Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

Palestinian Arms List Matched Ship's Cargo: Shows Arafat's Plan, Israel Says
IHT/NYT News Service ^ | January 14, 2002 | James Bennet

Posted on 01/14/2002 10:52:20 AM PST by spycatcher

Palestinian Arms List Matched Ship's Cargo James Bennet New York Times Service Monday, Shipment Shows Arafat's Plan, Israel Says

JERUSALEM More than a year ago, senior officials of Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority drew up a shopping list of advanced weapons to radically strengthen the limited Palestinian arsenal, according to U.S. officials briefed on Israeli and American intelligence.

The list closely matched the cargo of rockets, anti-tank grenades and powerful explosives carried by the Karine A, the freighter that Israeli commandos stormed in the Red Sea before dawn Jan. 3, the officials said. What happened between those events is shifting the negotiating footing of the antagonists here.

Israel has seized on the Palestinian effort to buy weapons, from Iranian sources through a senior official of the Lebanese group Hezbollah, as evidence of its vulnerability in the region. It is portraying the attempt at smuggling as proof that the Palestinian leadership is planning for war while talking of peace.

Longer term, it is laying a foundation for a central contention of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon: that Israel must retain territory in the West Bank as a buffer against the enhanced threat it fears may arrive with a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Thrown on the defensive by the Israeli disclosures, the Palestinian Authority said that it had detained for questioning three officials accused by Israel of overseeing the smuggling operation.

One of the men, Adel Mughrabi, is a Palestinian naval officer who was described by Israeli military officials as the chief agent for the arms deal. A second, Fuad Shobaki, is a close Arafat aide and has long been in charge of finances for the Palestine Liberation Organization's military operations. The third man detained was identified as Fathi Razem, deputy commander of the Palestinian naval police.

The men were interrogated Saturday and were being detained "as a preventive measure," according to a statement carried by the Palestinian press agency, Wafa.

Israel continued its retaliation for the smuggling attempt by blowing up a Palestinian police base in the Gaza City harbor Saturday.

The Palestinian Authority appeared to be edging toward an acknowledgment that some of its officials were involved in the matter. But Mr. Arafat and the rest of his leadership again denied any knowledge of the smuggling attempt, which is barred under Palestinian agreements with Israel about the kinds of weapons the Palestinians can have. Ahmed Abdel Rahman, the secretary-general of the Palestinian cabinet, called the operation "an Israeli trap."

Top Israeli military and political officials said they might not be able to produce evidence proving their accusation that Mr. Arafat was involved. But his failure so far to explain the role of the Palestinian Authority, which by treaty with Israel has limited power to govern Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, has further eroded his credibility even among European diplomats sympathetic to his cause. [Stratfor takes one on the chin]

Israel is a nuclear power and has jet fighters and tanks supplied by the United States. Had the arms shipment gotten through, Israel would have retained overwhelming firepower. Scoffing at what they see as sanctimony by their leaders, some Israelis have noted that in their own prestate period, Jews smuggled weapons into Palestine in the hope of creating and defending their own nation.

But what makes this shipment so threatening, Israeli officials say, are Israel's geographic vulnerability to its Arab neighbors and the roles played by Iran and Hezbollah in supplying the weapons.

The Israeli Army's chief of planning, Major General Giora Eiland, said that "what Iran is trying to do is to create another base, besides its base in Lebanon," to threaten Israel.

Israeli officials have presented no evidence but instead cite a commonsense argument for Iran's involvement. Most of the weapons were made in Iran, and they were loaded aboard the Karine A off the Iranian coast, according to Israeli officials, citing their interrogation of the ship's crew and other intelligence. The weapons were packed in cleverly designed, submersible canisters that Israel says were made in Iran.

Israeli officials said the Iranian government had sold the weapons to the Palestinians for about $10 million. They said Iranian officials were seeking greater influence with the Palestinian Authority and information, which Palestinians have in detail, about Israeli military positions, as well as roads, power plants and other important systems.

Tehran has dismissed the Israeli accusations. But in Iran, the Revolutionary Guards have discretionary money and access to weapons, and they often run operations independent of the elected government of President Mohammed Khatami.

Many of the munitions on the Karine A, like the 211 anti-tank mines or the 10 Sagger missiles, could be described as defensive. But others could be used for attack, including 62 122mm Katyusha rockets, with a range of 19 kilometers (12 miles), and more than 2 tons of explosives.

Israeli military officials argue that the Palestinians had hoped that the rockets would deter them from attacking Palestinian-controlled areas. And they note that the smuggled explosives were up to 2.5 times more powerful than the homemade bombs suicide attackers use now.

Israeli officials have told U.S. officials that the weaponry makes even more sense in the context of regional war. The Katyusha rockets would put almost all Israeli cities within range of Palestinian territory.

