For 63 years, efforts were made to conceal the Lavon Affair (also known as Operation Susannah) from the public. It was an event that shook up the State of Israel in the 1950s and led to the resignation of then-Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. Now, a rare book has been made public that describes the events from the Egyptian point of view and includes confessions from the Israeli operatives that were given to Egyptian security services.
"The book was found without identifying details for the publisher or the place of publication," said Dr. Baruch Falah, a multidisciplinary historian and researcher who purchased the volume from an antiques dealer. "Apparently, the booklet was published by a pro-Egyptian group called the National Renaissance Party, funded by Egyptian intelligence. The booklet reveals confidential information about the spying affair and apparently the copy that I have is the only one that exists today."
The Lavon affair, which at times seems to have been taken from a fictional thriller, is fraught with failed operational planning, intrigue, plotting and betrayal. In the early 50s, the Israeli intelligence service ran a spy ring in collaboration with local Jews as part of Unit 131, which was designed to carry out espionage in Arab countries. The objective was to bring down Egypt's King Farouk, who was hostile towards Israel, and to sabotage Egyptian-British relations via terrorist attacks on British facilities in Egypt and making Egyptians seem responsible. Some members of the ring were caught, arrested and tried. One of them committed suicide in his cell.
"The book was apparently printed in New York, and in fact, it's an historic revelation of many unknown details about the affair," said Falah. "It contains the names of 'the Zionist' spies, photographs of British facilities where explosives had been placed, pictures and descriptions of "the Zionists' crimes,' photographs of Egyptian wounded accompanied by the description 'Victims of Zionist terrorism' and photographs of sites where bombs had been placed that had been defused before they detonated.
"This is the first publication that I know of that describes Zionist sabotage and terrorism, as Egypt defined it. There are photographs that have never been published. One of them shows the Goldschmidt House in Jerusalem, which served as a British officers' club, that was bombed—and there they show a picture of the building after the terrorist attack under the title 'Zionist sabotage,' despite the fact that this was a terrorist attack carried out by the Irgun in the 40s before the foundation of the state.
"The book aroused great interest in me, so I decided to send it to the Winner's auction house in Jerusalem for a public auction. I believe that a lot of collectors and museums will compete over it, and I hope that it will add to our research on this subject."
Dr. Eran Lerman, a former deputy head of the National Security Council and a lecturer at Shalem College, has seen sections of the book. He commented, "This is the first time that I've seen these pictures and documents. I draw the conclusion that it's an authentic Egyptian propaganda document, which was prepared at the request of the authorities by the Egyptian investigative bodies. It seems that the confessions by the members of the (spy) ring are authentic.
"Given the interrogation tactics in Egypt, of course there is no guarantee that what the people confessed to is exactly what they did. The document is written in Arabic and in English, and the title page is in English only, suggesting it was principally intended for abroad, a sort of propaganda document designed to tarnish Israel as a terrorist state."