Higher IntelligenceFrom the day I was conscripted in 1951, I belonged to the intelligence wing of the IDF. Having been born and raised in pre-state Jerusalem, I spoke Arabic, so I began handling Arab agents and informants. From there, I rose through the ranks, and ended my service with the rank of major general. In 1979, I became head of Aman, Israel’s military intelligence directorate.
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During this time, I became acquainted with Rabbi Shlomo Maidanchik, the mayor of Kfar Chabad, and from the first time we met I sensed that we had much in common.
As head of intelligence, I saw that our young soldiers were missing some Judaism, especially on the Jewish holidays, so I took advantage of this relationship. There were a number of small bases around the country under my command, each with between ten and thirty-five soldiers, and I thought that they had to be able to pray or to do something for the holidays.
I turned to Chabad for help in running these services, and I got it. Nobody was obligated to go to the synagogue on their base, of course, but most of the soldiers preferred going there on the holidays than staying in their barracks.
Some in the IDF hierarchy were not eager to have religious people entering the bases, but to me it was refreshing. I felt it was very important, and it even helped keep the soldiers combat ready. This was the beginning, if I may say so, of Chabad coming to IDF bases.
Being the chief of intelligence was a very important position: I was responsible for evaluating decisions of national importance, like whether or not to go to war, and providing that analysis to the government. We would also share our views with the Americans, and at times I went to the USA. During those trips, I would usually stay with my brother-in-law in Long Island.
Rabbi Maidanchik had asked me for my brother-in-law’s address, and the day after I landed, a Chabadnik came by and asked if he could arrange an appointment for me to meet the Rebbe.
When the time came, the man picked me up and drove me to Crown Heights. In the Rebbe’s synagogue, I saw a line of people waiting outside the small room where the Rebbe spent his days, but we didn’t have to wait for long before I was allowed in.
I had never seen the Rebbe before so I was very quiet and not outspoken. Nevertheless, we had an easy chat – the Rebbe asked me questions and I tried to answer them. It amazed me how well acquainted the Rebbe was with the situation in Israel, with all the nuances and minor details. Either he was being briefed regularly, or he was reading several newspapers every day about what was going on in Israel. I used to spend ten hours reading every day to keep updated, and I don’t know how he would have had the time for that.
He knew exactly what we were doing in Chevron, for example, as well as all of the friction between the various political parties. He was an outsider, not a member of Likud or any other party, but he knew the lay of the land like an insider.
The Rebbe asked me what I thought about the various threats facing Israel – whether Syria might launch another attack, for example, and whether we would be able to remain firm in the face of pressure to make more and more concessions to the Palestinians.
He warned that we shouldn’t give any land up to the Palestinians, because it is the land of the Jewish nation, and we have to keep it. Israel is a very innovative and capable country, but we are also very sensitive to outside political pressure, so I understood that the Rebbe was telling me that we had to withstand this pressure, so as to leave that heritage of the people of Israel untouched.
In 1983, I was forced to leave the army, after the Sabra and Shatila incident, when Maronite Christians killed Palestinians living in Israeli-controlled Lebanon. The Kahn Commission, which was formed to investigate this massacre, held me responsible for failing to warn that something like this would happen. The accusation itself was nonsense, as everyone knew that those people were murderers; military command didn’t need me to tell them. All of a sudden, thirty-two years of service were cut off, and I had to go. It’s not easy for me to talk about this chapter.
The night that I resigned, I was in my office in Tel Aviv, finishing up all the things still on my desk. At around 10:00 PM, Maidanchik came in, with a blessing of the Rebbe.
“You shouldn’t be worried,” he told me. “Please G-d, everything will be better later on.” Those last few moments in my office at the General Staff Headquarters have remained with me ever since.
A few years passed, and I became involved in politics. I was elected mayor of Bat Yam, and then to the Knesset.
One day, I had to travel to Washington and, once again, Maidanchik intercepted me on the way. I again agreed to go to the Rebbe – this time I would be coming with my wife, and as a member of the Knesset.
Ten years had passed since my first meeting, but when we came to the Rebbe, he picked up the discussion where we had left off. I thought it was amazing that he still remembered me.
Even though I had stopped serving in the army as a major general and the chief of military intelligence, he said, I had not lost the ability to make a positive impact.
“All good things must continue once they have been started,” he said. “Even though something has come to an official end … you definitely have the ability to continue to benefit the people living in the Holy Land in matters of holiness.” I had to carry on with the same energy and the same will as before.
At around that time, I had started to think of leaving political life, that maybe politics wasn’t my cup of tea. But I understood from the Rebbe that I ought to hold on and not leave my post.
I fought in every one of Israel’s wars from the Sinai Campaign to the Lebanon War, and every time you go to war, you are either risking your life or the lives of others. So, you need something spiritual to help you keep it together. And for me, it was those meetings with the Rebbe.
I’ve had many meetings over the years with world leaders: I’ve sat with President Carter, as well as with Prime Minister Begin and President Reagan in the Oval Office. I remember arguing with Reagan about whether we could take aerial reconnaissance pictures, but I don’t remember a word he said. Meeting the Rebbe, however, is something I will cherish for my whole life.
Mr. Yehoshua Saguy (1933–2021) held various government and military positions in Israel, including head of military intelligence, Knesset member and mayor of Bat Yam. He was interviewed in his home in March of 2010.