Baath Party Leader Charged with Being Israeli Infiltrator, Spy
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Baath Party Leader Charged with Being Israeli Infiltrator, Spy

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The secretary general of Syria’s ruling Socialist Baath Party has been arrested in Damascus and charged with being an Israeli infiltrator and spy, the French-language Lebanese paper L’Orient said today. The paper, published in Beirut, says the official, Ahmed Rabah, arrived in Syria in 1962 claiming to be a Palestinian refugee who had joined the Baathists in Morocco. According to the report, Rabah befriended Khaled Joundi, former leader of the Syrian Baathists, who committed suicide last year. Syrian security authorities now claim Rabah is actually an Israeli Jew who managed–like Eli Cohan several years ago–to infiltrate the Baathists and obtain a prominent position in the Junta. Cohen was hanged.

Premier Golda Meir surprised almost everyone when she empowered Defense Minister Moshe Dayan to speak in her name at crucial talks with top U.S. officials in Washington next week. She also focused attention on a question that has been asked with increasing frequency in recent weeks: Who is Israel’s Foreign Minister? Is it Abba Eban, the urbane, eloquent diplomat who holds the portfolio; or is it outspoken, charismatic hero of the Six-Day War. Gen. Dayan? That the question should arise at all reflects the strains under which the Jerusalem government operates as it tries to chart a course toward peace. It also reflects internal politics. Since the cease-fire with Egypt began last August, JTA dispatches have carried news of pronouncements by Gen. Dayan on matters in which the line between defense policy and foreign policy is blurred. Speaking as a military expert he observed that the Russian SAM missiles with which Egypt saturated its side of the truce zone immediately after Israeli air raids stopped, were not really as menacing as they seemed. That was a military judgement. But when he went on to advocate Israel’s return to the stalled Jarring peace talks whether or not the missiles are withdrawn, the Defense Minister was clearly entering the realm of foreign policy. He was on foreign policy grounds as well when he spoke recently about re-negotiating the cease-fire on the basis of new “physical arrangements” with the Egyptians.

With political astuteness rarely demonstrated by a military man, Gen. Dayan left it to his close associates to specify what king of arrangements he meant. But they had only to draw on his past statements–public and private–to convey the news that he had in mind a mutual disengagement or thinning out of the massive armaments on both sides of the Suez Canal. That would de-fuse the military situation. But it would also create new political circumstances. Is Israeli foreign policy the creature of military factors or are military factors shaped to fit the foreign policies worked out by the civilian government? Was Gen. Dayan, in short, speaking for himself or for the government of which he is but one member? Premier Meir was reportedly “infuriated” by the Dayan statements which reached her while she was in the U.S. last month. The feelings of Mr. Eban are best left to the imagination. He complained bitterly at a recent Cabinet meeting that the Defense Minister’s public remarks made him “look like a fool” while he was engaged in delicate bargaining in Washington over Israel’s terms for returning to the Jarring talks. Dayan’s ideas were not necessarily totally rejected by the government. But the worldwide publicity given them by the news media was embarrassing. The Cabinet exacted a pledge from the Defense Minister not to make statements that might seem to run counter to government policy.


But the next day he was back on the stump, talking about the urgency of negotiations, the dangers of renewed warfare and a confrontation with the Russians, now firmly ensconced in Egypt. Gen. Dayan’s trip to the U.S. this month was planned long ago. Officially he was on another fund-raising mission for the UJA, a task that periodically falls to every Cabinet member. The Foreign Ministry officially denied “rumors” that he would meet with Nixon administration officials. Gen. Dayan himself said he would not go to Washington unless asked by the Prime Minister. A week later, he had not only been asked but the importance of his mission was enhanced. It was stated authoritatively that no decision on a return to the Jarring talks would be made until his return. His agenda in Washington is impressive: Talks with Secretary of State Rogers, Defense Secretary Laird and top White House aid Henry Kissinger. A meeting with Nixon was not excluded. Where does this leave Mr. Eban who was in Washington himself recently but apparently brought home nothing conclusive on which the government could decide its next move? A highly placed Israeli diplomatic source told the JTA that there are no policy differences between Gen. Dayan and Foreign Minister Eban. Why then did Mrs. Meir choose to anoint Dayan her spokesman at this time rather than send Eban back to Washington?

Does Mrs. Meir have more confidence in the General or is she simply acknowledging that he carries considerable political clout at home and must be given a wider role? Home politics is a major issue. The Labor Party’s internal elections will be held next January and could decide the future leadership of Israel’s major political faction. Gen. Dayan is immensely popular with the Israeli masses. He is widely regarded as an original and independent thinker and he minces no words. Should Israel be forced to make painful concessions in the interests of peace–and most realists are convinced she will have to –there is no one better suited than Gen. Dayan to make them palatable to the public. The General in fact seems to be trying to rally the large but amorphous Israeli peace movement to his side. They are not necessarily doves but simply people who want to see an end to the seemingly endless conflict with the Arabs and are willing to compromise. This is not to downgrade Mr. Eban, a brilliant advocate whose mastery of language has won him accolades from friends and the grudging admiration of foes. But Mr. Eban is a statesman, not a politician. He has never developed a popular following in Israel during his long years in that country’s foreign service. For better or worse, Israel today appears to have both a Foreign Minister and a “Foreign Minister At-Large.”

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