A narrow country with a long coastline, Israel lacks the "strategic depth," the officials said, to absorb such an attack while fending off air strikes or other assaults from Arab neighbors.

American officials appear to have also tracked the smuggling effort closely. A former Clinton administration official said the Americans had known of a Palestinian effort buy weapons for more than a year.[Clinton's legacy takes another one on the chin]

Israeli officials say the chief Palestinian agent for the deal was Mr. Mughrabi, the Palestinian naval officer. "He is the one who held all the ends together," a senior Israeli military official said.

"He made sure everything was going as planned, that the ship would go safely to Iran to pick up the arms," the Israeli said. "He was the one paying the sailors their salary."

TOPICS: Breaking News; News/Current Events

1 posted on 01/14/2002 10:52:20 AM PST by spycatcher
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: spycatcher
Scoffing at what they see as sanctimony by their leaders, some Israelis have noted that in their own prestate period, Jews smuggled weapons into Palestine in the hope of creating and defending their own nation.

I don't think they smuggled in very many Nebelwefer or Katyusha rocket batteries, though. And they didn't use artillery against crowded cities, as the Palestinians have done.

2 posted on 01/14/2002 10:55:19 AM PST by xm177e2
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

Comment #3 Removed by Moderator

To: spycatcher
The Palestinian Authority appeared to be edging toward an acknowledgment that some of its officials were involved in the matter.

Gee, ya think? What's Arafat going to do--arrest himself?

4 posted on 01/14/2002 11:05:21 AM PST by Catspaw
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: spycatcher
Wonder how that list matches up to this similar 'apprehension' back in May 2001?

The Jerusalem Post

(20:00) Gaza-bound ship filled with weapons captured off Haifa

By The Jerusalem Post Internet Edition Staff May, 07 2001

Naval forces assisted by IAF helicoptors captured a fishing boat loaded with a massive quantity of advanced arms and ammunition bound for the Palestinian Authority-controlled Gaza Strip.

The Lebanese vessel - with a cargo of Katyushas, anti-aircraft rockets, mortars of various calibers, and massive quantities of ammunition - left port on Saturday and began sailing south for a Gaza rendezvous.

During this evening's IDF news conference in Haifa announcing the vessel's capture, OC Navy Adm. Yedidya Ya'ari said that Ahmed Jibril, head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, was responsible for the arms shipment.

The cargo included SA-7 Strella hand-held anti-aircraft missiles, rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), anti-tank mines and other types of rockets used against various armored vehicles.

This weaponry is significantly more sophisticated than that currently used by the Palestinians.

The navy intercepted the boat Saturday off the coast of Haifa, outside of Israeli territorial waters, the source said.

The IDF Spokesperson released a comprehensive inventory listing the arsenal found aboard the Lebanese vessel:

5 posted on 01/14/2002 11:10:47 AM PST by RCW2001
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: spycatcher
Hey, Arafat actually interrogated a couple of his officials! His credibility is restored! Or not.
6 posted on 01/14/2002 11:11:42 AM PST by patent
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Catspaw
Arafat will place himself under "house arrest". This means he will be limited to go only to places that he goes.
7 posted on 01/14/2002 11:15:43 AM PST by C210N
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 4 | View Replies]

To: virgil123
the anti-tank weapons are badly needed as Israel has been using tanks to inflict destruction on Palestinian cities such as Bethlehem recently

Like by building a mosque right next to a church, to try to crowd it out? Oh, wait, that wasn't Israel, that was the Muslims. Israel just stopped that construction.

8 posted on 01/14/2002 11:16:28 AM PST by xm177e2
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: RCW2001; Axion; mvonfr; a_witness; veronica; Shermy
Wonder why people ignored the previous ship capture and intelligence and automatically believed the Palestinians this time around?

Some people just can't imagine that "innocent Arafat" ever did anything wrong his whole life, let alone order terrorist hits, so eager are they to give him a full-fleged state to launch "legitimate defensive attacks" from.

9 posted on 01/14/2002 11:19:37 AM PST by spycatcher
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: patent
Arafat actually interrogated a couple of his officials!

ARAFAT: "Tell me, sir, do you know anything about this alleged shipment of alleged heavy weapons?"

PA OFFICIAL: "I know nothing of these heavy weapons of which the Ees-rah-ae-lees accuse us!"

ARAFAT: "OK then."

10 posted on 01/14/2002 11:26:08 AM PST by Alouette
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 6 | View Replies]

Comment #11 Removed by Moderator

To: Alouette
LOL. That or:

ARAFAT: "Tell me, sir, do you know anything about this alleged shipment of alleged heavy weapons?"

PA OFFICIAL: "Of course I do, you jerk, you hired me!"

