It could happen to anyone
What distinguishes the plot against Dan Shomron by Rafael Eitan and Moshe Levy is its sexual-security context. But the appalling conclusion is that all that's needed to bring someone down is malicious intent and control of undercover apparatuses
Dan Shomron sat in Zvika Schiller's home in Ramat Hasharon, seething with anger. The hints he had heard for many weeks had now actualized. His response was harsh, uncompromising. "I will not let him have his way," he declared. "I will demand an investigation, and if Rabin says no, I will not serve as chief of staff." Schiller, a brigadier general in Military Intelligence (MI), was then one of Shomron's few friends in the Israel Defense Forces.
The government of Yitzhak Shamir had approved the recommendation of then defense minister Yitzhak Rabin to appoint Shomron chief of staff beginning in mid-April 1987. This was one of the peaks in an affair of intrigue and passion that rocked the IDF high command, with Shomron in the role of the victim who counterattacked. Both of Shomron's two predecessors as chief of staff, Rafael Eitan and Moshe Levy, had moved to block his appointment. The first acts in this drama took place between 1983 and 1987. The final act ended with Levy's death last month and Shomron's this week, at age 70. Schiller, one of the supporting actors in the drama, departed the stage together with Levy.
On Wednesday, Haim Ben-Ami passed by the Kiryat Shaul Military Cemetery and stopped the car for a moment, before continuing on to his home in nearby Tel Baruch. Only then did the former head of the investigations branch of the Shin Bet security service confide in his wife about events that had occurred more than 20 years earlier: "I was appointed to investigate a stinking story they tried to pin on Shomron. They spilled his blood." Ben-Ami's order had been signed by Shamir and Rabin. For Ben-Ami, it was an painful task. When he had joined the army in the sixties, Shomron was already a famed paratrooper. Shomron took off his army issue sweater, Ben-Ami hooked him up to a lie detector and asked him directly: "Are you a homosexual?"
Shomron looked at him calmly and answered, "No." Ben-Ami looked at the meter. It confirmed he was telling the truth.
Those who have followed the public spat in recent years between Moshe Ya'alon and his successor as chief of staff, Dan Halutz, do not know the intensity that can be reached in a war between chiefs of staff. What set apart the plot of Eitan and Levy against Shomron was its sexual-security context: the false information that Shomron was a closet homosexual and therefore susceptible to blackmail. The end was ostensibly happy, but we're still left with the appalling conclusion that if something like this could happen to a general like Shomron, it could happen, or perhaps has happened, to anyone. All that's needed is malicious intent and the control of undercover apparatuses.
On July 4, 1976, the 200th birthday of the United States, the formerly unknown Shomron, then a brigadier general, attained everlasting glory as a symbol of grit and daring in the war against terrorism. The gloom that had been induced by the hijacking of an Air France plane to Entebbe by Arabs and Germans under the aegis of Ugandan ruler Idi Amin vanished following the astonishing rescue operation.
In short order Shomron learned a lesson often cited by Ariel Sharon: Failures might be forgiven, but successes never. Entebbe infuriated officers who considered Shomron their competitor - and none more than Eitan, who could turn from affectionate friend to bitter enemy. As the commander of the 35th Paratroops Brigade, Eitan was fond of Shomron. But that didn't stop him from waging merciless war against him.
In the early 1970s, as chief infantry and paratroops officer, Eitan was the patron of the Israeli-made Galil assault rifle - a "gesture" to the Russian Kalashnikov. After the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Eitan reacted with the disappointment of a man betrayed when the new chief infantry and paratroops officer, Shomron, gave preference to the American M-16 rifle over the Galil. And then came Entebbe. Until then, no one had challenged Eitan's greatness as the IDF's most daring perpetrator of raids. To add insult to injury, Eitan was not involved in the Entebbe operation and didn't even know it was being planned. He only learned about it by chance from an officer. That officer was Miri Shomron, Dan Shomron's first wife. Eitan had been excluded by order of Gur, but would exact the price of the affront from Shomron.
In the wake of his excellence as commander of the 401st Armored Brigade in Sinai, his performance as chief infantry and paratroops officer, the dazzling achievement at Entebbe and his command of a regular armored division in Sinai, Shomron was offered major-general rank. He declined, in a reaction that displayed his typical integrity and naivete, because the first available position at that rank was GOC Central Command - the quietest front of all, facing Jordan. Any renewed war would be fought against Syria or Egypt, on the northern or southern fronts. Shomron could wait. Thus, the post was given to Moshe Levy, who was a year older than Shomron and had become a brigadier general slightly before him.
Shomron was not impressed by Levy's record as a proficient staff officer and protege of Major General Rehavam Ze'evi. Shomron, in contrast, had advanced via the central channel of combat command; Levy moved toward the same goal by a side route.
