MI5 declassifies documents saying Mandate-era Lehi intended to murder Winston Churchill
The facts of such a plot have long been rumored, and even alluded to in several history books on the period, but this is the first time actual proof of the MI5 findings and concerns at the time have been released to the public.
PARIS - A slew of declassified documents from MI5, the British military intelligence, which were released by the UK's National Archives, reveal that a member of the Lehi pre-state militia, Eliyahu Bet-Zuri, suggested sending agents to assassinate high-ranking British politicians, including Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin.
The facts of such a plot have long been rumored, and even alluded to in several history books on the period, but this is the first time actual proof of the MI5 findings and concerns at the time have been released to the public. The documents relating to Lehi, which were published Monday in the British paper The Telegraph, include information obtained by MI5 from another Lehi member, who was arrested in April 1945 and confessed the plan to British authorities.
The encrypted reports were sent by a British military officer - a Major James Robertson - to his superiors in London only after Bet-Zuri was hung in 1944 for the murder of another British official in the region, Lord Moyne, the UK's minister resident in the Middle East. Bet-Zuri killed Moyne, a close confidant of Churchill, in Cairo.
In the quoted 1946 telegram, Robertson wrote: "Stern Group are training members to go to England to assassinate members of His Majesty's Government, especially Mr. Bevin." The Lehi confessor, said Robertson, passed along the following information: "As soon as he [Bet-Zuri] returned to Stern Group headquarters he proposed to suggest a plan for the assassination of highly placed British political personalities, including Mr. Churchill, for which purpose emissaries should be sent to London."
Robertson noted, however, that: "The above information does not ... amount to very much. It does, however, I think justify us in assuming that the danger of attempts on the lives of important people here is still one which we must reckon carefully."
In a separate telegram sent home by Robertson later that year, he explained that a surge in terrorist activity in Palestine at the time was partly due to a speech made by Bevin in Bournemouth.
He wrote: "This speech is stated to have caused considerable bitterness among the Jewish community in Palestine. A typical Jewish 'man in the street,' for example, described the speech as the most anti-Semitic ever delivered by a British statesman."
Following this warning, it is clear British officials feared an assassination attempt on Bevin's life, and were focused on a planned visit to Egypt to initial a diplomatic accord. "If a fanatic intended to carry out an assassination and was prepared to disregard his own safety there would be very little that he could not do," an MI5 memo stated.
Other revelations gleaned from the newly released documents include details on how Nazi forces plotted to kill British troops with poisoned chocolate and sabotaged cigarettes as part of a campaign of terror in Allied Europe. The documents outline how the Nazi security service planned subversion operations in Allied countries by deploying four agents into France two months before the end of the war in 1945. The group was dropped behind enemy lines before the aircraft carrying them was shot down.
The agents had been carrying tubes of Bayer aspirin tablets, one or two of which contained poison, according to the released documents. The plan was to offer a target sabotaged cigarettes that would cause a headache - and then pass the target a painkiller. Not all the pills were poisoned in order for the agent to take one to detract suspicion. The document stated: "The agent was also to smoke one of the cigarettes and would take one of the real aspirins from the tube."
Powder was also found in the agents' possession after they were apprehended by Allied forces. This powder contained ground-up glass mixed with poison, which would have been smeared onto door handles, books or desks in the hope that the substance would enter the target's bloodstream.
The documents also revealed how coffee and sugar were also contaminated, and Allied troops were warned about Nazis wearing swastika-shaped belt buckles that contained mini-pistols capable of firing two shots.
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