase containing the bomb was placed by a terrorist in a portable luggage bin in Heathrow’s “interline” shed before the bin was taken out to the doomed Jumbo Jet. But Iran was not merely the paymaster. As reported in my earlier article, an Israeli intelligence source has confirmed that Iran in fact provided key logistical support. The bomb was flown into Heathrow on board an IranAir cargo jet which docked 200 yards from the Interline shed and was taken across to the shed by a PFLP-GC terrorist, named by my source as Jibril’s nephew, Marwad Bushnaq.
To learn why MI6 spurned the warning we must go back to the summer of 1988 when MI5 and Special Branch officers arrested a suspected member of the Palestinian Fatah Force 17 faction. But their captive turned out to be a Mossad double agent and in the light of other intelligence about Mossad’s activities in the UK the British Government concluded that the Israelis had been running an extensive network of operatives throughout the realm, engaging in the infiltration of various Fatah and PFLP cells. Since it was accepted that a number of Palestinian activist groups were cultivating close links with Irish republican terrorist bands it might have been supposed that British intelligence would have relished the chance to pool resources with their Israel counterparts. But other considerations prevailed. Whitehall was bound to show its outrage that Mossad had unilaterally made the UK Israel’s own private intelligence fiefdom.
Older readers may recall the dramatic outcome. On 17 June 1988 Mossad’s London station chief Arieh Regev and four other agents with diplomatic cover were sensationally expelled.
According to the late Samuel Katz’s 1993 book Israel Versus Jibril (Paragon, p.205) Mossad alerted MI6 in late November 1988 that a Middle Eastern terrorist gang, probably one of the Syrian-sponsored anti-Arafat groups, would try to sabotage an airliner departing from Europe in the run-up to the Christmas holidays. Katz noted that the British dismissed the warning as no “hot tip” but a purely self-serving sham by which Mossad supposed they could worm their way back into MI6’s good books. He gave no further details of the warning and simply referenced an article by Yisrael Rosenblat in Ma’ariv Sofshavu’a (the Israeli newspaper’s weekend magazine) for November 22, 1991.
In fact my source confirmed that the warning was much more specific than that described in Rosenblat’s report. MI6 were very definitely told that because of the appalling shambles in Heathrow’s security (with airside passes easily obtained under the counter, hundreds having gone missing during the rebuilding of Terminal 3) the airport was Number One target to get a bomb into the hold of a wide-bodied plane operated by one of the premier American carriers.
Whitehall’s hostile attitude was conveyed back to Israel by an exasperated British intermediary and Mossad washed its hands of the whole business. The catastrophic aftermath may explain the desperate efforts to show that the bomb was not infiltrated at Heathrow. Doubtless the response of the joint intelligence chiefs to this revelation will be silence rather than denial but it is enough to hope that these days our security services are more pragmatic and less Israel-averse.