TEL AVIV (Dec. 29)
Premier Yitzhak Shamir has been absolved of any wrongdoing in the 1984 killing of two captured Arab bus hijackers by Israeli agents and the subsequent cover-up of what came to be known as the Shin Bet affair.
But the findings of the special committee set up by the Justice Ministry to investigate the episode, touched off a vituperative quarrel between Labor and Likud only hours after the 65 page document was published at Shamir’s request Sunday night.
Likud spokesmen hailed the report and demanded that Laborites apologize to the Prime Minister for their “blood libel” that he was in any way involved. Critics of the report claimed it whitewashed the political echelons which bore ultimate responsibility for the activities of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal secret service.
NOT IMPLICATED IN COVER-UP ATTEMPTS
The special committee, a panel of lawyers headed by Attorney General Yosef Harish, found that Shamir, who was Premier at the time of the incident, did not order the killings and was not implicated in attempts to cover them up. Their report castigated the then Shin Bet chief, Avraham Shalom, who claimed he acted on orders from a higher authority.
It was Shalom’s testimony before a government-appointed committee that cast a shadow on Shamir’s role, since the Prime Minister was the highest political figure and bore ultimate responsibility for the Shin Bet. The committee was chaired by Gen. (Res.) Meir Zorea.
Zorea was sharply critical of the panel’s report Monday. Calling the incident one of the biggest scandals in Israel’s history, he said on an Israel Radio interview that while the findings were legally in order, the panel failed to place any blame on the political establishment for its failure to act after it became apparent that a wrong had been committed.
“Everyone was happy, though something disgusting had been done,” Zorea said. He admitted his committee had been misled by Shalom’s testimony “and in the end nobody was found guilty or punished because of the Presidential pardon.”
CRITICIZES PRESIDENTIAL PARDONS
Zorea was referring to the pardons granted by President Chaim Herzog to Shalom and several of his associates though none was ever charged with an offense. He criticized Labor Party leader Shimon Peres, who became Premier shortly after the incident, for going along with the Presidential pardon and for not forcing Shalom to resign. Shalom did resign, but only after the scandal broke earlier this year.
Labor Party spokesmen, including Abba Eban, chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, also criticized the panel, not for its findings but for overlooking political responsibility. Likud, however, lauded Shamir for his “fortitude” and “resolute stand” in the face of “blood libels” and “calumny” by the Labor Party.
Laborites promptly noted that it was Likud which stubbornly opposed any investigation into the affair by the police, legal authorities or a government commission when it first surfaced.