Ya’acov Heruti, who died at the age of 95, was a member of the Stern Gang – or, in Hebrew, Lehi (Fighters for the Freedom of Israel), a Zionist paramilitary organization founded by Avraham “Yair” Stern in Mandatory Palestine became. The aim of the organization was to forcibly expel the British from Palestine.
Heruti was head of Lehi’s engineering department and specialized in making bombs, operating out of a paint factory that made explosives in addition to regular paint. In April 1947, one of Heruti’s bombs destroyed a British police post at the Sarona Compound in Tel Aviv, killing four police officers.
That year, at the age of 20, Heruti was ordered by Lehi’s leadership in Palestine to travel to Britain, form a cell and prepare for the assassination of Secretary of State Ernest Bevin, loathed by Jews for being pro-Arab and anti- was considered Arabic. Semite.
It is now known that the British security services got wind of the plans and issued a top-secret internal warning as early as 1946: “Members of the Stern Group are now being organized and trained. They are expected to be sent to Britain to assassinate key members of His Majesty’s Government, particularly Mr Bevin.”
Also on Heruti’s hit list were former commander of British forces in Palestine, General Evelyn Barker, and Major Roy Farran, who killed a young Lehi member in Jerusalem.
Heruti arrived in London in October 1947, enrolled to study law at the University of London, and began recruiting Jews for the cells by approaching the right-wing Zionist youth movement Betar and the Hebrew Legion Group, an association of Jews associated with the paramilitaries in London sympathize with Mandatory Palestine.
Heruti recalled, “Slowly, slowly – ‘a friend brings a friend’ – we started building an infrastructure… addresses… a storage yard for weapons…”
One of Heruti’s recruits was Eric Graus, who later became a prominent figure in Anglo-Judaism. Graus, Heruti recalls, “had a place where we could receive mail from abroad. And that’s how we got explosive material.”
The explosives were posted by US-based Lehi members and arrived in the UK in the hollowed-out batteries of a radio.
While continuing his law studies, Heruti spent a lot of time getting to know London in preparation for the operations. A Foreign Ministers’ conference in central London was chosen as the site of the attack for the assassination of Bevin. An escape route was planned and surveillance carried out by members of the cell.
Lehi was codenamed Bevin “Simon,” so the mission became known as “Operation Simon,” and Heruti recalled, “The plan was to meet him outside of the meeting and then escape on foot to Piccadilly Circus.”
However, when preparations were complete, Heruti received a message from headquarters in Palestine canceling the mission. The reason for the cancellation was that Lehi’s leadership in Palestine had concluded that with the withdrawal of British forces from Palestine (the last British troops would leave on May 14, 1948), Bevin’s role was no longer of great importance.
The main mission was aborted, Heruti’s cell turned its attention to the other two targets – Barker and Farran, and packet bombs were sent to both men’s addresses. In Barker’s case, the device was disarmed by police after the general’s wife noticed it had an unusual smell and decided not to open it.
The package sent to Farran, which contained a bomb hidden in a book by Shakespeare, was opened by the British officer’s younger brother, Rex, who was killed in the blast. “A frustrating failure,” Heruti later commented. “We were looking for the killer – not his brother.”
This closed the Lehi cell in London and Heruti returned to Israel via Marseille in May 1948.