ARAFAT: "And you screwed it up, execute him before he squeals like a stuck pig."

12 posted on 01/14/2002 11:35:45 AM PST by patent
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 10 | View Replies]

To: C210N
Arafat will place himself under "house arrest". This means he will be limited to go only to places that he goes.

As my friend said when her ex-husband was on the bracelet (electronic monitoring): if he can't go to the party, the party will come to him.

In Arafat's case, he IS the party. He can go anywhere he wants to--of course, right now he can't go outside Ramallah (or he can, but he knows the Israelis will deport him again).

13 posted on 01/14/2002 11:40:15 AM PST by Catspaw
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 7 | View Replies]

To: patent

14 posted on 01/14/2002 11:41:09 AM PST by SJackson
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 12 | View Replies]

To: SJackson
As a westerner, I doubt that I will ever fully understand the mid-east. But I do believe, one of these days, Israel is going to KICK SOME SERIOUS ASS with or without ANYONES permission....besides, they don't need "anyones" permission...Israel is a soveriegn nation, isn't it?...or is it not?


15 posted on 01/14/2002 11:50:52 AM PST by nothingnew
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 14 | View Replies]

Comment #16 Removed by Moderator

To: spycatcher
Amazing indeed... thanks for the ping.
17 posted on 01/14/2002 12:26:06 PM PST by mvonfr
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 9 | View Replies]

To: virgil123
I am not usually so blunt in my posts. But you should go elsewhere, to a site where pro-Arab and pro-terrorist comments are appreciated.

Try DU. They should welcome you. Especially since you are blind to the perfidy of the prior Administration, which this Administration is now straightening up. Stop wasting JimRob's bandwidth on garbage.

I do not suffer fools gladly. And you, sir or madame, are a fool.

Congressman Billybob

18 posted on 01/14/2002 12:39:32 PM PST by Congressman Billybob
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 11 | View Replies]

Comment #19 Removed by Moderator

To: spycatcher;All
Iran Pledges Continued Support to PLO Radical Groups and Hizballah (5/15/99)
20 posted on 01/14/2002 12:50:24 PM PST by Orion78
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: xm177e2
Yeah. Both times they were preparing for Arab agressors trying to destroy the Jewish state.

The Brits in `47 were keeping the Jews disarmed by fiat- while the Arab states had armies led by Sandhurst trained officers. The Pals are supposed to have a lightly armed police force- by treaty. That's the difference.

21 posted on 01/14/2002 12:52:48 PM PST by JAWs
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

Comment #22 Removed by Moderator

To: Lock & Load
The usual criticism of Israel supporters is that we are "Israel-firsters," as in, "less loyal to the US than to Israel." But you think it would be a positive development for a psycho Arab regime to get ahold of a few nuclear weapons... that's not exactly putting America first, is it?
23 posted on 01/14/2002 1:00:56 PM PST by xm177e2
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 22 | View Replies]

To: Lock & Load
You sound alot like this man:
Iran's Rafsanjani suggests nuclear attack on Israel (12/19/01)
24 posted on 01/14/2002 1:07:04 PM PST by Orion78
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 22 | View Replies]

To: xm177e2
Revised Lock & Load post:

"Hopefully Al Qaeda did not put all their eggs in one basket. I would imagine they have some caches of weapons already. They really need the anti-aircraft weapons to defend themselves against the invading Americans. What the Arabs really need are nukes. If Al Qaeda could set off a nuke in New York City, maybe one of those suitcase nukes the Ruskies can not account for, maybe America would realize that they have to make a peace with the Arabs."

25 posted on 01/14/2002 1:07:41 PM PST by spycatcher
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 23 | View Replies]

To: Orion78
Good link...Iran doesn't need to be "set-up" by Israel, they do just fine on their own.
26 posted on 01/14/2002 1:09:41 PM PST by spycatcher
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 20 | View Replies]

To: xm177e2
Don't you just LOVE how fast terrorist apologists pop up on threads like this? And repeating the same, tired lies about some fictitious entity called "Palestine" which does not and never has existed, whilst excusing the worst kind of psychopathic murderers around. Yep, those terrs are great heroes, huh, Virgil? After a couple of days of hearing you and other terr lovers, I'm convinced: none of you live in reality. xm177e2, you're great, man, but I'd just ignore the apologists and continue the discussion. They have nothing worth listening to.
27 posted on 01/14/2002 1:16:37 PM PST by Long Cut
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 8 | View Replies]

Comment #28 Removed by Moderator

To: Lock&Load
You are losing it LOL.....
29 posted on 01/14/2002 1:23:55 PM PST by veronica
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 22 | View Replies]

