In an unprecedented public statement on radio, the head of Israel's secret intelligence service today branded as "malicious lies" a report published yesterday in the United States that he resigned in protest because Prime Minister Menachem Begin attempted to obstruct the investigation into assasination attempts on three Arab West Bank mayors last June.
For this part, Begin declared through a spokesman, "From the day malicious people first began spreading their lies, never was a calumny so odious." The story was published by The Washington Star and written by David Halevy from Tel Aviv.
The chief of the General Security Services (Shin Bet) said in an interview on the Voice of Israel that he submitted his resignation before the car bombing attacks on the West Bank mayors, and that he had never had any interference from the prime minister in conducting the investigation.
Halevy reported that the intelligence chief quit because of "stonewalling" by Begin over the West Bank investigation. His story said the security chief sought permission from Begin to form a special intelligence unit to wiretap and infiltrate the ultranationalist Gush Emunim settlement movement to collect evidence against six persons suspected in the bombings of Nablus Mayor Bassam Shaka and Ramallah Mayor Karim Khalaf, and the attempted bombing of El Biera Mayor Ibrahim Tawil.
The Shin Bet chief quit, the story said, when Begin replied that there was no need to investigate the case in that manner. Identities of Shin Bet officials are never officially disclosed in Israel and although the security chief's was disclosed in the Star's report and in an Israel television broadcast last night, the Israeli military censor tonight ruled that the name could not be included in dispatches filed from Israel.
The censor, Lt. Col. Yehuda Katz, said there were "very real reasons concerning the safety" of the security chief and his family to justify the ban on the official's name, even though it had already been made public elsewhere.
"[The Washington Star identified the man as Avraham Achituv, 54.]
The Shin Bet commander, when asked why he had broken precedent and appeared in a radio interview, replied, "I was angry and disliked tremendously the fact that the security service is being used to publish a lie on this political level, in this case against the prime minister, which has no basis."
The security chief was not identified by name in either the radio interview or in interviews that were published today in two Hebrew-language afternoon newspapers.
He said that before the bombings, he went to Begin and said he had served six years as chief of Shin Bet, as well as 30 years in security services, and felt it was time to retire. He said Begin asked him to reconsider and he agreed to stay on the job until the end of this year.
He stressed that Begin had given the West Bank bombing investigation "high priority," and that the prime minister never suggested how the probe should be handled.
An aide to the prime minister said that on three occassions during the probe, the security chief had gone to Begin and asked permission to take "extraordinary steps" that require appproval of the prime minister. Permission was granted in each case, said the aide, who would not say what the steps entailed.
Dan Pattir, the prime miister's spokesman, said The Star's story was "a fabrication from beginning to end. It requires an examination of the motives." Other Begin aides suggested that Halevy is a confidant of opposition Labor Party leader Shimon Peres and has been active in Labor Party affairs, and that the article was politically motivated.
The leftist United Workers' Party today seized on the issue and demanded either a parliamentary or judicial review of the published account of the resignation and parliament member Shmuel Toledano also demanded an official investigation.