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Case 333, Instructor Copy


Rodney A. Snyder

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This study examines the terrorist hijacking of TWA

Flight 847 in June 1985, and follows the chronological order of events. As in many other instances of
hijacking or hostage-taking, in this case the terrorists hoped bring pressure to bear on a particular
government, so that it would, in turn, bring pressure on another government to release a group of
prisoners. Also, like other instances of hostage-taking, the options for U.S. negotiators proved to be
limited. There have been times when the U.S. government has been able to refuse to negotiate with
terrorists. In this case, however, Washington could
not avoid negotiation, and many of the classic negotiating issues had to be confronted. The case outlines how U.S. authorities negotiated with man
parties simultaneously; dealt with an adversary who
apparently held greater leverage; used important
intangibles in their bargaining strategy; tried to
address the political ramifications and geostrategic
consequences of the negotiations; faced important
ethical and political problems regarding the behavior of allies, the media, politicians, and adversaries;
and were subject to the effects of controversial
debates within the counter-terrorist community.

In June 1982 the Israelis invaded Lebanon. By the

spring of 1985 they had begun withdrawing to a
security zone they had established in the southern part of the country. Although they had been attacked by terrorists throughout the war in Lebanon,
terrorist attacks increased on the Israelis and their
client force, the Christian Southern Lebanese Army
(SLA) during the withdrawal. As a consequence, the
Israelis swept through southern Lebanon and detained people, in a makeshift prison inside Lebanon, whom they suspected of terrorist involvement.
As they pulled back further, the Israelis dismantled
their provisional prison and moved the detainees
into the more secure Atlit Prison in Israel.
Of the 700 to 800 Atlit inmates, the large majority
were Lebanese Shiites, although there were some
Palestinian and Muslim Sunni prisoners as well. Consequently, the Lebanese Shiite population sought
the release of the Atlit detainees. The terrorists who
hijacked TWA Flight 847 on 14 June 1985 hoped to
force the United States government to pressure Israel into releasing the Atlit inmates. The hijackers apparently believed the United States controlled Israel
much like a puppeteer controls puppets.

Copyright 1994 by Institute for the Study of Diplomacy.

ISBN: 1-56927-333-2
Publications, Institute for the Study of Diplomacy,School of
Foreign Service, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. 20057


President Reagan and U.S. administration officials
had to make decisions based on limited and ambig-

Rodney A. Snyder

uous information, while they also balanced a variety of interests. First, the United States had a
publicly declared policy of not negotiating with, or
making concessions to, terrorists. This was especially important during Ronald Reagans first term,
since during the campaign he had attacked President Jimmy Carters handling of the Iran hostage
crisis, charging him, among other things, with weakness and indecision in the face of terrorism. Second, the United States had an extremely close
relationship with Israel based on more than the
usual alliance considerations. Third, seven American hostages were already being held in Lebanon
when the hijacking took place, and the welfare of
these hostages was important both to President
Reagan personally (as the Iran-Contra affair subsequently revealed) and to the American public. Consequently, any U.S. action that would have resulted
in the deaths of the seven Americans would have
been politically costly to the administration. There
was also immense pressure placed on the administration by the media and the American public to
end the crisis, with different, and often conflicting,
solutions advanced repeatedly as to how to bring it
to an end. Finally, the United States had political
and geostrategic interest in not allowing radical
Shiites, Palestinian guerrillas, Syria, Iran, or the
Soviet Union to gain influence in Lebanon or the
Middle East as a consequence of the hijacking.
The Israelis also had an anti-terrorist policy that
was considered tough. Like the United States, Israel
would not negotiate with, or make concessions to,
terrorists, fearing that doing would give them an
incentive to take more hostages. In addition, the
Israelis feared that a recent lopsided exchange
between Israel and the Palestinians of 1,000 Palestinian guerrillas for three captured Israeli soldier
(arranged by the Red Cross) might be considered by
Palestinian terrorists to be a precedent for the
future. The Israelis also wanted to demonstrate that
they were not susceptible to pressure from Washington; at the same time, they could foresee the rapid
erosion of U.S. support if Americans were killed or
the hijacking remained long unresolved.
There were three principal groups that together
comprised the Lebanese Shiite Muslim community
The Amal (which means hope) was the militia of
the Shiites. A large force that received Syrian support, the Amal had expelled many of the Palestinian
guerrillas from Lebanon in an attempt to complete
the job started by the Israeli invasion. To Amal, Syria
was an important patron. Amal also was hostile to
both Israel and the United States. At the same time,
it had to compete for popularity and power in Leba-

Case 333, Instructor Copy

non with other Shiite factions. The Amal was considered less radical than the other two Shiite
The leader of Amal, Nabih Berri, spoke English,
had family members in the United States, and was
familiar with how to bring both American and international public opinion to bear on the Reagan
administration. However, he also had to balance
carefully his own role and that of Amal. On the one
hand, he had to appear accountable to the United
States for the hijackers demands and, as the strong
leader of a crusade against Israel and the United
States, he had to try to win the release of the Atlit
inmates in order to earn greater sympathy for the
Shiite cause. On the other hand, if the hijacking
ended in a protracted stalemate or in American
bloodshed and he appeared responsible, he and
Amal would not only become the possible target of
U.S. and Israeli retaliation, but he and his organization might also be discredited within Lebanon and
the Lebanese Shiite community. In addition, Berri
was not trusted by the Americans. Some knowledgeable observers believed that he or high-ranking
members of his organization were directly involved
in the hijacking. Nevertheless, because of his position as the key Shiite negotiator and leader of a relatively moderate Shiite faction, the United States
had to deal with him. As a consequence, Nabih Berri
had a delicate balancing task throughout the negotiations.
The Islamic Jihad (Holy War) was the most
extreme of the other movements. Cells of Jihad
reportedly already held seven kidnapped Americans (although many specialists believed that
Hezbollah actually held the seven and that the
Islamic Jihad was only a cover used for reasons
unrelated to the hijacking). Jihad had always
demanded the release of seventeen Shiites held in a
Kuwaiti prison for bombing the U.S. Embassy in
Kuwait as the price of releasing its hostages.
Although Jihad was not a central player in the
drama, its reported control of other American
hostages always had to be borne in mind when the
United States formulated policies or planned
The other extremist Shiite group, Hezbollah
(Party of God), was intimately involved in all these
events. Hezbollah, which represented more of a
mind-set than a political party, sought a fundamentalist Islamic revolution in Lebanon patterned after
the 1979 Iranian model. Its members also wanted
to control southern Lebanon so that they and others,
including Palestinian guerrillas, could use the area as
a launching site for terrorist attacks against Israel.

Case 333, Instructor Copy

Negotiating with Terrorists: TWA Flight 847

Hezbollah members had made suicide attacks, e.g.,

the car bombing of the Marine compound in Lebanon in 1983, and were fervently anti-American. In
this instance, however, Hezbollah was somewhat
constrained in its actions by its close ties to Iran and
its need to win support within Lebanon. Also, it had
to indirectly accede to Syrian wishes both because
Syria controlled the Bekaa Valley where many of
Hezbollahs bases were and because Syria was the
most powerful Arab country supporting Iran in its
war with Iraq. Therefore, to appreciate Hezbollahs
role, one should recall the hatred and religious
resentment the group felt towards the United States
government, its general disbelief in U.S. promises
and yet its need to remain in favor with the larger
Shiite community in Lebanon (including the Amal)
and Syria.
Finally, there were several marginal decisionmakers who represented other nations and international organizations, whose decisions and actions
led to significant developments and were partly
responsible for the end result of the hijacking episode. Their interests are made clear as events

Friday, 14 June
TWA Flight 847 originated in Athens and carried
145 passengers and a crew of eight. Because its
final destination was the United States, there were
many Americans on board. Ten minutes after its
departure, two Middle Eastern men hijacked the aircraft. They carried hand grenades and one also carried a pistol. They forced the pilot to change his
destination: Flight 847 flew not to Rome but to the
Beirut international airport in Lebanon.
Upon learning of the hijacking Greek police
quickly arrested a man, Ali Atweh, who had tried to
board the plane with the two hijackers. He identified
them as young Shiites from west Beirut.
Once in Beirut, the terrorists demanded that the
plane be refueled. In exchange, they freed many
women and a few children. The release appears to
have gained the hijackers the fuel they sought. The
gesture also made the terrorists appear rational
(because they exchanged hostages for something
they wanted) and sympathetic (because they
released women and children). In addition, the
Shiites gained more room inside the aircraft, which
they soon utilized.
Two hours later, the gunmen forced the captain to
fly the jet to Algiers. Why Algiers? Probably because

the Algerians were internationally respected for

their diplomatic skills. They were also Arab brethren who were not likely to allow the United States to
attempt a rescue. And, the Algerians had previously
mediated between the United States and the Iranian Shiite government over the release of American hostages in the crisis of 197981. 1
The Algerians initially refused the jet permission
to land. However, the U.S. government requested
that the plane be allowed to touch down. 2 To Washington, the Algerians were attractive because of their
role in releasing the Tehran hostages; in Beirut there
would have been no such obvious intermediary.
Frightening as well was the prospectenvisioned by
people not aware of the feelings many Lebanese
Shiites held toward Libya since the disappearance
of Imam Sadrthat if the plane were denied permission to land in Algiers, the hijackers might seek
to set it down in Libya.
In Algeria, the hijackers issued their main
demand: the 700 Lebanese detainees being held in
Israels Atlit Prison must be released. If their
demand was not quickly met, they said, they would
begin killing the hostages
In choosing Algiers as the site from which to
announce this demand the hijackers selected a
negotiating environment in which they probably
had confidence. Beirut, from which several journalists had been kidnapped in recent months, was
poorly staffed by the international media; by contrast, reporters were abundant in Algiers. In addition, Algeria was an ideal place from which to issue
the hijackers specific demand. Israel claimed that it
held the prisoners as a security precaution against
terrorism. Thus, a hijacking in Lebanon, or an issuance of demands there, might only have confirmed
Israeli caution, but a demand made from Algiers
shifted the focus from terrorism committed against
Israel to the illegal Israeli detention of the Lebanese.
The demand was politically clever, too. The
hijackers sought the release of all Lebanese prisoners, regardless of their factions. From Beirut, where
the Shiites were fighting the Palestinians, such a
demand might have appeared laughable, but from
Algeria, which had remained neutral in the Lebanese infighting, the demand appeared honorable in
that it put discord aside
Finally, the demand seemed reasonable and
achievable. Even some top Israeli officials had conceded that UN human rights laws (i.e., those pertaining to prisoners) had been violated when the
detainees were removed from Anwar Prison in
southern Lebanon to Atlit, Israel. In April, the United
States had even urged the Israelis to release the

Rodney A. Snyder

prisoners and stated that Israel had violated international law by moving them. The demand also
seemed reasonable since the Israelis had withdrawn from southern Lebanon and that was when
they were to have freed the prisoners. Last, no
charges had ever been filed against the detainees.
After the demands had been issued, the hijackers traded more hostageswomen and children
for fuel. The plane then departed again for Beirut.
In summary, during the first day, the hijackers
had maneuvered themselves into a strong bargaining position. First, the gunmen initiated a crisis to
force a reaction to an issue they themselves had
defined. Second, they held bargaining chips, i.e.,
hostages, as leverage. Third, they appeared to have
demonstrated their flexibility and reasonableness by
releasing hostages in exchange for fuel (which they
probably could have gotten by other means). Fourth,
they sought a respected intermediary with sympathies probably favoring the Shiites over the Israeli
or U.S. governments. Fifth, they presumably were
attempting to sway public opinion by the reasonableness of their demand (as they perceived it) and
the atmosphere of concessions,i.e., releasing hostages, in which they issued the demand. Sixth, the
offered an achievable resolution, confirmed by the
fact that the Israelis had already proposed it in a different context. Seventh, the terrorists made time a
critical element by threatening the hostages with
death if their demands were not met quickly. Finally,
the hijackers apparently warned the United States,
by means of making two stops in Beirut, that the situation could develop beyond their own control or a
U.S. response

