Monday 28 February 2005

The Misunderstood Assassination of Israel's Yitzhak Rabin

by Trowbridge H. Ford

No democratic, developed country has more secretive, conspiratorial ways than the state of Israel, and they were never more in evidence than when its Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, was assassinated on November 4, 1995 after attending a "Yes to Peace, No to Víolence" rally in Jerusalem by a young, 3rd-year-law student at Bar-Ilan University, Yigal Amir. While the media portrayed the killing as the result of a right-wing fanatic, opposed to any peace settlement with the Palestinians, it was actually caused by a covert operation gone wrong, reminiscent of John Hinckley's nearly successful assassination attempt nearly 15 years earlier on President Reagan rather than the mythic 'lone assassin' theory which people in the Western world have become accustomed to when such killings occur.

The real key to understanding the murder is appreciating the close connection that Israel established with the United States during its 40-year existence. Without Washington's increasing support, the Israeli state never would have made it, given the problems the Disapora and Holocaust had caused masses of Jewish people trying to resettle in Palestine. The Truman administration's prodding of the new Labour government in Britain to give up its Palestinian Mandate was followed by the May 1948 war in which Israeli forces triumphed against all the odds over those from the weak Arab states of Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt.

While Atlee's government attributed Truman's stance of pamdering to Jewish voters - and the President did acknowledge to a group of Mid-East ambassadors that he had no Arab constituents to contend with - he was genuinely committed to the Zionist cause. To enhance Democratic chances at the polls, Truman pressed for the admission of 100,000 Jewish refugees, and called for the partition of the country. When the Mandate expired on May 16, 1948, the USA, along with the USSR, immediately recognized the new state of Israel. Still, Truman's support of the Zionist cause did not play a significant role in his re-election in November.

During the War of Independence, Rabin, a native of Palestine, was in an ideal position to take military command of the situation as the British were forced by Jewish terrorists to withdraw. Since he had helped British forces to attack Vichy ones in Lebanon during WWII, he was ideally suited by 1944 to take over command of the Palmach commando unit of the Haganah - what would become the nucleus of the Israeli Defence Force - which took the lead in ousting Arabs from key territory around Tel Aviv, and on the road to Jerusalem. While the Palmach failed to secure the Old City after the British finally departed, Rabin was still seen as the leading hero of the struggle.

The most controversial incident of Rabin's activities during the struggle for independence occurred when he prevented on June 22, 1948 a ship-load of Jewish Freedom Fighters, and munitions on the Altelena from joining up with Menachem Begin's Irgun guerrillas, who had blown up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in July 1946, fearing that it would break the agreement for the cessation of hostilities. When the ship from France landed at Klar Vitin, Rabin's forces set about seizing the 1,000 men, and confiscating the cargo, ultimately resulting in fighting during which six of them were killed. The ship then sailed on the Tel Aviv, and before the whole confrontation was settled, another 10 died.

"Later," Ben Shapiro in the article, "Exploding the Myth about Rabin," wrote: "Rabin bragged how he had 'bumped them off on the deck of the burning ship and while they were trying to swim to safety.' "

During the Suez Crisis, Rabin, as commander of the Harel Brigade, was most eager to take advantage of its incursion on October 28, 1956 into the Sinai towards the Suez Canal, but the failure of Tel Aviv, Paris, and London to clear the whole operation with Washington resulted in it all going for naught. The invaders were confident that they could force Eisenhower's hand into backing the ouster of Egypt's uppity dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser, but the American President reacted with unprecedented opposition and speed, causing all those involved, especially Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, Defence Minister Shimon Peres, and IDF chief Moshe Dayan, never to forget the lesson.

In 1964, Rabin became the IDF's Chief-of-Staff, and he planned to pay back Washington and Cairo for the humiliation he and the IDF had experienced eights years earlier - what resulted in the devastating Six-Day War three years later. This time, Israel revealed its aggression to no one, counting on the fact that it could dictate Washington's response after the fact, thanks to tight security its military-intelligence establishment was noted for, and the political influence of Jewish Americans on the beleagued Johnson administration, bogged down in Vietnam, after the deed was done. There would be no babbling by the Israeli Prime Minister and her defence establishment to Washington about what was in the works this time, as had happened with Prime Minister Anthony Eden et. al. during the Suez Crisis.

