The Lavon Affair

Date: 
Friday, July 2, 1954
Country: 
Egypt

In 1954, Israeli agents working in Egypt planted bombs in several buildings, including a United States diplomatic facility, and left evidence behind implicating Egyptian Muslims as the culprits. The ruse would have worked, had not one of the bombs detonated prematurely, allowing the Egyptians to capture and identify one of the bombers, which in turn led to the round up of an Israeli spy ring.

Some of the spies were from Israel, while others were recruited from the local Jewish population. Israel responded to the scandal with claims in the media that there was no spy ring, that it was all a hoax perpetrated by "anti-Semites".

 

Honorable Chairman, members of the Knesset. The trial that started two days ago in Egypt against 13 Jews is disturbing everybody and brings about an emotional turmoil and deep bitterness in the country [Israel] and in the whole Jewish world. Indeed, it must cause concern and anxiety in the hearts of all justice-seeking people around the universe. The Committee for Foreign Affairs and Security has alreadv dealt and will further deal with this serious issue. But at this stage I feel obliged to make a short announcement. In my speech in the Knesset on November 15 1 said "The uncontrolled behavior of' Egypt . . . does not indicate . . . that its leadership . . . is seeking moderate approaches and peace. How far Egypt is from this spirit [of moderation and peace] can be learned from the plot woven in Alexandria, the show-trial which is being organized there against a group of Jews who became victims of false accusations of espionage, and who, it seems, are being threatened and tortured in order to extract from them confessions in imaginary crimes." This gloomy assumption was verified and was revealed to be a cruel and shocking fact, by the declaration of the accused Victorin Ninyo in the military court in Cairo that was published this morning. [According to this declaration] she was tortured during the interrogation which preceded the trial and by that torture they extracted from her false confessions to crimes which did not happen. The government of Israel strongly protests this practice, which revives in the Middle East the methods used by the Inquisition in the Middle Ages. The government of Israel strongly rejects the false accusations of the general Egyptian prosecution, which relegates to the Israeli authorities horrible deeds and diabolic conspiracies against the security and the international relations of Egypt. From this stand we have protested many times in the past persecution and false accusations of Jews in various countries. We see in the innocent Jews accused by the Egyptian authorities of such severe crimes, victims of vicious hostility to the State of Israel and the Jewish people. If their crime is being Zionist and devoted to Israel, millions of Jews around the world share this crime. We do not think that the rulers of Egypt should be interested in being responsible for shedding Jewish blood. We call upon all those who believe in peace, stability and human relations among nations to prevent fatal injustice.

But as the public trial progressed, it was evident that Israel had indeed been behind the bombing. Eventually, Israeli's Defense Minister Pinhas Lavon was brought down by the scandal, although it appears that he was himself the victim of a frame-up by the real authors of the bombing project, code named "Operation Susannah."

It is therefore a fact that Israel has a prior history of setting off bombs with the intent to blame Arabs for them.

In July, 1954, an Israeli terrorist cell was activated inside Egypt. The ensuing attacks, cleverly designed to look like the work of Arabs, blasted and torched American and British targets. First, the Israeli terrorists firebombed the Alexandria Post Office. Then, they firebombed the US Information Agency libraries: one in Alexandria, and one in Cairo. Then, they firebombed a British-owned Metro-Goldwyn Mayer theatre, a railway terminal, the central post office, and a couple more theatres..._To smuggle their bombs inside the buildings, the terrorists used devices shaped like books, hiding them inside book covers. Once inside, bags filled with acid were placed on top of the nitroglycerin bombs. After several hours, the acid ate through the bags and ignited the nitroglycerin, causing explosions and blazing infernos.

In the early 1950s, the United States was making fast friends with Egypt, taking advantage of the new pan-Arab Egyptian government of Gamal Abdel Nasser. The warming relationship between the US and Egypt caused a very insecure Israel to feel threatened. Nassar also had plans to nationalize the Suez Canal, which had been controlled by the British for decades. Egypt had been known to blockade Israeli shipping through the canal and Israel feared Nassar would make a blockade permanent._After US President Eisenhower began encouraging the British to leave the Suez Canal Zone, Israel started looking for a way to make the British stay, and a way to remain best buddies with America. And what better way to treat your best friend than to stab them in the back and tell them one of your other friends did it?

David Ben Gurion, Israel's founding prime minister, thought that Egyptian terrorist attacks against Americans would be a perfect way to cool the growing US/Egypt relationship. Since there were no Egyptians planning attacks against Americans, Ben Gurion's protégés did the next best thing: they recruited Israeli agents to pretend to be Egyptian terrorists._The top-secret Israeli terrorist cell, Unit 131, had existed since 1948. In 1950, Israel's Directorate of Military Intelligence Aman was created and Israel sent an undercover agent, Colonel Avraham Dar (alias: John Darling, British citizen of the island of Gibraltar), to recruit more members to Unit 131. He also trained them in how to build bombs and terrify Americans and British civilians working and living in Egypt._Before the terrorist cell was activated, another Israeli agent named Avraham (Avraham Seidenberg) was sent to take control from Avraham Dar. Seidenberg first went to Germany to establish an alias: he assumed the identy of Paul Frank, a former SS officer, complete with underground Nazi connections. By 1954, his new identity was in place and he went to Egypt to take command of Unit 131. Everything was going well for the Israeli terrorists it seemed. But, there was one thing the members of Unit 131 didn't know: their terrorist sleeper cell had itself been infiltrated by the Egyptian intelligence service. The new Unit 131 leader, Seidenberg, had betrayed them to the Egyptians. So, when Unit 131 member Philip Nathanson made his way to bomb the British-owned Rio theatre in Alexandria, not only was he being followed, the Egyptian intelligence service had a fire engine waiting to put out the flames. As Nathanson stood in the ticket line, his bad luck turned worse when one of the bombs in his pocket ignited and then exploded. Nathanson was burned but not killed. As nearby pedestrians shouted warnings and wondered if he was a suicide bomber, Egyptian policemen stepped in, calmed the crowd, and identified Nathanson as one of the terrorists who had been blowing up American and British buildings._Nathanson was interrogated by Egypt's military intelligence and confessed the whole plot, which led to more arrests. When the Israeli spies were given a public trail, all the details of their terrorist training in Israel came to light._Former Israeli Prime Minister Ben Gurion and Israel's Aman chief, Binyamin Gibli, tried to frame their own Defense Minister Pinhas Lavon. They even offered forged documents as proof. The frame-up worked for a while, so much so that the entire incident is still popularly known as the Lavon Affair. Lavon resigned and Ben Gurion came out of political retirement to replace him as Israel's Defense Minister. However, the truth did finally emerge. In 1960, a review of the inquiry discovered the fake documents, as well as perjury by Seidenberg. A committee of seven Cabinet members cleared Lavon. Although Ben Gurion never admitted fault, he did resign his post as Defense Minister.