The unsolved murder of an Israeli attache 38 years ago may be tied up with what Israel knew, or didn't know, about the impending Yom Kippur War.
Although nearly four decades have passed since the murder of Joe Alon, it's far from a “cold case,” with the dramatic story resulting in a book and a documentary, in just the past year – focusing on the possibility of Alon's being the victim of a conspiracy, because he “knew something” about why thousands of Israeli soldiers were killed in the Yom Kippur War.
Alon, who was a fighter pilot during the War of Independence, was a war hero who completed 75 missions. When Israeli formed its first Mirage fighter jet squadron, Alon was assigned its commander.
In 1970, then a colonel, Alon was chosen to be the assistant air and naval attache at Israel's Washington, D.C. Embassy. Installed in what should have been a three year assignment, Alon advocated strongly on Israeli arms procurement, especially regarding the F-4 Phantom.
As such, says Fred Burton, author of “Chasing Shadows: A Special Agent's Lifelong Hunt to Bring a Cold War Assassin to Justice,” about the murder, Alon would have been privy to all sorts of information.
According to recently revealed documents, Burton said in a recent interview, Alon may well have been a Mossad agent – and was shadowed by a host of international groups, from the CIA to Israeli intelligence, to Arab terrorist group Black September, which took responsibility for the murder.
Alon was killed on the night of June 30, 1973, when he and his wife Devora returned from a dinner party organized for a departing embassy staffer. Devora exited the vehicle and walked a few dozen feet to their porch while Alon gathered up his sports jacket on the back seat. At that moment, Alon was shot five times by a foreign-made .38-caliber revolver, one shot fatally hitting his heart.
Devora rushed inside and called the police, seeing only a light-colored car drive away, and then returned to the front yard and attempted with her 18-year-old daughter Dalia to stem Alon's bleeding with towels. At 1:27 am, Alon died at the hospital.
Burton was 16 when Alon was killed in Bethesda, Maryland – where Burton lived next door to the Alons. He was shocked at the event, and later, as vice-president of the private global intelligence agency Stratfor, he decided that he needed to know the truth about Alon's murder.
Besides working for Stratfor, Burton is also former deputy chief of the counterterrorism division of the U.S. State Department's Diplomatic Security Service.
“This was a political assassination, the kind of case that I would have extensive files about. But we later discovered that the FBI destroyed all the evidence in the case,” later closing it – for lack of evidence, says Burton. “How does evidence of a political assassination get destroyed three years after the event – after all, the FBI keeps evidence back from the days of Al Capone.”
That, in and of itself, he feels, is a clear indication that “something” was amiss.
That “something”, Burton claims, was the likelihood that Alon was about to “spill the beans” about what Burton believes to be one of the biggest secrets in Israeli history – a possible “deal” between Israel and the U.S. to allow the Arabs to attack first in an upcoming war, in order, Burton says, to test the efficacy of American weapons versus what the Soviets had supplied Arab countries.
Rumors to the effect that such a deal existed have circulated in Israel for years; proponents of the theory say that it was clear that Israel had enough information about movements of Egyptian and Syrian soldiers to know that war was imminent, and yet chose to ignore that information, refusing to strike preemtively.
As a result, Israel suffered heavy losses in the first days of the war, "nearly losing the country," says Burton.
There are several theories that have been set forth to explain Israel's lack of preparation for the war, from misreading intelligence, to an erroneous "conception" that Egypt would not strike alone, a double agent's misinformation and Henry Kissinger's threats to withhold American arms if Israel strikes (the latter jives with Burton's theories and is accepted as the truth in Israel).
Burton, however, bases this belief on information supplied to him by Alon's wife Devora, who told Burton of experiences that he believes are part of a classical counterintelligence operation.
“She received strange phone calls, what are called 'ruse calls,' to see if they were home,” as well as “wrong numbers” from people speaking Hebrew - a very unlikely scenario in Maryland, long before the internet made it easy to find people, says Burton. “There was a strange visitor from the phone company' who wanted to get into the basement to do work that could easily have been done from the street.”
The FBI opened an investigation into the murder, but a rather halfhearted one, says Burton. Meanwhile, Henry Kissinger – who, he believes, worked out the deal whereby Israel would let the Arabs attack first with then Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan – took what Burton said was an unusually active interest in the investigation. “
"Kissinger requested daily upates on the investigation. I can't recall another example of such a high level official being so involved in a murder investigation like this,” said Burton, adding that the fact that Alon's body was sent home for burial in the Vice-President's plane. “I couldn't find another example of that plane for such a purpose. This set off some bells in my head,” he said.
In the end, the FBI theorized that Alon was killed by a Black September agent, although the case officially remains unsolved. In the end, it appears that it really was a Black September agent who pulled the trigger (Burton believes that the Mossad eliminated Alon's murderer earlier this year).
But, he asks in his book, just what was a Black September operative doing in Maryland? That is another mystery that remains unsolved, since it was the one and only time that the terror group carried out an operation like that in the U.S.
Was the terrorist recruited by one of the interested parties to “shut Alon up?” It's not clear, but Devora and her daughter received generous “hints” of their own on why Joe was killed from some of the elites of Israel's political and military establishment, according to Rachel Alon-Margalit in the documentary film “Who Killed My Father?”
Rachel tells of a conversation her mother had with former President Ezer Weizmann, who, when Devora asked for his help after years of stonewalling by Israeli officials whenever she asked for information about the investigation, said “Devora, I can't tell you anything. If I open my mouth there will be an earthquake. Go home and take care of your daughters.”
Other officials left Devora with a similar feeling - that Joe had stumbled onto a great truth that he was somehow not supposed to know, and that this information may well have gotten him killed, according to the documentary.
While the truth about Alon's murder may never really be known, Rachel makes a convincing case that there is much more to the story than meets the eye.