A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, March 23, 2015

Israel's Yediot/Ynet Publishes New Revelations in the 1965 Ben Barka Assassination Case; Lengthy Story Then Disappears Down Memory Hole

Mehdi Ben Barka
Update: The story has reappeared under a new title, and I haven't compared the two.

Early Sunday morning Israel time the Ynet website, the English online site for Yediot Acharanot, published a lengthy article on the Israeli role in the 1965 disappearance and death of Moroccan dissident Mehdi Ben Barka, called "Secret History: How the Mossad became entangled in a political assassination."

You may note that I didn't link to the article. That is because within 24 hours, perhaps less, it disappeared from the website. 

The article, by investigative journalists Ronen Bergman and Shlomo Nakdimon, remained availble through Google cache last night, but now the cached version also brings up a page not found message.

Fortunately Le Monde had already interviewed one of the authors, (link is in French) and some Algerian  and Palestinian papers ran summaries, but the main story seems to have disappeared down a memory hole.

This is curious. The Israeli press is subject to military censorship, but articles must be cleared before publication. Did censorship clear it in error? Did somebody else spike the story?

If so, they must not understand the Internet. Even when someone manages to delete it from Google Cache, you can't be sure readers haven't already saved copies to the hard drives.

Readers like me.
Screencap of the story
I won't violate their copyright by quoting the story in full, but since it seems to have vanished I'll summarize it.

I previously wrote about the Ben Barka affair back in 2012. The disappearance of Ben Barka from the streets of Paris was a scandal mat the time. French investigations led to the jailing of a few French agents, and the involvement of Moroccan intelligence has long been established. Mossad's role has long been rumored, but with few details known.

Ahmad Dlimi
Bergman and Nakdimon begin by discussing Mossad's good relations with French intelligence dating from the days of the Algerian war, as well as their growing covert relations with Moroccan intelligence. They report that Morocco  provided Israel with full details of the 1965 Arab Summit in Casablanca, and in return asked for Israeli help in locating the exiled dissident, Mehdi Ben Barka.

They directly quote from interviews they had with the Mossad chief at the time, Meir Amit, prior to his death in 2009. According to Amit (as quoted in the article), Israel was willing to cooperate but did not want to get directly involved in a killing.

They helped the Moroccans locate Ben Barka, who traveled frequently, discovering he picked up mil from a kiosk in Geneva. This was conveyed to Moroccan Deputy Interior Minister Ahmed Dlimi. (The article spells it Dalimi, but Dlimi is standard in both English nd French.) But then:
But for the Moroccans, Israel's debt had not yet been paid. On October 1, 1965, they requested Mossad agents in Paris to rent them a hiding place and provide them with camouflage, makeup and fake passports. In addition, they wanted Israel to follow their target for them and advise them on how best to send Ben Barka to meet his maker.
According to the protocol of the meetings between Amit and [Prime Minister Levi] Eshkol, only on October 4 did Amit report to the prime minister about the Mossad's involvement. To sweeten the pill of what he was about to tell Eshkol, Amit began with good news, describing the valuable intelligence gathered by the Mossad at the summit in Casablanca. "I want to show you the information about the debates," Amit told Eshkol, and said that intelligence indicated that at that time, the armies of the Arab countries were not ready for war against Israel.

Then came the less good tidings: "What do they want?" Eshkol asked. Amit continued: "A very simple thing: Deliver Mehdi Ben Barka. We found him in Paris and King Hassan gave an order to kill him. They came to us and said: 'We do not want you to do it, but help us.'
Meir Amit
Israel agreed to provide five foreign passports, but they quote Amit as sayi[ng that Eshkol said to him in Yiddish, "It does not smell right to me."
Four days went by. On October 8, Amit told Eshkol: "So far, all is well. We are able to hold on. We are 'ducking' the issue."

But the Moroccans had no intention of "ducking" the issue. On October 12, Dalimi asked Israel for fake car license plates and a poisonous solution. Israel rejected the request for the license plates and suggested the use of rented cars, for which it would provide fake documentation. Dalmi also informed Israel that Oufkir had decided to postpone the operation until the end of October, but did not specify an exact date.
On October 13, 1965, Dalimi left France to return to Morocco, and Amit took this as a sign that the entire operation had been scrapped. "Thank God, they gave up on it," he told Eshkol on the same day.

Besides Amit, the report also cites the work of Dr. Shlomo Ben-Nun, an expert on Israeli-Moroccan relations.

Dlimi and his agents, with the help of French police acting on their own, kidnapped Ben Barka as he arrivved for a meeting at the famed Brasserie Lipp, They took him to an apartment on the outskirts ofn Paris and t]ortured him. The authors cite conflicting reports over whether the Mor0ccans asked Mossad for poison, but say the sources agree that Ben Barka died under torture. Mossad then assisted in disposing of the body in a forest outside Paris.

Muhammad Oufkir
Charkes de Gaulle was furious .at a kidnapping on the streets of Paris in broad daylight,  and reportedly demanded that King Hasan II hand over Dlimi and his superior, Interior Minister Muhammad Oufkir. On November 5, Amit reportedly told Eshkol, "The Moroccans killed Ben Barka. Israel had no physical connection to the act itself."

Much of this has been reported or rumored in the past. But the authors also discuss an internal Israeli blowback from the operation. According to them, Mossad's legendary "founding father," Isser Harel, retired but an adviser to Eshkol, entered the tale. They quote Harel (who died in 2003) as telling them before his death

When Harel heard of the Mossad involvement in the affair, he turned to prime minister Eshkol. Before his death, Harel described the conversation to us: "I told him (Eshkol): 'God sent me to protect you and you became terribly entangled. Amit lied to you all along. You told him not to get involved, and he was involved. Your situation is very grave. You had a consultant on this issue and you didn’t consult him. And it heightens your own responsibility, and now you have to resign.'

"Eshkol really begged for his life," Harel recounted. "I told him, in my opinion, you should appoint an inquiry commission and see who is responsible for this failure, and the findings of the investigation will decide whether you continue as prime minister. And as for Amit, you should know that he did not tell you the truth. You had an advisor and did not use him. Eshkol almost started crying ..."
Isser Harel
Eshkol refused to resign and refused to fire Amit, but continued to pursue the issue, leading to secret investigations and much infighting. Amit blamed Harel's jealousy of his successor. De Gaulle through Mossad's European headquarters out of Paris.

I can't testify to any of this and would normally have just referred you to the link. The whole story is much longer and more detailed than my summary.

As for Muhammad Oufkir, he was implicated in a plot to shoot down the King's plane in 1972, after which he committed suicide, or many believe "committed suicide." Ahmad Dlimi went on to become the hero of the war against POLISARIO in Western Sahara, becoming the most powerful figure since Oufkir and perhaps considered a threat by the King. In 1983, after a meeting with the King, he was killed in an auto accident, the "accidental" nature of which has been widely questioned.


Sidi Harazem said...

While he was no doubt highly despondent after the failure of the 1972 coup, he was not so distraught that he didn't dispatch himself in remarkable fashion.

Demonstrating remarkable dexterity and stamina he apparently shot himself at least five times in the back.

Michael Collins Dunn said...

Worst case of suicide we've ever seen.