To: veronica
Veronica, LL is another dreamer. If he got his wish, not only would Israel utterly obliterate the PA, Hamas, and Fatah with extreme prejudice, but they'd expel all Pallies from ALL Israeli territory forever. And, with the exeption of a few Islamist lunatics, the rest of the world would support them. Guys like him and Virgill, and their buds Architect and Tex-o-ma need some help, perhaps a Zoloft/prozac cocktail washed down with Lithium.
30 posted on 01/14/2002 1:36:35 PM PST by Long Cut
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 29 | View Replies]

To: virgil123
Amusing that you classify Israeli negotiation and compromise with muslims as "incitement". One might think apparent hatred of Israelis prevents any consistency.
31 posted on 01/14/2002 1:37:19 PM PST by spqrzilla9
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 11 | View Replies]

To: xm177e2
Scoffing at what they see as sanctimony by their leaders, some Israelis have noted that in their own prestate period, Jews smuggled weapons into Palestine in the hope of creating and defending their own nation.

I don't think they smuggled in very many Nebelwefer or Katyusha rocket batteries, though. And they didn't use artillery against crowded cities, as the Palestinians have done.

I'm surprised you give a rabid socialist like David ben-Gurion any sort of credit as any kind of humanitarian; like most socialists he was more concerned with grabbing power and advancing his cause, even if it meant the spilling of the blood of civilians, or even if they were his fellow Jews. After all, it was he who had turned in members of the IZL/ *Stern Gang* to the British, lest their successes in driving the British occupation forces out steakl his thunder.

Accordingly, you must not be familiar with the episode of the Altalena either, in particular, that episode now being compared in the Israeli press with Arafat's recent problems, and similar too in the way in which socialist David ben-Gurion ordered the deaths of other Jews in the dock area of Tel Aviv, as well as the coastal settlement of Kfar Vitkin.

You might find the account in the closing pages of Ben Hecht's autobiographical A Child of the Century to be of interest, though you'll find a better description of the military material aboard in the account below.


Terror out of Zion

by J.Bowyer BELL

page 324

By then the epic of the Altalena was well under way. On May 15, the Irgun DC-3 from Paris—the first commercial flight into Israel—landed at the Tel Aviv airport, bringing Begin the news of continued French delay. The Irgun high command felt that there must be some way to load the Altalena swiftly—even a thousand rifles or so would make a great difference. They decided to go to the Haganah. The Irgun attack on Ramele, under the operation agreement with the Haganah, was already in difficulties because of a shortage of ammunition: at least the Altalena could bring in something. At midnight at the Irgun headquarters in the Freud Hospital, Begin, Landau, Meridor, and Katz met with Israel Galili, Levi Shkolnik, and David Cohen. The Irgun wanted $250,000 to equip the men waiting in France, who could go directly into the Zahal when they arrived. The Haganah could put one thousand armed men on board, and take over the Altalena when the LST arrived in Israeli waters. There seemed no reason why the Haganah should not agree. That evening Begin spoke over the radio, taking the first step to dismantle the underground.

"The Irgun Zvai Leumi is leaving the underground within the boundaries of the Hebrew independent state. We went down into the underground...we arose in the underground under the rule of oppression. Now… we have Hebrew rule in part of our Homeland. In this part there is no need for a Hebrew underground. In the State of Israel, we shall be soldiers and builders. We shall respect its Government, for it is our Government."

On May 17, two days later, Galili told Landau that Ben-Gurion had turned down the Irgun offer. A generation’s suspicion and enmity could not be lifted so easily. Ben-Gurion did not trust Begin or the Irgun. He noted the quibbles in Begin’s speech and so no reason for accommodation or conciliation. In Paris negotiations by G. Rothschild and Arthur Koestler to bring about Haganah-Irgun cooperation and Haganah men on the Altalena also failed. The new Zahal could be armed, would be armed, without any such arrangement.

On May 16, in Paris, Ariel met with Jean Morin, director of the foreign minister’s cabinet. France had decided to give arms to the Irgun. On May 19, the decision was confirmed in writing, when Ariel met Bidault at the Foreign Ministry. Katz arrived on the same day from Israel to find the diaspora headquarters on the Avenue de Messine seething with activity. Agents were dispatched to transport the volunteers to the south of France. All the purchased and donated arms were concentrated near Sete. The French felt less urgency. It took ten days before Ariel could see General Revers, chief of staff of the French Army, about the arms transfer, but the French Army only received final instructions for the June 5 transfer on May 31. By then Ben-Eliezer and Nathan Germant, one of the Gilgil escapees, had flown to Israel to make final arrangements about the landing site and recognition signals. This time the Irgun high command did not bother to inform the Haganah of the French government’s decision. When Begin signed the formal merger agreement on June 1, he again neglected to mention the Altalena. There were enough complications already. The Israeli government had accepted United Nations cease-fire proposals on May 23 and May 29, and it was only a matter of time before the Arabs did as well. The terms of the truce would undoubtedly hamper an overt arrival of the Altalena, but the diaspora headquarters decided to go ahead in any case. Then the French government postponed delivery for three days. Next the French police, ignorant of the Irgun’s authorization, discovered a load of arms that had somehow ended up in the baggage room of the Marseilles railway station. The Irgun claimants were arrested, and a complex diplomatic effort had to be mounted to get agents and arms released. Finally, Coudraux fixed Tuesday, June 8, as delivery day.

