21 September 2010
The British intelligence service MI6 used bombs and covert tactics to try to thwart the settlement of Palestine by Jewish refugees in the aftermath of World War II, according to a new book by Keith Jeffery on the history of MI6 during the first part of the 20th century. 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 the author, the British undertook the effort – dubbed Operation Embarrass – in order to curry favor with oil-rich Arab states upset over the Jewish migration to the Middle East. MI6 planted explosives to disable ships before they could transport Jewish men, women and children from Europe to Palestine, which was at the time under British control. London, following pressure from wartime Arab allies, adopted a policy of strictly limiting Jewish migration to the region. In addition to the direct physical sabotage, the British launched a disinformation and propaganda campaign to impede the settlement.
Operation Embarrass was launched with spies, traveling under the guise of yachtsmen, planting 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 of the involvement of the government in London. In the event they were caught, British agents were under orders to claim that they had been recruited in New York by anti-Communist businessmen working "mainly in the oil and aircraft industries."
The British left Palestine when Israel declared independence in 1948.
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