It was 10 P.M., on October 28, 1990. I was in the middle of my shift as an editor on the news desk at Haaretz when my boss, Moshe Gal, told me to drop everything. "They arrested Rami Dotan, get a handle on the story and fill in the missing details." A short article by military affairs correspondent Eitan Rabin flickered on the computer screen: Brig. Gen. Dotan, the head of the Israel Air Force's equipment division, had been arrested "on suspicions of wrongdoing."
The rest of the story nearly wrote itself. Almost a year earlier, in November 1989, I had written a full-page article describing the allegations against Dotan, who was accused of manipulating arms deals to benefit his associates. The article was preceded by a two-month investigation that involved conversations with dozens of sources in Israel and the United States, in an effort to understand the IAF's procurements of airplane engines and maintenance services. Dotan, an accomplished engineer revered by his subordinates and backed by his superiors, stood at the center of it all.
At the time, Dotan was up for promotion. Ofer Pail, an Israeli who was working for American aviation companies, complained to the Defense Ministry about Dotan. The letter triggered an internal probe that did not yield substantial evidence. Defense minister Yitzhak Rabin promoted Dotan to the rank of brigadier general, pending the investigation results. The Israel Defense Forces backed Dotan and pressured me to drop the subject. "An arms dealer who moved abroad is now harassing an excellent officer," the air force retorted in the media.
My expose included many details, but it did not find any bribes or thefts. It described how Dotan instructed the directors of American companies to contact the IDF through a personal adviser who was a close friend, which gave him control over the entire procurement process.
I had boxes of documents at my apartment. These documents did not make it into the article. They included evidence of improper use of U.S. financial aid - for construction at IAF bases.
I wanted to write a follow-up and to expose these documents, but my colleagues told me to let it go. One of the senior writers, who was well-connected at the defense establishment, convinced the editor we had gone too far: An entire page on this story and no evidence of bribery?
I was a cub reporter, only three months at Haaretz, and I had trouble taking a stand. I went on to cover other topics and to edit on the news desk, and the boxes of material remained in the corner of my apartment.
Dotan's arrest one year later not only showed that I was right, but that I had been too gentle. Dotan stole millions of dollars from the purchase of IAF airplane engines. He had an accomplice, an American employee of General Electric. After a months-long investigation, he admitted to the crime and was convicted in the most grievous corruption scandal in IDF history. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison, and was demoted to the rank of private.
On the night of his arrest, however, I did not know the full details. All I had was the material in my apartment. And this is what I used in the days following the arrest. Every day, Haaretz ran a page detailing the affair and the allegations, albeit not in their entirety. Information that had been buried when Dotan was at the height of his power let Haaretz take the lead in covering the affair when Dotan was in custody. Tzvi Krochmel, who led the military police investigation, wrote in his book that the newspaper beat the investigators to the punch in those first days.
I followed the story for several months. There was the penthouse apartment Dotan bought with the money he stole, the American lawyer who helped Dotan and his accomplice, the identity of Dotan's courier, who confessed to the allegations and brought about Dotan's arrest, the arrest of the American accomplice, and the statements by Dotan's subordinates to American authorities. This was my last story on the Dotan affair. I then stopped reporting on the matter.
I have never met Dotan, who was released from prison more than six years ago.