The British government used bombs and covert tactics to try to thwart the settlement of Palestine by post-World War II Jewish refugees, according to a new book by Keith Jeffery, titled "MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service 1909-1949." The British government has independently verified Jeffery's revelation. Jeffery, a historian from Northern Ireland, notes that his book was "published with the permission of the Secret Intelligence Service and the Controller of Her Majesty's Stationery Office."
According to Jeffery, the British undertook the effort -- dubbed, oddly enough, Operation Embarrass -- in order to curry favor with oil-rich Arab states upset over the Jewish migration to the Middle East. The Daily Beast's Andrew Roberts broke the news of the book's disclosures.
MI6, Britain's secret intelligence service, planted explosives to disable ships before they could transport Jewish men, women and children from Europe to Palestine. Britain controlled Palestine at the time and, partly due to pressure from wartime Arab allies, adopted a policy of strictly limiting Jewish migration to British-controlled lands in the region. In May 1948, the British left and Israel declared independence.
In addition to the direct physical sabotage, Roberts notes, the British launched a disinformation and propaganda campaign to impede the settlement.
Launched on Feb. 14, 1947, Operation Embarrass operated with a budget equivalent to $47,000 -- not an insignificant amount at the time. It began by dispatching a team of agents to France. The spies -- traveling under the guise of yachtsmen -- planted bombs on five ships docked in Italian ports in the summer of 1947 and early 1948. One ship was destroyed, two damaged; the explosives were discovered on the other two ships before they were detonated. British authorities were able to escape responsibility because the Italian investigators ruled out the idea of British-sponsored attacks on the ships. Instead, the Italians believed the likely culprits were Arabs using British-made explosives.
According to Jeffery, "the primary consideration" of the mission was "that no proof could ever be established between positive action against this traffic and His Majesty's Government." In the event they were caught, British agents were under orders to claim that they'd been recruited in New York by anti-communist businessmen working "mainly in the oil and aircraft industries." Or as the Daily Beast's Roberts puts it, they were to "lay the blame on rich, right-wing, unnamed Americans."
At the time, the British controlled much of the land in Palestine, and the British government technically viewed the Jewish settlers to the region as illegal immigrants. Still, before these latest revelations, no one would have suspected that the British launched deliberate attacks on Jewish settlers.
All of which compounds the irony of the MI6 putting forward an attempt to undermine large-scale Jewish settlement in the region under the name Operation Embarrass. As the Daily Beast's Roberts writes, "The country that ought to be embarrassed by Operation Embarrass — indeed shamed — is Great Britain, which used explosives to try to stop truly humanitarian flotillas after the Holocaust, but now condemns embattled Israel for halting entirely politically inspired flotillas to Gaza despite her rights of legitimate self-defense."