Monday, March 10, 2008
Lavon and Chess
We have already seen David Ben-Gurion at play. In this photo, we can see one of his most bitter political enemies--or perhaps victims--Pinchas Lavon (born Pinchas Lubianker) playing chess.
Lavon (left) is playing on board ship in 1941 with Yonah Kasseh, also later an Israeli politician--an MP and the secretary of Mapai, the party of both Lavon and Ben-Gurion. The picture was forwarded to me by a donor who wishes to remain anonymous, and who, in turn, received it from a member of the Lubianker family.
Lavon held many important political posts in the Israeli government. He is best known, ironically, as one of the chief figures in what became known as the "Lavon affair". In the 1950s, an Israeli spy ring, operated by the IDF's intelligence branch, was caught in Egypt. Blame for the ring's exposure was assigned to three people in particular: Lavon (then Minister of Defense), "the Senior Officer" (Colonel Binyamin Gibli, head of the IDF's intelligence branch) and "the Third Man" (Avri El'ad, the commander of the spy ring).
Whether Lavon was in fact responsible, and, if not, what was the motivation of those who blamed him, is to this day hotly debated. In particular, it was claimed Lavon ordered the spy ring to plant bombs in Egyptian movie theatres in Cairo, as part of a Rube Goldberg machine -like effort to hurt Egyptian-British cooperation ("operation Suzanna"). Loyally carring out this absurd order, it was believed, led to the ring's capture afterwards. Lavon denied it, claimed the order originated much lower in the chain of command, and saw the investigation as a personal vendetta by Ben Gurion and others, in particular Shimon Peres.
It is not the purpose of this blog to decide the issue. One thing is clear, though: it was shown by Isser Har'el that El'ad was, quite simply, a traitor: caught soon after he set foot in Egypt, he agreeded to betray those under his command in order to save himself. So Lavon, whether or not he gave the order, and whatever his ministerial responsibility, was not (and could not have been) in any way morally responsible for the ring's capture. The ring was doomed the moment El'ad was caught, long before "operation Suzanna".
Posted by Avital Pilpel at 12:50 PM