New documents shed light on 'Lavon Affair'

IDF archives declassify documents on 1954 false flag attack in Egypt.

Uzi Baruch, Kobi Finkler ,

Officers including Moshe Dayan (with eyepatch) and Binyamin Gibli (on right)
Officers including Moshe Dayan (with eyepatch) and Binyamin Gibli (on right)

Sixty-two years have passed since "Operation Susannah" - the notorious incident in which Israeli intelligence agents carried out a number of bombings in Egypt.

In late May 1954, Avri Elad was sent to carry out a sabotage operation in order to drive a wedge between Egypt and the Western powers. The bombings took place in Cairo and Alexandria. A third attack, however, failed and the members of the cell were arrested. Only Elad, the group's leader, escaped under suspicious circumstances.

The Egyptian authorities place the prisoners on a show trial and, in January 1955, Shmuel Azar and Dr. Moshe Marzouk were executed. The other six defendants were sentenced to extended prison sentences. One, Max Binet, committed suicide before the trial concluded.

Today (Thursday), the IDF archives declassified a number of historical documents that shed light on the affair and reveal Binyamin Gibli's fight to clear his name.

Many years after Operation Susannah, the question of "who gave the order" still echoes. Gibli, who headed the Military Intelligence Branch, and then-Defense Minister Pinhas Lavon each accused the other of being responsible. Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan tried to stay as far away from the story as possible.

In several letters, Gibli demanded that the IDF appoint an investigatory committee to clear his name and allow him to continue his military career. When his request was not granted, though, Gibli chose to resign.

The declassified documents also show the alibi that Moshe Dayan used to deny any connection to the affair. "When I returned from the United States I found that the unit had been activated... This was the Defense Minister's instruction to the head of Military Intelligence," he wrote.

In a closed General Staff discussion shortly after the cell's trial began, classified as Top Secret, Dayan commented on the affair by saying, "Before doing anything we need to consider that the operation could be revealed."

The Defense Ministry has also permitted the publication of a letter from Chief of Staff Haim Laskov (who replaced Dayan) to the Defense Minister, about whether Colonel Binyamin Gibli should receive a promotion during the course of the proceedings. "Colonel Gibli has a bad name in the IDF and until it is cleaned by the facts and by work, it will be an obstacle on his way up in the ranks," he wrote.

"An investigation is underway in the Elad Affair (named after Avri Elad), and I cannot recommend promoting him until it is clear that Colonel Gibli is clear of what is attributed to him."

Two other documents deal with Gibli's demand for an investigatory committee. In one, he wrote to the Chief of Staff: "I said and here repeat that the instructions to carry out the operation were given by me according to the stipulations from the then-Defense Minister... I ask that my standing in the IDF not be hurt until the issue can be cleared up."

The second letter was sent to the Defense Minister and included the sentence, "I must ensure you that I will remain utterly faithful to the security establishment through all of my future concerns and efforts to clear my name and I will not besmirch its good name."