JERUSALEM (Jun. 8)
Menachem Begin did not want to expand the Lebanon war in 1982. But he hesitated a full month before saying no to Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, by which time it was too late, according to sensational new testimony by the late prime minister’s personal secretary at the time.
Yona Klimowitzky made that disclosure in a long article in the weekend edition of Yediot Achronot appearing on the 10th anniversary of the war, which began with the limited objective of “Peace for Galilee.”
Begin died March 9 at age 78. The revelations of his ambiguous attitude toward the war and apparent deferral to the hawkish Sharon are not new. But their appearance in Israel’s largest newspaper 16 days before the Knesset elections had a strong impact.
She wrote that Begin was confident when the war began on June 6, 1982, that it would be over in two days.
She recalled that before leaving that day on his first and only visit to the front lines, Begin phoned his wife, Aliza, and told her, “I am going north to the bunker. We shall finish everything in 48 hours, and I shall come home.”
But according to Klimowitzky, Sharon insisted on continuing the fighting and no one would stand in his way. Begin’s military aide, Azriel Nevo, tried, but Sharon had more influence.
It was only at the end of June that the Cabinet refused for the first time to approve Sharon’s proposals. Begin began gradually to consult more with Nevo and with the Israel Defense Force chief of staff, Gen. Rafael Eitan, and began overruling an angry Sharon.
NO LONGER USED HIS NICKNAME
His disenchantment with the defense minister peaked when Begin learned belatedly that Sharon had ordered a large call-up of reserves on Aug. 7 without consulting him, Klimowitzky said.
She said she could tell that Begin was fed up with Sharon when he started addressing him as “Mr. Defense Minister” instead of by his nickname, Arik.
Asked to comment, Sharon said that as far as he could recall, Klimowitzky’s job was to open the door to let in the maids who served coffee and tea during his conferences with the prime minister. “One should weigh her comments in that perspective,” he said.
Likud election headquarters also said it would not comment on a secretary’s remarks.
But Klimowitzky’s account was confirmed by Yitzhak Berman, who resigned from Begin’s Cabinet to protest the Sabra and Shatila massacres in September 1982, and reserve Maj. Gen. Amos Yaron, who commanded IDF forces in Beirut.
Yaron said her article confirmed his belief that “the confusion and the lack of coordination in the war originated in the political echelons.”
A television interview with Yaron was called off for fear that it might be seen as taking sides in the upcoming elections.
One member of the political echelon in 1982 was Shamir, who served as Begin’s foreign minister. According to Klimowitzky, the current premier never expressed his views during the entire war, nor does she remember “even once that Begin wanted to consult with him.”