IDF’s Palestinian Manchurian Candidate Targeted Arafat
I’m about to tell you a story that you will not believe. The stupidity, self-delusion, and sheer ineptitude displayed by those who approved this IDF intelligence mission simply beggar belief. Lest anyone doubt the truth of the story, it comes directly from a 2012 memoir published by a veteran of Israeli military intelligence, someone with impeccable credentials and a hero to the nation, Rafi Sutton. Sutton is 82 years old. More on him later. But here’s the story:
In 1968, the Six Day War had just ended. Israel had conquered the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan. Relations with Jordan were extremely tense. The PLO had begun to use Jordan both as a refuge and forward operating base against Israel. This would eventually lead to Black September in 1970, in which King Hussein liquidated the PLO presence killing thousands of Palestinians. But back in 1968, that was still in the future.
Israeli intelligence sought to attack and degrade the PLO wherever possible. Which led to a cockamamie plan developed by a senior IDF officer and approved all the way up to the Aman chief, Aharon Yariv. According to Sutton, the officer planned to choose a PLO prisoner, train him to carry out an assassination of a target Sutton inside Jordan. It would be Sutton’s job to provide logistical support and get the hit man across the border with the necessary equipment to carry out the operation.
But here’s the kicker: Aman was worried about how it would deal with the aftermath. What happened once the assassin was caught and he spilled the beans to PLO or Jordanian intelligence? Israel didn’t want Jordan to be able trace the operation back to the IDF. So the genius who devised this plan decided to hypnotize (you read that right) the would-be killer so that once he was captured he wouldn’t remember anything of how he got there, who sent him, etc. If the killer’s mind was wiped clean, Israel would be off the hook.
A well-placed Israeli source has added some crucial detail that wasn’t included in Sutton’s own autobiography. The officer who concocted this bizarre plan was the Israeli Navy’s chief psychologist, Maj. Binyamin Shalit. Shalit later brought a groundbreaking case demanding his children be considered Jewish though his wife was not Jewish and he an atheist.
Israel’s target was none other than Yaser Arafat himself. This may be the first time Israel attempted to murder Arafat (but it certainly wouldn’t be the last).
If you think that’s the end of this sorry caper, you’re mistaken: Sutton carried out his portion of the plan. The Palestinian crossed into Jordan. But instead of making his way to the victim and carrying out his job, he went straight to the nearest Jordanian police station, asked to speak with the nearest PLO liaison, gave up his gun to the Jordanian officer on duty in the station, and promptly spilled the beans on the entire operation.
Naturally, this further inflamed relations with Jordan and gave Aman a tremendous black eye.
Decades later, Sutton met Yariv in Heathrow Airport, where they both awaited a connecting flight to Israel. Sutton had genuine affection for his former commander. But his curiosity about this Keystone caper and how it was approved, got the better of him. He asked how the operation came to be and whether the commander had any second-thoughts. This was how he replied:
Ahareleh [Yariv] signed deeply two or three times and said: “My dear Leon [the nickname Yariv had for Sutton], even great and wise men, and I don’t count myself as either great or wise, make mistakes in the course of their lives and in the course of their work. The years following allow us to allay our pain and learn lesson [from our mistakes].”
Ahareleh’s answer was a pleasant embroidery of words which attested to the the error [he made] and his personal accounting for it.
This incredible adventure attests to the fact that Israeli intelligence, despite its noted successes such as capturing Eichmann, had its share of bizarre, catastrophic failures. These failures were almost always rooted in a sense of hubris, and sometimes an enormous amount of ignorance (in this case, concerning the nature of hypnosis). They show a lack of oversight and skepticism that is always advisable in an intelligence context. It was true in 1968 and remains true today.
To be fair, Aman isn’t the only national intelligence service which engaged in cockamamie operations over the years: note the CIA’s 1950s dabbling in LSD, which led one subject to commit suicide; and the exploding cigars which failed to assassinate Fidel Castro.
Interesting to note that the Israeli Intelligence Heritage Center (yes, there is such a thing) published Yariv’s biography a year after Sutton’s was published. Not a word about this episode. I smell a conspiracy by the Israeli intelligence establishment to clean its dirty laundry. Few are the “heroes” willing to bare all to tell the truth about their life. Those who do are both courageous and doing a good deed both for historians and their fellow citizens. Those who don’t are flattering their egos and protecting their legacy. I don’t protect legacies. I expose them so that the truth is known.
Sutton is an interesting figure in his own right as this 1982 JTA story, about his reunion with his childhood synagogue in Lebanon during the 1982 War, attests. Here is another Hebrew biography by the IDF veterans association.
