Aaron Aaronsohn and his friends at the Jewish espionage network NILI played a critical role in the formation of the Balfour Declaration. This Declaration is the diplomatic document that paved the way for the establishment of the State of Israel, according to a new study by the former head of Mossad Efraim Halevy.
The new study published by BICOM organization in the British Jewish magazine Fathom. The Balfour Declaration was credited mainly to Dr. Chaim Weizmann, President of the Jewish Federation in England at the time of the declaration on November 2, 1917. Later Weizmann becomes Israel’s first president. At the same time, the Jewish underground NILI was an issue of much dispute among the Jews and continued to remain controversial for decades after it ceased to exist.
But, Efraim Halevy emphasizes in the magazine, which dedicated to commemorating the 100 year anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, the crucial role of NILI in securing the statement, through a great assistance the underground gave to the British war effort to conquer the Land of Israel from the Ottomans.
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Halevy quotes a number of references based on documents from the era and the statements of senior British officials from that period. One of them is an official publication by the British Secret Intelligence Service reviewing the intelligence activity of Britain in the years 1909-1949 that claims, based on documents from the era that during the First World War, NILI spies collected “abundant military information through Palestine and South Syria” in an effort to recruit Britain, after winning the war, to the cause of establishing a home for the Jews of the world in what was then known as Palestine.
Halevy further notes that in May 2017, a British Intelligence officer stationed in Paris wrote to the director of the Eastern Mediterranean Special Intelligence Bureau (EMSIB): “You certainly seem to be getting good stuff through Mack,” with Mack being the codename of Aaron Aaronsohn among British intelligence personnel.
Another testimony of Aaronsohn’s role was found, according to Halevy, come in the words of Captain Sir George Mansfield Smith-Cumming, the legendary founder and first Director of the SIS from 1909-1923, who noted that “they consider him (Aaronsohn) very valuable in Cairo.”
Twenty years later, Colonel Walter Gibbon, who was in charge of Near East intelligence in the War Office at the time, suggested that it was “largely owing to the information provided by the Aaronsohn network that General Allenby was able to conduct his campaign in Palestine so successfully.”
In light of this, Halevy notes that Cumming likely viewed the handling of NILI in a category that exceeded the bounds of an intelligence-gathering operation and it must have been at his behest that Samuel Aaronsohn, the brother of Aaron who was stationed in London, received a draft copy of the Balfour Declaration to be smuggled into Palestine to encourage NILI operatives on the ground to double their effort to gather more information. Jeffrey rather cryptically tells us that “Cumming too liaised with the Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann, meeting him several times in 1917 and 1918 to discuss Jewish affairs.”
Halevy notes in his study that the most prominent evidence of Aaronsohn and his men’s contribution to the Balfour Declaration is the fact that the only two Zionist were invited to the British government session on October 31, 1917, and Aaronsohn was one of them (Weizmann was the other). According to Halevy, when the meeting hall’s door was opened Sir Sykes announced “It is a boy” and the two were invited to shake hands with British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour and other ministers and later to sit alongside them.
A document compiled in 1922 when Ormsby Gore, later to succeed to the peerage as the fourth Lord Harlech, was asked to prepare a document summarizing the circumstances leading to the Balfour Declaration for Churchill, who was entering the role the new Secretary for the Colonies. Gore noted that “the matter was first breached by Sir Mark Sykes in 1916 speaking to [the Chief Rabbi of the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish Community in Great Britain] Dr. Gaster, and [Jewish Cabinet minister and later the first British High Commissioner for Palestine] Sir Herbert Samuel. Dr. Weizmann was then unknown.
Sykes was furthered [i.e. influenced] by General Macdunagh DMI (Director of Military Intelligence) as all the most useful and helpful intelligence from Palestine (then still occupied by Turkey) was got through and given with zeal by Zionist Jews who were from the first pro-British.”
Levy summarized his study by saying: “As we approach the hundred year anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, we should also highlight those who helped bring it about. NILI proved how a handful of determined people can transcend their immediate condition, and through the power of their convictions, win over powerful international figures to support their cause.”
“As we approach the hundred year anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, we should also highlight those who helped bring it about,” Halevy concludes.