Special to the JTA Begin Believed to Be Suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease

Former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who has been living as a recluse since his abrupt retirement two years ago, is believed to be suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

The suggestion that Begin is suffering from it, current among responsible medical circles, provides the first credible explanation of why Israel’s charismatic leader, who revelled in politics, suddenly and irrevocably withdrew from the world at the age of 70.

Until now his family and his closest medical and political advisers have kept the precise nature of his condition a deep secret, fostering speculation that he retired in a mixture of despair over the costly Israeli intervention in Lebanon and the death of his beloved wife Aliza in 1982.

RESIGNATION SPARKED SPECULATION

His resignation, which caused consternation among his supporters, also sparked protracted speculation that this was only a strategic withdrawal, like that staged in the early 1950′s by David Ben Gurion, and that he might suddenly make a dramatic comeback. It was also rumored for a time that he was engaged in writing a modern history of the Jewish people.

But in retrospect, these hypotheses must now be regarded as incompatible with an illness which doctors say is associated with diffuse degeneration of the brain.

Last week, Begin made one of his very rare public appearances in Jerusalem when he attended a memorial service at his wife’s graveside. Closely hemmed in by his children, he looked a frail, aged and broken man.

However, the disease would appear to be still in its early stages, judging by a report only four months ago, that the former Prime Minister still avidly reads the daily press, is in touch with political events and retains his sharp, penetrating expression.

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