Nahum Admoni, who was chosen by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to head an inquiry into the government's conduct of the second Lebanon War, was himself criticized by a state commission of inquiry for his own conduct during the first Lebanon war.
The Kahan Commission did not demand that Admoni resign his position as head of the Mossad, due mainly to fact that he had assumed this position not long before the Sabra and Chatila massacres - the events that the commission investigated - took place. But a senior jurist who has studied inquiry commissions since the 1970s noted on Tuesday that this might make it difficult for Admoni to be sharply critical of Olmert, who also took office not long before the war broke out.
The jurist added that Admoni's agreement to head the panel was surprising, since he resigned after only a few meetings from another governmental committee that was set up to investigate the Mossad's botched assassination of Hamas leader Khaled Meshal in 1997. His explanation for quitting that panel was that a former member of the governmental establishment could not properly investigate the government.
The Kahan Commission investigated a massacre of Palestinians in Beirut's Sabra and Chatila refugee camps by the Phalangists, a Lebanese Christian militia allied with Israel. The massacre took place during Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982.
Admoni was criticized in the commission's report for failing to give Menachem Begin's government "an unequivocal warning about the danger entailed in the Phalangists' entry into the camps - an entry about which the head of the Mossad said nothing in the situation assessment that he gave the cabinet meeting."
Admoni "expressed no reservations about the Phalangists' entry into the camps," the report continued. "Precisely because of the Mossad's connection with the Phalangists, the head of the Mossad was obligated to address the possibility of an act of revenge" for the assassination of Bashir Gemayel, Lebanon's president-elect and head of the Phalangist Party.
Moreover, the report said, some of Admoni's explanations for this failure were unsatisfactory. For instance, it said, his claim that no revenge attack was feared because the Mossad believed that Gemayel was killed not by Palestinians but by a Lebanese group, the Murabitoun, was "far from convincing" - both because it was not clear that the Phalangists shared this assessment, and because in any case, the Palestinians and the Murabitoun had joined forces in fighting the Phalangists.
The commission also criticized contradictions in Admoni's testimony. For instance, he initially said that had he been asked by the cabinet, he would have supported allowing the Phalangists to enter the camps, but would have insisted on "warning them not to commit a massacre." Later, however, he told the commission that the Mossad had no information indicating that Phalangist atrocities were even a possibility.
Nevertheless, while the commission ultimately demanded the resignations of then defense minister Ariel Sharon, then Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Rafael Eitan and then head of Military Intelligence Yehoshua Saguy, it decided not to recommend Admoni's dismissal, since he had risen to the job of Mossad chief (from his previous position as deputy chief) only two days before Gemayel was killed and four days before attending his first cabinet meeting on the issue. After such a short time in office, it said, Admoni could not reasonably have been expected to diverge from the Mossad's prevailing view of the Phalangists as completely reliable.
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