Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasser Arafat probably did not know beforehand about the seaborne raid by Palestinian guerrillas on Israel, the nation's military intelligence chief said in an interview published today.
The comment by Maj. Gen. Amnon Shahak contradicted Foreign Ministry officials who claimed that Arafat met last week with the raid's mastermind, Mohammed Abbas, and almost certainly knew of the planned strike.
Abbas, better known as Abul Abbas, leads the Palestine Liberation Front, a PLO faction that claimed responsibility for Wednesday's foiled attack.
Libya has admitted to helping mount the strike, which was aimed at crowded Israeli beaches, and Shahak's comments in an interview with the Yediot Ahronot daily provided the most detailed account yet of that involvement.
Four guerrillas were killed and 12 captured. No Israelis were harmed.
Shahak also said Israel knew "with complete certainty" that the PLO has planned attacks on Soviet Jewish immigrants to Israel "in every possible location and at every opportunity."
The statement was the first public comment by security officials about threats against Soviet immigrants. Israeli newspapers have quoted officials as saying Israel stepped up security because of expected guerrilla attacks on Soviet Jews.
Shahak said Arafat probably didn't know about Abbas' plans to attack Israel. "We don't have information pointing to the fact that he knew ahead of time," Shahak said.
Arafat said Thursday the PLO was not involved in the raid.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir called on Washington to abandon the dialogue it began with the PLO in December 1988 after Arafat renounced terrorism.
Arafat avoided condemning the raid outright, and said he could not expel Abbas from the elected PLO Executive Committee for the attempted raid: "He was elected in a democratic way by the Palestine National Council, and only the council has a say on that."
Abbas' faction said today in a statement issued by its office in Baghdad, Iraq, that it would continue its attacks.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel William Brown said today that Arafat's response was unacceptable.
"He has ... attempted to absolve the PLO from responsibility. Rest assured that we're going to continue to look at that very, very seriously," Brown said during a tour of the northern Israeli town of Migdal Haemek.
Shahak said the guerrillas involved in the seaborne raid trained in a camp set aside for them by Libyan authorities on the Mediterranean coast.