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“These failures were almost always rooted in a sense of hubris …”
That hubris was particularly high in that period, the first five years after the Six Day War reaching a crescendo until the Yom Kippur War threw cold water over it. So said Abba Eban in a 1976 interview with Avi Shlaim (belatedly published in Israel Studies 2003 Vol.8 No.1):
“The rhetoric of 1973 is almost inconceivable, with Ariel Sharon saying that we could capture everything from Tunis and Iran between Turkey and the Sudan; Dayan saying that, for the next ten years, the issue was not peace, but to draw a new map, because, in the next ten years, there would be neither peace nor war; Itzhak Rabin’s statement in 1973 that Golda had better boundaries than King David and King Solomon had had … So that it is really how opinion passed from sobriety to self-confidence, and from self-confidence to fantasy, reaching a somewhat absurd level in 1973 … ”
@ Arie Brand: Yes, and this omitted one other amazing bit of hubris: Sadat reached out to Golda before ’73 & offered the same peace deal Begin accepted from him only 4 yrs later. Golda ignored Sadat. Had she not, 3,000 Israeli boys & their descendants would be alive today.
I’m afraid you got it backwards. Golda Meir offered peace to Sadat in 1973, and that offer was rejected by Sadat.
@ Fred: Sadat offered full peace in return for ALL of Sinai. Golda offered “some” of Sinai. In 1979, Sadat got all of Sinai back.
Richard is of course completely right in asserting that Sadat made peace overtures to Meir and that Golda Meir roundly rebuffed these. The University of Haifa historian Yigal Kipnis, who wrote a book about this period, said in the Los Angeles Times of 10th Oct.2013:
“Maale Gamla, Israel — Was the Yom Kippur War, which began 40 years ago this month, inevitable? Documents newly released from the Israeli state archives and their integration with American archival material suggest that it wasn’t. The records show that in the months leading up to the conflict, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, who presented herself as a tireless seeker of peace, was resolute in rebuffing the many peace overtures sent her way by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.”
So great was Israel’s hubris, that they tried to give back Sinai and Golan in 1967. So great was Israel’s hubris, that they tried to give the West Bank’s Arab’s their autonomy, and their own ‘statelet’ in 1967.
Palestine is interested in neither “autonomy” nor a Bantustan “statelet.” A genuine state will do quite nicely, thank you.
Black Canary we are dealing here with an old myth that was shot down long sago by the Israeli historian Avi Shlaim. I put relevant archivalia online myself in reaction to the following statement by an opponent:
X wrote: “On June 19 1967, the Israeli unity government issued a statement declaring it would ‘return the Golan Heights to Syria, Sinai to Egypt and most of the West Bank to Jordan, in return for peace treaties with its Arab neighbours, normalization of relations and guarantee of navigation through the Straits of Tiran’. …Heads of eight Arab states held a summit at Khartoum Sudan on 29 August-1 September 1967, and issued the Khartoum Declaration.”
The Khartoum Declaration, one will recall, contained the famous ‘three no’s”: no peace, no negotiations and no recognition.
Thus we have here a picture of Israel holding out publicly the olive branch to obstinate Arab nations and being rudely rebuffed by them.
I have argued before, and will argue again, that this juxtaposition provides a caricature of the situation – a caricature that hasn’t survived the opening up of the relevant archives, except for those who have a vested interest in the myth around it.
The Israeli cabinet did not ‘issue a statement’ on the 19th of June. The decision of that day was taken in the deepest secrecy (even Rabin, not a member of cabinet at the time, did not know about it), did not concern the West Bank, did not result in an ‘offer’ to the Arab states and was soon a historical artefact anyway because the Israeli cabinet changed its mind several times and had made its own decision undone well before Khartoum. Barely a month after that decision was made politicians approved plans for building settlements on the Golan Heights. Before that Jerusalem had been ‘unified’ in the teeth of strong opposition from the Americans (the Israelis argued, with a fine feeling for semantic subtleties, that ‘unification’ was not the same as ‘annexation’). Mid August far reaching plans for the settlement of the West Bank had been adopted.
Thus Shlaim argues that the decision of the 19th of June had become a ‘dead letter’ well before Khartoum. Those who maintain that the Israeli cabinet only reversed its policy after Khartoum have but a scintilla of formal truth on their side in the fact that the precarious decision (taken with a majority of one vote) of 19th June was finally formally buried in October.
Recently I went through the documents in the online archive of the U.S. Department of State, now open to public inspection on the basis of the 30-year rule. I specifically looked at the material from the period between the date of that ‘announcement’ that never was and the beginning of the Khartoum Conference (thus from around the twentieth June 1967 until the end of August of that year). I intended to put the most relevant documents in this series of posts but they came to seventy pages. I have thus removed the lengthy archivalia on the consultations with the Russians and have only retained the in my view most telling fragments of the rest. The documents follow here below (there is as far as I know no copyright on it and there are only fragments here anyway).
