Saturday, February 26, 2011

What Begin Did Not Know?

From an article by Amir Oren in Haaretz:

Spy vs. spy vs. spy

A decades-old Mossad document reveals that Egypt may have been tipped off about the Israeli attack in June 1967 by a high-ranking IDF officer. Who he was is still an enigma. Why nobody tried to find out is another question.

He had a close relationship to the top brass, was trusted by all. He knew when the army would attack. In fact, he was a spy. He worked for the enemy. He handed over critical information. Years later, when his cover was blown, some claimed he was a double agent...Could he have had an Israeli "double" - a senior army officer who spied for Egypt and who, in June 1967, let his handlers there know when the event that eventually became known as the Six-Day War would begin?

This intriguing possibility emerges from a Mossad document discovered by Haaretz investigative reports editor Gidi Weitz. Last month, while rummaging through material at the Israel State Archives in Jerusalem related to his area of expertise, crime and politics, Weitz came across a box packed with fascinating documents: correspondence between former Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and U.S. President Jimmy Carter from 1977.

The most riveting document in the pile seems to have found its way to the state archives through a blessed mistake. Its contents were actually revealed 30 years ago, but not the identity of its author. In any event, it is rare that the state archivist gives the public access to Mossad documents.

The author, it turns out, was Joseph Porat, director of the Mossad bureau in Morocco...the person who took notes at the meeting between Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, then Begin's emissary, and Egypt's Deputy Prime Minister Hassan Touhami, who represented Sadat...Four typewritten-pages long, the document was written on September 17, 1977, the morning after a meeting that began at 9 P.M. It is not a full transcript of the conversation, merely the highlights. More than half is devoted to remarks made by Touhami...

The joint summation of the meeting was as follows: Dayan was to immediately report to Begin and request his approval to continue the diplomatic process. If the aforementioned clauses were approved, another "working meeting" would be held between Dayan and Touhami in a week or so.

These secret contacts became public knowledge after Sadat visited Israel, but the question still looms: Did Dayan commit Israel to a full withdrawal from the Sinai during these talks? Did he promise Sadat, via Touhami, that Israel would pull back to the international border with Egypt? And if so, did Begin authorize him to do so, or did Dayan make this commitment without Begin's knowledge, thereby surrendering in advance Israel's key bargaining chip in the negotiations?

...According to the Porat document, Touhami reiterated that Sadat's willingness to embark on peace talks hinged, first and foremost, on Begin's acceptance of the principle of "the evacuation of Arab occupied territories." All of them, not just the Sinai.

Since the Porat document does not disclose how Dayan responded to Touhami, there is nothing to indicate that the Israeli foreign minister did not, in essence, begin the process from the end...the circumstantial and indirect evidence, including the Egyptian demand that Begin accept the principle of withdrawal, indicated that no tacit agreement of this kind existed. The Egyptians knew who called the shots in Israel. It was not Dayan.

...According to Touhami, Nasser knew when Israel would strike because the date of the 1967 attack "was given to the Egyptians by an agent, a high-ranking Israeli officer who gave the date as between June 3 and June 6, 1967." These are the words that appear in the Porat document. Furthermore, Dayan wrote in his book: "Egyptian intelligence had an agent in a strategic position, a senior officer in the Israeli army, who said that the attack would be launched between June 3 and 6."
This is sensational even when one bears in mind that remarks made by this particular person should be treated with caution or even suspicion: Touhami was known to be strange. Perhaps he invented the story about the spy in order to back up his hallucinatory ideas about the collaboration between Dayan and Nasser...As far as can be established more than three decades later, no such investigation - as surprising as it may sound - was ever carried out. Touhami's remarks were not followed up by investigations in the Shin Bet security services or in Military Intelligence. The relevant organizations in Israel did not search for, and therefore did not find, the spy Touhami had referred to.
The first reason nothing was done was that the Dayan-Touhami exchanges were kept top secret; Begin knew nothing about them and neither did Dayan's nemesis, Defense Minister Ezer Weizman. That explains why even senior officers serving under Weizman - the chief of staff, Motta Gur, and the director of MI, Shlomo Gazit - were kept in the dark.
...The Porat memo that Gidi Weitz stumbled upon does not provide any answers. It merely raises questions and suggests that the secrecy shrouding intelligence documents, even after dozens of years, may protect sources, methods and achievement, but may also cover up negligence and mishaps.


