TEL AVIV (Apr. 16)
Israelis were stunned today when they learned that the country’s foremost military expert, Lt. Col. Israel Beer, personal military adviser to Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, professor of military history at Tel Aviv University, and keenest of military analysts for the Israeli press, had been arrested as a spy for a foreign Communist government–presumably Russia–and has confessed to the charges.
Reports in the Israeli press today revealed that magistrate Lea Ogen, in Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court, heard the charge Friday morning, when Dr. Beer was arraigned before her by a member of Shin Bet, Israel’s security services. Mrs. Ogen was visibly shaken when he was accused of espionage and “contact with a foreign agent with the intention of injuring the State security. ” Her hands trembled when, at the request of Shin Bet, Mrs. Ogen signed an order imprisoning Dr. Beer for 15 days for further interrogation.
If convicted Dr. Beer faces life imprisonment. He was arrested at 2 a. m. , on March 31, at his home in this city, on the edge of a small forest along the Yarkon River. He had answered a knock on the front door, and found himself facing a uniformed police officer accompanied by representatives of Shin Bet. He was told he was suspected of espionage, and shown a warrant giving the officers authorization to search his home.
By the time the arresting party left Dr. Beer’s home, about 65 pounds of documents had been confiscated. When told that he was accused of acting as a spy until the preceding day, and informed of the facts amassed by Shin.Bet, he confessed. He is alleged to have made his last spying contact only a few hours before his arrest.
REVEALED SINAI CAMPAIGN SECRETS; EGYPTIANS DISREGARDED THEM
Dr. Beer told the Shin Bet probers he had been “dragged into” his espionage work, and claimed he really knew no secrets since he has been only a member of the Army reserve since 1952. However, in 1956, prior to the launching of Israel’s military campaign against Egypt in the Sinai Desert, he is said to have been one of the very small handful of Israelis who knew all of the Sinai campaign plans.
It is charged that he had passed on those plans to a Communist country which, in turn, transmitted the Sinai plans to the Egyptians. The Egyptians, however, disregarded those secrets, thinking they were false.
Among the documents confiscated in Dr. Beer’s home, were excerpts from Mr. Ben Gurion’s personal diaries. According to the reports in the press here, documents discovered in his home showed that he had transmitted to a foreign agent “military information that was fairly up to date.”
Rumors of the Beer arrest have been circulating here since his arraignment Friday, but the Israeli press was not permitted by Government censors to print anything about the case. When, early this morning, the ban was lifted, two newspapers issued special editions, causing a tremendous sensation. Later, every newspaper printed the news that shocked the nation. All newspapers but one also carried editorials on the case. The only exception was Davar–the organ of the Mapai party.
Newspapers representing not only the opposition parties but also speaking for all of the coalition parties in the caretaker government–except Mapai–expressed “deep shock. ” Editorials demanded to know how it happened that a man with a “Communist” past had been able to act as a spy, despite the vigilance of the security services and in such close proximity to all top secrets in the Defense Ministry.
BEN-GURION ONE OF THE MOST SHOCKED PEOPLE IN THE COUNTRY
Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, who is said to have consulted Dr. Beer on highly secret military matters, such as the Sinai campaign, was reported here today as being one of the most shocked people in Israel. At the personal request of Mr. Ben-Gurion, who is also Defense Minister, Dr. Beer had been appointed in 1952 as official historian of Israel’s War of Liberation, and had access to all secret military documents of Israel’s armed forces. He had also lectured on strategy in Israel’s War College.
Some reports here indicate that Dr. Beer was under suspicion for several years, since, upon his return from frequent trips to Europe, he had made various reports that could not be verified. Shin Bet personnel are understood to have watched him for a long time but could not pin down their suspicions until they traced him through tracking a foreign agent in this country. His last meeting with a foreign agent took place in the woods near his Yarkon River home. In recent years. Dr. Beer is known to have visited Communist East Berlin at least six times.
All newspapers today emphasized that he had acted as a spy, not for money, but “for idealism. ” During the coming fortnight of his formal detention for interrogation, Shin Bet authorities are to question the suspect further about his activities. Then, it is expected, the case will be turned over to the Attorney General for prosecution.
ISRAELI POLICE REPORTED DOUBTING WHETHER DR. BEER IS A JEW
According to his own autobiography, published in a book entitled “Cold War in the Middle East, ” Dr. Beer was born in Vienna in 1912. While studying toward a degree as doctor of philosophy at the University of Vienna, he joined the Austrian Socialist party. When Chancellor Dolfuss, of Austria, started attacking the Socialists in his country, young Dr. Beer joined the Socialist Defense Corps, and was soon recognized as an excellent military strategist. He went to Spain, where he fought as a member of the International Brigade there, against the forces led by Generalissimo Francisco Franco. Then he returned to Austria and, in 1938, when he perceived that nazism would embrace Austria, he left for Palestine.
Some Israelis, however, were casting doubts today on the authenticity of the facts regarding Dr. Beer’s pre-Palestine past as told in the suspect’s book. Some who served in the Austrian Socialist defense forces say they never knew him in Austria, and call his past “vague. “
(The Washington Post today carried a special report from its own correspondent at Tel Aviv, stating that Israeli police believe that Dr. Beer may have been an underground Communist since 1938 and might be a non-Jew. The correspondent reports Israeli police have discovered the suspect is not circumcised, and are now working on the assumption that Dr. Beer was sent as a Communist undercover agent in 1938 to Palestine, from Vienna. There is also speculation in Israel over whether the Israeli Beer is actually the same person who originally had that name, the Washington Post reported.)
It was considered here significant today that, several weeks ago, when Mr. Ben-Gurion resigned from Premiership over the “Lavon Affair,” Dr. Beer wrote, in an article in the newspaper Haaretz, for which he worked as military analyst, that Mr. Ben-Gurion must stay on as Premier and that the only alternative to him is Moshe Sneh, Israeli Communist leader.
Dr. Beer and Mr. Sneh were close colleagues in the Mapam party until the latter split from Mapam to form a “left movement.” When Mr. Sneh moved further left, into the Communist party, Dr. Beer severed political relations with Mr. Sneh and joined the Mapai.
Tall, stiff Dr. Beer has many enemies among Israel’s military leaders who are said to dislike him for his alleged “Prussian Officer” attitude. At one time, it is reported. General Moshe Dayan, then Israeli Army Chief of Staff, and Pinhas Lavon, then Defense Minister, had virtually cut him off from contact with high military officers, shutting him out of the Defense Ministry and out of all official connection with military affairs.