They completely confirm the picture Shlaim gave of the situation which is not astonishing because he went through the same documents (plus other archives of course – specifically the Israeli archives that are, as far as I know, not online).
Shlaim is completely right in asserting that there never was an offer to Syria and Egypt for Israel to withdraw to the international boundary. The relevant document is the first one in the series that follows. As one can see Eban was, in relation to the June 19 decision by the Israeli Cabinet, not talking to the Americans about an ‘offer’ at all – he spoke of ‘tentative conclusions’ and the then U.S.Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, referred to Eban’s statements as ‘preliminary thoughts’. It is also completely clear that the Americans were not asked to convey these ‘preliminary thoughts’ to Syria and Egypt. If that had been the case there would have been a memorandum of some sort about it, plus information on the reaction of these two Arab countries. There is nothing at all.
This explains also the following statement by Rusk in his memoirs entitled “As I Saw It”
“For twenty years, since the creation of Israel, the United States had tried to persuade the Arabs that they needn’t fear Israeli territorial expansion. Throughout the sixties the Arabs talked continuously about their fear of Israeli expansion. With the full knowledge of successive governments in Israel, we did our utmost to persuade the Arabs that their anxieties were illusory. ”And then following the Six Day War, Israel decided to keep the Golan heights, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Sinai, despite the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol on the first day of the war went on Israeli radio and said that Israel had no territorial ambitions. Later in the summer I reminded Abba Eban of this, and he simply shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘We’ve changed our minds’. With that remark, a contentious and even bitter point with the Americans, he turned the United States into a twenty-year liar.”
I think Eban would have reacted differently if he could have reminded Rusk of a peace offer along the lines of the June 19 decision.
One explanation I have for Eban’s pertinent assertion that such an offer was made is the one he himself offered to Lord Caradon, when this diplomat told him what the international understanding was about Resolution 242. Eban surmised that Caradon’s recollection ‘had dimmed with the passage of time’.
It should also be kept in mind that the Israeli cabinet veered at that time in quite a few different directions (though they all seemed to lead to a hardening of its stance) and Eban’s recollection might not only have dimmed but also have gotten a bit mixed up. The possibility that he himself got caught up in the myth about ‘the olive branch and Khartoum” can also not be excluded.
Whatever the case may be, there was no ‘offer’(I will not comment on X’’s laughable suggestion that, pre 19th June, diplomacy was conducted via the BBC).
Israeli changeability in that period was partly due to the influence of General Dayan who, according to Oren had, together with Rabin (who, however, was not a member of cabinet), been turned into a public icon by the war.
“ “ I’m waiting for the phone to ring”, Dayan was widely quoted as saying, implying that Israel would be willing to return territories if the Arabs came forward for talks. But in the Cabinet debate on the June 19 resolution, Dayan argued that there was no use discussing the terms for peace since the Arabs would never accept Israel. He protested the decision, saying, “We cannot withdraw from Sinai and the Golan on the basis of a single vote … “ Six weeks after the end of the Six-Day war, according to the British Embassy’s count, Dayan voiced no less than six different opinions on peace.” (2002, p.315/316).”
And Shlaim wrote in his review of Oren’s book: “Defence minister Moshe Dayan was a law unto himself. … The resounding military victory over which Dayan presided greatly enhanced his political power at home, and he used this power to impose his muddled and myopic ideas on the wavering cabinet. In the country of the blind, the on-eyed man was king.”
I have put the relevant bits of online archivaiia in the US State Department here:
(at the end of p.4 of the posts in that thread)
The notion that Israel held on to a land-for-peace formula until ‘the three noes of Khartoum’, with its implied suggestion that in return for peace agreements it was willing to return to the pre 4th of June borders – that, at any case, already gave Israel 26% more of the 1947 territory than it had been allocated by the UN – is a myth. It is one of the many myths about this conflict that have been built up over the years and that are hard to dislodge because of the pervasiveness of pro-Israel apologetics.
If on the 19th of June 1967 the Israeli cabinet showed willingness to return to the pre-war borders, at any case as far as Egypt and Syria were concerned, it is clear that by the end of August and BEFORE KHARTOUM this willingness had disappeared. The talk was then of ‘secure borders’ not the ‘international boundaries’.
It is also clear that the Israeli cabinet reacted negatively to the overtures of Hussein that were received on the basis of the strategy sketched by Avneri viz ‘there is nothing new here’ and ‘this is not serious’. But what really blocked those attempts at peace was Israeli unwillingness to make the annexation of East Jerusalem undone and to give up settlement plans for the West Bank. It was Israel that was not serious about peace with Hussein.
