The Jewish espionage network NILI played a vital role in the formation of the Balfour Declaration that helped pave the way for the establishment of Israel, according to a new study written by former Mossad head Efraim Halevy.
The Balfour Declaration, dated November 2, 1917, was sent by then-British foreign secretary Arthur James Balfour to Baron Lionel Walter Rothschild. It expressed Britain’s support for the establishment of a homeland for the Jewish people in Israel.
The text of the letter was incorporated into the Treaty of Sèvres with the Ottoman Empire and the Mandate for Palestine.
Chaim Weizmann – president of the Jewish Federation in England at the time of the declaration’s publication and later Israel’s first president – has always been credited for his instrumental role in securing the declaration. But in an edition of the British Jewish magazine Fathom dedicated to commemorating the 100 year anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, Halevy emphasizes the role played by the Jewish underground movement, then headed by Aaron Aaronsohn.
Halevy points to an official publication by the British Secret Intelligence Service reviewing the intelligence activity of Britain in the years 1909-1949 that states – based on documents from the era – 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: “You certainly seem to be getting good stuff through Mack.” Mack was the code-name for Aaronsohn among British intelligence personnel.
Twenty years later Colonel Walter Gibbon, who was in charge of Near East intelligence in the War Office at the time, suggested 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.”
Edmund Allenby led the British Empire’s Egyptian Expeditionary Force during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign against the Ottoman Empire in the conquest of Palestine.
Halevy notes that the most prominent evidence of Aaronsohn and his men’s contribution to the Balfour Declaration is that only two Zionist leaders were invited to the British cabinet’s October 31, 1917, final discussion over the Jewish issue in post-Ottoman Palestine: Aaronsohn and Weizmann.
A document compiled in 1922 by MP William Ormsby Gore summarizing the circumstances leading to the Balfour Declaration, mentioned that Sykes was furthered by director of military intelligence Gen. Macdunagh, as all the most useful and helpful intelligence from Palestine – then still occupied by Turkey – was obtained through and given with zeal by Zionist Jews who were from the first pro-British.”
NILI, Halevy, writes, “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.