The eternal question, "Who gave the order?" to operate the espionage network in Egypt 54 years ago will soon get a new twist. It will happen if a book by former Military Intelligence head Binyamin Gibli, who died last month, is finally published. In a recent conversation with Haaretz, Gibli's widow, Elisheva, confirmed that she has decided to to do so, "and then there will be some surprises."
It is not yet clear, however, who owns the rights to the manuscript. They, like the other substantial assets left by Gibli, who was also a successful businessman for 45 years, are in dispute between Elisheva and Gibli's first wife, Esther Pinhasi, her daughter Tami and Tami's three granddaughters. Tami is married to former journalist and businessman Eitan Lifshitz, who told Haaretz yesterday that to the best of his knowledge Gibli's will does not mention the manuscript, even though it is in Elisheva's possession. According to Lifshitz the absence of the manuscript from the will makes it unclear who should inherit it.
For close to 40 years Gibli swore himself to silence and refused to comment on the Egyptian espionage affair. Then in 1992, Shabtai Tevet, an author who is the official biographer of David Ben-Gurion, published "Kalban" (the Hebrew acronym for "Banana Skin") - two volumes of details on the scandalous Lavon affair, known throughout the 1950s, '60s and '70s as the Esek Bish ("the rotten business") due to the military censor's restrictions.
Tevet, who sided with Ben-Gurion, conjectured that Gibli, who was known as "the senior officer," was the major culprit in the affair.
In July 1954 Gibli ordered the activation of a sabotage network comprised of young, idealistic Jewish agents. Moshe Sharett was prime minister, Pinhas Lavon was defense minister and Moshe Dayan was the IDF chief of staff. The network's members were trained as "sleeper agents" who would be ordered to sabotage strategic installations in Egypt, such as bridges and pumping stations, in the event of a major crisis. But in July 1954 a decision was made to use them for a mission for which they had not really been trained - planting bombs in movie theaters and American institutions in Cairo and Alexandria. The person who gave that short-sighted order hoped it would be a strategic move that would make President Abdel Nasser's regime appear unstable and persuade Britain not to evacuate its military bases in the Suez Canal, a move the Israeli leadership feared.
The affair led to the execution by hanging of network members Moshe Marzouk and Shmuel Azzar, after their conviction by an Egyptian military court on charges of espionage and sabotage. Israeli intelligence agent Meir Max Bineth committed suicide behind bars. Another suspect, Yosef Carmon (who was not connected with the network), also committed suicide, and the remaining members of the network spent many years in prison.
In the end Gibli was demoted, Lavon was forced to resign as defense minister. Ben Gurion succeeded him and in 1955 became prime minister again only to end his political career eight years later, sacrificed on the altar of the Lavon Affair.
The Gibli version
Following the publication of Tevet's book, Gibli decided the time had come to publicize his version of the events. He hired journalist-author Aryeh Krishek and told him all the details, which Krishek recorded during their meetings. Krishek delivered about 500 manuscript pages to Gibli for the book, whose working title was "The Orders." For some reason, however, their relationship cooled in 1995. Four years Gibli's attorney, Dov Weissglas, had Krishek sign a document in which he waived his rights to the manuscript. Krishek received payment, and he claims he returned the tapes and the manuscript to Gibli.
Elisheva Gibli contends that the relationship between Gibli and Krishek ended because her husband felt the manuscript was not worthy of publication.
"When I gave Binyamin Gibli 'The Orders,'" Krishek counters, "he showered it with compliments and told me he was thrilled to read it and was getting ready for its publication and the accompanying media appearances. Later, apparently following a series of 'extra-literary' events, Binyamin began to cool off and distance himself. But nowhere, throughout the years, was he ever quoted saying, and no one else ever said, that the book was 'killed' because it was unworthy." Afterward, and until his death on August 19, Binyamin and Elisheva Gibli contacted a few writers, including Ehud Ben-Ezer and Alisa Wallach, about rewriting Krishek's manuscript. Elisheva says she recently chose Wallach for the task.
As for the "surprises" promised by Elisheva, these were disclosed before her husband's death. In various conversations he took pains to stress that he was ordered by Lavon to activate the network in Egypt, and did as he was commanded. But according to Gibli Lavon initiated even more adventurous and dangerous operations in Jordan and Syria, without notifying Sharett. Fortunately, these were never executed.
Corroboration of Gibli's version of events was provided last year when Tom Segev published in Haaretz excerpts from Sharett's recently discovered secret diary. In it Lavon is portrayed as a madman with a diabolical mind. He ordered "the dissemination of toxic bacteria in the Syrian frontier area," and the bombing of various Middle Eastern capitals, including Baghdad, "to liven up the Middle East."
The headline of Gibli's version, however, is that he viewed Dayan as the man who got off easiest from the scandal. According to Gibli, Dayan - effectively the only senior official who was unscathed by the affair, even though he was the chief of staff - knew about the decision to activate the network in Egypt. In order to keep his name from being associated with the operation, however, he made sure to absent himself from the region in time. When the order was given he was on a month-long tour of Europe and the United States.
Gibli complained that for years he protected Dayan and Shimon Peres, who assured him they would back him up and promote him to brigadier general or even chief of staff, but they betrayed him and renounced the promises and abandoned him to his fate.
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