JERUSALEM (Feb. 8)
The commission of inquiry into the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps massacre called for the resignation of Defense Minister Ariel Sharon or his dismissal by Premier Menachem Begin for willfully ignoring the obvious dangers of “vengeance and bloodshed” against civilians when he allowed armed Christian Phalangists to enter the west Beirut camps last September 16 to root out Palestinian terrorists suspected of hiding there.
The commission, in its report and recommendations published here this morning, accepted Begin’s testimony that he knew nothing of the massacres until he heard of them from a foreign radio broadcast after the fact. But it faulted the Premier for his detachment from events, though it found mitigating circumstances.
The commission’s report was sharply critical of Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir for disregarding information from a Cabinet colleague that the massacres were occurring but did not call for his resignation.
RANKING MILITARY OFFICERS CASTIGATED
Apart from Sharon, the report dealt most harshly with the chief of military intelligence, Gen. Yehoshua Seguy whose dismissal it recommended, and Chief of Staff Gen. Rafael Eitan, whose dismissal it would have asked for but for the fact that Eitan’s term of office expires in April and an extension of his command is not under consideration.
Other ranking military officers were severely castigated. But the three-member panel, while finding grave faults with aspects of policy-making procedures and communications procedures within the Israel Defense Force and between the IDF and the government, determined categorically that no one in a position of responsibility in Israel wanted or intended a massacre to take place or any harm to come to the civilian population of the camps.
The report implied that the Lebanese army and the United States representative in Beirut might share indirect responsibility for the events with Israel which was in occupation of west Beirut at the time.
It completely absolved Israel’s ally, Maj. Saad Haddad and members of his Christian militia of any involvement in the massacre. It placed sole direct responsibility on the Christian Phalangist units which carried out the killings but found no evidence that the Phalange leadership itself had ordered a massacre of the camp inmates.
The commission, appointed last October 20 after a public outcry in Israel against Begin’s initial resistance to a judicial inquiry, consists of Justice Yitzhak Kahan, retiring President of the Supreme Court, Supreme Court Justice Aharon Barak and Maj. Gen. (res.) Yona Efrat.
Last November it warned nine top political and military figures, including Begin, Sharon and Shamir, and Gens. Saguy and Eitan that they may be harmed if it drew certain conclusions as a result of their testimony. Only one of the persons warned, Avi Dudai, an aide to Sharon, was completely absolved by the report.
PANEL DOES NOT FAULT CABINET DECISION
The initial decision to send the Phalangists into the camps was taken by Sharon and Eitan on Tuesday, September 14, following the assassination of Lebanon’s President-elect, Bashir Gemayel. It was approved retroactively by the Cabinet on Thursday evening, September 16, by which time the killings had already begun.
The commission’s report did not fault the decision. It took note of the advantages which Israeli political and military leaders saw in having the Phalangists enter the camps where it was believed armed elements of the Palestine Liberation Organization were hiding.
But, the commission stated in effect, Sharon and Eitan failed to weigh the possible disadvantages, such as innocent bloodshed, which if it transpired would have outweighed the political and military advantages of the move.
Begin testified that the massacre was “in the nature of a disaster which no one imagined and which no one could have foreseen.” The commission said it was “unable to accept the Prime Minister’s remark that he was absolutely unaware of such a danger.” It did not fault him, however, for failing to ask either Sharon or Eitan during Tuesday and Wednesday, September 14-15, what if any role had been assigned to the Phalangists after the Israel Defense Force moved into west Beirut or for failing to object to the Phalangists’ entry into the camps when he learned of it at Thursday’s Cabinet meeting.
With respect to the interim between the Sharon-Eitan decision and the Cabinet meeting, the commission observed that the Premier had “many and diverse tasks and he was entitled to rely on the optimistic and calming reports of the Defense Minister that the entire operation (in west Beirut) was proceeding without any hitches and in the most satisfactory manner.”