Monday, February 21, 2011

At Jerusalem's International Book Fair

Yisrael Medad and the latest Menachem Begin Heritage Center publication:


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Menachem Begin's Earpiece

The Washington Post, in it obituary for a television host, recounts the tale of Menacherm Begin's lost earpiece:

Bill Monroe, TV journalist and 'Meet the Press' host, dies at 90

Bill Monroe, a journalist best known for his nine-year tenure as moderator of the public-affairs talk show "Meet the Press" during the 1970s and '80s, died Feb. 17 at the ManorCare nursing home in Potomac. He was 90 and had complications from hypertension.

Starting on NBC-TV in 1947, "Meet the Press" is one of the longest-running programs in American broadcast history and a staple for many Sunday-morning viewers. Mr. Monroe had long worked for NBC News in Washington and had appeared as a panelist on "Meet the Press" before being tapped in 1975 as its moderator.

...One of the more memorable moments of Mr. Monroe's "Meet the Press" tenure had less to do with policy discussions than with the impromptu comedy of live television.

He was interviewing then-Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin on a satellite broadcast when Begin's earpiece malfunctioned. The prime minister was given a replacement that allowed him to hear producers' behind-the-scenes chatter.

As the interview drew to a close, Begin heard a voice bark a command meant for Mr. Monroe: "Say goodbye." Begin, confused, repeated the statement as if asking a question: "Say goodbye?"

Begin "was a bit annoyed," said Betty Dukert, the program's former executive producer. "Bill laughed about it forever."


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Book Co-Editor Interviewd on Israel's English-language TV

On Wednesday, February 16, 2011, Yisrael Medad, Director of Information Resources of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, and co-editor of the new book, "Peace in the Making", participated on IBA's English Language TV's "Closeup" program, interviewed by Elli Wohlgelernter.



Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Report on the Book Launch

New book details correspondence between Begin and Sadat
By Melanie Lidman

Since Begin did not write his memoirs, historical account has been heavily influenced by Jimmy Carter’s version, says expert.

A new book exploring the correspondence between prime minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat during the peace negotiations between 1977 and 1980 was launched on Monday at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem.

The book launch took on special meaning, given the recent events in Egypt and the increased threat to the 32-year-old peace treaty.

The book, Peace in the Making (Gefen Publishing House Ltd), was edited by Harry Hurwitz and Yisrael Medad.

Medad and Hurwitz, a close friend of Begin who passed away in 2008, collected the personal correspondence between the two leaders as well as speeches, interviews and press conference content.

Hillel Hurwitz, Harry Hurwitz’s son, said his father was inspired by a book that Begin showed him that collected the correspondence between US president Franklin D. Roosevelt and British prime minister Winston Churchill during World War II.

In the Begin-Sadat letters, Hurwitz said, one can “sense the delicacy and care with which they entered into contact between them and changed from leaders of two countries at war to two countries at peace, a treaty that would impact on their children and children’s children.”

Prof. Gerald Steinberg, from the political science department at Bar-Ilan University, said that because Begin did not write his memoirs or speak extensively to the media, history has been heavily influenced by US president Jimmy Carter’s several memoirs about the Israeli-Egyptian peace process.

The new book allows readers to get an intimate view of the personal correspondence between the two leaders, who were able to overcome their differences despite the animosity that Carter claimed made it difficult to find common ground. “Documents are what we need to overcome spin,” Steinberg said.

Elyakim Rubinstein, the Supreme Court justice who was a member of the Israel delegation to Camp David I in 1978, on Monday shared personal memories of attending the historic two-week summit in Maryland.