Katz and Ariel arrived at Sete that day. Nothing happened. The hours passed and June 8 ended. Katz exhausted, was asleep in the car. Monroe Fein and Ariel were still on the Altalena. Finally, along with Stavsky, they came ashore and stood at the dock, waiting. At last they saw a long string of lights winding towards them. The French had arrived. The convoy drew to a halt. Major Sasso, divisional commissioner for the Surveillance de la Territoire of the Surete, dismounted and put himself at Ariel’s disposal. In two hours the French soldiers unloaded the arms. Ariel gave Sasso a receipt for 5,000 rifles, 300 Bren guns, 150 Spandau, 5caterpillar-track armored cars, 4 million rounds of ammunition, several thousand bombs, and a variety of other equipment. At two on Wednesday morning, the stevedores began loading the ship, but nothing was easy. A case broke open. The arms were discovered, and the stevedores went on strike. Many were Algerians, and had no intention of helping Israel. Ariel managed to get the assistance of French soldiers and rounded up some Irgun volunteers. By noon on Friday, June 11, the loading was complete. The Irgun recruit arrived by truck from Marseilles and hurried aboard. The French port authorities gave the Altalena a cursory glance and cleared it for sailing. Fein, recognizing that time was running out—a newspaper article appeared on June 10 about an Israeli ship loading arms in a French port—stalled until the last of the recruits arrived. At eight thirty the Altalena sailed from Sete. Its destination was the beach at the end of Frishman Street in Tel Aviv, according to instructions that Germant had brought on Wednesday. BBC news later the same evening reported the departure of the Altalena and the details of the final truce agreement, which contained a pledge by both Israel and the Arab states not to introduce additional arms into the area. The troubles of the Altalena had just begun.

In Israel, Begin heard the BBC broadcast. He was stunned, having expected to be told of the sailing ahead of time. Suspecting British provocation to halt a real sailing, he cabled Katz not to send the boat and to await instructions. Two days later he learned that the Altalena had really sailed and that Katz could not make radio contact. Begin then radioed directly to the Altalena: “Keep away. Await instructions.” He was fearful that Ben-Gurion might prevent the ship from landing, as a breach of the truce. On board the Altalena there was no contact with Israel or France, but on the third day the faint and garbled message came through. Lankin recognized the voice of the secretary of the Tel Aviv office just before the transmission faded out. Fein tried to acknowledge the message and ask for a re-transmission of the order to keep away—all he had was static.

Begin met with Israel Galili, Levi Shkolnik, David Cohen, and Pinhas Vaze, a security official, and revealed the existence of the Altalena—somehow the Israeli authorities had missed the BBC broadcast. Begin noted that the ship was carrying enough men and arms to win the war and would arrive in five days. Galili and the rest were shocked. Nine-hundred trained men and arms for ten battalions might not win the war but still would make a major difference. So far very little had come into Palestine from the diaspora, despite the triumph of Haganah agents abroad. Yet there were two great risks. A breach of the United Nations truce might endanger the state but so might a heavily reinforced Irgun. Galili stalled. He asked Begin to get in touch with the ship and tell the captain to slow down. Immediately after the meeting he telephoned Ben-Gurion who, not unexpectedly, was outraged at Begin’s deception. Still, the arms existed, and only five days away. Ben-Gurion opted for the arms, telling Galili and his staff to work out the details.

The next morning Galili met with Begin to prepare for the landing of the Altalena. Begin wanted to know about the arms that would go directly to Jerusalem. Galili agreed that they could work this out, but said he thought that 20 percent would be about right. What he did not say, and what Begin did not ask, was to whom the 20 percent would go. Begin assumed they would go to the independent Irgun units, but Galili and Ben-Gurion had already decided on the Zahal. Then Pinhas Vaze met with Begin and his people to decide on a landing site. Instead of Tel Aviv, Vaze insisted on Kfar Vitkin further north, a Mapai settlement loyal to Ben-Gurion. Vaze wanted the arms stored in government warehouses. The Irgun agreed on Kfar Vitkin but not the government warehouses. Begin was adamant. Vaze telephoned Galili and arranged another meeting at army headquarters in Ramat Gan. This time the distance between the positions became clear—there was no agreement. Galili passed along Ben-Gurion’s warning.