Saturday, 15 June
On the second day, the terrorists succeeded in
pressuring the United States into bargaining with
them. Most reports say that American Robert
Stethem was killed at the Beirut airport. It was at
that point that the hijacker with the gun told the
purser to announce the following:
Ladies and Gentlemen, put your heads down,
shut your eyes. You will hear noises. Do not look
up. Your fate depends on it. Everyone must cooperate.
One shot was heard, and the first-class partition
curtains were drawn.
After only minutes at the airport, the unidenti-

Case 333, Instructor Copy

fied Marines body (he was actually a Navy diver)

was dropped to the tarmac. Reporters then saw
small groups of gunmen . . . running with their
heads down toward the side of the aircraft. First
there were eight, then they increased to about
twenty. They ran slowly and appeared tiny from a
distance. They were all armed.3
Four Amal officials, whose militia circled the aircraft, boarded the plane along with more gunmen.
During their stay in Beirut, the hijackers issued
another demand. Greece must release the accomplice, Ali Atweh, or else we will kill our eight Greek
hostages, one every hour. There also was speculation and rumor that the terrorists had secretly
removed several passengers from the plane. Furthermore, since the purser had been instructed by the
gunmen to identify U.S. military personnel and people with Jewish-sounding surnames while collecting passengers passports, it was assumed that it
was these people who might have been removed
from the plane.
The plane then refueled and departed a second
time for Algiers.
By the time the jet left Beirut on the second day,
the situation had drastically changed. The plane had
been boarded by more Shiite gunmen who had
reportedly rigged explosives within the aircraft. This
development in effect ruled out the possibility that a
rescue attack could be mounted without seriously
endangering the 100 or so remaining passengers
The United States therefore had to consider negotiations. Second, the terrorists had proved they would
carry out their threatan American had been killed.
This fact put pressure on the United States to resolve
the crisis before others were murdered.
The governments involved quickly revealed their
different interests. The Greeks, for instance, flew Ali
Atweh to Algiers and traded him for some Greek
passengers, which angered the United States, Israel,
and other governments. Israel condemned the
hijacking. The Lebanese government was unable to
respond to the situation because the republic was in
disorder. The Algerians prepared for a major diplomatic effort to free the hostages upon their arrival in
Algiers. They also rejected any forceful attempt to
free the hostages, probably fearing the repercussions such an action would have on their diplomatic
reputation as well as on their relations with Iran, the
Lebanese, and Shiites throughout the world. 4
According to a U.S. official involved at the time in
formulating positions and who travelled to Algiers
and Beirut during the early stages of the ordeal, U.S.
officials acted generally in unison at this time, mini-

Case 333, Instructor Copy

Negotiating with Terrorists: TWA Flight 847

mizing disagreements within the U.S. government.

This was in part because American lives were
thought to be at stake. Thus, most decisions were
agreed to by a majority of the participants.5
The United States appeared to follow a dual strategy, a carrot and stick approach. On the one hand,
anti-terrorist forces were moved to the Middle East
and Mediterranean region. President Reagan also
indirectly threatened the terrorists by noting that
terrorists are often injured or killed as a result of
their acts. However, the United States had lost much
of its military advantage. Not only were eight to fifteen gunmen thought to be on board, but by the
time the aircraft landed in Algiers, it was considered
a possibility that several Americans had been
removed in Beirut. Therefore, even a successful raid
might have left American hostages in Beirut who
could then have been killed.
Nevertheless, the U.S. government still had
means of applying military pressure on the hijackers. First, the Navy could bombard Shiite targets
from the Mediterranean as it did in 1983. Second,
U.S. amphibious Marines could retaliate when the
ordeal ended. President Reagan ordered the Sixth
Fleet, led by the nuclear-powered USS Nimitz aircraft
carrier, to the coast of Lebanon to demonstrate U.S.
strength and thus, hopefully, to pressure the terrorists.
Simultaneously, the United States pursued a diplomatic solution. President Reagan asked the International Committee of the Red Cross to intervene,
and a State Department official read a one-sentence
statement that said the United States was hoping
that Algerian efforts to resolve the crisis would be
successful. The United States probably requested
intervention by the Red Cross because that organization had mediated prisoner exchanges between
Israel and Palestinian guerrillas in the past. As mentioned above, such an exchange had occurred only
weeks before the hijacking, when the Israelis had
traded over 1,000 Palestinian guerrillas for three
captured Israeli soldiers. The United States hoped
the Red Cross would be able to check the hostages
health and to help the situation in any way possible.
Consequently, five Red Cross officials flew to
Algiers. The hijackers, who also probably hoped the
Red Cross might intervene because of their success
in prisoner swaps, freed two women and a man as a
goodwill gesture toward the arriving Red Cross
Prior to the arrival of the Red Cross representatives, two Algerian diplomats boarded the plane and
spoke with the Shiites. The Algerians were said to
be relying on the Koran and various religious argu-

ments in their bid to convince the hijackers to

release the remaining hostages. 6 Nevertheless, the
Algerian diplomats did not succeed; they described
the extremists as young, suicidal, and tough. The
Red Cross officials arrived and began speaking with
the terrorists. Saturday night concluded with these
talks in progress.

Sunday, 16 June
Early Sunday morning the gunmen released three
more hostages and set a deadline for when the hostages executions would begin if the Atlit prisoners
were not freed. The Red Cross tried to find a compromise: a simultaneous release of the hostages and
the prisoners seemed agreeable to the terrorists.
However, the compromise was acceptable to neither the United States nor Israel. The negotiators
had presumably tried to find small areas of agreement so that a larger area of accord could be developed. Yet, by doing so, the United States, it appears
was not facing the most difficult issues, and the
sides were much farther apart than was acknowledged. For example, the Red Cross thoughtprobably due to erroneous assumptions by U.S.
negotiatorsthat the Israelis would automatically
release the Atlit prisoners if the American hostages
were simultaneously freed. Also, the international
media reported that a U.S. terrorist team was about
to attempt a rescue and that the U.S. Sixth Fleet was
within striking range. There was no proposal on how
the terroristsespecially the killer of Robert
Stethemwould be dealt with after the hostages
liberation. Finally, the information the United States
and the Red Cross had was so incomplete that both
were still uncertain whether the rumors that Americans had been removed from the plane in Beirut
were correct.
The Red Cross plan came to naught. An hour
before their deadline the gunmen ordered the pilot
to depart again for Beirut. Why did they leave, particularly when a breakthrough seemed near? Originally, it was said that the hijackers no longer felt
confident in negotiating from Algiers. Although the
Algerians did everything they could to let the terrorists know that the bargaining atmosphere had not
changed, the reports of U.S. forces within the area
might have convinced the gunmen otherwise. Later
however, another reason for the hijackers departure from Algiers was reported: they might have
been unsure that they could meet their end of a Red
Crosssponsored deal. The hijackers, who at this

Rodney A. Snyder

point numbered four Amal and four Hezbollah

members, apparently disagreed over tactics and
over the intended fate of the hostages who wer
removed from the plane in Beirut.
In Beirut, the airport denied the aircraft permission to land and blocked the runways with fir
trucks. The pilots response was:
We have no choice, we have no choice. The
hijackers have insisted that we have to land
regardless, even if we have to crash the aircraft.
The fire trucks were removed. The terrorists had
demonstrated that they were willing to die and let
circumstances develop beyond their control. The
tactic was reminiscent of throwing the steering
wheel out of the automobile window in the game of
Chicken. The signal to the Beirut control tower
was clear: it had to remove the barriers or the plane
would crash.
On the ground, the terrorists released an appeal
to President Reagan signed by thirty of the American hostages begging him not to use force to obtain
their release. The hijackers also demanded that
Lebanons most prominent Shiite politician,
Nabih Berri, leader of Amal, represent them in negotiations. Berri agreed, after receiving a commitment by the hijackers not to harm anyone if their
demands were met.
Now there was a Shiite negotiator, which again
changed the negotiating environment. The United
States knew with whom it had to deal and could better assess the type of interests he represented. In
addition, the United States probably was more confident in negotiating with Berri and Amal because
they were considered moderates compared to
Hezbollah and Jihad.
Berris first moves were to assume responsibility
for all of the hostages and to make the hijackers
demands his own. He also added to the hijackers
original demands: he insisted on the release of the
800 detainees at Atlit (the previous demands had
only referred to 700); called for an end to all bloodshed in Lebanon; condemned U.S. and Israeli policies in the Middle East; and demanded that two
Lebanese, jailed in Madrid for alleged participation
in an assassination attempt, be freed in Damascus
or Algiers.
Once the plane landed in Beirut for a third time,
the governments involved changed their tactics.
Israels cabinet met in secret on Sunday to discuss
the situation, and Israeli officials then stated that
Israel would consider a formal U.S. request to swap
the prisoners for the passengers.

Case 333, Instructor Copy

It is likely that Washington was angered by the

Israeli declaration. 7 First, the United States had
assumed the Israelis would voluntarily help the
American hostages by releasing the prisoners if a
swap could be agreed. The United States did not
understand why it had to ask the Israelis for help
when it was obvious that their help was needed.
Second, the United States became irate over the use
of the word formal. What constituted formal?
The Israeli government quickly responded that it
meant that Jerusalem had to be asked by a Reagan
cabinet member. This especially frustrated the U.S.
government because the Israelis were well aware of
the administrations policy of not negotiating with,
or making concessions to, terrorists. Third, the U.S.
government wondered what the word consider
implied. Did it mean that the Israeli government
might say no? Again, the U.S. assumption had been
that a close allyespecially one that received so
much U.S. aid and supportwould do everything it
could to alleviate the pressure, not increase it.
Finally, although the matter was only discussed off
the record by U.S. officials, many Americans blamed
the Israelis for illegally moving the Lebanese prisoners out of Lebanon and then not releasing them.
Moreover, since prior to the hijacking, the Israelis
had stated that they would release the men, wh
were they now requiring a formal request which
placed the United States in such an awkward position?
The Israelis claimed that they were the ones put
in a no-win situation. If, on the one hand, they
released the detainees once the hijacking had taken
place, they would appear to be conceding to terrorists. And even if this were not the case, they feared
that terrorists might perceive this was occurring and
thus be inclined to commit more acts of terrorism.
On the other hand, if the Israelis did not release the
prisoners, the American hostages might be killed,
which could result in Israel being blamed, causing a
decline in U.S. aid and support.
It was possible that the Israelis had yet another
reason for their stance. As mentioned, shortly before
the hijacking they had traded 1,000 Palestinian
guerrillas for three Israeli soldiers caught during the
three-year war in Lebanon. Included among the Palestinians were over fifty convicted murderers, and
although many unequal exchanges had taken place
before, none had been so lopsided nor included convicted murderers. The political controversy created
by the swap had been so heated that it had threatened the coalition government headed by Prime
Minister Shimon Peres. 8 Thus, memory of that previous controversy contributed to the toughness of the

