It had to happen one day, and it’s rather typical it happened in Prague: an ambassador representing the Palestinian Liberation Organization, a.k.a. PLO, blew himself up right inside his official residence. Apparently he was opening his safety vault. For whatever reason, perhaps to hide some highly secret documentation from enemy eyes, it seems that he had the place secured. With explosives. He tried to open it and the explosives proved to be efficient and effective.
Why is it typical that it had to happen in the Czech capital?
A Czech writer named Jaroslav Hasek wrote a novel about a soldier in the Austro-Hungarian army during the First World War. The book appeared several years after the war ended, and the soldier’s name, Josef Schweik, would become synonymous with what has been known as passive resistance. The guy would obey all of his officers’ orders, and he would be so literal about it nothing could expose the stupidity of the system better than good soldier Schweik’s strict approach to discipline.
For those interested, former British diplomat, Sir Cecil Parrott, translated the book into English, and it’s a riot.
Anyhow, there’s a scene in the Schweik book in which the soldiers find a Red Cross train, bombed out and in ruins beside the railroad track. One of them asks whether it’s done, to bomb Red Cross trains. And good soldier Schweik replies, matter-of-factly, that it’s not done, but it can be done.
Which brings us full circle back to that PLO ambassador.
Embassies and sundry representations of countries in other countries are specifically banned from keeping any weapons, including explosives, on their premises. It’s the host country’s duty to provide such embassies with sufficient protection. In fact, even if the two countries declare war on one another, it’s the host country’s job to securely deliver those linked to the embassy (employees and their families) to their home country.
If the embassy feels its security arrangements deserve better, it can negotiate with the host country that it can bring some additional personnel of its own. But the host country must be made aware.
Thus the Vienna (and subsequent) conventions.
The Czech police are in a fix: they can’t go and investigate on the spot: an ambassador’s residence (and the embassy itself, too) is off limits. They can’t expect the Palestinian security people to share anything with them. And if they do get a bit of information here or there from the PLO, they can hardly trust it as if it came straight down from the mount.
So, what they have here is a crime (or a blatant breach of diplomatic rules and protocols, if one wants to express it diplomatically) that stares them in their faces and they can do nothing about it.
Czech police evacuated people in the building next to the embassy. It also belongs to the PLO. Its explosives experts couldn’t do much but record what happened based on interviews with witnesses of which there weren’t many.
The most interesting thing: several intelligence people from different corners of the world had a good laugh upon hearing the theory of safety vault safe-keeping. There are many ways how to keep your secrets secret, they said, independently of one another, but putting explosives into the picture isn’t one of them. These experts, who (for understandable reasons) spoke on condition of anonymity, wouldn’t reveal their secrets, but they all insisted that only a moron who believes in what one described as “Hollywood drivel” would believe that the envoy had his safety vault secured by explosives.
“You can call those guys (meaning the Palestinians) whatever you wish to call them, but if there’s one thing they are not, it’s stupid,” said one of them.
Whenever the Hollywood types don’t know how to continue with the nonsense they present to their audiences as story, they implant an impressive explosion or two, combined with a wild chase. Same goes for “self-destructing” messages, like they have them in all those Mission: Impossible flicks, said one of those intelligence experts.
Which brings us back another full circle to the explosion in the PLO envoy’s residence in Prague: what the heck were those explosives doing on the premises? There was enough of them, and they were potent enough, to cause fatal injury.
That, several intelligence people agreed, will remain a sweet secret. At least, for the time being.
Sure, the experts agreed, there are ways to find out. But if somebody does find out, will they reveal the truth?
It’s going to be interesting to hear what the Czech government will have to say. They would have to object, if not protest. The country’s new president, Milos Zeman, hasn’t been too keen on the Palestinian authorities’ modus operandi. Is he going to break the niceties of diplomatic protocol and say he doesn’t like having embassies in his country’s capital that keep explosives on their premises?
And so, for now, we’re left in the dark. Transporting all kinds of weapons and explosives in diplomatic pouches all over the world is nothing new.
Where were these explosives supposed to go?
The dead envoy might have known, but he won’t tell us. And it’s difficult to believe his superiors will tell the truth.
Happy (and safe) New Year, everybody!