You will have to accept our demands or you will bear full responsibility for the consequences, and the responsibility will be very heavy indeed. Unless you change your mind, we wash our hands of unloading of the arms.

Begin was relieved. He did not mind accepting the responsibility of unloading the arms. He did not grasp that neither Galili nor Ben-Gurion had not quite made up his mind exactly what to do about the Altalena, but his suspicions of Begin and the Irgun, already intense, had been strengthened. He had no intention of standing idly by while the Irgun became a military threat to the new state. Begin would have to recognize legitimate authority or pay the consequences. It might be preferable to make him publicly pay the consequences for his willful challenge to proper authority.

The next morning, June 19, when the Altalena was 220 miles from Tel Aviv, Fein received his landing instructions: Kfar Vitkin. Lankin was delighted—a Mapai settlement meant Haganah cooperation. At nine that evening the Altalena hove to about forty yards off the two red lights at the end of the Kfar Vitkin pier. The LST could get no closer because of shallow water. The sea was too rough to land the recruits. There was no Irgun welcoming party on the pier. Lankin decided to pull back out to sea, beyond sight of the United Nations observers and wait until the next evening . At 5:00 A.M. on June 20, the Altalena began moving to a spot fifty miles off the coast. In the meantime, at Irgun headquarters at the Freud Hospital, the Zahal liaison officer, David Cohen, met with Bezalel Amizur of the high command and learned that the Altalena had arrived and would return the next evening. Cohen repeated his promise to help unload the ship and indicated he would mobilize trucks himself. He spoke only for himself. Once the Altalena arrived, Galili wanted swift action against what he chose to see as an Irgun threat. During the afternoon the cabinet met on the Altalena question. Moshe Sharett, like Galili, conveniently forgot the danger of a cease-fire violation if the arms went to the Zahal. He deplored the situation, but noted that the government would not be responsible. The question was not really the cease-fire violation but whether to resort to force to prevent the arms from landing or to seize them. Sharett suggested sending five-hundred men to Kfar Vitkin to scatter the Irgun people drifting in to watch the unloading, and to arrest anyone disembarking. Yigal Yadin reported that he already had six-hundred men in the area but did not know whether the army would carry out a threat to us force. Ben-Gurion supported Yadin. The cabinet unanimously agreed to give Zahal high command the authority to use whatever means necessary. Since everyone present knew that the Irgun would unload the arms—or at least would begin to do so—the cabinet decision meant a vote of civil war.

At the time the cabinet was meeting in Tel-Aviv, Fein had brought the Altalena into the same mooring position he had used the previous night. All but about fifty of the recruits disembarked and moved off to Irgun camps. The remaining men began unloading the arms. As Irgun people continued to make their way to the beach, they saw Zahal troops barricading the road. No one paid much attention. At first light Begin decided that Paglin should continue the unloading during the day. Very soon, however, reports reached Paglin that the Zahal had the beach surrounded and were moving closer. It was only a matter of time before they swooped down and collected the arms. Paglin radioed to Begin on the ship, urging that everyone and all the arms on the beach be ordered back to the Altalena. Begin was dismayed. He had no longer any worries about the Zahal, only about the United Nations reaction. He came to the beach and when Paglin could not be swayed replaced him with Meridor. Paglin walked up the beach to a friend’s house in Natanya. The unloading continued. The Zahal unit was formally under the orders of Moshe Dayan who had left the area to escort the body of the American commander of the Jerusalem front, Micky Marcus, back to the United States. In any case the commanders were authorized to take whatever measures were necessary. A Zahal officer appeared on the beach and delivered an ultimatum to Begin signed by Dan Even, commander of the Alexandroni Brigade. Even wanted the arms turned over to Zahal; if Begin refused, force would be used. Begin had ten minutes to reply. Begin insisted that such matters could not be decided in ten minutes. The envoy departed, and there the matter rested. Meridor and the others felt that the only option was to take the Altalena to Tel Aviv as originally planned. There would be more Irgun people to help unload, and the government could hardly begin a civil war in the midst of Tel Aviv. Begin disagreed; such a withdrawal might be construed as dishonorable. At about five in the afternoon, Begin ordered a break. Everyone was exhausted.

In a short sleeved shirt and dirty khaki trousers, Begin met with Stavsky and Fein, who had rowed from the ship. They too wanted to move to Tel Aviv. Fein went back to the ship. As he climbed aboard and looked back, he heard the rattle of machine gun fire. People on the beach began diving for cover. Lying in the sand with Zahal fire cutting up the beach, Begin still refused to leave. Stavsky and several crewmen grabbed him and dragged him to the motor launch. He fought and cursed in Yiddish, pleading to stay. Stavsky paid no attention, he had other problems. Two Israeli Corvettes appeared and opened fire on the launch. Fein maneuvered the Altalena between the motor launch and the two corvettes. Begin, still complaining bitterly, was hauled aboard. Fein moved off for Tel Aviv, weaving and turning the Altalena to avoid the Corvettes’ fire.

