Terror in Black September recounts the personal history of a then-17-year-old Jewish-American, who faced the danger and pain of a three-week hostage drama in 1970 when the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) attempted to hijack four airliners and succeeded in force-landing three of them in the Jordanian desert with their 310 international passengers.
Raab's Terror in Black September, which uses the author's diary and relies heavily on American, Israeli, and British archives to provide the larger strategic consequences, is potentially a page-turner but turns out to be a surprisingly unexciting recount, devoid of emotion.
On September 6, 1970, the PFLP hijacked TWA's 707, which was flying from Frankfurt to New York, after Raab and most of his family had spent a summer in Israel. The young man from Trenton, New Jersey, who is now a health care executive, became an unwilling eyewitness to a badly conceived terrorist attempt to extort the release of Palestinians held in Israeli custody in exchange for international hostages.
What is clear from Raab's book is that the British, German, and Swiss governments were very willing to deal American Jews for Palestinians terrorists. It is evident that both Israeli and American leaders, especially President Nixon and Henry Kissinger, were highly engaged in the crisis and took a hard line against PFLP demands.
In the end, after the PFLP dispersed the hostages and blew up the airliners, "catapulting metal fragments in all directions," the European powers began folding like a house of cards, always attempting to twist the arms of the Israelis to give in.
Much of what occurred, from separating the hostages to moving them from one dreary location to another, took place while King Hussein of Jordan built up the courage to face off against Yasser Arafat and his Palestinian state-within-a-state. When the king had had enough, his forces successfully routed a Palestinian insurrection and stopped Syrian forces cold in northern Jordan.
Raab uses his sources to reveal that Hussein was not only looking for U.S. military intervention but also wanted the Israelis to assist, which they did, by flying reconnaissance for the Jordanians, providing the king with much needed intelligence about the Syrian incursion.
Raab provides lessons to be learned from those tumultuous weeks thirty-seven years ago. He writes, "The hijackings made Hussein realize that terrorism is a cancer that you can't negotiate with." He adds, "In an ironic twist, Israel was the prime beneficiary of the whole episode. Its hostage negotiating strategy was vindicated."