Secrets and Lies

A senior officer in the Israel Defense Forces lied. Unbelievable. He lied. An IDF officer. And a senior officer at that. Not to the enemy, with the trickery used to start war. Not to the United Nations, by dressing soldiers in police uniforms. Not to the Americans. It's a mitzvah to lie to the goyim, to deceive and trick them. The issue at hand is not that the officer lied to the military authorities, but that he did so in such a transparent manner that he was inevitably exposed.

The big sin committed by Brigadier Generals Moshe Tamir and Imad Fares was not lying, it was embarrassing Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi. Now Ashkenazi will have to make it clear whether he has an opinion on the matter, rather than waiting for the next officer who yet to be weaned off of "telling an untruth" - in the delicate words of Israel's first prime minister David Ben-Gurion regarding Ariel Sharon. And not only will Ashkenazi be forced to do so, but so will Defense Minister Ehud Barak, a former chief of staff, who was likely so shocked to hear the news about the lie he was rendered speechless as well.

It is generally thought that those promoted within the IDF are courageous officers who have performed many valiant deeds and are occasionally trigger happy when it comes to the truth - to the point that a certain coordination has developed between the skills of combat readiness and lying. In the end, the chief of staff was forced to balance operational successes and fulfillment of missions on the one hand, with the creativity, initiative and willingness to breach the requirements for filing the accident in the military vehicle on the other. This configuration not only does an injustice to those same honest commanders who advanced well and properly, but also gives the chief of staff the status of a super-judge, although there has been more than one chief of staff who himself lied to his superiors, and especially to the defense minister.

"Makom Tov Batzad" ("A Good Seat on the Sidelines"), a recently published book by Neora Barnoach-Matalon, who was a secretary and associate of Moshe Dayan, discusses among other things the lies told about Dayan when he was chief of staff during the failed espionage operation in 1954 known as the Lavon Affair. During this affair, units operating in Egypt under Intelligence Unit 131 in the mid-1950s were exposed. The issue remains controversial: While there are those who claim Dayan and defense minister Pinhas Lavon were lied to, there are others who allege that Dayan was the one pulling the strings and was responsible for the failures and the lies. It is generally agreed that at least three leading Military Intelligence officers, as well as a few lower-ranking ones, were involved in the fabrication and cover-up.

Barnoach-Matalon, who believes Dayan was falsely accused of refusing to help release the prisoners involved in the affair from their Egyptian prison, devotes many pages to presenting ostensible proof that Dayan was not in on the secret plot in the summer of 1954. The Habima National Theater will soon present "Hipui Naloz" ("Disgraceful Cover-up") by Boaz Eppelbaum, which presents an opposite version.

Eppelbaum collected testimony against Dayan from Israel Galili, Yosef Almogi and Lavon's secretary Ephraim Evron. He also held a series of conversations with Binyamin Gibli, the chief of MI who was ousted because of the Lavon Affair. Gibli, according to Eppelbaum, "confessed to me at the Basel Cafe that he would never forgive Dayan" for instructing him to operate the units in Egypt. Gibli added that Dayan had allowed Gibli to cover-up for him and afterwards "stabbed me in the back with a burnished shabaria [an Arab knife]." But Gibli waited until after Dayan's death to voice his claims, with nobody to respond or deny.

It is customary the world over that superiors demand full and precise reports from their subordinates to remain in total control of information, without which it is difficult to impose authority. Of themselves they demand less. Even Ben-Gurion, the champion of truth and the person who chose for himself the underground code name "Amitai" (truth-teller) was not totally righteous. Behind the ethical argument in his demand that officers tell the truth was his understanding that this honesty was necessary in order for him to effectively govern. If the prime minister and defense minister cannot rely on an army that will tell them only the truth and the whole truth, commanders are liable to embroil the country in endeavors that lack the proper authority. Even worse - like its neighbors in the Middle East, Israel will become victim to a government coup cooked up by a military junta.

The way to overcome this danger was to create a mechanism of personal and political loyalty among the senior officers, along with supervision of the chief of staff, by appointing an oppositional deputy chief of staff and having the deputy and the head of MI report directly to the defense minister. Similarly, when the defense portfolio was separated from the premiership and handed to the defense minister, this method was also employed by the prime minister to supervise the defense minister and the chief of staff.