The commission accepted Begin’s testimony that he paid no heed at the Cabinet meeting to Deputy Premier David Levy’s warning, near the end of the session, that there might be a massacre.
But it is sharply critical of Begin’s “indifference” from the time he learned of the Phalangists’ entry into the camps until he first heard of the massacre on a BBC broadcast Saturday afternoon, September 18. “He showed absolutely no interest,” the com- mission found, suggesting that had he done so his interest might well have influenced his subordinates to greater alertness.
“The Prime Minister’s failure to involve himself in the entire matter costs on him a certain degree of responsibility,” the report said.
SHARON’S LACK OF CONCERN CITED
With respect to Sharon, the report acknowledged that the intelligence experts had failed to warn adequately of a possible massacre. But the Defense Minister, given his vital role in the war and close ties with the Phalangists, given their “common knowledge” of their battle ethics and their long-standing hatred of the Palestinians — intensified by the assassination of Gemayel — did not require “prophetic powers to know that concrete dangers of acts of slaughter existed when the Phalangists were moved into the camps without the IDF being with them… and without the IDF being able to maintain ongoing effective supervision,” the commission said.
It observed that “the advantages to be gained (from the Phalangists’ entry into the camps) distracted him from the proper consideration in this instance.”
The report stated further: “From the Defense Minister himself we know that this consideration (the likelihood of atrocities) did not concern him in the least … and that this matter was neither discussed nor examined in the meetings held … by the Defense Minister … It is ostensibly puzzling that the Defense Minister did not in any way make the Premier privy to the decision on having the Phalangists enter the camps.
“It is our view that responsibility is to be imputed to the Minister of Defense for having disregarded the danger of acts of vengeance and bloodshed by the Phalangists against the population of the camps, and having failed to take this danger into account when he decided to have the Phalangists enter the camps.
“In addition, responsibility is to be imputed to the Minister of Defense for not ordering appropriate measures for preventing or reducing the danger of massacre as a condition for the Phalangists’ entry into the camps. These blunders constitute non-fulfillment of duty with which the Defense Minister was charged.”
FINDING ON SHAMIR
The commission found that Foreign Minister Shamir reacted with reprehensible “disdain” when he received from Communications Minister Mordechai Zippori on Friday morning (September 17) a report of killings in the camps. He failed to do anything effective to check out the report, the commission said.
It found Shamir guilty of an “error” in that regard. It was sharply critical of the state of relations within the Cabinet that led Shamir to discount and disparage the telephone call from Zippori. The commission said it “tended to accept” Zippori’s evidence, implying that it rejected Shamir’s testimony on whether or not his colleague had used the word “massacre.” The commission conceded, however, that Shamir may “not have caught” the import of Zippori’s warning.
The commission categorically rejected Eitan’s testimony that “we never could have imagined the danger” of a massacre. The possibility of a massacre should have arisen based on well known facts and common sense assessments, it said.
“The Chief of Staff must be viewed as a partner to the decision (to send the Phalangists into the camps) and as bearing responsibility for its adoption and implementation,” the commission said, noting that had he objected, he could have challenged Sharon and appealed to Begin.
The commission described as “worthless” the operation of IDF look-out and listening posts to monitor Phalange radio communications in the camps but observed that the fact such measures, though “worthless,” were in fact taken, therefore “is not congruent with the claim that such excesses were not foreseen at all.”
EITAN BLASTED FOR ‘NAIVETE’
Eitan was blasted for “naivete” in his behavior in Beirut on Friday, September 17 when he flew there, following reports of excesses from the commander of the north, Gen. Amir Drori, and met with Phalangist leaders. He said nothing to them on the matter of atrocities, according to his testimony, “for fear of offending their honor. But this fear was out of place,” the commission declared the commission declared.
