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Home > Library > Politics > Profits of War : Inside the Secret U.S.-Israeli Arms Network by Ari Ben-Menashe
TAMIL NATION LIBRARY: Politics
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Excerpts from book:
"For all his public image, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir was a very private man. Having fought underground against the British and then, having spent the rest of his life in Mossad, rising to operations chief for Europe, he had learned not to trust people. He carried this mistrust into his position as prime minister, and there were a number of decisions he made that he refused to share even with his own party members.
Many of his secrets were learned only on a need-to-know basis. Some of his secrets were known only by trusted advisors of whom I was one. I knew, for example about the bank account held by Shamir's son Yair, which had been started up after Admoni, I, and others had taken some profits in 1987. I knew how often Shamir would get things he believed were in Israel's interests done without cabinet consent – such as sending me to Peru to collect the nuclear substances.
Exchange of Intelligence between Soviet Union and Israel.
And I was also well aware of Shamir's closeness to the Soviets. As early as 1984 Shamir had authorized intelligence exchanges with the Soviets, including sanitized American intelligence reports about nuclear issues and evaluations of Soviet nuclear technology. These reports were obtained in part through Rafi Eitan's US spy network.
One intelligence exchange meeting took place in New Delhi between the KGB, Mossad, and Indian intelligence to discuss the Pakistani nuclear reactor and India's desire to destroy it. The three nations were all afraid of President Zia ul Haq's nuclear project, which was known to the US but overlooked as his prize for backing the Mujahedin in Afgfhanistan.
Shamir saw the Libyan-financed project, known as the Islamic Bomb, as a direct threat to Israel, just like the Iraqi nuclear program. It was bizarre, but on nuclear issues our American allies and their friends such as Pakistan and Iraq were aligned against Israel, forcing Shamir to find support from the Soviet Union.
In 1986, after Chebrikov and Shamir reached an agreement on the immigration of Soviet Jews, the flow of Israeli intelligence to the Soviet Union expanded even more. Israel began regularly exchanging intelligence with the Soviets on the capabilities of the pro-American Arab countries – Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and even Iraq, although the Soviets were also arming the Iraqis. For their part, the Soviets, as late as 1989, were handing over information to Israel from their network in Iran about the Iraqi nuclear and chemical arsenals. They were also reporting about US and other nations' relations with the Iraqis.
It was altogether a very friendly affair, particularly after the Israelis had transferred so much of the slush into Soviet repositories. Shamir became very chummy with Chebrikov, as did other members of the Joint Committee. As a result of these relationships with the East Bloc, I was later accused of being a Soviet sympathizer.
One of Shamir's best-kept secrets was his clandestine attempt to negotiate a solution of his own to the Palestinian situation with the PLO.
Despite Israel's generally perceived enmity with the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Shamir and some of the PLO leadership shared a common belief that peace in the Middle East would come not by Israel's giving up the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, but by allowing the Palestinians to establish their own nation in what is now Jordan.
King Hussein became an American favorite. As long as he ruled Jordan and there was no Palestinian state there, militant Palestinians would be no threat to America's oil supply in neighbouring Saudi Arabia. Golda Meir and other Labor leaders, following America's lead, were not interested in dethroning King Hussein.
In the meantime, after the 1967 war, the PLO and other Palestinian groups moved out of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip into Jordan. Hussein thought wrongly that he would be able to contain them. The PLO with its forces became a state within a state, and the King lost complete control of large portions of his country. The PLO began hijacking civilian airliners and bringing them to Jordan. The situation reached a crisis in 1970 when the PLO landed three commercial planes in Az-Zarqa, Jordan, ordered the passengers off, and then blew the aircraft up, with the King unable to do a thing about it.
Realizing how little power he had over the Palestinians, King Hussein decided to unleash his army against them. He achieved some success until the Syrians decided, in 1970, to intervene on behalf of the Palestinians. At issue was the very existence of the King – or the establishment of a Palestinian state in Jordan. It was then that Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir arguably made the worst political mistake in the history of Israel.
She ordered the Israel Defense Forces to be mobilized against the Syrians. In doing so, she prevented the establishment of a Palestinian state in Jordan, and she kept the King in power. The threat by militant Palestinians to Saudi oilfields was prevented, which made the Americans happy, but as far as Israel's long term strategic interest was concerned, any hopes of creating a Palestinian state in Jordan had received a major setback. Ultimately the price of this decision could still be the very existence of Israel.