In the summer of 1977, a new player entered the arena: Ezer Weizman. The new defense minister reshuffled the deck that Gur had stacked in his final year as chief of staff. The assumption was that his successor would be either Yekutiel Adam or Herzl Shafir, who had successively headed the General Staff Branch, in effect, as Gur's deputies. Contrary to Gur's wish, Weizman demanded that a third major general be considered to head the General Staff Branch during Gur's last year: Rafael Eitan. Eitan's move to the General Staff meant that a replacement was needed as GOC Northern Command. Gur wanted to post Shomron there and appoint Avigdor Ben-Gal commander of the Armored Corps. Weizman, though, insisted that Ben-Gal become GOC Northern Command after Eitan; Shomron was to replace Shafir after the latter left Southern Command in early 1978, either to become chief of staff or to go home.
Thus, unthinkingly, Weizman helped prepare the ground for the 1982 Lebanon War. Angered by Shafir's approach toward Egypt after the visit of president Anwar Sadat to Israel, Weizman decided to appoint Eitan chief of staff and thereby created a situation in which the Eitan-Ben-Gal duo pursued a militant policy in the northern sector, based on drawing closer to Lebanon's Christians. A moderate like Shomron would not have lent a hand to that approach.
As chief of staff, Eitan made use of the Ayit (vulture) unit, whose task was to supervise communications security, to wiretap generals - among them Ben-Gal. Eitan was dying to know what was being said about him. Schiller, the chief intelligence officer, refused to take responsibility for this use of Ayit. The director of MI, Yehoshua Saguy, also balked. The wiretapping was accordingly done by the head of field security, in direct subordination to the chief of staff. Eitan collected transcripts and other reports, many of them containing unfounded rumors, for future use.
As contenders to replace Eitan as chief of staff, both Shomron and Ben-Gal were missing a critical station on the road: Neither had been deputy chief of staff or head of the General Staff Branch. Eitan refused to appoint Shomron to the post, and the defense minister who succeeded Weizman, Ariel Sharon, refused to give it to Ben-Gal, whom he also quickly removed from Northern Command.
The vacuum was filled again by Levy, whom Eitan appointed his deputy ahead of his unprecedented fifth year as chief of staff. Shomron and Ben-Gal went to the United States for studies, with emergency appointments as corps commanders.
During a break in a meeting of the senior command echelon that examined the Lebanon War, Shomron openly expressed his opinion of Eitan's credibility. Among those who overheard him was Brigadier General Dr. Eitan Dolev, the chief medical officer. Eitan also heard about Shomron's remark, did not restrain himself and promised an appropriate response.
Moshe Arens took over the Defense Ministry in February 1983, after Sharon was removed from the position in the wake of the findings of the Kahan Commission inquiry into the Sabra and Chatila massacre, and he short-listed Shomron, Ben-Gal and Levy. Ben-Gal had not excelled in the war; Shomron's western corps, which was supposed to operate in northern Lebanon, was not sent into action; and Levy shared in the failure of the General Staff. Arens consulted others, and discovered that the vetoes from the previous round, when the deputy chief of staff had been appointed, remained intact: Sharon was against Ben-Gal, and Eitan opposed Shomron. Rabin, asked for his opinion, said that in principle the most veteran officer should be appointed, with the next in line left for later. Shomron had yielded to Levy in the appointment of GOC Central Command in 1977; the practical significance of this was that it was Levy's turn now, with Shomron up next.
Eitan now injected some poison into Arens' considerations. From the files of field security he pulled out a report that Dan Shomron was a homosexual. Sometime in 1980 or 1981, a hitchhiking corporal from Southern Command got a lift from a field security reservist. The driver got the corporal to talk and heard a rumor: The GOC Southern Command, Dan Shomron, was said to be gay.
The reason behind the rumor was apparently Shomron's willingness to accept as a deputy medical officer the military physician Doron Meisel, an open homosexual, whom the commander of the navy, Rear Admiral Ze'ev Almog, had declined to appoint as the navy's chief medical officer. Speaking with Meisel, Almog said it was Meisel's dependability and not his sexuality that bothered him, but upon hearing about the discussion, Shomron intervened to prevent a deserving officer from being deprived of his due.
Tipping the scales
Arens both took into consideration and also ignored the report, not checking it out completely, but also not disregarding the rumor. He opted for Levy - mainly because of Eitan's veto, Rabin's advice and a desire to minimize upheaval in the General Staff. Shomron's immediate reaction to Levy's appointment was to resign from the IDF. "I am 46," he told a handful friends in his home in Neveh Avivim. "Moshe will hold the position four years, and if I stay until then it will be said that I am an old goat." Afterward he had second thoughts: No major general easily gives up the prospect of becoming chief of staff. Arens didn't block his path, but rather wanted him as senior ground commander in Levy's General Staff, either as deputy chief of staff, director of MI or GOC Northern Command.
