MATERIAL: Hand-Written/Painted
TYPE: Letter
ITEM ID: 5389
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Letter Signed by David Ben-Gurion

Year: 1955
Decade: 1950s
Century: 20th (1901-2000)
Notes: April 16, 1955

A letter signed in Hebrew by David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, dated April 16th, 1955.

According to scholar Arik Moran, “It’s from David Ben Gurion, then defense minister living in the desert in Sde Boker in the Negev, addressed to Moshe Sharet, PM. The government collapsed soon afterwards following a security fiasco in Egypt.”

The Lavon Affair was a failed Israeli covert operation, code named “Operation Susannah”, conducted in Egypt in the summer of 1954. As part of a false flag operation, a group of Egyptian Jews were recruited by Israeli military intelligence to plant bombs inside Egyptian-, American-, and British-owned civilian targets: cinemas, libraries, and American educational centers. The bombs were timed to detonate several hours after closing time. The attacks were to be blamed on the Muslim Brotherhood, Egyptian Communists, “unspecified malcontents”, or “local nationalists” with the aim of creating a climate of sufficient violence and instability to induce the British government to retain its occupying troops in Egypt’s Suez Canal zone.

The operation caused no casualties among the population, but led to the deaths of four operatives: two cell members who committed suicide after being captured; and two operatives who were tried, convicted, and executed by the Egyptian authorities. The operation ultimately became known as the Lavon Affair after the Israeli defense minister Pinhas Lavon, who was forced to resign as a consequence of the incident.

In meetings with the prime minister Moshe Sharett, minister of defense Pinhas Lavon denied any knowledge of the operation. When intelligence chief Gibli contradicted Lavon, Sharett commissioned a board of inquiry consisting of Israeli Supreme Court Justice Isaac Olshan and the first chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, Yaakov Dori that was unable to find conclusive evidence that Lavon had authorized the operation.

Lavon tried to fix the blame on Shimon Peres, who was the secretary general of the defense ministry, and on Gibli for insubordination and criminal negligence. Sharett resolved the dilemma by siding with Peres (who had, along with Moshe Dayan, testified against Lavon), after which Lavon resigned on 17 February 1955.

Former prime minister David Ben-Gurion succeeded Lavon as minister of defense. On 3 November 1955, Sharett (who had not known about the operation in advance, and had therefore strongly denied Israel’s involvement) resigned as Prime Minister and was replaced by Ben-Gurion.

Before Lavon’s resignation, the incident had been euphemistically referred to in Israel as the “Unfortunate Affair” or “The Bad Business” (Hebrew: העסק הביש, HaEsek HaBish). Israel publicly denied any involvement in the incident until 2005, when the surviving agents were awarded certificates of appreciation by Israeli President Moshe Katsav.