Madrid — Spanish police scored two spectacular victories against the Basque terrorist organization ETA this week -- much to the surprise and admiration of the Spanish public.
For the first time in more than 40 years, Spaniards could applaud the police, who beamed with success and almost bashfully accepted spontaneous pats on the back from politicians and people in the streets.
Spanish public opinion barely had time to absorb the daring and successful rescue last weekend of Dr. Julio Iglesias, who had been kidnapped by the ETA, when the police announced they had uncovered over five tons of weapons and explosives of the political-military wing of ETA.
Accompanied by one of the ETA members arrested for the kidnapping of Dr. Iglesias, the police went directly to the arms cache beneath a private swimming pool near Bilbao.
The 5,000 kilo stash of weapons and explosives is thought to account for almost 95 percent of the political-military wing's total arms. It is also one of the biggest confiscations of terrorist arms in Europe to date.
The double police operation has dramatically ended the myth of ETA's invulnerability. For the first time, an ETA kidnap victim has been rescued safe and sound without a drop of blood being shed.
Nevertheless, the kidnapping of Dr. Iglesias by the ETA caused concern in Spanish political circles, because it ended the almost year-long truce that the organization had unilaterally proclaimed shortly after last February's aborted military coup.
During the truce, the Basque radical and nationalist left had begun to coalesce into valid political parties willing to participate democratically in the autonomous Basque government. A faction of Spain's Communist Party even merged with the nationalist leftist party Euskadiko Eskerra (EE) this fall, contributing a considerable moderating influence. EE had traditionally been the legal political party with close ties to the political-military wing of the ETA (ETAPM).
In what has been interpreted here as a historic event, Euskadiko Eskerra broke with ETAPM and condemned the Iglesias kidnapping, indicating an open conflict of hawks and doves within ETAPM.
Mario Onaindia, general secretary of EE, also insisted that the truce had not been broken and that the kidnapping was ''contradictory,'' regardless of the ETA communique claiming full responsibility. According to the communique, the kidnapping was carried out to obtain badly needed funds.
The almost immediate follow-up and discovery of the huge weapons cache in one hideout has led Spanish political analysts to speculate about the possibility of a secret ETA negotiation for a definitive cease-fire.
There has even been speculation that majority factions within ETAPM opposed to the renewal of armed struggle had deliberately collected all the arms in one place and had actually made a deal with the government in exchange for future amnesty. These speculations were denied Jan. 20 by Foreign Minister Jose Pedro Perez Llorca in Paris.
In any case, the dramatic rescue, the discovery of the weapons arsenal, and most important, Euskadiko Eskerra's condemnation of violence have created a state of semi-euphoria in Spain.
Terrorism is by far the single most important factor that could induce another attempted military coup. But terrorism has been declining steadily, especially in the last six months. The radical left has become increasingly democratized, legitimized, and moderated within Euskadiko Eskerra. And EE has distanced itself from Herri Batasuna, the political party close to ETA-Militar, the military wing of ETA.
But public opinion here could swing wildly from euphoria to pessimism should ETA-Militar step up violence. At present a leading Basque industrialist is still being held for ransom and as a warning to other businessmen who have been refusing to pay ''revolutionary taxes'' to the organization.
Perhaps what is most remarkable in Spain now is the overflowing public admiration of the Spanish police.
Memories of midnight knocks on the door under Franco are fading, and for the first time since the civil war, it is considered ''democratic'' to support the police.
In spite of a few disturbing stories and rumors of torture in the Basque region, mainly by the Civil Guard, Spain's police have come a long way and have started to win genuine popular sympathy and support.