Case 333, Instructor Copy

Negotiating with Terrorists: TWA Flight 847

current Israeli position. This was particularly true

since some leading members of the opposition parties claimed that the TWA hijacking and ensuing
demands were undertaken precisely because Israel
had previously agreed to a lopsided prisoner swap. 9
Other governments, including several moderate
Arab states, offered their services on behalf of the
United States. Arab diplomatic sources expressed
optimism that the hijackers might release the passengers if they were confident that Israel would
release its Shiite prisoners soon afterwards.10
The United States, meanwhile, apparently
changed its position once the jet had returned t
Beirut. It probably became obvious to the U.S. government that the situation was increasingly similar
to the Iranian hostage crisis, since the terrorists were
increasing their demands while simultaneously
making military rescue efforts more problematical.
Consequently, the United States appeared to prepar
for a protracted crisis while still attempting a breakthrough. U.S. officials made it clear that the six to
ten passengers removed from the plane in Beirut
had to be included in any agreement that involved
release of hostages and prisoners. The United States
also increased pressure on the terrorists. NBC and
Agence France-Presse reported that fifteen U.S. soldiers, part of the U.S. anti-terrorist squad sent to the
Middle East, had left Larnaca for Beirut. Also, U.S.
naval forces could be seen off Lebanons coast.
However, U.S. threats were constrained by the
same considerations that had deterred military
action already 11 Threats against the Shiite groups
main supporter, Iranspecifically, the threat of military reprisals against the Kharg oil terminalwer
met with an Iranian counterthreat: Any U.S. raid on
Kharg or attempt to close Iranian ports would result
in the closure of other Arab ports across the Gulf. In
other words, the Iranians threatened Kuwaiti, Saudi,
and other oil ports on which the United States and
its allies reliedas they had long done in Iranian
response U.S. (and Iraqi) military threatsand the
Iranians had the military power to successfully carry
out the threats. Another important consideration in
Washingtons calculations was a fear that strikes
against Shiite targets would not only provoke an
increase in anti-American terrorism in the Middle
East, but also would incite Shiite terrorist attacks in
the United Statesas Iran had threatened in the
past.12 Finally, there were two additional concerns
about the use of military force. First, the hijackers
could always retaliate by killing the TWA hostages.
Second, Islamic Jihad held seven other American
hostages whom it could also assassinate.
Consequently, although the hijackers and Nabih

Berris Amal appeared fearful of U.S. military might,

they actually had little reason to be afraid of an
attack. However, it was probably the fear of the
damage and bloodshed that would have resulted
from a successful, or failed, U.S. attack that worried
Berri, as much because of its effect on Lebanese politics and Shiite power as because of its international
On Sunday night, when the plane was being
guarded by many Amal militiamen, noises were
heard overhead. The militiamen fired into the air
and toward the coast. The control tower told the
hijackers that strange targets were flying in from
the south and suggested that they refuel the Boeing
727."13 Due to an apparent fear of a U.S. or Israeli
rescue attemptand the loss of life that might
resultNabih Berri ordered journalists away from
the airport. This probably explains Berris next bargaining move.

Monday, 17 June
Early Monday morning, Amal removed all of the
passengers from the plane and took them to Shiite
houses in west Beirut and its suburbs. The pilot,
copilot, and navigator remained on board with a
dozen terrorists, mostly Amal members and some
Hezbollah gunmen.
Although the days uncertainties focused on
whether or not the hostages were still on the plane,
the Shiites nonetheless increased pressure on the
Reagan administration. Some of this was the result
of Berris announcement: If Israel does not release
[the Atlit prisoners], I would say to the kidnappers,
Now you take the people and do what you want.
Other pressure, however, was a by-product of
Shiite actions. For example, on Monday it was
learned that Robert Stethems corpse was unrecognizable because of the condition of the body . . .
his face was severely deformed in the beating he
had received.14 Pressure came also from the hostages families. For instance, the family of black
Navy captive Clinton Sluggs appealed publicly to the
Reverend Jesse Jackson and Coretta Scott King to try
to gain the hostages release. The relative of one
hostage even denounced U.S. government officials
refusal to ask Israel to release the Atlit prisoners as
ridiculous semantics. . . . Just do it and get it done
These are peoples lives they are dealing with.
Monday also brought reactions from other governments. Spain rejected the hijackers demand that
it release two imprisoned Lebanese Shiites. This

Rodney A. Snyder

was the first complete rejection the terrorists had

received from any government on which they had
made demands.15
Israel toughened. Israeli polls showed that a
majority of Israelis opposed the release of the Arab
prisoners under any circumstances, including in
response to a formal U.S. request. The Israeli government also issued a statement that foreclosed the
Red Cross option U.S. officials were working on: a
request by the Red Cross for the release would not
suffice as a substitute for a formal U.S. request. In
yet another Israeli declaration, which likely began
turning American public opinion away from supporting Israel, a high-ranking Israeli official stated:
The plane is an American plane. The hostages are
American citizens, and the crew is an American
crew. We need not take any initiative. 16
U.S. officials, meanwhile, became decidedly less
optimistic. First, Israels hard line ended a Red
Cross role in providing a solution, i.e., a staggered
swap of the hostages in return for a credible U.S.
pledge that the Atlit prisoners would be freed soon
thereafter. Second, the American public became increasingly impatient and angry. Finally, the situation had turned into a protracted crisis, which
meant that similarities between the TWA hijacking
and the earlier Iranian hostage crisis were drawn by
the American press and by columnists. This especially frustrated President Reagan, who had vigorously attacked Jimmy Carter during the 1979
presidential race for being weak on terrorism. Thus
U.S. officials continued to search for a formula behind the scenes, and, publicly, they became tougher.
The Marines Mediterranean Amphibious Ready
Group, consisting of some 1,8002,000 personnel
aboard three vessels, headed for the Mediterranean.

Tuesday, 18 June
On Tuesday the Shiites increased pressure on the
United States, probably in the hope that they, in
turn, would influence Israel to release the Atlit
The terrorists let go three more hostages. One of
them, the internationally renowned Greek folksinger, Demis Roussos, tearfully embraced a number of Amal militiamen before leaving.17 The
gunmen insisted on a Greek promise to press Spain
and the United States into pressuring Israel in
exchange for the release of the hostages. The terrorists also stated that this thing has lasted too long. It
is not possible to stay like this.

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Such a comment would have had a powerful

impact in itself, but on Tuesday the statement
appeared particularly ominous. That day Time and
Newsweek as well as the New York Post carried pictures of Robert Stethems mutilated body. Furthermore, a poll taken the previous night indicated that
48 percent of Americans said that the United States
should accede to the terrorists demands if the alternative was that more hostages would be injured or
murdered; 41 percent felt that the United States
should formally ask Israel to release its Atlit detainees; 60 percent thought that Israel should release
them without any U.S. request if it meant that the
hostages would be freed; and 32 percent believed
that the United States should reduce its ties to Israel
in order to decrease anti-American terrorism in the
Middle East.18 Also on Tuesday, Nabih Berri
accused the U.S. Government of making no serious effort to resolve the five-day crisisand said
that the hostage drama would be over in
twenty-four hours if Washington would pressure
Berri pleaded to Americans on television as well:
You have to pay taxes every day to support Israel,
so you have every right to ask Israel to free those
The Shiites, however, also apparently began to
feel increased pressure. Tension between Hezbollah
followers and Amal members began to surface
Because the terrorists overseeing some of the hostages were Amal loyalists, while others had an allegiance to Hezbollah, and their goals differed,
anxiety developed among the Shiite captors. Also,
questions were raised about Berris ability to deliver
all of the hostages if a deal were to be struck.
The United States government, however, was
extremely cautious in dealing with Berri. After all,
he controlled the fate of forty Americans. In addition, any acknowledgment that he was cooperating
with Washington might have incited his followers to
kill him or to switch their allegiance to a more radical Shiite group, undermining the negotiations. Second, because Berri was a powerful moderate, the
United States hoped that he might bring stability to
the Lebanese political arena after the hijacking
drama ended. Finally, however, in addition to carefully balancing its support for Berri (so that more
extremist groups would not become more influential) against the pressures being put on him (to settle
the hijacking crisis), the United States also did not
want him to become too popular in the region. Berri
was supported by Syria, and an increase in Syrian

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Negotiating with Terrorists: TWA Flight 847

influence in Lebanon was not desirable to the

United States. Thus, as Evans and Novak pointed
out, even U.S. threats to retaliate after the crisis was
over were probably bluster because the United
States had to support Berri in the hope that he could
continue to contain Shiite fanaticism. 19
By this time, the Red Cross had all but bowed out
of the negotiations. Its representatives were willing
to organize an exchange but would not become
politically involved in any mediation attempts. Berri,
too, met with a representative of the government of
Lebanon, although any thought that the ineffective
leadership of that country could play a vital role was
What about Syria? Syria was already active
behind the scenes, yet for several possible reasons
U.S. officials declined to publicly request Syrian aid.
First, long before the start of the TWA hijacking,
President Reagan had asked President Hafiz alAssad to help free the seven Americans held by
Jihad. Assad had agreed, though his efforts thus far
had proved unsuccessful, and Washington had little
confidence in his influence over the Shiite extremists. Second, the U.S. government saw no reason
why Syria would want to help resolve the crisis. The
TWA ordeal was increasing Amal influence in the
region and weakening U.S. support for Israel. Consequently, Syria was thought to have no incentive to
end the hijacking and might even have wanted it to
continue. Finally, the Reagan administration probably considered it humiliating to seek help from a
country the President had often accused of supporting state-sponsored terrorism.
As the pressures mounted, Israel took a harder
line. Jerusalem issued statements to the effect that,
at the request of Washington, Israeli officials would
meet with the Red Cross. However,they would do so
out of courtesy and had no intention whatsoever
to negotiate over the hijacking with the Red Cross
authorities. Israel declared that the most useful
contribution Israel could make was to say and do
nothing because it is not Israel that is conducting
this matter. U.S. authorities were probably only
slightly less angered when Israeli authorities
announced that Israel would free the Atlit prisoners
at the U.S. requestthis suggested to observers that
the Israelis were bowing to U.S. pressure, but it also
made it appear that they were attempting to put the
onus for the detainees release on the United States.
Throughout the day, the U.S. government seems
to have tried to ease the pressure on the United
States and to transfer that pressure to others.
Increased talk of retaliation suggested that Washington was seeking to intensify pressure on Berri. In

view of U.S. military assets, particularly the amphibious Marine force in the Mediterranean, Berri, the
Lebanese Shiite community, and Syria appeared to
be concerned about U.S. threats to retaliate once the
crisis had ended. In addition, Berri probably worried
about making a mistake that could cost him not
only his leadership but also his life. Thus, both presidential spokesman Larry Speakes and President
Reagan himself tried to shift the onus onto Berri.
Snapping his fingers, the President said that Berri
could be the solution to the problem that quickly.
President Reagan even said bluntly that he would
hold Berri responsible were he to return the hostages to the hijackers. The administration also put
pressure on Israel by Speakess public assumption
that Israel would assist the United States in any way
it could, including releasing the Atlit prisoners once
the hostages were freed.
Referring indirectly to the matter of time, President Reagan, in a nationally broadcast news conference, declared his willingness to wait out the
captors, and, in addition to declining to pressure
Israel, repeated his claim that he would never make
concessions to terrorists.
Despite the administrations attempts to relieve
some of the public pressure, it remained great
because of two other complexities that had developed during the crisis. First, former public officials
continually called on the President to retaliate.
Henry Kissinger, for instance, appeared on all three
networks and repeated his hypothetical handling of
the situation: no concessions, no negotiations, and
retaliation when this is over. Second, U.S. military
opportunities to strike at the Shiites contracted with
each passing day. Not only were obvious questions
about Kissingers suggested policyretaliate against
whom? where? how?but there was also the fate of
the seven American hostages who were not linked
to consider.Further, U.S. military planning was complicated by the introduction into Beirut of hundreds
of journalists covering the story, who could easily
have been taken as replacement hostages even if the
United States succeeded in freeing every TWA captive!

