JERUSALEM (Nov. 25)
Premier Menachem Begin will call for early elections if he or his government is found in any way culpable by the commission of inquiry into the Beirut refugee camps massacres, sources close to Begin said today.
The commission dropped a bombshell yesterday when it notified the Premier and eight other senior Israeli officials, including two Cabinet ministers and top army officers, that they “may be harmed” if certain potentially damaging conclusions are reached on the basis of their testimony to date before the commission.
All were given 15 days to study material amassed by the committee and to re-appear before the panel, in person or through a representative, to present further testimony. In each case, the commission listed what “findings and conclusions” it might reach when it presents its final report.
OFFICIALS WHO WERE NOTIFIED
In addition to Begin, the officials notified were Defense Minister Ariel Sharon; Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir; Chief of Staff Gen. Rafael Eitan; Chief of Military Intelligence Gen. Yehoshua Saguy; the head of the intelligence agency Mossad, whose identity is an official secret; Gen. Amir Drori, commander of the northern command; Gen, Amos Yaron, commander of Israeli forces in Beirut; and Avi Dudai, an aide to Sharon. Shamir received his notification only hours after testifying before the commission.
Legal experts noted that the notifications were by no means tantamount to a final report or even prima facie findings. Moreover, by specifying the areas of possible culpability in each of the nine cases, the commission implied that it does not suspect culpability beyond those specified areas. Nevertheless, according to the experts, the commission’s warning changed the status of the men involved from mere witnesses to that of persons “liable to be found remiss.”
POSSIBLE DAMAGING CONCLUSIONS DEFINED
The commission defined the possible damaging conclusions against Begin as follows: “I. That the Prime Minister did not appropriately consider the role to be played by the Lebanese forces (Phalangists) during and following the Israel Defense Force’s entry into west Beirut and ignored the danger of acts of revenge and bloodshed by these forces against the population of the refugee camps. 2. That this omission is tantamount to non-fulfilment of a duty which was incumbent upon the Prime Minister.”
Begin, who appeared before the commission on November 8 testified that he did not know in advance of the plans to send the Phalangists into the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in west Beirut and did not know of the massacres until he heard of them on a BBC broadcast after the Phalangists had withdrawn from the camps. He made it clear to the commission that he had not prepared a “defense brief” or had spent the time and efforts, as other witnesses did, to study the relevant protocols and documents.
The sources close to the Premier said that if the commission’s findings cast any shadow on his government, he was fully confident that new elections would return his Likud party to office with a much larger majority than it presently has in the Knesset. It was also assumed that the weaker parties in Begin’s coalition, such as the National Religious Party, would not oppose early elections under the circumstances.
The commission consists of Chief Justice Yitzhak Kahan, President of the Supreme Court, who is chairman; Supreme Court Justice Aharon Barak; and Gen. (res.) Yona Efrat.
It stated yesterday that the nine witnesses were being notified of possible harm to them in order that they might “attend the commission in person or through an advocate, make statements and examine witnesses and the commission may permit him to present evidence, all in relation to the said potential damage.” The wording is from the 1968 Commissions of Inquiry Law under which the present panel was created.
NOTIFICATION TO SHARON AND SHAMIR
The notification sent to Sharon warned that if the commission finds that he disregarded the danger of Phalangist acts of revenge in the refugee camps and did not take the proper steps to prevent them, he may be legally culpable.
He would also be damaged, the commission said, if it was found that he did not remove the Phalangists from the camps quickly enough or failed to take proper steps to protect the civilian population after he received reports of the murders of civilians or other Phalangist actions that went beyond normal acts of war. Such disregard, the commission said, could mean that Sharon did not properly fulfill his duties as Defense Minister.
Shamir could be harmed, the commission warned, if it found that he did not take the appropriate steps to find out if reports of Phalangist acts were true after he heard of them from Communications Minister Mordechai Zipori or if he did not relay the reports to the Premier or the Defense Minister. In that event, Shamir, too, might be found lax in the fulfillment of his duties as Foreign Minister.