On shore the Irgun people remained pinned down on the beach. Eventually seeing no point in the struggle, Meridor arranged a cease-fire. The Zahal people collected the arms on the beach—a fifth of the total—and took the Irgun people into custody. The Irgun had lost six killed and eighteen wounded, Zahal two and six. In Natanya, when the news of the firing on the beach reached Paglin, he decided to go immediately to Tel Aviv—there were enough Irgun troops in the city to seize the government. Two would play Ben-Gurion’s game. Paglin could not reach Tel Aviv in time; for over the next crucial hours he was in the hands of the Zahal, engaged in one escape attempt after another. Finally he pried open the lock of an underground bunker in a kibbutz near Tulkarm and raced to freedom passed the stunned guards, over a barbed-wire fence and across a mine field. Meanwhile, with the Altalena twisting south in a cat-and-mouse game with the corvettes, word of the fighting at Kfar Vitkin spread through the grapevine. Irgun soldiers began to leave their units and mover towards Tel Aviv. In Tel Aviv the commander of Israel’s tiny air force prepared his pilots to bomb the LST. One Boris Senior, who had served under Lankin in the diaspora during the attempt on Barker, had no intention of carrying out any such order. He did fly over the Altalena soon after she was beached on top of an old illegal immigrant boat less than a hundred yards from shore. Senior sought to signal encouragement to those below, but exhausted by the events of the day, no one looked up into the night sky. The crew and remaining volunteers with the Altalena stayed put, waiting for dawn to see what the government would do.

At an early morning cabinet meeting, Ben-Gurion received a vote of seven to two authorizing all measures necessary to assure that the ship was turned over to the government. Ben-Gurion, in his capacity as defense minister, telephone Yigal Allon at Palmach headquarters in the Riz Hotel in sight of the Altalena..

Yigal we are being faced with an open revolt. Not only Tel Aviv in danger of falling to the rebel forces, but the very future of the state is at stake. You are to take command of the Tel Aviv area. Your new assignment may be the toughest one you’ve had so far. But I’m depending on you to do what is necessary for the sake of Israel.

Although Ben-Gurion ordered Allon no to start firing unless fired on first, or unless the Irgun began to unload the arms, despite “our warnings,” this was window dressing. As always Ben-Gurion wanted no accommodation with the dissidents, only a showdown - even one carrying substantial risks; for he knew the Irgun was stronger than the Zahal in Tel Aviv. Out on the Altalena Begin broadcast over a loudspeaker to the people of Tel Aviv, asking for help to unload the arms. Watching all this from the verandah at the Kaete Dan Hotel, directly opposite the ship, were the United Nations observers. The adventures of the Altalena were rapidly becoming a spectator sport, as foreign correspondents followed the curious crowds down to the seashore. Some reporters combined an open-air breakfast on a hotel terrace with new coverage. A little to the north of the Kaete Dan, at the Ritz Hotel, Yitzhak Rabin, deputy commander of the Palmach, began to distribute hand grenades to his staff. The first motor launch was lowered from the Altalena and plowed through the shallows to shore. The Irgun men jumped out and unloaded several wooden crates of arms. Watching twenty yards away were a group of Zahal men.

A few Irgun men stayed on the beach, as the boat returned to the Altalena, the test run a success. Fein ordered it loaded again. The worst was over, except that through his binoculars Fein saw Zahal troops flooding the beach front.

At one in the afternoon the second test run began. The motor launch moved away from the Altalena. Begin, Fein, Stavsky, and Lankin stood on the bridge and waited. Yigal Allon stood atop the Ritz Hotel and watched the launch move towards the beach. When it was twenty yards out, Zahal machine gun fire swept the beach and the launch without warning. Fein, over the ship’s radio, heard the pilot cry, “I’m hit in the chest!” Somehow the launch reached shore. Begin radioed Landau at Irgun headquarters to try and get a cease-fire, then rushed to the loud-speaker, shouting to the troops to stop shooting. The Altalena immediately came under heavy fire. The loudspeaker was blown off its mounting. Men began dropping on the deck. Stavsky fell, mortally wounded. The heavy barrage continued to sweep across the deck of the ship, intensified every time Begin appeared on the bridge. All morning the Irgun people in Zahal had continued to leave their posts and move towards Tel Aviv. One Irgun battalion withdrew from position near the Lydda airport, another fought it way through from Ramele when the Zahal put up block at Beit Dejen, and still another was isolated and kept in place near Sarafand camp. Enough reached Tel Aviv to transform the situation. Allon and Rabin were isolated in the Ritz. Their machine guns could continue to rake the Altalena, but they could not control the ground. No one knew it, least of all the Irgun; but Tel Aviv had been lost to the Zahal. Paglin’s idea of rushing Ramat Gan and seizing the government had become a reality. Ben-Gurion had his open revolt, and the dissidents were in danger of taking Tel Aviv.

