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How G-d protects His Chosen Israel

By Tuvia Brodie
6/2/2014, 10:06 AM

Here’s a pre-Shavuot story from Israel. It’s about Britain. It’s about how the British offered to help Israel in 1948.

You can interpret this story one of two ways. You can say it’s the tale of a coincidence. Or, you can say it’s an example of how G-d protects the nation he chose at Sinai.

According to this story (Ron Ben-Yishai, “Nazi Enigma encryption machine may have been used by Britain to spy on Israel”, Ynet Magazine, May 31, 2014), the British government decided in the years after World War Two to give away captured German Enigma code machines. These machines were devilishly clever. The messages they created could only be decoded by another Enigma whose inner machinery had been pre-aligned to receive that message.  

During the early years of WW2, the allies could not break codes sent by these machines. The Germans considered the Enigmas to be unbreakable.

Until the British captured code books (they had already received a secretly-stolen machine), German war-messages were impenetrable. Ultimately, under the supervision of a brilliant mathematician named Alan Touring, the British penetrated the Enigma’s secrets.

The British began to read Nazi messages. The tides of war turned.

After the war, England offered these machines to others, including Israel. There was just one problem: no one in Britain told the Israelis that the British could read any code typed by the Enigma. In 1948, that capability was still a state secret.

The revelation of such an underhanded use of the Enigma machines after World War Two appears to be new. It seems to have popped up after Edward Snowden began leaking classified documents in June 2013.  

For example, according to a report dated a month after the Snowden leaks began (“ENIGMA: The Latest NSA Encryption Challenge”, July, 2013, 21st Century.com), both Britain and the United States (after World War Two) made presents of captured German Enigma machines to friendly governments --but never mentioned that the messages encoded on those machines were readable by the US and Britain (ibid).

Earlier this year, The Guardian of England reported a similar tale, with an added detail.  First, it characterized the Enigma ‘offer’ as ‘kleptography’ (stealing foreign messages). Then it added that, in 1948, the British had sent to the Israel Defense Forces ‘lightly modified Enigmas with Hebrew keyboards’.

Wasn’t that nice of them?

For the British, offering Israel Enigma machines with Hebrew keyboards was a wonderful idea. It offered the Israelis a language-friendly code machine that had a reputation for being fool-proof.  It provided the British a way to listen in secret to Israel’s coded message-traffic.

The Israelis had heard about the brilliance of the machine. But, like everyone else, they hadn’t heard that the British had broken the machine’s code-making capability. Those who worked on the machine had been sworn to keep their secrets for at least 20 years. Enigma’s secrets remained hidden until the 1970’s.

In 1948, Israel knew nothing of Britain’s Enigma capability. They happily accepted some 30 machines. They seemed eager to use them.

But while it appears that Britain was about to start reading Israel’s coded messages, that didn’t happen. If last week’s Ynet tale is true, this story takes a sharp turn almost immediately upon the Enigma’s arrival in Israel. The machines were never used—because of a ‘coincidence’.

You see, at about the time the Enigma machines were arriving in Israel, a man in Britain made a very private—and unrelated--decision. He decided to move to Israel—to make aliyah.

He didn’t know the Enigmas had come to Israel. But he was a mathematician. He knew about the Enigma. He  knew its British secret.

But, like all of his peers who knew of the machines, he was sworn to remain loyal to the British government. He was sworn to silence.

Perfectly British, he would never declare that the Enigma gift wasn’t as fool-proof as it appeared. He would never explain how this gift, while attractive, hid a secret that might harm Israel.  

Instead, when he was told that the British had gifted the Enigmas to Israel, he asked a simple question. He said, ‘Have you ever heard of the Trojan horse?’

Fortunately—or, perhaps, coincidentally--the person he said this to understood his meaning. Prime Minister Ben Gurion heard about it. The machines never made it into service.

So here’s a test: was this man’s arrival in Israel a coincidence? Or, was it an act of G-d?

Perhaps the man just showed up—and Israel got lucky. Or, perhaps G-d inspired this particular man to make aliyah (emigration to Israel) at just this moment, so that he (the man) would find himself in the exactly right spot at exactly the right time with exactly the right knowledge, so that his simple question would protect G-d’s beloved Chosen.

Happy Shavuot.