CASES OF EITAN AND SAGUY
Eitan was informed that he could be damaged if the commission found that he disregarded the possibility of revenge or other bloodshed by the Phalangists against civilians in the refugee camps and did not take appropriate measures to prevent it. The commission may also find him culpable if, after being informed of the killings or other actions outside the framework of regular military operations, he failed to check the information or to end the Phalangist operation quickly enough or to take steps to protect the civilians.
Saguy was told he might be held culpable if the commission finds that he did not give proper attention to the decision taken on the proper role the Lebanese forces, meaning Phalangists, would play during the Israel Defense Force’s entry into west Beirut and did not warn, after the assassination of Lebanon’s President-elect Bashir Gemayel that there was a danger that acts of revenge and bloodshed would be perpetrated against the Palestinian population in west Beirut and against the refugee camps population in particular.
Saguy could also be damaged if the commission found that he was tardy in bringing to the attention of the Premier, the Defense Minister and the Chief of Staff the report he received on Friday, September 17 about events in the refugee camps, and that this ommission is tantamount to non-fulfillment of his duties.
The director of Mossad was notified that he would be harmed if the commission found that he failed to pay proper attention to the decision regarding the role of the Phalangists when the IDF entered west Beirut and failed to warn that acts of revenge and bloodshed against the Palestinians might occur in the wake of Gemayel’s murder.
SITUATIONS OF DRORI AND YARON
Drori could be held culpable, the commission said, if it found that he did not take sufficient and appropriate steps to prevent the continuation of acts of bloodshed by the Phalangists after receiving reports of what was occurring in the camps and if he failed to warn the Chief of Staff on September 17 of the danger posed to the camps population by the continued presence of the Phalangists among them.
Yaron, who commanded the IDF in Beirut at the time of the massacres, was warned of possible damage to him if it was found that he did not properly evaluate or check reports of the massacres and did not convey those reports to his immediate superior or to the Chief of Staff after they were transmitted to him on September 16.
The commission said he may also be harmed if it is found that he did not take appropriate steps to defend and protect the population in the camps as soon as he heard the reports; and if it is found that he did not warn the Chief of Staff when the latter visited Beirut on September 17 and gave the Phalangists approval to send new forces into the camps without taking steps to ensure the cessation of the “irregular actions” those forces were engaged in.
Avi Dudai, personal aide to Sharon, was warned that the commission might find that he failed to convey to the Defense Minister a report he received on September 17 of killings being carried out in the camps by the Phalangists.
It is believed that Sharon and Eitan will reappear before the commission. Begin and Shamir are expected to submit written clarifications of their testimony.
The latest developments may prolong the commission’s work, particularly if all of the nine persons warned of possible harm take advantage of the 15-day period to examine documents and appear before the panel in person or by proxy. A final report was expected by the end of this year or early in 1983. But most observers here believe it will be several months before the commission’s task is completed.
SHAMIR TESTIFIES BEFORE THE PANEL
Meanwhile, Shamir, testifying before the commission yesterday, acknowledged that on Friday, September 17, he had received a telephone call from Zipori reporting “histolelut” — the Hebrew word for “rampage” by Phalangist forces in west Beirut, but insisted that Zipori had not conveyed the impression that a massacre was underway and had not referred to the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.
“I did not think in terms of a massacre … I thought solely in terms of fighting against terrorists,” Shamir said. Zipori, who appeared before the commission on November 18, said he had learned from a journalist friend in Beirut that the Phalangists were engaged in a massacre. He said he telephoned Shamir immediately to inform him and suggested that he check out the reports with Sharon who was then on the way to meet with the Foreign Minister. Zipori said he had used the word “slaughter.”
Shamir confirmed that shortly after Zipori’s call, he met with Sharon who was accompanied by Saguy, and by the chief of the secret service, Shin Bet, and U.S. special envoy Morris Draper.
According to Shamir, neither the Israeli officials nor the Americans mentioned any “irregularities” in west Beirut. He said he had no reason to assume that the Defense Minister and the chief of military intelligence were less well informed of what was going on than Zipori’s source, which Zipori did not identify. The source was Zeev Schiff, correspondent for Haaretz.