Study: In '67, Sharon wanted to launch war without gov't okay
On the eve of the Six-Day War, then-major general Ariel Sharon proposed to then-chief of staff Yitzhak Rabin to begin the war without the cabinet's approval. According to Sharon, Rabin was not opposed to the idea. These are the findings of research conducted by the General Staff's history division that appeared this week in Ma'arachot, the Israel Defense Forces and Defense Ministry publication.
The author of the study was Colonel (res.) Ami Gloska.
Portions of Sharon's testimony to researchers from the history division after the Six-Day War have already been published in the press, but this is the first official publication of the current prime minister's suggestion to one of his predecessors, when both held senior positions in the IDF, "to take control so as to make a decision" and to imprison the cabinet members "in an adjacent room" until "the chief of staff goes to Israel Radio and makes an announcement."
According to Sharon at the time, "After all, we often asked whether in the State of Israel there could arise a situation in which the army takes control; could there be a situation in which the army takes decisions without the government. And I always said it was impossible, that this couldn't happen in the State of Israel.
"And then, after the meeting [with then-prime minister Levi Eshkol] on May 28, I said to the chief of staff and others who were present that this was the first time, in fact, that there had arisen a situation in which this could happen, and that it would also be well accepted - that is to say, to seize control not in the framework of wanting to govern, but in the framework of making a decision, the fundamental decision, and that army can make it without the government.
"I don't remember if he agreed or not, but I think he also viewed it in this way."
Sharon continued: "I don't think anyone spoke in practical terms, that it could be done; but from the point of view of the situation that had been created ... We didn't finish speaking about the issue in the first meeting, and after the meeting on June 2 [with the cabinet], we stayed behind to speak, and I said that had we, at a certain stage, got up and said, `Listen, your decisions are endangering the State of Israel, and since the situation is very serious, you are being asked to go into the adjacent room and wait here, and the chief of staff will go to Israel Radio and broadcast an announcement.' They would have accepted it with a sense of relief. That was my feeling."
Gloska also quotes then-Israel Air Force commander, major general Mordechai Hod, who said Rabin was not interested in the particulars of the IAF's operational plan to destroy the Egyptian Air Force at its bases.
In an interesting chapter on Rabin's visit to Iran, about a month before the outbreak of the May 1967 crisis, Gloska reveals that the shah pressed Israel to pin down Egyptian forces in Sinai and thereby draw them away from Yemen. When serving as deputy chief of staff, Rabin had said of Israel's decision to refrain from pinning down the forces to Sinai, "I don't feel good about it; I am even ashamed of it."
And after his talks in Tehran, Rabin hinted to the General Staff's top brass that this was a joint Israel-Iran interest.
According to Gloska, it is likely Iran fed the Soviets false information on Israel's plans to attack Syria in an effort to create a crisis that would pit the Israeli and Egyptian armies against one another and ease the tension in the Persian Gulf.
While the conclusions of the study leave no room for doubt, Gloska chose to soften and dull his text in the public version of his book, "Eshkol, give an order." He writes that Sharon's testimony "is likely to point only to a train of thought or personal sentiment" that he shared with the chief of staff and other colleagues in the General Staff.
Gloska notes, however, that the notion was not a one-time thing. "Sharon spoke about it in the `bunker' - the supreme command post - twice in the space of five days. The idea may have captivated him, but one shouldn't overstate the significance of the matter. We are dealing with an offbeat statement, nothing more than thinking out loud. The same thought may have gone through the minds of other commanders, and Sharon was the one who expressed it.
"Insofar as is known, there were no practical results from it, and not even the start of something practical ... The General Staff was convinced that the government was endangering the state. It was angry, it pressed, it warned, but it did not take any illegal or provocative action so as to put the political echelon before a fait accompli."
The General Staff's history division is currently compiling a study dealing with the battles on Mount Hermon during the Yom Kippur War and slated for publication next year. Last night, the report's author, Colonel (res.) Moshe Givati, refused to discuss the findings of his study in light of a gag order imposed by the head of the history division, Shaul Shay.