And in the Israeli cabinet even the doves grew gradually more hawkish.
Elon mentions in his dispatch of December 1967 I have referred to earlier (it is included in his book “‘A Blood-Dimmed Tide”) that “even as moderate a man as Foreign Minister Abba Eban said that any peace conference would serve first to negotiate a ‘new map’ of the area. Israel must not withdraw to what he called its former ‘Auschwitz borders’ “ (whatever that may mean).
The intellectual elite, that usually sees critique of the powers that be as one of its main tasks, now shared this hawkish mood, even to the extent that professional hawks became worried. Elon refers to a statement by one senior army officer who said; “They frighten me, these intellectuals and poets …It is strange: if I were intoxicated with victory, that would be bad but natural. But they…?”
Voices of moderation were few and far between but they were there. Elon quotes Professor JL Talmon of the Hebrew University who wrote “The example of other nations fills me with the fear of lurking dangers to the moral texture, mental balance and spiritual values of a master race.” The statement is a bit obscure (‘and spiritual values’ should presumably be ‘from the spiritual values’) but nevertheless prophetic…
And what about Khartoum? Was it really a manifestation of complete Arab obstinacy and determination to see Israel wiped off the map? To take one’s cue here from the public broadcasts of the time is to confuse demagogics with diplomacy.
Two Israeli historians who have dealt in detail with this period, Avi Shlaim and Michael Oren, are too professional to fall into this trap. Michael Oren wrote:
“Western observers would later debate whether Khartoum was a victory for Arab moderation or radicalism. True, it vetoed any interaction with Israel, but it appeared to open doors to third party arbitration and the demilitarization of the occupied territories.”
Oren also said: “For the Israeli’s the ‘three no’s’ of Khartoum effectively closed the door on the June 19 resolution”. A shade of the old myth here. Perhaps there is for Oren a difference between merely closing a door and ‘effectively’ closing it.
Shlaim, who is generally more critical of Israel than Oren, wrote about Khartoum:
“The conference ended with the adoption of the famous three noes of Khartoum: no recognition, no negotiation, and no peace with Israel. On the face of it these declarations showed no sign of readiness for compromise, and this is how Israel interpreted them. In fact, the conference was a victory for the Arab moderates who argued for trying to obtain the withdrawal of Israel’s forces by political rather than military means. Arab spokesmen interpreted the Khartoum declarations to mean no formal peace treaty, but not a rejection of a state of peace; no direct negotiations, but not a refusal to talk through third parties, and no de jure recognition of Israel, but acceptance of its existence as a state.
“President Nasser and King Hussein set the tone at the summit and made it clear subsequently that they were prepared to go much further than ever before toward settlement with Israel.”
This is borne out by Elon who wrote five years ago:
“Peace, at least with Egypt and Jordan, we now know, was a practical possibility from as early as 1970-71 … In 1971, UN mediator Gunnar Jarring addressed partly identical notes to the governments of Israel and Egypt. He asked Egypt whether it was ready to conclude a peace treaty if Israel withdrew from occupied Egyptian territory. And he asked Israel whether it was ready to withdraw if Egypt made peace with it. Egypt’s answer was yes. Israel’s answer was no.”
Artie, it is annoying when the comment is longer than the original post?
What is your point, man?
@ Fred Berry: Let me be the judge of whether a comment is too long. You concentrate on using intelligence and having something useful to say. You missed out in this comment.
Richard respect needs to be earned. Right now, your just a guy with a blog and anger issues
@ Hal: No, no, no. My credibility is confirmed. I don’t need or want your respect.
The statement by Elon, quoted at the end of the previous post, dates by now from about fourteen years ago.
Hasbarists come here attempting to spread their myths , either in good faith (in which case they are guilty of credulity) or, more often I think, in bad faith (in which case they are guilty of mendacity).
In both cases respect is not the first word that comes to mind.
So if that cap fits you, wear it.
Richard, if you are so well respected, how come Annie Robbins and Phil dont like you?
@ Benjie Seligman: I don’t measure my worth based on Phil Weiss’ opinion of me. Phil & I diverged a long time ago on our views of many things. As for Annie, I believe you’re wrong on that account. But again I don’t generally follow Mondoweiss or opinions expressed about me there. But I’ve written about my views of that blog elsewhere here which you may read.
I’m going to be interviewed on NPR’s Chicago flagship station, WBEZ on Wednesday. That’s how I measure my impact on the political conversation.
Why don’t you ask how much respect you’ve earned here?