The first Lebanon War in 1982 was a unique war, during which the Israel Defense Forces reached Beirut and conquered it, causing the expulsion of the Palestinian forces from Lebanon.
PLO chairman Yasser Arafat and his men went to Tunisia and established their command there. At that time, there was a small community there of about five thousand Jews in Tunisia.
After analyzing the facts, we in the Mossad came to the conclusion that, as a result these events, the Jews of Tunisia were in greater danger than before, and we felt that the time had come to evacuate this community to Israel.
Since the government of Israel was established, it has made it a policy to take responsibility for the fate of Jews living in foreign countries where they might be in danger. We feel that this is the responsibility of the State of Israel because it is the state of the Jewish nation. And since the State of Israel has the power and the ability to intervene overseas when needed, it has the right and the obligation to do so.
Thus, we began to work with the Jews in Tunisia. We sent people there to convince them to leave. But very quickly we encountered a problem. We identified an authority that was telling the Jews not to leave Tunisia. This was not a local authority; not the Tunisian government. It was the community rabbi! His name was Rabbi Nisson Pinson, and he was encouraging the Jews to stay in Tunisia.
We quickly understood that Rabbi Pinson’s authority flowed from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the leader of the Chabad movement, of which Rabbi Pinson was a part, and we reached the determination that we needed to see the Rebbe to explain the situation to him, so that he’d understand and encourage the Jews to leave.
Now, my interaction with Chabad goes back many years. I served in the Israeli Embassy in Washington from 1970 to 1974. In the context of my service there, I visited New York many times together with my wife and children. I visited the Rebbe’s court and was present at his farbrengens.
The General Consul of Israel, Naftali Lavi, arranged a meeting with the Rebbe for me.