JERUSALEM (Nov. 18)
The Cabinet decided today to appoint a five-member judicial committee to investigate the Yom Kippur War. The announcement of that decision immediately provoked a new storm of controversy because a judicial inquiry by its nature must be carried out in secrecy according to law. The panel, to be headed by a justice of the Supreme Court or a district judge, will operate under the laws of sub judice, meaning that the public debate surrounding the war issues will have to be severely curtailed during the Knesset election campaign. Haim Landau, of the opposition Likud, has already announced in a radio interview that his party would demand public freedom of speech on the central issue which he said was the government’s failure to mobilize the reserves in time when it was apparent that the enemy was about to attack. Uri Avneri of the opposition Meri faction seconded Landau.
Attorney General Meir Shamgar admitted to newsmen that the problem of sub judice would be extremely delicate. He said he would try to be lenient and would act against newspapers or other media only if committee members actually complained that published material was influencing their investigation, which would be in violation of the law. Shamgar said that Knesset members, who enjoy immunity would not be subject to prosecution if they violated the laws of sub judice in their campaign speeches. But press reports of their speeches would be subject to prosecution, he said. The government said it would raise the blanket of secrecy only as regards the actual appointments to the committee and that it would retain the option whether or not to publish the panel’s final report.
The secrecy aspects must be approved by the Knesset foreign affairs and security committee which meets tomorrow. Since the government coalition commands a majority on the committee, its approval is considered certain. Officials here stressed that the investigating panel would not delve into the actual conduct of the war beyond the “containment” stage following the initial attack. They noted that the army itself was conducting a far-reaching inquiry into the tactics and strategy employed. The judicial committee will investigate pre-war preparedness of the army, intelligence assessments of the enemy’s intentions and the army’s performance in the first days of the war. The committee’s mandate will also cover the decisions by political and military authorities in the crucial days before Oct. 6 when the war broke out, the Cabinet’s announcement said.
According to the commission of inquiries law of 1968, the judicial panel will be appointed directly by Chief Justice Shimon Agranat of the Supreme Court. It was considered likely that Justice Agranat would assume the chairmanship although he may appoint another Supreme Court justice or a district judge. It was learned that the proposal for a judicial inquiry was presented to the Cabinet by Premier Golda Meir who said she was determined to have a completely impartial body not prone to outside influence and therefore had rejected other options such as a Knesset committee or a public panel of non-judicial character. Informed sources said the Premier had originally favored a public body but was persuaded by Defense Minister Moshe Dayan to agree to a judicial committee. The panel will be the fourth to be convened in Israel since the 1968 law. The others were set up to investigate the 1968 El Aksa mosque fire, the 1971 football scandal and the 1972 Netivei Neft oil company scandal. In those cases the committees’ reports were published.