Wednesday,19 June
On Wednesday terrorism dominated the international scene: four U.S. Marines were gunned down
in El Salvador, and in Germany, three people were
killed when a bomb exploded at Frankfurt airport.
Although the Shiites played no part in these attacks,


Rodney A. Snyder

pressure on the Reagan administration to respond

to terrorismspecifically, the TWA hijacking
In Beirut the media stopped reporting the crisis
and instead became a part of the news story. ABC
News interviewed the pilot of the TWA jet as he
stuck his head out of the cockpit window. An arm
also jutted out of the windowand it held a gun that
was waved in the pilots face. That interview suggested that a supreme interest of the Shiites was to
put public pressure on the United States in every
possible way.
ABCs interviews made the crisis more shockingly
immediate than it had been. Yet there was also at
least a semi-hopeful aspect: if the terrorists had
ended their media blackout and been willing to
let some hostages talk, it might indicate they did
have some regard for world opinion, perhaps
even that their bitter resolve was weakening. Now
television had crossed the line it crossed with the
Iranian crisis; it seemed a participant in the story
as well as a conduit of information.20
The hostages families continued to bring pressure to bear on the White House as well. One family
urged other hostage families to send telegrams to
Reagan asking him to press the Israelis for the
release of hundreds of Shiite prisoners. Another
family sent the President a telegram which read,
We must insist you expedite the release of
Israeli-held prisoners. We want action right now. A
third hostages daughter commented, I just dont
want to see my father be a martyr. . . . It didnt
seem he [Reagan] really sensed the hostages came
Washington also continued to bear down on
Berri. One administration source said that Berri
would have to find a way to de-link the hostages
[from the Atlit prisoners] and let nature take its
course. Its not our problem, its his problem. Moreover, the United States now openly sought a Syrian
role. It was revealed that President Reagan had
asked President Assad for his help in resolving the
drama the previous Friday and also on a second
unspecified day 22
Generally, however, there was no change in the
bargaining situation on Wednesday. It was nonetheless a significant day because it foreshadowed the
way each side would thereafter attempt to resolve
the crisis: the Shiites would manipulate the media
in order to pressure the U.S. government; and the
Reagan administration would increasingly rely on

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Thursday, 20 June
The seventh day of the crisis brought proof that
negotiating theories too often rely on rationality
while ignoring the human touch. Pictures of
Stethems body, rumors that the press was paying
the terrorists for interviews,23 Americans filmed
with guns held to their faces, a seemingly worldwide assault by terrorists, the Israelis ungrateful
attitude and aloofness, and the skepticism about
Berris innocence in the hijacking itselfall these
angered the American public. For instance, in the
public opinion poll discussed above, 48 percent of
those surveyed had supported President Reagans
handling of the crisis. A new poll showed that 68
percent of those questioned now supported the
President; also, the proportion of people saying that
Israel should do more to aid the release of the hostages increased from 49 to 58 percent. 24 Newspaper editorials also reflected hardening attitudes; no
longer did as many question whether to retaliate, but
rather they wondered how to retaliate.25
The U.S. government, it was reported, secretly
told friendly governments (including Syria) that it
was willing to accept a staggered swap. Publicly,
however, President Reagan was tougher than ever
and said that in response to the TWA hijacking, the
slaughter of Marines in El Salvador, and the German
airport bombing, our limits have been reached. 26
Moreover, he stated, the United States would
respond militarily and otherwise to end the terrorist assaults. Larry Speakes reiterated that, although a
military rescue was no longer being seriously considered, retaliation was becoming more likely. Also,
the International Air Pilots Association agreed to
boycott Beirut airport, and President Reagan asked
the two U.S. airline companies that used Beirut t
reconsider. Pan Am soon announced it would no
longer stop in the Lebanese capital.
The United States also continued to pressur
Berri. Richard Murphy, assistant secretary of state,
later testified that its still not completely clear
what his [Berris] role was at the beginning of the
It appears that Israel had not yet fully appreciated
the anger its statements were arousing in the American public and government. Defense Minister Rabin
charged the United States with playing games
with Israel.27 Furthermore, he said:
Ive never shrugged off my shoulders the need to
make a decision as Prime Minister and now as a

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Negotiating with Terrorists: TWA Flight 847

Defense Minister, facing terrorists acts against

Israel. I expect the United States to do the same
Comments such as these sent the Israeli Embassy
in Washington and American Jewish leaders scurrying to tell Israeli officials that their remarks had
begun to result in reduced U.S. support for Israel.
Subsequently, the Israeli approach appeared to
change drastically.
Thursdays most important event was a hostage
press conference. Allyn Conwell, the elected
spokesman for the hostages, said that he had visited
all thirty-six passengers and three crewmen and that
all were fine. This was the first confirmation that
there were forty hostages. Conwell also read a statement:
We want to beseech President Reagan and our
fellow Americans to refrain from any form of military or violent means as an attempt, no matter
how noble or heroic, to secure our freedom.
Conwell further warned that a rescue operation
would only cause, in our estimation, unneeded and
unwarranted deaths among innocent people.
As Amal militiamen whispered in the ears of four
of the five hostages on display throughout the press
conference, Conwell sought to influence Israels
We understand that Israel is holding a number of
Lebanese people who undoubtedly have as equal
and as strong a desire to go home as we do. The
Israeli government reportedly has a plan for
releasing these people in conjunction with the
military withdrawal of Israel from Lebanon. We
sincerely ask and pray that this task be expeditiously completed, especially now that the Israeli
forces are south of Lebanon or almost out of the
country. I feel that most people in America would
like to see anyone, anyone in the world unjustly
held, returned to their homeland.
Another hostage, asked about the Israeli prisoners, said that Israel should release them: We are
hostages and they are hostages. Angry Shiites
stopped the press conference when certain reporters, apparently in an effort to get closer to the hostages and to the Amal representatives seated with
them, began climbing on tables, crowding the hostages, and shouting questions. The scene later was
often referred to in indictments of the media for acting irresponsibly during the crisis.


Friday, 21 June
On Friday the Shiites again used the media in
efforts to influence Washington; this time, however,
Hezbollah was at the forefront. First, Sheik Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, Hezbollahs leader, was
interviewed. He stated that he would urge the
Shiites holding the ten or so Americans initially
removed from the plane (during its second Beirut
stop) to release them when the Atlit prisoner
demand was met. He also said, the hijackers are
not members of one specific organization or side
but a movement related to the families of [the] prisoners.
Reminiscent of the Iranian hostage crisis was
Hezbollahs antiU.S. protest at the Beirut airport.
Over 1,000 militants swarmed onto the tarmac
and, led by the three original hijackers with bags
over their heads and five mullahs atop the TWA
planes staircase, worked themselves into a frenzy
chanting, God is great; we are seeking martyrdom.28 The protest ended with the crowd of
mostly young men and women chanting, Death to
Israel, and America the Great Satan.29
Friday, Israel apparently tried to repair the damage done to U.S.Israel relations. Prime Minister
Peres called Secretary of State George Shultz, indicated support for the U.S. terrorism policy, and said,
We feel about them [the hostages] as we would our
own people. Also, probably to lessen the isolation
they felt, Israels prime minister and defense minister scheduled appearances on network television
programs, Meet the Press and Face the Nation
respectively. Finally, Israeli officials repeated their
pledge to release the prisoners when security conditions permitted.
At this point the U.S. government seems to have
played down the crisis, and private diplomacy was
being given an opportunity to work. U.S. silence
may have been intended to show Israel that the
United States was not attempting to bring undue
pressure on it prior to the crucial Sunday meeting of
the Israeli cabinet. Finally, U.S. efforts to find other
countries that were willing to help were bearing
fruit. Algeria and Austria were trying to find a remedy. The Austrians offered to act as negotiators or
go-betweens or to provide a transfer place. Syria
publicly announced that it was seeking a solution.
And Switzerland and Sweden, meanwhile, contacted
Berri and offered their diplomatic services; the
Swiss even sent a note to the Shiites requesting the
hostages release on humanitarian grounds.


Rodney A. Snyder

Saturday, 22 June
On the ninth day of the crisis, the Shiites continued to gain press coverage by issuing new threats. 30
Amid rumors of U.S. warplane overflights and a U.S.
military presence in east Beirut, Berri threatened t
withdraw from the negotiations. Although his threat
worried administration officials, they probably
believed he was not serious. However, many thought
that his statement related to growing unease
among Amal leaders about the extent to which they
will be held responsible if negotiations drag on or
collapse.31 In other words, not only were Amals
differences with Hezbollah a concern, but disagreements within the Amal leadership also seemed to
be surfacing. For instance, one Amal official said
that holding the Thursday press conference had
been a mistake because it conveyed the impression
that Amal alone controlled the fate of the hostages
The divisions within the Shiite community also
were increasingly revealed; many journalists even
suggested that the TWA hijacking had been part of a
larger struggle between Berri and the fundamentalists. Consequently, Syria was reportedly displeased
with the hijacking and Berris handling of the hostage issue. 32 Nevertheless, the United States apparently assumed that Assad had little influence over
Amal or Hezbollah.

Case 333, Instructor Copy

he said that he did not consider Israels release of

the thirty-one prisoners to have any connection with
the Shiite demands because the gesture fell 700
short of what was necessary.
President Reagan pledged that he would not
resolve the crisis by force as long as the hostages
remained in captivity and unharmed. The Presidents remark assured the terrorists and the American public that a rescue mission would not be
attempted. It also appeared to be geared to Berris
comment that he would return the hostages to the
original hijackers if the situation was not quickly
resolved. The President apparently hoped his pledge
would give Berri confidence to remain the representative of the hijackers. Nevertheless, President
Reagans wording did not foreclose the possibility of
Also on Sunday, an Arab newspaper, An-nahar,
disclosed a European bargain that it reported was
being considered by the United States and the
Shiites. The bargain would have entailed the hostages release and a U.S. condemnation of the illegal
Israeli detention of Lebanese, to be followed by
negotiations between the Red Cross and Israel over
the time and place for the freeing of the Lebanese
prisoners during the following week. The White
House called the story a fabrication.