The Israeli attacks on its neighbors, starting on June 4, 1967, were masterful deceptions, fooling everyone about who was attacking who with what - making Germany's deceptions before its soldiers marched into Poland in 1939, and the CIA's ones before Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 look like the most crude attempts. The only surprise in the whole operation was the unexpected appearance of the American spy ship, USS Liberty, off El Arish on Egypt's Mediterranean coast on June 8th during the height of the struggle.

As James Bamford has described in the greatest detail in Body of Secrets, the Israelis attacked the snooper with the greatest force from sea and air for fear that it was montoring the slaughter that Rabin's forces were carrying out on shore against Egypting prisoners: "...Israeli troops killed, in cold blood, as many as 1,000 Egyptian prisoners in the Sinai, including some 400 in the sand dunes of El Arish." (p. 202) In the attempt to prevent the war crimes from coming out, the IDF killed 34 servicemen on the ship, wounded 171 more, and nearly sank the ship itself. It was only after the Israelis had failed to eradicate the mission that they admitted the attacks were a mistake, and agreed to pay measly compensation for what they had done.

To contain the damage done by the assault, Rabin was sent to Washington as its new Ambassador, and he flouted diplomatic convention by going out of his way to make friends with members of the Nixon's new Republican administration. Rabin's close relationship with NSA Henry Kissinger and DNSA Alexander Haig also came in most handy with the Syrians and the Egyptians tried to pay back Israel for the 1967 war by springing the Yom Kippur War on it in October 1972. Thanks to information NSA supplied the Israelis, though, Ariel Sharon's forces were able to beat back the Egyptian forces behind the Suez Canal, and the Syrian threat to the Sea of Galilee was stymied. When the Soviets threatened to intervene in the war, Haig forced Breznev to back down by placing American forces around the world on the highest alert short of imminient war.

In reading the former Nixon Chief of Staff's book, Inner Circles: How America Changed the World, one gets a good glimpse of just how Haig manipulated Nixon while Rabin was manipulating Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in the defense of Jordan from Syrian attacks. Little wonder that when she retired shortly thereafter, Rabin triumphed over Peres in a bitter battle for the Labor Party leadership, and succeeded her as Prime Minister. Three years later, though, Rabin's coalition government fell apart over a financial scandal, and he went into the political wilderness.

During his absence, the governments in Tel Aviv and Washington worked continuously to break down Arab opposition to Israel's existence, while trying to get Israeli voters to agree to some kind of swap of land for security. By this time, Israel had more land than it needed, and the Palestinians were becoming increasingly isolated. The Camp David Accords that President Carter negotiated between Egypt's Anwar Sadat and Begin ended this country support of an armed Palestinian struggle, though Sadat was to soon lose his life at the hands of Muslim extremists. Sharon's IDF responded by driving Yasser Arafat's PLO out of Lebanon. In 1984, Rabin joined a government of national unity, and soon thereafter he, as Minister of Defence, was obliged to suppress the first Intifada.

The trouble with a bipartisan attempt in both Tel Aviv and Washington to solve the Palestinian problem was that it was done without consulting their leaders while Iran joined the countries willing to support their increasingly fragmented leadership. Israel had long been the Shah's closest friend in the area, and his overthrow, coupled with Sadat's assassination, left Begin's government nearly surrounded by enemies, and too few resources for dealing with them. Iran's SAVAK (the National Intelligence Organization) had long done much dirty work for the Mossad and CIA, its joint creators, and they had reciprocated in kind, but their joint operations were ultimately its undoing when the young mllahs it had recruited turned on the Shah.

As a result, Israel had to increasingly do its own dirty work - what it had only seriously done before in reaction to the killing at its Olympic athletes at the Munich Games in 1972 . The Mossad had Said Hammami, the PLO's London representative, shot dead by agents of Abu Nidal's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in January 1978 when it feared that he, an Arab moderate, was attempting to negotiate a peace deal with the Israelis for Arafat. "The conflict had made little prgoress ten years later," Tony Geraghty added in The Bullet Catchers, "when Afarfat's military commander, Abu Jihad (real name, Khalil al-Wariz) was assassination with military precision at his villa near Tunis, probably by agents of Israel's secret service, Mossad." (p. 376). During the interim, Nidal terrorist group had seen to the highjacking of the Italian liner Achille Lauro, the assassination of Jewish invalid Leon Klinghoffer, and the shooting up of the airports in Rome and Vienna during the terrorist countdown to the shooting of Sweden's statsminister Olof Palme in Stockholm on February 28, 1986 - what was intended to trigger a solution to all the problems the West and Israel faced with a non-nuclear conclusion to the Cold War with the USSR.