“I saw him [Begin] there and his agony, his agony with what to do with Sinai, what to do with the Palestinians, but he felt that it was right to do what he did there, even though he knew he would face some opposition here from his own [Likud] Party,” Rubinstein said.

He recalled the ceremony before the Alexandria negotiations as one of “the most amazingly unbelievable experiences” of his career.

“I’ve attended many important events, but the most moving moment, because [the agreement] was not in the cards. Whoever tells you that Sadat came because he knew he was getting Sinai, he’s wrong, he didn’t know,” Rubinstein said.

Rubinstein recounted a story about Begin inviting Sadat to come to negotiations in Jerusalem, which represented an ideological challenge for Sadat. The first time he refused to come, the second time he agreed to negotiate in Jerusalem but refused to sleep there, instead traveling to a hotel in Tel Aviv. Begin welcomed the compromise. “A gentleman doesn’t ask another gentleman where he spends his nights,” he reportedly told his staff.

“Some people thought Begin had regrets, but he didn’t,” Rubinstein said. “I mentioned to him once on the phone that it was the fourth anniversary of the agreement, and he said to me, I’ll never forget it, ‘We did a very important thing for our nation and our country.’” Rubinstein also recalled speaking with a Likud cabinet minister who vehemently opposed giving up Sinai, less than five years after the agreement.

“He said to me, ‘If it holds for 15 years, it’ll be worth the price.’ Now we’re here 30 years later,” Rubinstein said. “I only hope the treaty will continue despite the changes.”

Sunday, February 13, 2011

On Menachem Begin As Statesman

Prof. Paul Eidelberg:-

Menachem Begin: A Statesman

Menachem Begin was a statesman, not a mere politician. Of course, even statesmen sometime err; but such errors are usually result from human fallibility, not from human vices. What made Menachem Begin a statesman is that he consciously and systematically applied Jewish ideas to action—and he drew these ideas from the Book of Truth, the Torah.

Menachem Begin was first and foremost a proud Jew. His Jewish pride permeated his exceptional oratory. His oratory displayed not only Jewish pride but also Jewish learning, especially of history. Whether speaking to Jewish or gentile audiences, whether addressing the Knesset or the United Nations, his oratory was punctuated by biblical references and illustrations drawn from vivid historical events. There was nothing apologetic about Menachem Begin’s Jewishness; indeed, upholding Jewish honor was one of his cardinal principles. He was Israel's most religious prime minister. And it is in this light that we are to understand why he was a statesman and not merely a politician.

One example must suffice. Consider politicians, even from the "Right," who have endorsed the so-called two-state solution to the Palestinians conflict. With hardly an exception they insist that the Arab-Islamic state thus formed recognize Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. Menachem Begin would have nothing but contempt for such politicians—and they number among Israel’s ruling elites.

After his victory in the May 1977 elections, Begin addressed the Knesset. He mentioned Israel’s rebirth and her inherent right to exist in the family of nations. He challenged faint-hearted Knesset members in these words:

"Would it enter the mind of any Briton or Frenchman, Belgian or Dutchman, Hungarian or Bulgarian, Russian or American, to request for its people the recognition of its right to exist? Their existence per se is their right to exist!"

As for Israel, he continued, "We were granted our right to exist by the God of our fathers at the glimmer of the dawn of human civilization four thousand years ago. And so it is that the Jewish people have an historic, eternal and inalienable right to Eretz Yisrael, the land of forefathers."

These are words of a statesman.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Monday, February 7, 2011

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Another Book Review of "Peace in the Making"

The Kosher Bookworm: Is peace with Egypt history?
By Alan Jay Gerber

Given the events unfolding in Egypt, it is indeed timely that this week’s book review is about the relationship between the two protagonists who forged the first formal peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.