Monday, 24 June

Sunday, 23 June
On Sunday, the Israeli government decided at its
cabinet meeting to release thirty-one Atlit prisoners. Although the release was said to have no link to
the TWA crisis, it was almost certainly intended to
affect positively U.S.Israel relations. First, Prime
Minister Peres announced the decision on U.S. television. He also said that the United States and
Israel, together and not separately, are confronting
the danger [of terrorism]. Second, both Peres and
Defense Minister Rabin appeared on Sunday interview programs in the United States to explain the
Israeli position and to attempt to sway American
public opinion. Finally, there was the fact that Israel
freed thirty-one prisoners, the exact number of
American hostages Berri had under his control.
Thus, the move probably was designed to show
Israeli flexibility and also to test Berris reaction.
Berri also appeared on Sunday television in the
United States. Presumably seeking public support,

On Monday, the Shiites pressed the United States in

three ways. First, Berri issued a new demand that
U.S. warships withdraw from the Lebanese coast as
a condition for the hostages release. The Pentagon
responded that since U.S. vessels were beyond the
twelve-mile limit of Lebanese territorial waters, they
would continue to operate in international waters
and air space.
The Shiites also brought additional pressure to
bear by releasing a videotape featuring twelve previously unseen hostages. The Americans appeared
grim and angry, and their responses obviously wer
controlled by their captors. The videotape was provided after the Amal struck a deal with the four leading U.S. television networks: the tape was to be
televised by them all, during prime time. The terrorists efforts to gain U.S. media attention were working.
With a demonstration one day, a press conference the next, the Shiites watching over the hostages have been able, in effect, to control the

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Negotiating with Terrorists: TWA Flight 847

news, repeating their demands like a drumbeat.33

In addition to pressuring the United States
through the media, the Shiites suggested that time
was on their side. Aked Haidar, Amals politburo
chief, told reporters at a Monday press conference
that after eleven years of war, the hijackers have a
lot of time; these people are very patient. We are
very patient. He also said that he hoped the end of
the crisis would come in a matter of days, not years
Sheik Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, leader of the
Hezbollah, was also mentioned; Haidar said he
agreed with Fadlallahs view that the situation would
become more complex with the passage of time.
In Israel, Sundays release of thirty-one prisoner
led to self-congratulation and debate. The former
was evident when Israeli officials pronounced their
deed a gesture to the United States to help maintain
the image of an Israel who is willing to help. They
felt that the release and Sunday U.S. television
appearances had helped win back American public
opinion and heal the U.S.Israel rift. The release
also started a debate about further releases. Mondays Jerusalem Post called for the freeing of all prisoners.
U.S. intelligence authorities came to the view that
some of the hostages had been taken to the Hezbollahs Baalbek barracks; if the United States struck, it
would kill American hostages as well as Hezbollah
members. Moreover, Hezbollah could expect the
camp to be a likely U.S. target because French and
Israeli bombers previously had raided it. As a result,
U.S. military action seemed less and less likely
The debate over the utility and risks of a military
strike also suggested an additional terrorist tactic.
Eleven days of media exposure had given Nabih
Berri a very human identity with U.S. audiences,
making U.S. air strikes less acceptable than they had
seemed at first, when the American public linked
the hostage negotiations only with the original (and
much less sympathetic) hijackers. Consequently,
time gave the terrorists not only opportunities to
make new demands, but also to pressure the United
States, to decrease the likelihood of a successful U.S.
rescue, and to present their demands before the
world. The bond that Berri was developing with the
American people made them more likely to oppose
a military response.
Another U.S. government reaction on Monda
came directly from President Reagan: the President
canceled his Fourth of July vacation, which was to
begin Friday, so that he could remain at the White
House to deal with the crisis.


Tuesday,25 June
The hijackings tedium was broken on Tuesday
because of decisions made at a National Security
Council meeting in Washington and at a meeting in
Damascus. These decisions initiated the ending of
the crisis, although it was not evident at the time.
The Red Cross reemerged, this time to check the
hostages health and to interview them without their
captors present. This Red Cross visit proved to be
significant in two ways. First, one hostage was
released the following day because of his medical
condition, which seemed to demonstrate that the
Shiites were concerned about the safety of the
American hostages. Second, the Red Cross was able
to check all the hostages when they were brought to
an undisclosed location in Beirut, demonstrating
that Berri exercised enough power to produce all of
the hostages.
The British ambassador to Lebanon met with
Berri Tuesday and firmly warned him not to underestimate the anger of the Americans.34 The Italian
ambassador to Lebanon delivered to Berri a European Community statement condemning the hijacking. The Europeans also apparently told Berri about
some of the measures the U.S. government was considering implementing against the Shiites (discussed below). The effect of these meetings, it was
suggested, made Berri see the isolation of his position and the power of his antagonists, as well as the
fact that if the crisis was not quickly settled, this
power might be used.35 The tone of these encounters seemed to affect Berri particularly beginning
the next day.
Syrian efforts to resolve the situation also
increased. President Assad returned Monday from
meetings with Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow. Also
important, Assad met with the speaker of the Iranian parliament and with the leader of Hezbollah. In
addition, Assad scheduled a meeting with Nabih
Berri on Thursday. Assad and Gorbachev appear to
have been upset by the hijacking and by Berris handling of it. For this there were a number of reasons.36 First, they probably saw Shiite extremists
gaining popularity in the region, which would lead
to a decrease in Syrian and Soviet influence there
Second, they may both have believed that holding
the American hostages worked against rather than
for the release of the Lebanese detainees. Third,
Syria and the USSR probably feared that the TWA
hostage crisis was bringing more U.S. military power
into the region. Moreover,President Assad may hav


Rodney A. Snyder

feared that the spreading Lebanese Shiite fanaticism might spill over into Syria. Assad was already
isolated in the Arab world for supporting Amals
attempt to destroy the Palestinians in Lebanon, and
he may have feared that he and Amal would
become even more isolated if the crisis were
allowed to become protracted. Finally, Syria was
very likely fearful that Hezbollah would join ranks
with the Palestinians as a result of their unhappiness
over Berris handling of the situation, a development
that would reduce Amals and Syrias power in
Tuesday also saw a change of tactics on the part
of the United States. President Reagan decided that,
because diplomatic results thus far had proved negligible, he must adopt the terrorists initial tactic: he
must establish a deadline and insist that some
conclusion had to result soon. Why? 38
First, the President appeared to conclude that
time was now against him. The terrorists demands
increased as the ordeal dragged on, and the negotiations became more complex. The hijacking was
interfering with other presidential business, such as
the tax overhaul. Even the vice president, on a European trip to drum up support for SDI, found himself
having to discuss the TWA hostage situation more
and more often. Consequently, President Reagan
wanted to bring Washingtons attention back to its
scheduled work, but he could not do so without first
resolving the TWA crisis. Finally, although public
support for the President was high, the administration knew that this would change if the crisis continued much longer. For example, the Presidents
image would clearly have suffered if he had not canceled his Fourth of July vacation because he would
have seemed uncaring about the Americans being
held hostage. To bring what influence he could t
bear and to show that his government was actively
engaged in seeking a crisis solution, military action
and economic sanctions had to be considered.
President Reagan and his advisers pondered closing the Beirut airport by military means. Secretary
of State Shultz had said that 15 percent of all hijackings in the past fifteen years had taken place in connection with that airport, possibly a sufficient
pretext for closing it. The airports runways could be
bombed, and U.S. military jets stationed aboard
naval carriers could warn off all airport traffic.
Economic sanctions, however,were more likely t
prove successful. One option was to blockade Lebanese ports, hampering food and oil deliveries.
Another was to stop oil imports only. A third option
was to freeze assets in the United States of Shiite
supporters and groups involved in the crisis. Finally,

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the United States could have led and organized a

boycott of Lebanese goods.
Within the administration there were sharp
debates about the potential impact of such sanctions. For example, Beirut airport was virtually
closed already, with its only commercial user being
Lebanons Middle East Airlines. Also, a Lebanese
official said that the TWA hijacking was not
state-sponsored terrorism, and, therefore, measures
taken to punish all Lebanese were misguided. U.S.
analysts also were concerned that if Lebanese air
and sea lanes were blocked, this would redirect
trade and travel through Syria, thereby even further
increasing Syrian control over the entire country of
Lebanon, a Syrian objective and a U.S. fear 39
Tuesday also clarified many internal Shiite problems. Hezbollah and Amal had been competing for
influence throughout the crisis. Some argued that
the hijacking represented a major challenge to the
U.S. reputation in the Middle East. Whichever group
was credited with driving Israel out of Lebanon and
freeing the prisoners could dominate other factions
Thursdays Hezbollah march at the Beirut airport,
for example, was said to have been undertaken t
intimidate Amal as much as to impress the United
States. The protest was seen as an indication of how
rapidly Hezbollah was gaining supporters.
The differences between these two groups were
substantial. Hezbollah committed terrorist attacks
against Israel and the SLA in the hope of driving
them from southern Lebanon. U.S. officials thought
the TWA hijacking was a good example of their
fanaticism. By contrast, although Amal was not
averse in principle to terrorism, it did not sanction
any attacks on Israel from its territory because such
attacks would invite retaliation. Thus, Hezbollah
gained publicity and support as a result of the
hijacking while Berri looked foolish and unable to
win the release of the prisoners, while looking
increasingly vulnerable to U.S. threats. Amal also
opposed an alliance with the Palestinian guerrillas,
since they were using southern Lebanon as a springboard for their attacks on Israel. Hezbollah, on the
other hand, desired a temporary alliance with the
Palestinian terrorists precisely because it sought
help in forcing the withdrawal of Israel. Finally,
Hezbollah wanted to impose strict fundamentalism,
modeled after revolutionary Iran, in Shiite-controlled Lebanon. Amal, by contrast, opposed religious rule. Yet, because of the gain in Hezbollahs
support due to its attacks on the Israelis and its
stance on the Palestinian question, Amal permitted
religious rule in some areas under its control. The
city of Tyre, for example, became fundamentalist-

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Negotiating with Terrorists: TWA Flight 847

controlled, and the merchants there, Amals main

financial supporters, became alienated from Amal
as a result. This, in turn, led to less support for
Berris Amal and greater Hezbollah strength.
To the extent that these rivalries were understood by the Presidents staff, they gave President
Reagan confidence that he could press hard on
Berri, and that this would help the United States in
two ways: it would force Berri to find some way to
release the American hostages; and, if accompanied by the freeing of the Lebanese detainees, Berri
and Amal would gain influence as the Shiite group
that had won their freedom. This in turn supported
U.S. and Israeli regional goals because a relatively
moderate group would then control southern Lebanon and prohibit terrorist attacks on Israel launched
from there. Moreover, the spread of Shiite fundamentalism would be discouraged.

Wednesday,26 June
Nabih Berris reaction to President Reagans threats
of military action and economic sanctions set off a
flurry of diplomatic activity. Berri termed his own
responses humanitarian. To begin with, after Red
Cross consultations about the hostages medical
condition, he released a hostage who had an acute
heart condition. He then proposed a new solution.
He offered to place the hostages in the care of a
European embassy in Beirut or with the Syrian government provided that they would not be freed until
the Israelis had released the Atlit prisoners. Berri
mentioned the French Embassy, which had spacious grounds and enough housing for the thirty
captives. The move would have ensured the hostages physical safety. A third humanitarian reaction to the tough U.S. line was a suggestion that
Berri release two previously kidnapped French journalists when the Israelis freed the Atlit prisoners.
The tactic was probably designed to give France an
incentive to participate and to put pressure on the
French and Israeli governments through French
public opinion.
Secretary of State Shultz immediately called
French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas and
requested French involvement. The French, however, agreed only to let the United States use their
embassy in Beirut or Syria as a temporary sheltering facility for the hostages on their way to freedom.40 In other words, the French would not act as
temporary jailerskeeping the hostages in custody until negotiations with Israel resulted in the


Atlit prisoners release 41 Thus, France agreed to

accept the hostages only if the United States could
guarantee that Israel would liberate the Lebanese
within a day or two. Mr. Shultz could not give the
French such an assurance
Consequently, Dumas asked the Israeli prime
minister to clarify his stance. Shimon Peres indicated that the United States had not yet formally
requested the prisoners release and that Israel
therefore could not make a commitment to France.
However, Defense Minister Rabin soon reiterated
Israels intention to free the Lebanese detainees as
soon as Israel judged that the security situation permitted it. This announcement was construed by
Washington as the indirect and inexplicit link being
The Syrians probably had the same reservations
as the French. Nevertheless, President Assad had
become deeply involved in efforts to free both the
hostages and the Lebanese prisoners, and Syrian
sources said that Berri had been to Damascus incognito for consultations. Also, the Syrian News Agenc
announced that Assad was leaving on 2 July for a
delayed visit to Czechoslovakia, which Western
sources claimed set a deadline for ending the crisis
Rumors circulated as well that Syria was about to
crack down on Hezbollah for its spread of revolutionary fervor. And Iran, which would have helped
Hezbollah, was in no position to work against Syria,
one of the few powerful Arab countries supporting it
in its war with Iraq.
In addition, Syrias patron, the Soviet Union, said
on Wednesday that it would exert influence to terminate the hostage situation. The Soviets likely concern was that the crisis was leading to a U.S.
military buildup in the region.
Washington, meanwhile, again changed its tactics. The new White House policy was to say nothing
at all about the TWA hostages.

