Behind the Headlines the Unofficial Information Network

The Israeli attack on the Iraqi nuclear reactor near Baghdad has highlighted an interesting phenomenon in Israeli political life: The Labor opposition leaders were well informed about the operational plans for the destruction of the reactor and about the secret top-level discussions that had taken place within the defense establishment as well as in the Cabinet.

The Labor leaders got their information not through the regular parliamentary machinery — such as briefings in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee–but through an unofficial network of information sources comprising civil servants and several coalition politicians.

The extent of the information acquired by the Labor Alignment on the planned operation is an indication of the extent of its knowledge and familiarity of virtually all areas of the government’s activities. Labor Party chairman Shimon Peres and his colleagues have been privy to every plan and important discussion in the Cabinet on security matters, economic problems and social policy.

EXTENT OF THE INFORMATION

During the peace negotiations between Israel and Egypt, Peres was kept informed about every stage of the talks. In January 1978, for example, at an early stage of the negotiations, Peres told the Knesset of a plan to include the Rafiah salient in Sinai in the autonomy district in order to ensure the continued existence of Israeli settlements there.

At that time this suggestion, submitted to Cairo by Israel, was a delicate diplomatic secret. On other occasions Labor Alignment MK Yossi Sarid showed an impressive and detailed knowledge of the state of relations between the Military Government of the West Bank and the local Palestinians. Sarid told the Knesset that he was informed by high ranking army officers about disturbances caused by Jewish settlers of Kiryat Arba in the cave of Machpelah, a holy site, and about the behavior of Israeli soldiers during a violent confrontation with young Arab demonstrators in Ramallah.

In February 1978, Sarid told the press that the Israel Mission in Ethiopia–whose very presence in that country was a closely guarded secret– had been ordered to leave because of Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan’s slip of the tongue admission that Israel was assisting Ethiopia’s military regime.

These examples are an indication of the extent of the information held by the opposition party. Much of the political knowledge accumulated by Peres and his colleagues was never made known publicly.

OTHERS ENJOY INSIDE INFORMATION

The Alignment’s leadership was not alone in its surveillance of the government’s activities through an unofficial information network. The same means were utilized by Dayan and Defense Minister Ezer Weizman. Though both quit the government in 1979 and 1980, respectively they continued to receive classified data as they had done during their service in the foreign and defense ministries.

Dayan, to the present day, is still a good source of information about the various ongoing negotiations with Egypt. Weizman remains familiar with every detail concerning the present running of defense affairs. Both men are well informed about the Cabinet discussions and decisions. Indeed Weizman knew about the government’s decision to destroy the Iraqi reactor and he lobbied actively among several Cabinet ministers to try to prevent it.

Peres, Dayan and Weizman get their information from Cabinet members and from civil servants. The three of them, and other Labor opposition figures who were ministers with important portfolios, naturally left behind them friends and followers who continue to keep in touch with them and look to them for advice.

Premier Menachem begin pays the price for this phenomenon. His stewardship as Prime Minister is constantly under close scrutiny by his political rivals who enjoy the advantage of inside information.

NEXT STORY