CAIRO TRIAL

CAIRO TRIAL, a trial of 11 Jews accused in 1954 of carrying out espionage and sabotage activities on behalf of Israel in Egypt. This affair, involving the worst Israeli security mishap yet revealed, began in 1951 when an Israeli officer, Avraham Dar, was sent to Egypt under the pseudonym of John Darling to set up intelligence cells in Cairo and Alexandria. Early in 1954, it was decided to utilize these cells to undermine Egypt's improving relations with Great Britain and the U.S. A newly infiltrated agent, Avraham Elad, using the pseudonym Paul Frank, was ordered to supervise a series of sabotage attempts which was designed to implicate opponents of the Egyptian government. The object was to cast doubts on the stability of the country and thereby discredit the regime of army officers which had overthrown King Farouk two years earlier. The identity of the person who ordered the operation was subsequently to become the subject of a bitter dispute. Elad maintained that the order came from Col. Binyamin Gibli, head of army intelligence. Gibli, however, insisted that it emanated from the minister of defense, Pinḥas Lavon , who vehemently denied the charge. On July 2, 1954, the first sabotage attempt was successfully carried out when incendiary devices were set off at the Alexandria post office. On July 14, fires were set simultaneously at the U.S. libraries in Cairo and Alexandria. Nine days later, however, an incendiary device went off prematurely in the pocket of Philippe Nathanson, a member of the Alexandria cell, and he was arrested. Within a few days ten other persons were taken into custody, one of them a 16-year-old girl, Marcelle Ninio. The accused were tortured. One of them, Max Bennet, reportedly an Israeli army officer, committed suicide by cutting his wrist with a razor blade. Marcelle Ninio tried unsuccessfully to throw herself out of a window. The trial began on December 7, 1954. Death sentences were handed down two months later against moshe marzouk , a 28-year-old Karaite physician at the Jewish Hospital in Cairo, and Samuel Behor Azaar, 26, a teacher in Alexandria. They had been accused of heading the network's two cells and were subsequently hanged. Two other accused were acquitted. The remaining six – Nathanson, Ninio, Victor Levy, Robert Dassa, Meir Zafran and Meir Meyouhas – were given prison sentences ranging from seven years to life. The organizer of the cells, Avraham Dar, had left Egypt shortly before the first arrests were made. Paul Frank, who was known to the cell members only by a code name, escaped to Europe after their arrest. Known in Israel as "the Third Man," he became a key figure in the dispute that developed over the affair and led to the resignation of Lavon. He was tried in 1959 in Israel on a charge of illegal possession of secret documents and sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment, reduced to ten years by the Supreme Court. He served the full term and upon his release moved to Los Angeles, where he wrote a book giving his version of the affair. The six persons imprisoned in Egypt eventually reached Israel, some after serving out their terms, others in prisoner exchanges following the Six-Day War. Details of the long-secret affair were made public in Israel for the first time in November 1971. (Abraham Rabinovich) In January 1979 a ministerial committee finally approved the publication of a book by Hagai Eshed, Mi Natan Ha-Hora'ah ("Who Gave the Order") written in 1963, the publication of which had until then been forbidden by the Censor. According to this account, it was Lavon who gave the order to effect the raids on British installations in Egypt in order to delay the signing of the United Kingdom-Egypt agreement on the evacuation by Britain of the Suez Canal, but contrary to those orders the fateful attack was aimed at American targets. According to Eshed the change was ordered by the commander of the Israeli group, who was an Egyptian agent, for the purpose of catching the Israelis red-handed. The police had verified the authenticity of the so-called "forged letter" sent by the head of the Israel Army Intelligence, Binyamin Gibli.

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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