Yet it did not seem this way on the Altalena, where the deck was a shambles. The discarded gear of the nine-hundred passengers was bad enough, but the heavy machine gun fire had created chaos. It was difficult to treat the wounded, and no one was sure how many were dead. After forty five minutes, Allon agreed to an Irgun request for a cease-fire, so the wounded could be removed. The cease-fire would go into effect at four. Then Allon noticed some Irgun people setting up a fifty-caliber machine gun on the deck aimed at the Ritz. He telephoned Ben-Gurion for permission to use cannons and mortar fire—first as a warning, then to sink the ship. Ben-Gurion agreed. At approximately the same time a delegation led by Tel Aviv Mayor Rokakh arrived at Ben-Gurion’s office to urge a cease fire. Ben-Gurion insisted he had no authority to interrupt military operations without cabinet decision—a unique disclaimer on his part. Fein, still on board the Altalena was waiting for the Zahal boats to evacuate the wounded. At four, instead of the truce coming into effect, the first shell from Allon’s artillery produced a waterspout off the Altalena. Tow more shells landed near the ship before Fein received assurances the firing would stop. It did for a moment. Then the Altalena was bracketed. A shell tore through the soft deck and exploded in the holds. The ammunition cases began detonating one after another. A huge cloud of smoke drifted up over the Altalena. Allon telephoned Ben-Gurion who turned to the mayor’s delegation to announce the climax of the crisis. With the Altalena on fire, the corner was turned. Zahal reinforcements were moving into Tel Aviv. Although Begin insisted on no surrender, Fein was more practical. He ran up a white flag. Begin continued to demand that it be taken down, but Fein paid no attention. The wounded were bleeding to death. It was only a matter of time before the Altalena blew up. The shelling continued. Another hit would be fatal.

Fein managed to get through to Zahal headquarters at the Ritz. He wanted to know why the artillery was still shelling the ship after the white flag had gone up. The answer was ingenious : “There is a general cease-fire, but the order has not reached all units of the army.” The main deck was a seething ball of flame, and ammunition in the hold continued to explode. Fein and the rest began to abandon ship. The wounded went in rafts; others jumped in and swam. Some were picked up by Irgun boys paddling out from shore on surfboards and rafts. Finally only seven were left on the deck. Fein and Lankin insisted that Begin jump, but he refused—he would be the last off. Fein ordered two seamen to toss Begin over the side. He could be heard cursing until he hit the water. The last two off were Lankin and Fein. The flaming Altalena remained under the pall of smoke, ammunition and bombs detonating all during the evening. On shore the firing dwindled away. The Irgun people were interested only in helping the survivors. The total losses at the end of the day were fourteen Irgun killed and sixty-nine wounded. Zahal lost two killed and six wounded.

Ben-Gurion euphorically announced before the National council. “Blessed be the gun which set the ship on fire—that gun will have its place in Israel’s war museum.” Zahal continued to hunt down any visible Irgun people in Tel Aviv. Begin broadcast that evening from the Irgun underground transmitter.

Irgun soldiers will not be party to fratricidal warfare, but neither will they accept the discipline of Ben-Gurion’s army any longer. Within the state area we shall continue our political activities. Our fighting strength we shall conserve for the enemy outside.

At the thought of the men already killed and wounded in the fratricidal warfare along the beach front, his voice broke and tears came. The pragmatic felt Begin had been broken; Ben-Gurion’s orders had paid a handsome dividend.

32 posted on 01/14/2002 3:56:38 PM PST by archy
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

To: archy
*After all, what difference if Ben-Gurion has burned a handful of Jews- the nazis burned thousands....*

33 posted on 01/14/2002 4:00:07 PM PST by archy
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 32 | View Replies]

To: archy
Sure the Jews smuggled weapons.
The British armed the surrounding arab countries with surplus British and American( through lend-lease) weapons.
The Arabs had trained armies and the Jews had a few illegal guns.
Thanks God, the Israelis got weapons in.
I for one still remember the Altelena. The Socialists under Ben Gurion preffered to destroy weapoins and kill Jews rather than allow the creation of any reight-wing Jewish groups. Ben Gurion chose a Labour gov't over Jerusalem. His instrument were troops under the command of Yitzak Rabin, the same one who sold Israel out.
34 posted on 01/14/2002 4:40:13 PM PST by rmlew
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 32 | View Replies]

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794 is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson