Sunday, September 20, 2009

MI5 Files on Menachem Begin

Menachem Begin
File refs KV 2/2251-2252

Menachem Begin was the sixth Prime Minister of Israel (1977-1983) and leader of the country's leading right-wing party, Herut, from 1948-1983. He came to prominence as an advocate of the view that mainstream Zionist groups were too accommodating with the British authorities in pre-1948 Palestine, and advocated the use of force to establish a Jewish state. He joined the militant Zionist group Irgun during the Second World War and eventually became its leader. The Irgun's attacks on British targets in Palestine made him one of the most wanted men in the region, with a substantial reward posted for his capture.

The Security Service file on Begin consists largely of a collection of reports on his movements, contacts and activities culled from various sources. The Service was interested in building a detailed picture of his career, and the file includes much detail about his early life.

There is debate in KV 2/2251 (1939-1949) as to whether or not he had been in a position to serve in Spain with the International Brigade. The file includes a photograph purportedly of Begin with comrades in Spain, but also information from other sources suggesting that he was elsewhere for the duration of the Civil War. The possibility of Soviet control of Begin's Irgun organisation is one of the key concerns of the file, which records but otherwise does not go into much detail about various terrorist acts attributed to that organisation. The file includes a Polish Security Middle East group report on Jewish terrorist activities, dated April 1945; and a report of intelligence sourced from Chilik Weizmann by the Secret Intelligence Service that Begin had undergone cosmetic surgery in February 1947 to conceal his identity. The SIS report suggests that he "had undergone a plastic facial operation and that his appearance is totally different to that displayed on police photographs", but notes dryly that "We have no description of the new face."

KV 2/2252 (1949-1955) continues with similar reports focusing on Begin's post-war travels and meetings in Europe and the Americas. There is an April 1953 case summary, including details of the possible connections between Begin and the Russian intelligence service at serial 121a: "...the answer would appear to be that Begin was probably not a Soviet agent in the sense that he was working for the RIS...but that there is some slight possibility that during 1947 he might have accepted or even sought Soviet financial assistance for the terrorist organisation."

File refs KV 5/34-41

This collection of files documents the Security Service's monitoring of the activities of Irgun, the Jewish organisation involved or implicated in numerous acts of terrorism in the closing years of the British mandate in Palestine. The file covering the pre-war and Second World War period (KV 5/34, 1938-1946) is largely concerned with tracking the changes to the leadership of Irgun, its relationship with Zionist Revisionist groups, and assessing the strength of Irgun. The file includes reports of Irgun terrorist activities, which were suspended for most of the war (Irgun leader David Raziel served with the allies and was killed in action in 1941) but resumed in 1944, around the time that Menachem Begin assumed the leadership. The file includes an Irgun propaganda leaflet which addressed Palestine's Arab neighbours (serial 33a) and shows that Teddy Kollek, the future mayor of Jerusalem, was in contact with the Defence Security Officer in Palestine (e.g serials 57c, 63zc and 67ab).

Subsequent files focus chiefly on Irgun's post-war terrorist activities. KV 5/35 (1946) includes reports on attacks on trains and the kidnapping of British servicemen. The attack on the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, including discussion on the conflicting claims as to whether or not a warning was given, is covered in KV 5/36. This file includes a message from Kim Philby to the Security Service of 9 July 1946 warning of possible Irgun attacks against the British legation in Beirut, just before the attack on the King David. KV 5/37 includes some discussion of the possibility that Irgun might accept assistance from the Russians and the implications of this. It also includes (at serial 142a) examples of stickers posted by Irgun activists in Montevideo that were forwarded to the Security Service by Kim Philby in September 1946.

The attack on the British embassy in Rome is covered in KV 5/38 (1946-1947) which also includes at serial 169b, a letter from the Defence and Security Officer in Palestine on the Jewish interest in "Atomic Fission". The absorption of Irgun into the Jewish Defence Army and Irgun's developing relations with Hagana is covered in KV 5/39 (1947-1948). The Service's interest in Irgun declines after its dissolution, KV 5/40 and 41 mainly consider historical discussion and analysis from 1948. For instance, there is a SIME report about David Raziel's wartime service and death in Iraq at serial 327a in KV 5/40.

Also found there:

Stern Group
File refs KV 5/29-32
This collection of reconstituted files on the activities of the Stern Group (or Stern Gang, known as Lehi in Hebrew) records the Security Service's interest in this group's activities from 1941 to 1951. The Group carried out a series of attacks against British officials, police and soldiers, most notably the assassination of the British Minister Resident in the Middle East, Lord Moyne, and the murder of 28 British soldiers in a bomb attack in February 1948. Perhaps its most notorious attack, though, was the assassination of the United Nations negotiator Count Folke Bernadotte (right) in Paris in October 1948.

KV 5/29 (1941-1946) covers the death of the Group's leader, Abraham Stern, in February 1942, and also the assassination of Lord Moyne in Cairo in November 1944. Government actions to try to counter the Group in the aftermath of the assassination are covered in this file and in KV 5/30 (1946). The files also record fears that the Stern Group was planning to mount assassination attempts in the UK; a telegram records a "reliable source" claiming that the organisation was "training to assassinate members of His Majesty's Government, especially [Foreign Secretary] Mr [Ernest] Bevin."

The murder of Count Bernadotte is covered in KV 5/31 (1946-1948), which includes evidence that the assassins received assistance from the Czech authorities. This file also includes photographs of damage to government houses in Jaffa caused by Stern Group actions, and (at serial 141) an analysis of Stern Group membership by nationality. The period of the winding up of the Group following the creation of Israel is covered by KV 5/32 (1948-1951).

File refs KV 5/33

This heavily weeded reconstituted file records the Security Service's collection of information about the Hagana, the Zionist defence force for Jewish settlements in Palestine. It includes a 1930 report by the Palestine CID on the Hagana's early history (serial 1a).

From the file, which spans the period 1930-1953, it is clear that the Service's main concern was possible Soviet support for or manipulation of the Hagana. The Service was also interested in the developing relations between the Hagana, Irgun and the Stern Group. The file includes (serial 90a) examples of Jewish propaganda sent to British soldiers in January 1946.
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