Thursday, 27 June
In Paris the French reaffirmed that they were no
longer a part of the negotiations because they were
unwilling to substitute themselves for the jailers.
That left Syria. However, the Syrians presumably
shared the reservations of the French. In addition,
they shied away from controlling the hostages for
any length of time probably because of Assads fear
that his country might be viewed as an accomplice
which was a likely outcome because Amal was often
perceived internationally to be a Syrian client and


Rodney A. Snyder

because Hezbollah used facilities in the Syrian-controlled Bekaa Valley. Thus, Assad seems to have
wanted a Western embassy in Damascus to accept
the hostages so that Syria would not control them
but could press for a settlement and also guarantee
that the hostages were beyond the reach of the kidnappers, or the Israelis in case of a rescue attempt.
Syria probably wanted to bring the hostages to
Damascus for two additional reasons . F irst, b
doing so, the Syrians would have helped the United
States, and diplomats already were wondering what
Assad could expect from the United States in
return.42 Second, by helping to end the affair, Assad
again would be seen as a major power broker in his
own right, rather than as the Soviet stooge he was
often accused of being by the Reagan administration and the Israelis
The United States, meanwhile, either had to reach
some agreement with Israel or watch the negotiations remain deadlocked. Two possibilities now
existed. Although Israel still demanded a formal U.S.
request to release the Lebanese prisoners, which
could not come from a third party such as France,
the Israelis stated that it could be made in a private
forum. Subsequently, reports said that understandings had been reached between Washington and
Jerusalem.43 Alternatively, the administration could
give Syria a pledge on behalf of Israel, and then let
Israel squirm under the pressure of the isolation it
would suffer if it did not release the detainees. It is
probable that the understandings that were
reached were simply not meant to be admitted publicly by either side nor linked to the liberation of the
hostages. This allowed release of the detainees to
take place in phases over a specified number of
weeks, and that, indeed, was how the Israelis had
always said they would let the prisoners go.
The United States also took some other actions
on Thursday. The blackout on White House information continued except for two bits of news. One was
President Reagans new demand that the seven
Americans held by Jihad be included in any negotiated settlement; the President even said he would
not accept a deal that did not include these original
seven. The administration must have believed that
their bargaining hand had improved because of the
internal Shiite differences that by this time had
become public, because of Assads desire for a resolution of the crisis, and because of the Syrian
leaders announced deadline. Therefore, President Reagan could issue his new demand and hope
it would be met.
In addition to seeking freedom for the seven kidnapped Americans, the President may have had

Case 333, Instructor Copy

another reason for his new position, which was

more related to U.S. domestic politics. The President
apparently thought the crisis was all but over, and he
seemed to gear his statements to gain credit in public opinion for having taken a hard line. Thus, linking
the seven Jihad captives to the TWA hostage release
appears to have been both an effort to win the
release of the seven, as well as to appear tough for
domestic political purposes.
The U.S. Navy issued a statement that a five-ship,
18,000man Marine amphibious force would join
the Sixth Fleet in a week. Considering Moscows
expressed concerns the previous day, this naval gesture may have been aimed at creating additional
Soviet and Syrian pressure on Berri.

Friday, 28 June
Although the United Nations had previously stepped
into the crisis to no avail, on Friday it assumed a
new role. Jean-Claude Aim, a UN Special Envoy,
was later partially credited with having persuaded
Syria to briefly take the hostages once Washington
had pledged that the Israelis would release the prisoners soon thereafter. Consequently, Assad apparently changed his mind about accepting the
hostages. Freedom for the Americans now appeared
to be near
On Friday, the IsraelU.S. understanding was
acknowledged by anonymous officials on both
sides. That suggests that the administration, in a
private forum, did formally request the release of
the Atlit detainees. In addition, however, Israeli
authorities said the United States had asked them
not to release any prisoners before the TWA hostages were freed so that the United States would not
lose its leverage over the terrorists. That the Israelis
were not asked to hold the prisoners until all of the
Americans kidnapped in Lebanon were freed suggests that the TWA hostages were President
Reagans highest priority.
The U.S. government ended its three-day blackout. Because the terrorists had rejected President
Reagans demand that the original seven hostages
be included in any settlement, the President was
still confronted by the problem of how to win
[their] release . . . and how to carry out his
oft-repeated vow to punish terrorists. 44 Thus, in
rhetorically tough speeches, he again demanded
that all forty-six American hostages be released:

Case 333, Instructor Copy

Negotiating with Terrorists: TWA Flight 847

I dont think that anything that attempts to get

people back that have been kidnapped by thugs
and murderers and barbarians is wrong to do.
And we are going to do everything we can to get
all Americans back who are held in that way.
The President also warned terrorists and those
who support them that they must and will be held
to account. President Reagans speeches were presumably designed to bring pressure to bear on the
terrorists, to sound adamant about his additional
demand for the release of the original seven kidnapped Americans, and probably to serve as a pretext for U.S. retaliatory strikes if these were later
What the President apparently did not foresee,
however, was that too much Shiite fear of U.S. retaliation could do the hostages a disservice. For example, Sheik Ibrahim Amin, Hezbollahs chief
spokesman, said that because of President Reagans
recent speeches and the forces that had been concentrated in the region, he increasingly feared U.S.
reprisals after the TWA crisis was over. It is plausible
that the Shiites were more determined than ever to
hold the original seven kidnap victims because they
provided some protection against a U.S. attack.
As for Nabih Berri, his change of mind made the
breakthrough possible. Although Berri had to back
down because his demand that the hostages and
prisoners be released simultaneously was replaced
by a formula that called first for the release of the
hostages followed by several weeks during which
Arab prisoners would be released in rapid sequence,
he nevertheless had won the liberation of the Lebanese detainees. Hezbollahs apparent frustration
was indicated by their spokesmans remark: What
is important is that the demands [were] met, regardless of who happens to be negotiating.
Berri, it seems, also learned during the bargaining
that the United States and Israel were not the only
adversaries he needed to be concerned about. On
Friday it was revealed that he had proposed that the
hostages be moved to a Western embassy in Beirut
or Syria without any prior consultation with the original hijackers. That might explain why four military
men and three TWA crew members being held b
Hezbollah were not at Berris farewell dinner
thrown for the hostages on Friday evening. Berri
insisted that the affair be held in a downtown hotel
with journalists present where it would be obvious
that Hezbollah was responsible for the absent dinner guests. This pressure, Berri may have reasoned,
would force Hezbollah to turn over all of the hostages to Amal so that they could be sent to Dam-


ascus in exchange for the release of the Atlit

Nonetheless, Berri did not stop pressuring the
United States. Even on Friday,
Berri continued his skillful use of international
telephone links and American televisions competitive desire to interview the hostages to try t
generate public pressure in the United States on
the Reagan Administration to meet the hijackers

Saturday, 29 June
Saturday was supposed to bring freedom to thirtynine Americans. The Israelis had done their part:
Prime Minister Peres had explained that when the
hostages reached their homes, the obstacles
blocking release of the Atlit prisoners would be
gone. But everyone else waited. The White House,
for example, anticipated the release of theTWA hostages, but not the original seven Americans kidnapped in Beirut.
The deal hit a snag, however. The Shiites said
that President Reagans Friday speech had threatened U.S. retaliation. The President had called the
terrorists thugs and murderers and barbarians and
had implied that the United States would retaliate
once the hostages were freed. Accordingly, through
Syria, the terrorists demanded reassurances that no
U.S. reprisals would occur after the crisis was over.
On Saturday evening, the State Department issued a
one-sentence statement, adequate in the circumstances, reaffirming U.S. support for Lebanons government, security,and stability
President Reagans speech may not have been
the principal factor responsible for the delay, however. Although his tough language provided the pretext for the Shiites to issue their new demand for
reassurance, there were also internal disagreements
among the Shiite groups.
The thirty-two hostages under Berris control
were at a school-yard where Red Cross vehicles
waited to take them to the Syrian capital, Damascus.
There, a U.S. Air Force C141 waited to carry them
to West Germany. At the Lebanese-Syrian border the
U.S. ambassador to Syria waited to greet the captives.
When Nabih Berri learned that Hezbollah was not
going to free its hostages because it wanted to hold
them until all of the Atlit detainees were free, he
apparently ordered Amal loyalists to the airport to


Rodney A. Snyder

take control of the three TWA crewmen being held

by a mixed group of Amal and Hezbollah gunmen.
An Amal source reported that there was nearly a
fight between Amal and Hezbollah members when
the militiamen took the crewmen to join the other
hostages in the Burj al-Barajinah schoolyard.46 Nevertheless, when the final roll call was made, four
Americans were still missing, and a U.S. no retaliation pledge had not yet been received. Berri said to
We are still awaiting guarantees that no retaliatory strike will be undertaken after the hostages
are released. Guarantees must be given to Syria.
If these guarantees are provided tonight, they
[the hostages] will be released tonight. If not, we
are not in a hurry. Tomorrow, the day after, who
Thus, Berri presumably went to bed Saturday
night hopeful that Syria and Iran would step in and
pressure Hezbollah to turn over its four captives.
As night fell, Hezbollah leaders drove to Damascus to meet with Syrian and Iranian officials 47
The Syrian press, usually cautious, had reported Saturday morning that the hostages would be freed
thanks to the efforts of Hafiz al-Assad. One of
Assads top spokesmen had even commented,
Maybe now the Reagan Administration wont
denounce Syria as a center of terrorism. Consequently, when the deal fell apart, Assad was said to

Case 333, Instructor Copy

be fuming, embarrassed, and more determined

than ever because his personal prestige was at stake
As for the U.S. government, aside from issuing its
reassurance about retaliation, rejoicing stopped
when officials heard of the snag. The White House
closed itself to the press.

Sunday, 30 June
Freedom! Early Sunday morning the hostages again
gathered in the Beirut suburban school-yard, but
now all thirty-nine Americans were present. A Red
Cross convoy of vans, sedans, and station wagons
escorted them through Lebanon to Syria protected
by gun-wielding members of several different Moslem militias and Syrian troops.48 A press conference was held in Damascus, and then the
Americans boarded a U.S. Air Force jet bound for
The final break in the negotiations had apparently come late Saturday evening after Syrian and
Iranian officials met with the Lebanese involved,
and President Assad gave the hijackers his private
assurances that the Israelis would release the Atlit
prisoners soon after all of the thirty-nine American
hostages had been freed.
In Israel, Sundays cabinet meeting resulted in a
decision to release 300 Atlit prisoners with more t
be freed later.TWAFlight 847 was finally over.

1. Other possible reasons for selecting Algiers are
offered by Christos C. Anastassiades, U.S. and Israel Face
Embarrassing Situation, An-Nahar Arab Report & Memo,
28 June 1985.
2. Nora Boustany, Hijackers Hold Americans on TW
Jet, Washington Post, 15 June 1985, 1.
3. Nora Boustany, Hijackers Hold Americans on TW
Jet, Washington Post, 15 June 1985, 1.
4. David B. Ottoway, U.S. Again Turns to Algeria,
Washington Post, 16 June 1985, 18.
5. Interview with David Long, 19 February 1988.
6. David B. Ottoway, U.S. Again Turns to Algeria,
Washington Post, 16 June 1985, 18.
7. A description of the administrations overall feelings toward Israel throughout the ordeal: Behind the
scenes, Reagan officials gritted their teeth in frustration
with Israel. See Reagans Hostage Crisis, US News &
World Report, 1 July 1985, 20.
8. Israels Peres: On the Spot, US News & World
Report, 8 July 1985, 24.

