The Lavon Affair
AT THIS WRITING (early January), the final outcome of the Lavon affair-which three months ago triggered the most serious political crisis in the history of Israel-is still uncertain. But whatever the final outcome, one thing is already clear: Mapai, Israel’s most powerful political party, has been rocked to its very foundations. Mapai will continue to guide the destinies of the country for a long time to come, but it will never be the same. Although the Lavon affair has ostensibly involved a security matter-the probity of two army officers, and their relationship with a former Minister of Defense (Lavon himself)-the real issue being fought out is the future character of Mapai and the related question of who is to rule Israel when Ben Gurion goes into final retirement.
Since the Lavon affair originally centered on a matter of military security, certain facts of the case are still classified as secret. But a fairly detailed picture of the background can nevertheless be drawn. In December 1953, Ben Gurion, who was then acting both as Prime Minister and as Minister of Defense, retired from the government and withdrew to Sde-Boker, a kibbutz in the Negev. He was replaced in the office of Prime Minister by Moshe Sharett, while Pinhas Lavon-a man in his early fifties, ambitious, intelligent, and forceful-became Minister of Defense. In February 1955, a surprise announcement was made that Mr. Lavon had resigned from the Cabinet, that his resignation had been accepted, and that he would be succeeded in the Ministry of Defense by Ben Gurion, who had agreed to abandon his Negev retreat and return to politics.
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