Labor and Likud Ministers Square off on Course of Shin Bet Scandal

Labor and Likud were squaring off against each other in the Cabinet and the Knesset Sunday as a new crisis that could split the unity government arose over demands for an inquiry into what has become known as the Shin Bet scandal.

The situation worsened dramatically at the weekly Cabinet meeting where Laborite Mordechai Gur, the Health Minister and a former Chief of Staff, called on Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir to resign because of his alleged involvement in the affair.

Likud ministers stood solidly behind Shamir who is unalterably opposed to any investigation of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security and counter-espionage services.

ACCUSED OF MASSIVE COVER-UP

Avraham Shalom, head of Shin Bet, tendered his resignation last Wednesday. He and three senior aides were immediately granted pardons by President Chaim Herzog for any illegal acts or failures to act. None had been tried or convicted of any illegalities.

Shalom stood accused of a massive cover-up of the unexplained deaths of two captured Arab bus hijackers while in custody of security agents in April, 1984, when Shamir was Premier in the Likudled government. The head of Shin Bet is responsible solely to the Premier and it is Shamir’s role that is being questioned by some Labor ministers.

In addition to Gur, Energy Minister Moshe Shahal, Absorption Minister Yaacov Tsur and Economic Planning Minister Gad Yaacobi, all Laborites, have indicated publicly that the unity government would fall if there is no investigation. Communications Minister Amnon Rubinstein of the Labor-allied Shinui Party hinted at possible resignations from the Cabinet if demands for an inquiry are not met.

MEETING AT PERES’ HOME

That was reliably understood to be the position of a majority of the Labor members of the Cabinet who met at Premier Shimon Peres’ home Saturday night. The Labor Party Knesset faction convened at Peres’ office Sunday evening to consider a resolution requiring the Knesset and all ministers to back an inquiry.

The Knesset plenary will meet Monday afternoon for a full scale debate on the matter. The Likud Knesset faction has scheduled a meeting for Monday morning. The acting chairman of the faction, Haim Kaufman, accused “anti-rotation” circles in Labor of using the Shin Bet affair to bring down the government in order to prevent Shamir from assuming the office of Prime Minister next October 14, only 15 weeks away.

Peres has indicated he supports an investigation of Shin Bet in principle but was careful not to force the issue at Sunday’s Cabinet meeting. Some observers said he is anxious for a compromise that would save the government.

Peres, they say, sincerely wants to hand over his office to Shamir under the Labor-Likud rotation of power agreement. He feels that only by adhering to the agreement can he resolve his main image problem — lack of credibility, the observers said.

RABIN, OTHERS PREFER NO INQUIRY

Not all Labor ministers are enthusiastic about an inquiry into Shin Bet. Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin expressed serious reservations at the Cabinet meeting. Police Minister Haim Barlev and Agriculture Minister Aryeh Nehamkin also have doubts. But they are considered not likely to buck party discipline if there are firm decisions in Labor Party forums in favor of an inquiry.

But Likud, opposed to any probe of Shin Bet, seems to command a majority in the Cabinet. It is supported by the religious ministers and by Yigael Hurwitz, a Minister-Without-Portfolio who heads the tiny Ometz faction.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments this week to overturn the Presidential pardons of Shalom and his aides. It will also resume hearings Monday on the appeal of Rafi Malka, a former Shin Bet operative fired by Shalom, who is demanding that he be reinstated. Malka was one of three disaffected Shin Bet agents who accused Shalom of covering up the unauthorized killings of the captured bus hijackers.

Monday’s Knesset debate is expected to bring the affair to a head. Peres, it is believed, will make clear in his opening statement how far he is prepared to go to satisfy his party colleagues’ demands for an inquiry.

NEXT STORY