When Rabin proved unable to crush the Intifada, and the Soviet bloc and Union collapsed in a peaceful way, Rabin geared his election campaign in 1992 to achieving a mandate for a permanent peace with the Palestinians - what Washington outsider Bill Clinton, just elected President, was most eager to achieve. Upon becoming Premier, Rabin ordered Israel's General Security Service, Shin Bet, to focus its activities on the right-wingers opposed to any settlement, and appointed close associate, Karmi Gillon, its director general, instead of the veteran and more qualified Gideon Ezra, to carry out the mission which Gillon himself had pointed out the need of. Several senior Shin Bet people quit in protest over the new mission. "This policy change resulted in the most dangerous and bitter split ever in Israeli society," Uri Dan and Dennis Eisenberg wrote in "A slanderous tongue." Rabin thought it was necessary if there was to be any hope of making the dream of peace a reality.

Once the Olso Accords had been agreed to, and Rabin, Peres, and Arafat received the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, its prospects deteriorated as suicide bombers continued to kill Israelis, and Orthodox rabbis started a most threatening campaign against Rabin's leadership. They revived two obsolete halachic precepts - the din rodef (the duty to kill Jews who imperil other Jews), and the din moser (the duty to kill Jews who threaten to turn in other Jews to non-Jewish authorities). Of course, religious law student Yigal Amir soon became acquainted with these precepts while attending Bar-Ilan University. The precepts were soon being used against Rabin who had claimed during the 1992 election campaign that he would never negotiate with Arafat - what Yossi Beilin had met the PLO's Abu Mazen in secret in May to work out the details of. Because of Rabin's actions in the Altalena Affair, right-wingers were so clamoring that he was no hero at all since he had seen to the killing to his fellow Jews, and had left others to fall into the hands of foreign authorities.

To stem the anti-Rabin tide, Gillon, it seems, hired agent proocateurs, particularly Avishai Raviv. They created hostile groups like Eyal, composed of angry settlers and right-wingers, to denounce and protest his policies in an increasingly violent way. Reminiscent of the campaign against Olof Palme, they called Rabin a traitor, and a Nazi. The protesters cursed the Premier outside his apartment in Ramat Aviv, and Eyal teenagers produced a video, calling for a military coup. When an Arab was murdered in Halhoul by persons wearing IDF uniforms, Raviv claimed that member of Eyal had done it, though, it turned out after Rabin's assassination that Arab thieves had done it. Rabin's cabinet, especially Minister of Agricultuire Ya'acov Tzur, still believed the deception, complaining bitterly when there were no arrests for the killing.

On October 5, 1995, there was a mass protest by the right-wingers at Zion Square, attended by Rabin's assassin. During the demonostration, a poster was raised on which Rabin's faced was pasted over the figure of Heinrich Himmler - what had been made originally by Raviv and Amir at a Eyal summer camp on the Kinneret. Amir responded to the sight thus: "Because of this dog, this country is going to be destroyed." When Amir noted TV cameras recording the scene, he said: "Instead of fliming, will you come to the funeral? Will you come to the funeral tomorrow?" Then, Binyamin Netanyahu to the crowd being observed by guests including Sharon: "Rabin is a dog - In blook and fire we'll drive Rabin out - will bring the government down."

Then the group marched on the Knesset during which they attacked Rabin's empty limousine without any response by security people. Then it attacked Housing Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezar in his car, threatening to kill him. Once he escaped harm, he charged after Netanyahu, exclaiming: "The settlers have gone crazy, and someone will be murdered here, if not today, then in another week or another month."

It was 30 days later, on November 4th, that Rabin was assassinated by Amir with a single shot, as he went to his limousine after addressing the peace rally, while his bodyguards once again looked helplessly on. Thanks to Gillon's deceptive campaign, as the Shamgar Commission investigating the assassination duly recorded, but was prevented from releasing the damaging details of, it was a case of 'mirror-imaging' which had completely confused his security detail about the dire threat of. The most daming evidence about a double-agent operation having gone apparently horribly wrong was the admission that Raviv had urged Amir to kill Rabin to prove his manhood - what Amir achieved after the shooting when he told police: "Do your work. I've done mine."