Shomron pondered these choices, but Levy vetoed them all. To be on the safe side, he recruited from civilian life a former air force commander, David Ivry, to be his deputy. Ivry, like Arens, was an ardent advocate of the Israeli-made Lavi fighter plane. He agreed only to Shomron's appointment to a new post, involving the establishment of army headquarters. The Shomron file was shelved in the vaults of both the chief of staff's bureau and field security, for use when the opportunity would again arise.
The opportunity arose in 1985, ahead of Shomron's appointment as deputy chief of staff. Arens had been succeeded by Yitzhak Rabin as defense minister - the same Rabin who had suggested, never dreaming that he would have to implement the suggestion, that Shomron be left for next time; the same Rabin who was the skeptical prime minister, and bore the burden of the fateful decision to implement the Entebbe operation, and as such was grateful to the soldiers and their commanding officers.
At the end of 1986, as the end of Levy's fourth year approached, tensions in the General Staff intensified. Two major generals were considered leading contenders to succeed Levy: Shomron and Barak; two others, Amir Drori, the deputy chief of staff, and Ori Orr, GOC Northern Command, were long shots. There was also a fifth candidate, Levy himself, who wanted to repeat the Eitan precedent and stay on for a fifth year.
The rumors spread: Levy would try to deliver a low blow to Shomron. An acquaintance who spoke with Shomron wondered aloud vaguely if he were apprehensive about people poking into his personal life. Shomron responded with incredulity: "What could it be? I once had a girlfriend, an officer in the career army, and when we split up people said I took part of our 'common property.' That wasn't true, and she also denied it." His interlocutor assured him that the girlfriend was not the story.
Rabin promised to choose his candidate and bring the choice to the cabinet for approval by the end of January 1987, but the appointment was put on the cabinet agenda for Sunday, February 2. Levy was then about to leave for a lengthy trip to East Asia; if the appointment were turned down, his chance of serving another year would improve. There is one more problem, Rabin told Shomron, but did not elaborate - maybe he even blushed. On Friday, at the last minute, Levy pulled out his trump card. He requested a meeting with prime minister Shamir. Rabin's aides were told that the subject of that meeting was Shomron's "health condition."
Levy brought with him Dr. Dolev, the chief medical officer; Shamir was accompanied by his military secretary, Brigadier General Azriel Nevo. After Levy and Dolev left, Shamir asked Nevo for his opinion. "It's nonsense," he said. Shamir agreed. Levy's tactic had failed. Rabin's military secretary, Brigadier General Haggai Regev, did a quick investigation and apprised Shomron of the findings: Levy had relied on information supplied by the head of field security, Colonel Moni Ben Dor, whom Levy had promised to promote to chief military censor with the rank of brigadier general. Ben Dor purported to rely on information that was in Dolev's possession.
Doron Meisel was invited to the office of a mutual friend, and for four hours related how he was cajoled to testify against Shomron without any factual basis. Meisel had been tempted by a promise of promotion to colonel, he said in embarrassment. His remarks were recorded secretly and conveyed to Shomron.
On Sunday morning, when Shomron's appointment as 13th IDF chief of staff was reported, with the appointment in his pocket and the change-of-command ceremony with Levy approaching, he vowed to devote his energy to completing the investigation of what had gone on, even if that meant giving up the new post.
Rabin tried to dissuade him, but Shomron would not budge. A division chief in the Shin Bet security service, Haim Ben-Ami, was appointed to examine the case, using polygraphs that corroborated Shomron's account, plus interviews with Shomron, Ben Dor, Dolev, Meisel and another officer who was spreading the rumors, and a face-off between Ben Dor and Dolev. Ben Dor was forced to resign without promotion. When Meisel's turn arrived to be promoted to command the army's school of medicine, Shomron preferred not to be involved in the decision. Meisel received the rank from Rabin; at his death he was a colonel. One of the negative consequences of the affair was Shomron's tendency to view accusations made against senior officers who insisted on their guiltlessness as malicious plots, and so he naively believed the denials of a corrupt brigadier general from the air force, Rami Dotan.
Shomron maintained a public silence, but cautioned Rabin: If Levy is given a public post, I will wage a battle against him. The threat had an effect as long as Shomron remained chief of staff. In the 17 years since then, he refused to forgive Levy.
On Wednesday, Shomron was laid to rest in Kiryat Shaul, a safe distance from Levy, who died last month, and was buried in Kibbutz Beit Alpha.