Yitzhak Rabin
Former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin Photo by David Mizrachi
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A few hours after Yigal Amir assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on November 4, 1995, the diplomatic secretary of the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv called the head of the opposition in Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. After expressing his shock at the murder, Netanyahu said he feared the immediate implications of the event for Israel's right in general and Likud in particular.

In a classified, confidential cable sent at 10:15 A.M. on November 5 to the White House and the State Department, U.S. Ambassador Martin Indyk reported on the conversation. In the cable, which was published on WikiLeaks, Indyk quoted Netanyahu as calling Rabin's assassination "a disaster for the Jewish people, a disaster for Israel and a disaster for the right which will be decimated if elections are called soon." The prime minister's bureau declined to comment on the issue.

"Other Likud sources referred in a panic to the 1930's murder of Haim Arlosoroff for which the entire Revisionist movement was blamed, and feared the left will do the same again with Likud and the right in 1995," Indyk continued in the cable.

Despite his fears, Netanyahu squeaked past Shimon Peres in the May 1996 election called by Peres three months earlier.

In the same cable, Indyk wrote that he had spoken to cabinet ministers who believed that early elections would be called. "Political and peace process factors no doubt will greatly influence a decision by Acting Prime Minister Peres on whether and when to call for new elections," Indyk told Washington. "Since Oslo II is a commitment of the government of Israel, Labor and Likud sources told us that redeployment [of Israel Defense Forces in the West Bank] would continue during an election period," Indyk continued.

A second classified, confidential cable, this one from the American Consulate in Jerusalem, which is responsible for the Palestinian Authority, was sent to Washington a few hours after Indyk's. "Palestinians have reacted with shock" to the assassination, Consul General Edward Abington wrote, "followed by anxiety about what his death means to the peace process and their future."

Abington reported that Yasser Arafat and other Palestinian officials were very upset about Rabin's assassination, calling it "a disaster and a catastrophe," while "Bethlehem Mayor Elias Freij was 'terribly upset,' saying he knew Rabin as a friend. He commented on what could be a 'disturbing phenomena [sic] if every leader who tries to make peace in the region is threatened with guns.'"

The Palestinians turned out to be more accurate in their assessment of Israel's political map than Netanyahu, although they overestimated his attraction for voters. "Many Palestinians fear that Netanyahu will have an easy time defeating Peres in future elections," Abington wrote.

"Many fear Peres is not strong enough to hold Israel or the peace process together. Sami Musallam, director of Arafat's office in Jericho, said that although Peres enjoys support among younger IDF officers, he does not have close relations with any of the current class of regional and force commanders. The Palestinians are extremely worried that Peres will not be able to bring the military to heel during redeployment, in the way Rabin had done," Abington wrote.

Rabin was defense minister as well as prime minister, and Palestinian and Israeli concerns about his successor were already apparent in Abington's cable. "Musallam said that Amnon Shahak would be far preferable to Ehud Barak, in terms of each man's support for the peace process," the consul general wrote. In the end, Peres kept the defense portfolio for himself.

In his cable, Abington stressed the PA's efforts to prevent public celebrations of Rabin's death in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, noting that Arafat issued strict orders banning even firing into the air.

Abington wrote that many PA figures said Rabin's murder should should serve as a warning to Israel about its extremists, noting that "Gaza preventive security chief Muhammad Dahlan said it 'should be a lesson for the Israelis to see the danger in their own extremists.'"