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.

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