Wednesday, January 24, 2018

When Begin Countermanded Sharon

In a story by Ronen Bergman in the New York Times, detailing various attempts to eliminate PLO head Yasser Arafat, you can read this on Menachem Begin:

On Aug. 5, 1981, Prime Minister Menachem Begin appointed Ariel Sharon as defense minister of Israel. Begin, a hero of the underground movement in Israel’s prestate era, had a deep admiration for the former general — “a glorious commander of armies,” he called him — but he was somewhat apprehensive about Sharon’s unwillingness to accept the authority of his superiors. “Sharon is liable to attack the Knesset with tanks,” one of Begin’s deputies half-joked two years earlier.

Sharon quickly raised the stakes. He put a renewed focus on Arafat and gave the greenlight for Ben-Gal and Dagan to carry out an operation that, if it succeeded, would change the course of Middle East history. Operation Olympia called for Israeli agents to plant a massive set of bombs under a V.I.P. dais under construction in a Beirut stadium where, on Jan. 1, 1982, the P.L.O. was going to celebrate the anniversary of its first operation against Israel. With the push of one button, they would achieve the destruction of the entire Palestinian leadership.

Everything was ready, including powerful explosive charges already secreted beneath the dais, as well as three vehicles loaded with explosives that were supposed to be parked on the streets around the stadium; these were to detonate about a minute after the dais exploded, when the panic was at its height and the survivors of the initial blast were trying to flee the scene. The resulting death and destruction were expected to be “of unprecedented proportions, even in terms of Lebanon,” in the words of a very senior officer of the Northern Command. But a group of worried AMAN officers, as well as the deputy defense minister, went to Begin and demanded that he order Dagan to call it off. “You can’t just kill a whole stadium,” one officer recalled telling Begin. “The whole world will be after us.” Begin shut down the operation.

blog comments powered by Disqus