Shmuel Katz, one of the top leaders of Etzel (Irgun) during the 1948 Altalena affair, sets the record straight about the tragic episode.
Ben-Gurion and the Labor Zionist leadership have consistently portrayed the Altalena arms ship as a subversive initiative on Begin's part to undermine the unified Zionist military and ultimately execute a coup against the government of the fledgling state. Ben-Gurion, goes the story, saved Israeli democracy by sinking the vessel, thus demonstrating that the state would allow no underground militias.
In fact, as Katz explains, there was nothing subversive about the shipment; the delivery of desperately-needed weapons had long been coordinated with Ben-Gurion and the assault on it was premeditated. Its purpose: To discredit Begin and his supporters as an illegitimate political force, and - if possible - to kill him on the spot.
To this day, the Israeli left speak of the Altalena affair with reverence, proud of Ben-Gurion's crushing of his political opponents.
Allow me to shudder whenever I hear talk of the need for "a new Altalena".