Israel’s First US Espionage and Smuggling Network
Newly declassified postwar Naval Intelligence files shine new light on a little-known chapter of U.S.-Israel relations. Massive supplies of American WWII military surplus under liquidation by the War Assets Administration were an irresistible target for Israel’s government-in-waiting the Jewish Agency and nascent military the Haganah in the years immediately preceding Israel’s declaration of statehood in 1948. The Jewish Agency was an organization contemplated as a vital actor for achieving that statehood in Theodore Herzl’s original Zionist vision. Explosives, advanced fighter, bomber and transport aircraft, and Jewish veterans culled from a list stolen from the U.S. Chaplain all entered a Jewish Agency pipeline stretching from the US to Mexico, Panama, Italy and Czechoslovakia to Palestine. The stories these newly declassified files tell not only foreshadow the institutionalized immunity of crimes committed in the name of Israel, but major challenges the US would later have to confront beyond displaced Palestinian refugees and simmering conflict – ongoing money laundering into US politics and Israel’s early desire to build nuclear weapons.
In late April, 1948 US Naval Intelligence became aware of the Jewish Agency’s attempted illegal export of 42 combat military aircraft engines through a front organization called “Service Airways.” The clandestine operation, headed by future Israel Aircraft Industries pioneer Adolph “Al” Schwimmer has been told in other accounts such as The Pledge by Leonard Slater. The Jewish Agency, operating out of an “American Section” in New York, had already been busted for illegally acquiring M3 demolition blocks. Schwimmer’s role was to acquire the best transport aircraft as well as P-51D fighters and B-17s for illegal shipment to Jewish fighters in Palestine. Secrecy was key. The Navy noted Schwimmer “has kept all information confidential inasmuch as he did not desire any publicity be given the fact that the Jewish Agency was purchasing airplanes in the United States, and that he specifically did not desire that any representatives of the Arab nation should receive the information.”
Naval Intelligence also assessed the risk of high technology avionics continually smuggled from the US winding up in the wrong hands as “trade goods” noting, “…half of the highly critical aviation material being sent…to Palestine is for ultimate delivery to the Soviet Government.” In the United States, Jewish Agency front groups tried to structure their purchases to minimize the chance of exposure. “P-51..