IN a world that thought itself accustomed to horror, it was yet another notch on an ever-rising scale of grotesquerie. The murders in Munich last weekpreceded by 20 hours of high drama and precipitated by a horrendously bungled police shootout gripped most of the world in attentive thrall. Because the drama was carried live on television, the suspense involved everyone, evoking memories of similarly intensely emotional events and a train of other murders that seemed to begin that day in Dallas in 1963. This time the final monstrous twist was that the killings were in Munich, the original spawning ground of Nazismand the victims were Jews.
The guerrilla operation had evidently been planned to create maximum outrage. It succeeded, probably beyond its planners' wildest dreams. By invading the Olympic Village and seizing nine Israeli athletes as hostages and killing two others, eight young Palestinians managed to expose every weakness in the forces of law and in the helpless governments involved in the crisis. The failures of security, of crisis judgment and of police operations and information will be debated for months to come. Beyond that, the guerrillas set off a widening wave of diplomatic, political and military consequences.
In the Middle East they provoked harsh Israeli retaliation that shattered the status quo peace in the area and left further moves toward a more formal accommodation in doubt. On the eve of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, flights of Israeli jets swooped over the borders of Lebanon and Syria, carrying out the heaviest strikes on those countries since the 1967 war. About 75 planes took part in the raids, bombing eight presumed guerrilla bases in Syria and four in Lebanon. Arab sources said that the attacks had left 66 dead and scores wounded. Israeli jets shot down three Syrian planes over the Golan Heights in view of Israeli motorists out on holiday drives. Syria said it downed two planes in return. Israeli ground troops crossed the Lebanese border to battle commandos who had been mining roads in Israel. The Israelis seemed angry enough to do much more. On the chance that they might, the Syrian army hurriedly massed at the frontier.
Bruised Image. In West Germany, the Munich murders could be politically damaging to West German Chancellor Willy Brandt. One object of the Olympic summer in Bavaria had been to demonstrate the contrast between the Nazi Germany of 1936the last time the Games were held thereand the prosperous, benign Germany of today. That image was now dashed, however unfairly, by the brutal murder of eleven Israelis. Brandt could become the victim of West Germans' disappointment when elections take place, probably in December. Brandt last week speedily called for a "ruthless" inquiry and frank presentation of facts.