In the case of Dayan, Ben-Gurion became weaker over the years. When he appointed Dayan as chief of staff (before taking a long leave to Kibbutz Sde Boker), he first forced on him, in a senior position, Gen. Yosef Avidar, a loyal member of Mapai (Ben-Gurion's party, the forerunner of Labor), and afterwards a deputy chief of staff who was straight as an arrow, Gen. Haim Laskov. In a photo from the swearing-in ceremony for the new chief of staff, Ben-Gurion, "the Old Man" (who was actually just 67 years old, Barak's present age), is seen standing between 38-year-old Dayan and the outgoing chief of staff Mordechai Maklef - who was 33 according to his papers, but whose tired face made him look 20 years older.

Fewer than three years passed from the time the photo was taken until the Sinai Campaign in 1956, but Ben-Gurion became a tired old man in the interim. Dayan lied to him during the campaign, concealing for over 24 hours vital information regarding the fact that the IDF advance in Sinai was proceeding at a faster pace than planned, and contrary to the agreement with the British and the French. The chief of staff, who was ostensibly trying to protect the health of the supreme civilian leader, was afraid a truthful report would lead Ben-Gurion to halt the advance and withdraw the forces.

It is not a surprising revelation that in his private life Dayan was far from serving as an ethical model. Barnoach-Matalon says that, at the advice of his attorney Yehoshua Rottenstreich (who was also an external attorney in the service of the Mossad and a member of the government investigation committee that provided a cover-up version for the Pollard affair), Dayan paid 10,000 liras to one of his lovers, Elisheva Tchizas, when she threatened to sue him for violating a promise of marriage.

On February 21, 1973 a Libyan Boeing 727 penetrated Israeli airspace. Its pilots, who realized their mistake too late but did not respond to instructions from the air traffic controllers, turned west. The Israel Air Force did not give in and tried to force a landing in Sinai. The stubbornness ended in tragedy: 105 dead civilians. In today's terms, it was a kind of aerial Shai Dromi self-defense law: you broke in, you fled, you were killed.

The official IDF version, which also appears in the investigation by the army's history department, says air force commander admiral Mordechai Hod "reached the conclusion that it was essential to bring down the Libyan plane by using fire." Hod turned to the chief of staff, Lt. Gen. David (Dado) Elazar, "who was brought into the picture during the last three minutes of the incident," and asked for his approval to use fire. Elazar, to whom the air force commander "explained what was happening and added that the affair was about to be concluded, accepted the consideration presented to him by Hod, approved his line of action and decided he had to declare publicly that responsibility for the course of events was his" - and that of the chief of staff.

Nice, and even noble. A serious mishap, which stemmed from brazen arrogance and from the power-drunk behavior characteristic of the period leading up to the Yom Kippur War. The chief of staff, who was pulled out of the shower at the end of the investigation of a major nighttime operation in Lebanon, volunteered to bear responsibility, "because that is the truth, because I owe it to the air force and because every commander must behave that way," as he told Nahman Shai, the military correspondent of the only television channel at the time.

Now Barnoach-Matalon - who encouraged Rachel Dayan, the widow of the 1973 defense minister, to talk - reveals that Elazar was lying. The revelation should be read in connection with the dispute between Dayan and Elazar, after Yom Kippur and the Agranat Commission report, about the extent of their responsibility for the situation of the IDF. Dayan remembered to emphasize that he didn't want Elazar as chief of staff; he preferred Yeshayahu Gavish, but then prime minister Golda Meir and Galili, Yigal Alon, Haim Bar-Lev and other friends from the Palmah (the pre-state elite commando unit, which Elazar and Gavish had been members) forced him to appoint Elazar, who quickly put the minister in his place, outside the chain of command.

An IDF investigation determines that "the defense minister was not a partner to the decisions" to bring down the Libyan plane. At the press conference, when Elazar was asked whether he shouldn't have consulted with the political leadership, he replied: "During those remaining moments you have to decide, there's no time to transfer the problem to a higher echelon, and in my opinion there is no need to do so either. At issue were defensive measures that are the job of the IDF and for which I have the authority." Dayan added that "during the operation by the IDF planes they did not contact us" - neither him nor Golda.

But Rachel Dayan told Barnoach-Matalon that "Dado phoned Moshe and told him that they wanted to intercept the plane. Moshe asked him, 'Dado, have you already intercepted it or do you want an order to do so?' Dado said: 'We've already intercepted it.'" If that is true, then Dayan did not lie. The army did not contact him "during the operation by the planes," but only afterward. Barnoach-Matalon claims the chief of staff "dared to try to incriminate the defense minister." She wonders how Ben-Gurion would have reacted in a similar situation. He might have ousted Dado, but he also might have forgiven him, "as he forgave Ariel Sharon in the past for his lies."

Fares, Tamir and any of their colleagues who are now afraid that their lies will be exposed can relax: They didn't invent anything new. In fact, it is quite possible to lie and still advance to the rank of general or even lieutenant general.