At the time of the treaty, Menachem Begin was a seasoned warrior whose career was colored by his hard-line patriotism. His partner was Answer El Sadat, the Egyptian president, who at the time, was most famous for launching a devastating surprise sneak attack on Israel.

“Peace in the Making: The Menachem Begin — Anwar Sadat Personal Correspondence ” is edited by the late Begin protégé, Harry Hurwitz, and the director of information resources at the Begin Heritage Center, Yisrael Medad. This book is an absolute must-read for anyone who wishes to better understand the unfolding development in the Middle East today.

According to Medad, “This book quite simply, but significantly, allows you to read the personal correspondence between the two peacemakers so that you follow their formalism, their friendship, their principles, their negotiating positions; what was really important to both leaders, what disputes arose, how did they view each other, each other’s historical views, etc.”

This perspective, when viewed both in its historical context and the modern era, points to a declining will and desire for peace. The book inadvertently functions as a grim prophecy of what may happen to two former allies.

A close reading of the book’s content demonstrates an uncanny eloquence in English by the two politicians who lived much of their daily lives far from this tongue and culture. Nevertheless, they found in English a common linguistic vehicle to frame their desires, beliefs and their quest to preserve human life.

I make this observation with a heavy heart given the current riots and unrest that envelops the Middle East. Just a causal reading of the rhetoric by the would-be leaders in Egypt and Jordan should bring a shudder of fear to all men of peace and goodwill, especially when contrasted with the content of the correspondence and diplomatic documents in this volume. Begin and Sadat entered into their relationship with a different set of moral standards. This is frequently reflected in the religious content of their dialogue, a factor rarely seen these days in public discourse.

And as with all good things, this too, had to come to an end. As the editors relate the following all-too-familiar scenario:

“In the summer of 1981, Egypt had experienced an explosion of civilian violence between Muslim extremists and Coptic Christians that led to a gruesome massacre of some eighty Copts. Egypt was also beset by economic problems and by internal dissension, some of which originated in the relationship President Sadat had established with Israel.

“In the months afterwards, tensions simmered throughout Egypt, and in September President Sadat began a sweeping , highly unpopular crackdown that led to the arrests of 1,500 people, including Muslim fundamentalists, Copts and political opponents.”

The editors conclude by detailing the assassination of Sadat by members of the Islamic Jihad. Hosni Mubarak assumed the presidency and faithfully enforced the peace treaty forged by Begin and Sadat. Internal peace has eluded him and his people along with the rest of the Middle East. Only the future will tell what the final resolution of this crisis will be. However, the message detailed in the correspondence of these two brave statesmen should serve as a harbinger for what will hopefully be better times to come.

I conclude with the words of Begin, this time from another book, “The Prime Ministers,” by Yehuda Avner, Begin’s former aide.

“President Sadat indicated he wished to come to us on Saturday evening. I decided that an appropriate hour would be eight o’clock, well after the termination of the Shabbat. I decided on this hour in order that there would be no Shabbat desecration. Also, I wanted the whole world to know that ours is a Jewish State which honors the Shabbat day. I read again those eternal biblical verses: ‘Honor the Sabbath day to keep it holy,’ and was again deeply moved by their meaning. These words echo one of the most sanctified ideas of mankind, and they remind us that once upon a time we were all slaves in Egypt.”Given these sacred words and mindful of events today surrounding our holy land, we should be inspired in the recitation of the appropriate Psalms to implore G-d’s mercy and grace in this most troubled of times. By doing so we will be giving the legacy of Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat their due and hopefully we will witness the continued peace between the two countries.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Book Review of "Peace in the Making"


Egypt and Peace

While the political future of Egypt’s President remains in the balance, his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, is experiencing a revival of sorts with the publication of his correspondence with Menachem Begin. The recently published Peace in the Making: The Menachem Begin-Anwar El Sadat Personal Correspondence, edited by Harry Hurwitz and Yisrael Medad, reveals the public and private discussions that led these two opposing leaders down the path of peace together. Combining helpful historical background, related speeches, historical pictures and personal letters, this volume offers us an inside look at these leaders who changed history.

