TEL A VIV (Nov. 4)
Chief of Staff Gen. Rafael Eitan found himself at the center of a new political storm over the weekend for reducing the prison sentence of a second Israeli army officer convicted of murdering a prisoner during the invasion of Lebanon in March, 1978, the so-called “Litani Operation.” Eitan, who was chief of military operations at the time, is accused in this case of having ordered his troops to take no prisoners, meaning that any captured terrorists were to be killed.
Eitan, who left tonight on a 10-day visit to the U.S. as guest of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had no comment. An army spokesman, however, denied emphatically that any such orders were given.
The latest case involves former Lt. Col. Aryeh Sadeh, who commanded an engineering battalion in the Litani Operation. He was convicted by a military court of having ordered his men to kill one of three Arabs captured by his unit. He was sentenced to 30 months imprisonment and reduced in rank to Captain. An Appeals Court Increased his punishment to five years imprisonment and demoted him to the rank of Private. But Eitan intervened, ordered the original lighter sentence restored and elevated Sadeh to Major, just one rank below his original one.
The entire case was cloaked in secrecy. It was acknowledged by the military authorities on Friday only after the story appeared in the London Spectator. The British periodical had apparently received the information from MK Uri Avneri of the leftist Sheli faction, the same source that exposed the similar case of Lt. Daniel Pinto several months ago.
Pinto, who commanded a platoon during the Lebanese operation, was convicted of the torture-murder of four Lebanese civilians and was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment, later reduced to eight years, and stripped of rank. Eitan cut that sentence to two years, including time already served. By coincidence, Pinto, who received additional time off for good behavior, was released from jail on Friday, just as the Sadeh story was breaking. Says He Carried Out Orders.
Sadeh did not deny that he had ordered the execution of a prisoner he believed to have been a terrorist. But he insisted, according to the Spectator story, that he was carrying out the spirit of the orders given at a briefing by top army officers that no terrorists be taken alive. His wife, Yaffa, who is campaigning for her husband’s release, said in a radio interview that those orders were given directly by Eitan.
She said that at the briefing the commanding officer read a famous line written by Israel’s national poet, the late Chaim Nachman Bialik “The devil has not yet found a revenge for the blood of a little child.” Bialik wrote those words after the Kishinev pogroms in Czarist Russia. The Litani Operation was ordered after a terrorist raid from Lebanon on Israel’s coastal highway in which many of the victims were children.
According to Mrs. Sadeh, another ranking officer said at the briefing, “We do not want wounded. We do not want prisoners. Just kill terrorists. Only terrorists. Kill, kill, kill.” She said the man her husband ordered killed was obviously a terrorist. The other two prsioners were not and were treated properly, she said.
NO, ILLEGAL ORDERS GIVEN
An army spokesman said last night that strict orders were given not to harm prisoners, including any terrorists who might give themselves up. He said all operational orders contained detail instructions of how captured terrorists should be treated and transferred to interrogation centers.
The spokesman acknowledged that Eitan had read the line from Bialik but insisted that he had added nothing and that the commander of the northern region gave no illegal instructions. He said the orders stressed that the objective of the Litani Operation was to destoy terrorists and their bases but nowhere was it said that prisoners should be harmed.
The then Chief of Staff, Gen. Mordechai Gur, attended the briefing but has refused to comment on the issue. At the moment, it is Avneri rather than Eitan who is feeling political heat from his Knesset colleagues. Labor MK Amos Hoder has asked the Attorney General to waive Avneri’s Knesset immunity so that he can be brought to trial on charges of revealing military secrets.
Another MK, Akiva Noff of the Democratic Movement has asked Knesset Speaker Yitzhak Shamir and the heads of the various factions to initiate amendments to the present Knesset laws to prevent violations of State security under the protection of immunity. Avneri charged that Noff was, in effect, inciting his assassination. Noff responded that. Avneri Is paranoic.