As a result of Golda Meir's decision, King Hussein was able to manoeuvre his army within Jordan, massacre some 20,000 Palestinians, and throw all the PLO people out of Jordan. As the PLO moved into Lebanon, many Palestinian fighters came to the Jordan-Israel border and surrendered to Israeli troops rather than fall into the hands of the Bedouin army, which had a reputation for not taking prisoners.
After Likud took power in Israel in 1977, Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egypt's President Sadat came up with a face-saving formula over the Palestinian issue and talked about autonomy in the West Bank. Begin gave the Sinai back, and Sadat let go of the West Bank and the Palestinian issue. All Sadat was interested in was getting back the Sinai. The Gaza Strip, which had been under Egyptian control before 1967, had no appeal for him because it had a large Palestinian population. For Begin, the West Bank and Gaza Strip were important for Israel to retain both for historical and strategic reasons.
After the Camp David agreements, and after the Republicans had taken over in 1981, the US and the 'moderate' Arab countries started pressing for a mini-Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, which would not threaten US oil interests, as would a Palestine state in Jordan, which Likud wanted. Likud believed that Israel could work closely with a Palestinian state established in Jordan, but nothing was done about it. The 1984 election resulted in a hung parliament and the formation of the famous Likud-Labor coalition. Then Shimon Peres, who was prime minister from late 1984 to late 1986, agreed to consider some type of international conference to discuss the issue of a Palestinian entity in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, conforming with US policy. But Likud, a major partner in the coalition, blocked the whole initiative and thus accelerated the US tilt toward Iraq.
Conspiracy against Jordan where a Palestinian state to be created and secret meeting with Arafat in Tunis.
With Shamir back in power after 1986, secret attempts were made to talk to the Palestinian leadership, including the PLO – even though to this day the organization is not publicly or officially recognized by the Israeli government, especially Likud. The talks involved a plan to get rid of the King of Jordan and take over his country as a Palestinian state. The population was 70 percent Palestinian anyway. Such a plan would have outraged the Labor Party in Israel, the US Republican administration, the King of Jordan, and the Saudis, if any of them found out about it. However, various Palestinian circles, especially what was known as the radical camp, along with the Syrians and the Soviet Union, were happy to go along with it.
The Soviets believed a Palestinian state sandwiched in the West Bank between Jordan and Israel would just cause more trouble in the Middle East, reducing Israel's standing as a balancing power in the region. Even though publicly the Soviet policy was anti-Israel, privately the Soviets wanted what Shamir wanted – a Palestinian state in place of Jordan. At a secret meeting in 1986, Shamir and Chebrikov agreed that there would be no negotiations with the PLO over the West Bank as such. There would be an attempt for an overall solution in the Middle East. And the cold solution would be to 'do away' with King Hussein of Jordan.
The deal between Chebrikov and Shamir was that if the Likud Party held out against a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and against an American-dictated 'peace treaty', the Soviets would help Israel. They would do this by helping Israel populate the West Bank with Jews, not only from their country but also with immigrants from Soviet-backed Ethiopia.
As events were to prove, the agreement was kept to the letter. By 1991 more than 250,000 Soviet Jews had emigrated to Israel with another 30,000 Ethiopian Jews airlifted from Addis Ababa.
The bond that developed between Israel and the Soviet Union was far stronger than anyone realized. Since Israel did not have diplomatic representation in the Soviet Union, saying they wanted to go to their homeland, but in Vienna and Rome they would apply for immigration visas to the US. This was limited by opening an Israeli consular section in Moscow through which the Israeli government would grant visas to enter Israel for Soviet Jews. All paper work was completed in Moscow, so emigrants would not go rushing off to the US. They had to go directly to Israel, where they were needed to populate the West Bank, thereby taking up the land and spoiling any US plans to grant it to the Palestinians.
The Palestinian issue came to a head after the outbreak of the Intifada in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in
1987. The US was talking about a peace conference with the Palestinians and had officially sanctioned a dialogue between the US ambassador in Tunis and the PLO leadership. Shamir, instead of bowing to pressure and accepting the American proposals, announced he would come up with a peace plan of his own.
