Begins charge that Shraon lied rocks Lukud Party

The question has ignited a battle over the Lebanon War at the heart of the Likud Party, between former Defense Minister Ariel Sharon and Ze'ev "Benny" Begin.

The son of the late prime minister and now Likud MK claims fellow Likudnik Sharon lied when he said the Begin government knew of Sharon's plans to invade Beirut in 1982.

Begin's assertion surfaced with a Tel Aviv District Court deposition Tuesday in a $195,000 libel suit by Sharon against the Ha'aretz daily newspaper and reporter Uzi Benziman.

Sharon is suing Ha'aretz over a May 1991 article that said he misled Menachem Begin about the intended magnitude of the war.

In his deposition, Begin quoted his father as telling him in 1987 that Sharon "widened… without basis the aims of the operation," according to Reuters.

Sharon has denied that he had lied to or misled Begin.

"I never lied to or deceived Menachem Begin. For 14 years this libel has been circulating in all the mass media," he said.

Political observers said the eruption of the Begin-Sharon feud two months before Israeli elections could hurt the Likud Party's chances of recapturing the government.

Begin's deposition relates to a lecture Sharon delivered at Tel Aviv University in 1987, marking five years since the start of the war.

Sharon allegedly said that when he brought the plans for the war, tagged Operation Peace for Galilee, to the Cabinet, it was understood that it would bring Israeli troops into Beirut.

At the time, the Begin government claimed it was only trying to rid southern Lebanon of terrorists and had no intention of pushing north into Beirut.

In the deposition, Benny Begin said he visited his father on Aug. 14, 1987 and showed him the pertinent part of the transcript of Sharon's talk. The elder Begin said that "Sharon had in retrospect expanded the aims of the operation baselessly," the deposition said.

According to Benny Begin, his father became very upset and, asserting that there was "no truth to the statements," angrily pointed out that he himself had informed the head of the opposition, the Knesset, and even then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan of the battle's limited aims, the deposition added.

The deposition continued, "Sharon confirmed in an article in Ma'ariv on Aug. 21, 1987, that as defense minister he planned Operation Peace for Galilee to bring [Israel Defense Force] troops to the alleyways of Beirut.

"To the question of whether in this Sharon misled the prime minister, the answer is in another question: whether the prime minister Menachem Begin knew at the beginning of the operation that the IDF intended to reach Beirut…the answer is no. The prime minister intended to carry out an operation in the same extent as was approved by the government, that is 25 miles (into Lebanon) in an estimated time of two days."

Benny Begin's deposition continued: "This means that until Aug. 14, 1987, [Menachem Begin] thought that [Sharon] did not initially plan Operation Peace for Galilee to be far-ranging to include Beirut, but believed that the operation was expanded as a result of the chain of responses to immediate military exigencies on the ground."

The defense is trying to show that Benziman of Ha'aretz was telling the truth when he said Menachem Begin knew that Sharon had deceived him.

Another deposition by Haifa Mayor Amram Mitzna, then commander of the army's northern forces, also claims Sharon was leading Begin and the army "astray."

Mitzna said that "on the first nights of the war I heard defense minister Ariel Sharon explicitly demand not to provide a map that was too detailed, and not to give any sign the government might notice, and [heard him say] that he [Sharon] didn't want the government to know."

In another deposition released Tuesday, Menachem Begin's personal secretary, Yona Klimovitzky, quoted Begin as saying about the army's activities, "There are things I know, and there are things I know retroactively."

The secretary added: "As the war went on the impression was created in the Prime Minister's Office and among some cabinet ministers that the defense minister, Ariel Sharon, was deceiving the prime minister…"

After the war Sharon sued Time magazine reporter David Halevy for saying Sharon knew of the Sabra and Shatila massacres, and later sued CBS News for a report on the massacres.

Underscoring that the Begin-Sharon conflict could hurt the Likud, a member of the Labor coalition, MK Ran Cohen of the leftist Meretz party, demanded a Knesset inquiry into Sharon's actions during the Lebanon War.