Most interesting to me is the rhetoric each uses in argumentation, particularly Begin’s language. Begin was the most religiously traditional prime minister in Israel’s short history. His rhetoric blended the language of his religious upbringing (in the town of Brisk), Zionist Revisionist (Jabotinsky) ideology and international diplomacy. Representing the Zionist aspect is his usage of the Maccabees.

Maccabees and Political Rhetoric

For example, in a Nov. 11, 1977 radio broadcast to the Egyptian people encouraging Sadat to visit Israel, Begin stated: “We, the Israelis, stretch out out hand to you. It is not, as you know, a weak hand. If attacked, we shall always defend ourselves, as our forefathers, the Maccabees, did — and won the day.” (p.

And in his introduction, Yehuda Avner writes of a first draft of a letter in which Begin wrote: “We hate war and yearn for peace. But let me say this: should anybody at any time raise against us a modern sword in the attempt to rob us of Jerusalem, our capital, the object of our love and prayers, we Jews will fight for Jerusalem as we have never done since the days of the Maccabees. And how Judah Maccabee fought and won the day, every student of history and strategy knows.” (pp. xix-xx)

These are the Maccabees who were political rebels, fierce warriors and shrewd strategists. But this is a matter of emphasis rather than fact. Religious zealots, defenders of the faith, can also serve as exemplary soldiers. It is all a matter of what you want to highlight given your interests and the context of your presentation. Begin, speaking as a politician and former soldier, described Maccabean soldiers fighting for political independence. Had he taken a different path in his hometown of Brisk, he may have focused more on the Maccabean scholars and religious revivalists. Both stories are true in the complex history of Israel.

Egypt Today, Egypt Then

The Winnipeg Free Press relates to the current Egyptian situation by recalling 30 years ago:

Israel rethinking its defence

For the first time since its 1979 peace treaty with Egypt, Israel finds itself politically besieged.

When Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat signed their peace treaty in Washington on March 26, 1979, the regional political landscape was totally different.

Turkey was Israel's strategic ally, and the Khomeini Revolution was busy establishing its Islamic institutions in Iran. Lebanon's Hezbollah was non-existent, as was Hamas.

Now, Syria and Hezbollah are establishing themselves as the dominant forces in Lebanon; Jordan risks becoming the next target of the "Facebook Revolution"; Hamas is holding firm in the Gaza Strip and challenging the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

Even if the peace treaty with Egypt is not abrogated, Israel has to take into consideration the possible rise in power and influence of Muslim Brotherhood in the Nile Valley. This dramatic change in the political landscape forces Israel to re-examine its defence doctrine, that is still based -- to a large extent -- on the peace with Egypt.

Despite the excellence of its intelligence services and technological superiority, Israel was caught off-guard. The reason? Israel was focused mainly on security and strategy and less on domestic issues -- like unemployment, poverty and corruption and their impact on the regime's stability.

Israel, for example, didn't understand that for many Egyptian students, their university degree was no more than a membership card in the "club of the unemployed."

Therefore, when the demonstrations hit the Cairo streets last Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was among only three regional leaders who called President Hosni Mubarak and expressed hope that he would overcome the crisis.

The other two were Saudi King Abdullah and the Emir of Kuwait.

...Under Mubarak, Egypt kept the Sinai desert semi-demilitarized. It sealed the Gaza Strip in an effort to prevent smuggling of arms and terrorists in support of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. It also played an important role in the struggle against Iran's nuclear ambitions.

This situation enabled Israel to reduce its military budget from 23 per cent of GNP in 1979, to 11 per cent today. A change in Egyptian military doctrine would force Israel to increase its military budget, at the expense of vital social services. Israel would also be forced to mobilize more troops to protect its Egyptian border.

What is even more serious -- a new Egyptian regime with enhanced Muslim influence potentially could lead to war with Israel in the future and could encourage Hamas in Gaza, the West Bank and Jordan...