Binyamin Gibli, Lavon Affair figure, dies at 89

Man believed to be behind Operation Suzannah to bomb targets in Egypt passes on in TA.

binyamin gibli 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
binyamin gibli 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Former IDF Military Intelligence chief and co-architect of the Lavon Affair Binyamin Gibli died in Tel Aviv on Wednesday at the age of 89. In 1954, Col. Gibli was thought by some to set into motion Operation Suzannah, which used nine Egyptian-Jewish undercover agents, members of Unit 131, to bomb British and American targets in Egypt in an effort to reverse Britain's decision to withdraw from the Suez Canal. It was hoped that the attacks would turn the United States and Britain against Egyptian revolutionary leader (and future president) Gamal Abdul Nasser and wreck his decision to nationalize the Suez canal. In July 1954, post offices in Egypt were bombed, as were an American library, a British-owned cinema and a train station. The operation ended in failure when Egyptian security forces uncovered the unit - some believe it was betrayed by an informer - and arrested the members of Unit 131. One operative was killed in prison, two more were hanged, and others received lengthy prison service. In the political firestorm which followed, Gilbi accused Defense Minister Pinchas Lavon of ordering the bombings, a charge denied by Lavon, who blamed Shimon Peres, then director-general of the Defense Ministry. Prime minister Moshe Sharrett, who is not believed to have known about the operation, ordered a commission of inquiry made up of a Supreme Court justice and the IDF's first chief of General Staff, Yaakov Dori, which produced inconclusive results. Lavon wound up resigning from office, but the scandal continued to rage, tearing apart the ruling Mapai Party, the predecessor of today's Labor Party. David Ben-Gurion, who returned to the Prime Minister's Office after Sharrett's resignation in 1955, ordered a new committee of inquiry that found that Lavon did not approve Operation Suzannah. Ben-Gurion, who believed Lavon was responsible, quit his post as defense minister in protest. The Lavon-Ben Gurion split divided Mapai, with the party's Left siding with Lavon, and the rightist stream backing Ben-Gurion and Peres. Col. Avraham Dar, an Israeli intelligence officer who had immigrated to Israel from Britain, traveled to Egypt to recruit members for Unit 131 before its activation. Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, Dar described Gibli as a "wonderful and talented" man, and expressed regret over the Lavon-Gibli feud, which he said had never been properly resolved. "I set this up," Dar said, referring to Unit 131, but added that he did not wish to speak about the specifics of the unit's activities. "I wasn't completely involved," he said. "I met Gibli in 1948, and in 1951 I came under his command. He had much talent, and was very impressive... He could have headed the army, and that is a tragedy." Dar said many of Gibli's friends abandoned him following the fallout from the Lavon Affair. "Two people at the top blamed each other, and it was settled politically, which isn't right," Dar said. "No proper commission of inquiry was set up, and that's the worst aspect of this." He added that the Lavon Affair formed a blemish on the face of a young State of Israel, but instead of healing it, the feud was left unresolved. "This was something ugly, and it must be understood in the context of the political feud in Mapai in the 1960s," Dar said.