9. See F.B.I.S., Middle East and Africa, Daily Report,

17 June 1985 (Jerusalem Television Service in Hebrew, 16
June 1985, 11). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of
10. Don Podesta, Talks on Hijacked Hostages Intensify
in Beirut, Washington Post, 17 June 1985, 1.
11. Several of these considerations are discussed in an
interview with Gary Sick, When U.S. Hostages are in
Peril, Willpower Counts as Much as Firepower, says Crisis
Expert Gary Sick, People Weekly, 1 July 1985, 5556.
12. Reagans Hostage Crisis, US News & World Report,
1 July 1985, 18.
13. Nora Boustany, Beirut: Jet Back Again, Washington Post, 17 June 1985, 1.
14. Gwen Ifill and Sue Anne Pressley, Hijacking Victim
was Navy Diver, Washington Post, 18 June 1985, 1.
15. F.B.I.S., Middle East and Africa, Daily Report, 18
June 1985, A1 (Beirut Domestic Service in Arabic, 17 June
1985). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of State.
16. Haim Bar-Lev,at the time Israeli minister of police.

Case 333, Instructor Copy

Negotiating with Terrorists: TWA Flight 847

17. Nora Boustany, Three More Hostages are Released

in Beirut, Washington Post, 19 June 1985, 1.
18. Barry Sussman, U.S. Public Would Yield to
Demand, Poll Finds, Washington Post, 19 June 1985, 25.
19. Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, Big Talk, Little
Clout (syndicated), 19 June 1985.
20. Tom Shales, The Drama Behind ABCs Coup,
Washington Post, 20 June 1985, D1.
21. Kathy Sawyer, Reagan Plan Upsets some Hostages, Washington Post, 20 June 1985, 31.
22. Lou Cannon and John M. Goshko, U.S. Stands Firm
Against Demands of Jets Hijackers, Washington Post, 20
June 1985, 1.
23. Hijacking of the TWA Airliner, Keesings, volume
XXXI (September 1985), 33850.
24. Barry Sussman, Reagan Gains Support on Hijacking, Washington Post, 21 June 1985, 31.
25. A good example is Charles Krauthammers Ready
to Respond, Op-Ed column, Washington Post, 21 June
26. David Hoffman, U.S. Has Reached Limits on Terrorism, Reagan Says, Washington Post, 21 June 1985, 1.
27. Congressional Quarterl , (Foreign Policy), 6 July
1985, 1329.
28. Nora Boustany, Anti-U.S. Protest, Washington Post,
22 June 1985, 1.
29. An Eerie Calm in the Eye of the Storm, US News &
World Report, 1 July 1985, 29.
30. For example, Amal politburo chief, Akef Haidar,
said, Reagan made a mistake, a big mistake, in implicitly threatening Berri on Thursday, cause now, if anything happens to Berri . . . no American in the Arab world
will be safe after that.
31. Christopher Dickey, Dont Flex Muscle, Shiite
Says, Washington Post, 23 June 1985, 1.


32. Jonathan C. Randall, The Unraveling Country,

Washington Post, 23 June 1985, 1.
33. Christopher Dickey, Back on the Beirut Beat,
Washington Post, 25 June 1985, C1.
34. Christopher Dickey, Multiple Pressures Build on
Amal in Beirut, Washington Post, 26 June 1985, 1.
35. What Price for the Hostages? U.S. News & World
Report, 8 July 1985, 22.
36. Jonathan C. Randall, Syrian Efforts to Free Hostages Said to Intensify, Washington Post, 26 June 1985,
37. Ibid.
38. Ibid.
39. David B. Ottoway, Possible Sanctions Against Hijackers May be Futile, Washington Post, 26 June 1985, 17.
40. Jim Hoagland, Berri Offers to Shift American Hostages to Western Embassy, Washington Post, 27 June
1985, 1.
41. Facts on Fil , volume 45, number 2328, 5 July
1985, 489.
42. Congressional Quarterly (Foreign Policy), 6 July
1985, 1328.
43. Ibid. See also Michael Gether, Officials Continue t
Express Optimism for Hostage Deal, Washington Post, 28
June 1985, 1.
44. David Hoffman, U.S. Still May Strike Back, Reagan
Hints, Washington Post, 29 June 1985, 1.
45. Jim Hoagland and Don Oberdorfer, Release of Hostages Reported Near, Washington Post, 29 June 1985, 1.
46. Christopher Dickey, Berri Demands U.S. Disavow
Retaliation, Washington Post, 30 June 1985, 1.
47. Facts on File, vol. 45, no. 2328, 5 July 1985, 489.
48. Karen DeYoung and William Drozdiak, Intense
Diplomacy, Syrian Weight, End Crisis, Washington Post, 1
July 1985, 1.

Case 333, Teaching Notes

Rodney A. Snyder

Do Not Duplicate This is Copyrighted Material for Classroom Use. It
is available only through the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy.
202-965-5735 x3002
(tel)202-965-5811 (fax)


This study is designed to provide the basis for a better understanding of the negotiating process. There
are several ways it can be used to teach students
about international negotiating, classic bargaining
techniques, and the unique problems of dealing
with terrorists. Students will likely find the case captivating as a result of the drama and suspense surrounding the hijacking, the killing of an American
hostage, breakdowns in the negotiations, the imposition of deadlines, the shadow of U.S. military
force, and constant press coverage. Hopefully, this
will increase student interest, making the lessons
easier to comprehend and more memorable.


The instructor may wish to introduce the study b
placing the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 in a larger
context. If this is done, the students will begin t
comprehend the multifaceted and complex issues
relating to the hijacking. In addition, for students
assuming roles in a simulation of the case (discussed below) placing the crisis in a larger historical

Copyright 1994 by Institute for the Study of Diplomacy.

ISBN: 1-56927-333-2
Publications, Institute for the Study of Diplomacy,School of
Foreign Service, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. 20057


and diplomatic context may motivate them to

appreciate their roles more.
To aid the instructor, a short (and necessarily
oversimplified) review of origins and recent events
directly relevant to the hijacking is given below.
The major sectarian division within Islam occurred
shortly after the death of the prophet Muhammad.
The Shia sect had its origins in that party which
supported Ali, the son-in-law and nephew of
Muhammad, for the leadership of the community
(they were known in Arabic as shiat Ali, or party
of Ali). The Sunni sect followed leaders who were
not of the Prophets family, but who had the support of leading members of the community (they
claimed to following the sunna, or way, of the
Prophet). This was essentially a political conflict,
won by the Sunnis, but some doctrinal differences
grew up after the split and during subsequent centuries. The Sunnis are now by far the larger group
worldwide, although Shiites make up the majority
of the population in Iran and Iraq and a plurality of
the population in Lebanon. Iran, a non-Arab Muslim country, has been an essentially Shii country
since the 16th century A.D., and the connection
between Shiism and Iranian nationalism is very
close (much like Roman Catholicism and Polish
nationalism, for example). Largely because in the
Arab world the Sunnis have long dominated the
Shiites, Arab Shiites have had fewer social, politi-

Case 333, Teaching Notes

Negotiating with Terrorists: TWA Flight 847

cal, and economic opportunities in the countries

where they reside than their coreligionists have had
in Iran.
The Iranian revolution of 1979, which brought a
self-consciously Islamic government to power under
the leadership of Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini,
served as a general inspiration to Islamic movements, both Sunni and Shia, that opposed their governments. The Iranian revolutions evocation of
specifically Shia themes and symbols in its overthrow of the Shah and consolidation of power was
especially inspirational to Arab Shiites. Consequently, as in other places, the Shiites of Lebanon
began to challenge the traditional power brokers of
Lebanese politics, including those within their own
community. Some years before the Iranian revolution, elements within the Lebanese Shia community had formed a militia, called Amal (Arabic for
hope) to represent its interests in the ongoing Lebanese civil war. The revolution gave new impetus to
Amal and spawned more religiously oriented splinter groups, some of which were directly supported
by Iran (e.g., Hezbollah, Islamic Amal).
This new assertiveness also brought the Shia
community in southern Lebanon into increasing
friction with the Palestine Liberation Organization
(PLO). Since 1948 a large number of Palestinian refugees had lived in the area from Beirut south to the
Israeli border, many of them in UNconstructed refugee camps. During the late 1960s and early 1970s
Palestinian armed forces established themselves
there, and by the late 1970s an entire military and
political infrastructure under PLO control, based in
the Palestinian refugee camps, had grown up in
southern Lebanon.
Palestinian forces used their southern Lebanese
bases to launch attacks on Israel, attacks which wer
punished by Israeli retaliation raids that did collateral damage to Shiite areas. Moreover, Palestinian
political and military assertiveness on the ground in
southern Lebanonin terms of checkpoints, police
activity, tax levies, etc.was frequently aimed at the
local Shiite population. In 1982 Israel invaded Lebanon, quickly driving PLO forces north to Beirut, and
eventually forcing their evacuation from the country
At first, the Shiite population of southern Lebanon
generally welcomed the Israelis as a means to end
Palestinian dominance. However, as it became clear
that Israels policy aim was to solidify Maronite
Christian control in Lebanon, the community generally turned against the Israelis. The fact that Israel
set up a Christian-controlled force called the South
Lebanese Army (SLA) in the heart of Shiite territory
confirmed to the community that a political under-


standing with Israel was not possible at that time. As

a result of the Israelis harsh occupation tactics and
support for the local adversaries of the Shiite community, the Shiites came to consider Israel and its
proxy force, the SLA, as major enemies.
The view of the United States held by the Shiite
community was determined by a number of factors. The more pro-Iranian militants shared the Iranian revolutionary regimes general opposition to
the U.S. cultural and political presence in the Middle East. Strong U.S. identification with Israel and
with the government of Maronite Lebanese President Amin Gemayal (installed in the wake of the
Israeli invasion) alienated the more mainstream
Shiite groups represented in Amal. The clashes
between the U.S. contingent in the Multinational
Force (sent to Lebanon to monitor the Palestinian
withdrawal) and Druze and Shiite forces to the
south and east of Beirut, which eventually led to
U.S. naval and air bombardment of these forces
positions, further heightened the enmity toward the
United States felt by many in the Shiite community.
It is not difficult to understand why many extremist Shiites launched much publicized car-bomb suicide attacks against U.S., States, French (also
present in the Multinational Force), and Israeli targets in Lebanon. Such attacks eventually led to U.S.
and French withdrawal from that country. Israel
sought to consolidate its position by withdrawing
from the Beirut and central Lebanon area into the
south and set up a security zone just north of the
Israeli border to be patrolled by the SLA and Israeli
forces. As attacks on Israeli positions in southern
Lebanon grew in number, the Israelis detained
increasing numbers of Lebanese on suspicion of
involvement. With the consolidation of the security
zone, these prisoners, numbering between 700 and
800, were moved to the Atlit prison in Israel. It was
the freeing of these detainees that the terrorists who
hijacked TWA Flight 847 demanded.