It concluded that Eitan’s “conduct stemmed from his disregard of the suspicions that the Phalangists were perpetrating acts of slaughter and this disregard went so deep that even the information that had arrived meanwhile and reached the Chief of Staff could not shake it … He should have ordered the immediate removal of the Phalangist forces from the camps, admonished the Phalangist commanders about the aberrance of their actions and demanded that they issue immediate orders to their forces to refrain,” the commission stated.
Instead, Eitan authorized the supply of an IDF tractor to the Phalangists in the camps until the next morning, the report noted. His actions, it stated, constitute “a breach of duty and dereliction of duty… We have arrived at grave conclusions. He (Eitan) is about to complete his term of service in April, 1983. Taking into account the fact that an extension is not under consideration, there is no practical significance a recommendation regarding his continuing in office as Chief of Staff and therefore we have resolved that it is sufficient to determine responsibility without any further recommendation.”
PANEL REFUSES TO ACCEPT SAGUY’S TESTIMONY
The commission flatly refused to accept the testimony of military intelligence chief Gen. Saguy that he knew nothing of the plans to send the Phalangists into the camps until Friday morning, September 17. Saguy was present at several brief discussions between Tuesday and Thursday and must have heard something, the commission stated.
It faulted him for failing to convey to higher echelons express warnings of what was likely to happen. Citing Saguy’s own testimony, the commission determined that his position and his perception of it stemmed from his long-standing opposition to IDF cooperation with the Phalangists. “Thus, he apparently wanted no part in the planning of their entry and felt warnings from him would fall on deaf ears,” the commission said.
Nevertheless, this background cannot exonerate Saguy, the report stated. “In our opinion, it was the duty of the Director of Military intelligence, as long as he occupies this post, to evince alertness regarding the role of the Phalangists in the entry into Beirut after Bashir’s (Gemayel) assassination, to demand an appropriate deliberation and to warn expressly and explicitly all those concerned of the expected danger even prior to receipt of the report on Friday and certainly after receipt of the report,” the commission said.
It concluded that Saguy’s “Fear that his words would not received sufficient attention and be rejected does not justify total inaction. This inaction constitutes a breach of the duty incumbent on the director of military intelligence.”
MIXED FINDINGS ABOUT DRORI
The commission had mixed findings on the conduct of Gen. Drori, commander of the northern command and therefore the senior field officer in command of Israeli forces in Lebanon. It praised his order to halt the Phalangists’ operations in the camp when he first heard of excesses on Friday morning.
But it found that his “alertness declined” as soon as Eitan arrived in Beirut and was reduced to “total passivity … disengagement from any treatment of the subject” when he accompanied the Chief of Staff at his meeting with the Phalangist leaders where Eitan failed to raise the matter of excesses.
“A commander at such a level and rank should be expected to take the initiative when he sees that the Chief of Staff does not intend to deal with the issue which was the main cause of his coming to Beirut and meeting with the Phalangist staff,” the commission said.
YARON FOUND GUILTY OF BREACH OF DUTY
The panel found Brig. Gen. Amos Yaron, the immediate commander of Israeli forces in Beirut, guilty of breach of duty and recommended that he hold no command post for at least three years. The commission faulted Yaron for failure to act on Thursday night, September 16, when initial reports of over 300 dead civilians filtered out of the camps and reached him. Moreover, he failed to pass on those reports to his superiors, the report said.
Instead, Yaron made do with “reiterating warnings to the Phalange … officers not to kill women and children. But beyond that he did nothing to stop the killings …” The report also accused Yaron of failure to convey the reports he received from Drori to the Chief of Staff and of enabling the Phalangists to replace their forces inside the camps “despite the fact that the order (by Drori) halting the operation was not rescinded.”
The commission pointedly noted in its report that it did not deal with the question of whether and to what extent the Lebanese army and the U.S. government representatives might share with Israel some indirect responsibility for the massacre. “We will only discuss the issue of Israel’s indirect responsibility, knowing that … it is not an exclusive responsibility laid on Israel alone,” the report declared.