The instructor may wish to have students assume
roles as key U.S. or Israeli officials, as well as other
authorities, e.g., Arab government representatives,
UN officials, Red Cross delegates, etc. After assigning roles and having the students briefly study the
background of the case, the instructor can then
recount all or a portion of Day Ones events to the
role players. The students should then be left to
address the situation, perhaps in separate groups,
within a specified time limit. Imposing deadlines


Rodney A. Snyder

makes more realistic the negotiating pressures the

participants are under. This patterndisclosing limited information and requiring role players to react
within a short timecan be continued until the students reach a solution to the crisis.
After the simulation is over, the instructor might
gather the participants together for a debriefing. Discussion can be about the crisis as a whole, misperceptions, attempted or ignored potential solutions,
lessons that can be drawn from this specific case
and general lessons that come out of it relating to
negotiating theory and bargaining techniques. Following the debriefing, the role players should be told
to read the study in its entirety. Finally, the options
the students pursued should be critically analyzed
and compared to the policies the actual negotiators

Decision Points
Another method which the instructor may use has
many variants. First, he or she may use the Decision Points given below to stimulate discussion.
The queries given are intentionally very general,
e.g., How should the United States proceed?, which
allows the students some flexibility in discussing
their answers; innovation and creativity are also
stimulated by this procedure
As questioner, the instructor may permit other
students to challenge or support the answers elicited
in response to the Decision Points. Or, the instructor
may choose to play devils advocate and question
students in a Socratic manner. In any case, the
instructor will probably want to constantly stress the
need for students to say not only what they would
do, but also why they would do it. Also, the instructor should always ask for alternativesimplicitly
emphasizing that effective negotiators consider all
options carefully before choosing a particular one.
Decision Point 1.
(Day Two: Saturday, 15 June) What options and
alternatives does the U.S. Government have? How
should the United States proceed?
Decision Point 2.
(Day Four: Monday, 17 June) How should the
United States now react to Israels position?
Decision Point 3.
(Day Seven: Thursday, 20 June) How should the
President respond to the hostages press confer-

Case 333, Teaching Notes

ence? Should the United States continue to deal with

Berri? At this point, does the United States have viable military options? If so, what are they? What
alternatives are there to the use of force? How
should the United States proceed?
Decision Point 4.
(Day Eight: Friday, 21 June) How might the United
States use the help offered by other countries?
Decision Point 5.
(Day Eleven: Monday, 24 June) Should the President consider asking the media to stop or minimiz
its coverage of the crisis? How should the United
States view Israels release of thirty-one prisoners
and Berris response? What are possible U.S. options
at this stage?
Decision Point 6.
(Day Thirteen: Wednesday, 26 June) In light of
Berris new proposal, what are the U.S. options?
How should the United States proceed?
Decision Point 7.
(Day Fourteen: Thursday, 27 June) Should the
United States accept a deal if the original seven kidnapped Americans are not included in it, but all of
the TWA hostages are? Should the United States
accept a deal if all of the TWA hostages except the
ten or twelve initially removed from the plane are
included? What if all the TWA hostages are not
releasedshould the United States ask Israel to do
anything in that case? How much should the United
States count on Syria?
Decision Point 8.
(Day Sixteen: Saturday, 29 June) At this point
what are viable U.S. options and alternatives?
Should the United States rely so heavily on Syrian
and Iranian help, considering U.S. political and geostrategic interests in the region? Should the United
States retaliate when the crisis ends? How? Against
whom? Where? Why?
Contentious Issues
Another way of conducting the same type of discussion is by raising contentious issues that students
can debate based on their reading of the case. The
presumption here is that there are no right or wrong
answers, and questions are brought up not only to
learn about what the students have gained from the
case, but also to give them the opportunity to
debate sensitive issues which are directly or

Case 333, Teaching Notes

Negotiating with Terrorists: TWA Flight 847

indirectly related to international negotiations in the

modern world.
For example, how do students feel about the
medias role in this case? Did the press practice
responsible journalism? Did the media make the situation better or worse? Should journalists refuse to
cover some incidents of terrorism? If the press
chooses to cover a case such a this, should the President (as he was reported to have seriously considered doing) ask the media to stop or lessen their
coverage of the story? Should the President have the
right to suppress coverage or impose censorship?
In discussing issues such as these, the instructor
will want to be intimately familiar with the details of
the case. For instance, the media were both criticized and praised for their work during this particular crisis. The press was accused of giving the
terrorists a worldwide stage, of fostering an atmosphere in which violence against the hostages would
have given the terrorists even more of the publicity
they sought, of endangering the hostages lives, of
hampering potential rescue operations, of providing
alternative hostages for capture if a rescue mission
had been successful, of paying the terrorists for
interviews, of placing the administration under enormous pressure to react quickly and strongly to daily
events, and of practicing journalism in ways that
raised many serious ethical questions.
On the other hand, the medias coverage relayed
important information to the U.S. government
which it was able to use in its negotiations, it gave
many of the hostage families an opportunity to see
that their captured relatives were not being physically harmed, it was used by the negotiators as a
communication medium, and it might have had a
mitigating effect on the terrorists behavior and
brought international pressure to bear on them.
Also, if students argue that the press should have
stopped or minimized its coverage, they should be
reminded that foreign journalists, as well as U.S.
journalists, extensively covered the crisis. In other
words, beside the problems connected with First
Amendment rights and profit motives, the question
must be asked: what difference could interference
from Washington have made?
Other examples of issues and questions that
could be put to a class include these:
Should the U.S. have a no-negotiation policy
with respect to terrorists?
Is it wise to make declaratory statements that
this or that is or is not U.S. policy?
Was Israel wise to make the demands that it
did of the United States?


How was Israels own counterterrorism polic

affected? What about Israels general relations
with the United States?
Should U.S. support for Israel have been
Did Israels negotiating stance help or hinder
American negotiators?
What about the carrot-and-stick approach?
Should the President have gotten tougher earlier, been diplomatic longer, or did he find the
right balance?
Was it a good idea to try to move the affair to a
level at which it attracted Soviet attention?
What would have been the Presidents options
had the ordeal continued despite his threats?
Was the United States committed to escalation?
What about the other seven Americans? The
killer of Robert Stethem? Could the Presidents
negotiating position have better taken these
issues and peoples lives into account? How?
Does the aftermath of the TWA hostage crisis
provide incentives or examples for other terrorists? What about the reputation of Syria,
Iran, the Soviet Union, the Amal and Hezbollah? Did the outcome serve U.S. geostrategic
interests as well as lead to the freedom of the
These are examples of the types of questions that
can be raised by the instructor. They can lead to discussions of the particular crisis the case describes
and also of the problems of classic negotiating theory more generally considered.


Regardless of how this case is taught, it independently hints at certain prudent negotiating strategies, and the instructor may wish to discuss these
with students. Some of the most important of these
strategies are reviewed below
1. The importance of turning every stone in the
search for a resolution. The United States
approached international organizations, allies,
and adversaries in seeking an agreement that
would lead to freedom for the captives. For
example, despite poor relations with Syria,
President Reagan apparently asked President
Assad for his personal intervention very early
in the crisis. In the end, it was this moveat


Rodney A. Snyder

the time assumed to be too humiliating by

manythat resulted in the hostages eventual
2. The value of information when bargaining. The
side with more and better information usually
has a great advantage over its adversary. In the
TWA case, the United States initially did not
have enough information about the terrorists
or hostages situations to negotiate effectively.
Once the U.S. government gained greater
knowledge about the terrorists interests and
weaknesses (e.g., the schism between Amal
and Hezbollah), the administration used this
information to apply pressure on the parties
involved, and the ordeal was ended soon
3. The importance of continuing to talk. There
were several points at which the negotiations
all but broke down. However, the United States
always resumed its efforts, and communications were restored quickly. This may have
been, in turn, a primary reason why more hostages were not killed.
4. The disadvantage of negotiating when hostages lives are at stake. This study raises the
issue of dealing with an adversary who
appears to have greater leverage by virtue of
the fact that he is willing to kill. As the U.S.
negotiators learned, though, they also had significant leverage. Through the consideration of
reprisalssuch as calling for diplomatic isolation, leading economic boycotts, trying to
damage the political clout and rights of others,
conducting military raids or retaliations, etc.
the United States was seemingly able to put at
least as much pressure on Berri as it itself was
feeling because of Berris demands.
5. Complex problems are not usually amenable
to simple solutions. It is useful to appreciate,
through an examination of this case, the difficulties of countering hostage-holding and hostage-holders. Simple resolutions to complex
negotiationslike Henry Kissingers recommendationsare misleading and often place
unhealthy public pressure on negotiators. A
major reason for this is that the solutions
ignore the specifics necessary to resolve a
complicated situation.

Case 333, Teaching Notes

6. Many negotiators mean more complicated bargains. As a general rule, the more parties
involved in international negotiations, the
more complex the negotiations are because
there are more interests and concerns to be
addressed. That was the situation in this case
when the United States sought French help in
taking the hostages from the terrorists. But the
French would participate only if the United
States gave them a pledge, which really
depended on Israeli consent.
However, in negotiations involving terrorists, having many negotiating parties ma
actually prove beneficial in some cases. The
reason is that such a situation permits the primary leaders involved to say that they are not
dealing with terrorists, but rather discussing
the situation with intermediaries. It also
allows several statesrather than just oneto
make indirect bargains with the terrorists so
that no particular country appears to be capitulating to terrorist demands or acting contrary
to stated policy.
7. Negotiating with terrorists can be mystifying.
Successful negotiations are more arduous in a
case where the parties involved are unclear
and are not nation-states and when their interests and workings are secretive. Yet, these are
often precisely the circumstances that have t
be faced when one is dealing with terrorists
Consequently, good intelligence information
can be vital when negotiating with such adversaries. One must learn as early as possible
who they are and how they operate.
8. Negotiators who rely on public pressure as a
bargaining tool are themselves subject to
external influences. For instance, the American
public became much more supportive of a
hard stand by President Reagan after unrelated
terrorist attacks, mounted in El Salvador and
West Germany, apparently led them to believe
that there was a worldwide assault by terrorists under way. Consequently, just as the terrorists had used publicity to pressure the
Reagan administration, they now became the
pressured victims of the publicity they themselves had partially created.
9. The United States often negotiates indirectly
with terrorists when U.S. policies or rhetoric
preclude direct bargaining.

Case 333, Teaching Notes

Negotiating with Terrorists: TWA Flight 847

10. Although terrorists may be lunatics and savages to many people, they nevertheless are
supported by certain populations and are usually rational in terms of bargaining behavior
Consequently, they can often be negotiated
with (if the state being terrorized is willing to
enter into negotiations).
11. Personalities are an important factor in negotiations. For example, President Hafiz al-Assad
valued his prestige. Consequently, when the 29
June deal fell through, he apparently was more
determined than ever to overcome the obstacles so that his word would remain solemn.
12. Allies can be important sources of support during negotiations. Not only can they provide
public support and services, but they may also
communicate information to the adversary
that cannot be directly transmitted by the bargaining party involved. This apparently occurred when some U.S. allies told Berri that his
international reputation would be tarnished if
the hostages were not quickly freed. This message to Berri appears to have hastened the
search for a deal to resolve the crisis.
13. International organizations also can be helpful
as intermediaries when negotiators refuse t
meet one another directly. Not only had the
Red Cross successfully mediated Israeli-Palestinian exchanges prior to the TWA hijacking,
but the United Nations apparently played a
part in persuading Syria, despite its reservations, to accept the American hostages.


14. Details are important. Although the Red Cross

appeared to have found an acceptable formula
on 16 June, it had not resolved many of the
details of how the hostages and prisoner
would be released. As a consequence, the formula seems not to have been agreeable to
either the United States or Israel. In other circumstances, such a rejection might have had a
detrimental effect on further negotiations
15. Time is a major source of strength in negotiations. When the hostages lives appeared to be
most at risk, the hijackers seemed to have had
the upper hand. However, once the hostages
were relatively safe, the United States was able
to bring more pressure to bear on the Shiite
community. This may have been the result of
the U.S. governments willingness to let time
pass once the hostages danger was felt to
have substantially decreased.
16. Caution must be used when delinking. In
this case, the U.S. government found itself in
an awkward position because it had tried to
delink the American hostages from the Atlit
prisoners to make it appear that no concessions were being made to terrorists. However
once a deal had been struck, the United States
asked Israel to continue to hold the prisoners
so that some leverage continued over the terrorists until all of the hostages were freed.
This, in fact, created the very link the United
States was trying to avoid.