That peace plan, which essentially would create a Palestinian state in Jordan, was not made public. But Shamir discussed it with his advisers. In this period of time, Yasser Arafat was beating the wardrums against Jordan. It was risky, but risks had to be taken because US pressure on Shamir was enormous.
It was against this background that Shamir decided that several of his advisers should meet PLO leaders around the world with a view to developing the 'Jordanian option'. Orders were given to one of the advisers to travel to Tunis, to PLO headquarters, and meet Yasser Arafat. It was in late June 1989, and that meeting was the first of three with the PLO leader, on behalf of Shamir.
The feasibility and theoretical scenarios of starting a war against Jordan, with Israel supporting an all-out Palestinian uprising against the King, were discussed. This was an important part of Shamir's secret plan to resolve the Palestinian situation. Surprising as it may seem, this secret was shared with Arafat.
After these discussions with Arafat, a deputy minister in the Prime Minister's Office, Ehud Ulmart, who was very close to Shamir, met the PLO leader, in a private home in Tunis City, where further discussions were held about the Jordanian option.
Secret proposed sale of C-130 transport planes to Iran in return for Israeli soldiers held by Shi'ites.
Based on these discussions, Prime Minister Shamir had a new secret mission for me. It was a complex plan, but if successful, it would have a twofold effect – it would free the three Israeli soldiers who were being held in Lebanon, and it would bring us closer to the PLO In our talks with them. It would require my presence in Sri Lanka.
As I flew to Colombo early in July 1989, I went over the plan, which could be likened to a political chess game in which one side moves forward but is careful to protect its interests. And at any time something could go wrong.
Despite Shamir's earlier decision that the C-130 deal was off, he decided to try again to negotiate the sale of the planes in return for Tehran's help in securing the release of the soldiers. This time we were to try to enlist the aid of the PLO, which had a representative in Sri Lanka. If Iran could find out where the soldiers were, the PLO might be able to get them freed from the clutches of the Shi'ites, who were holding them.
Sri Lanka had been chosen because it was a different 'smoke screen' country to send the aircraft through, and the PLO had a man there I could talk to. Naturally, the PLO wanted a slice of the cake. The demands that Arafat had laid down during the secret meeting in Tunis were that, in exchange for their help, Israel should make a donation to the Sri Lankan Tamil guerrillas, the LTTE, who would then use the money to buy weapons from the PLO.
Sri Lankan Government as conduit for sale of aircraft to Iran by Israel and LTTE to buy weapons from PLO with Israeli money.
So we would be using the Sri Lank-an government as a conduit for our aircraft to Iran – and we'd be using the LTTE as a cover for putting money into the hands of the PLO for their cooperation. It was a crazy situation. Israel had advisers helping the Sri Lankan Army in its fight against the rebels, yet here was I, acting on behalf of the Israeli government, arranging payment to the rebels so they could buy weapons to fight the army.
I checked into the Ramada hotel in downtown Colombo and, later that evening, wandered down to the lobby, where I ordered a welcome dish of ice cream. I struck up a friendly conversation with a man who introduced himself as the Egyptian chargé d'affaires. As we chatted, neither of us could help but notice a Western man in his late 60s, with a white beard, dancing alone to the small band.
`Just look at that crazy guy', said my Egyptian companion. 'He either loves dancing alone, or he can't find himself a woman.'We were soon to discover who he was. The music finished, and he flopped down in the lounge seat beside me, flapping his shirt against his chest. 'That was good exercise,' he said.
He reached into his shirt pocket and produced a business card. It portrayed planets circling the earth. It read:
Siff extended a hand, explaining he was a retired probation officer from Los Angeles, who was now involved with charitable work. The full name of his organization, although his card didn't say it, was Friends of the Universe, set up, he said, to help the homeless living in and around Venice Beach in Los Angeles.
The American explained that he was Jewish and was in Sri Lanka to visit his son, who had become a Buddhist monk. I was to see a lot more of Siff during my stay in the steamy city.
Later I called the PLO representative, as previously arranged, and he was delighted to see me. We spoke in Hebrew. He had been in an Israeli jail for 12 years after trying to plant a bomb in the town of Afula. It had blown up prematurely and almost killed him.
My next meeting also arranged beforehand, was with the Sri Lankan Minister of Information, at his home. As a confidant of President Ranasinghe Premadasa, he was my stepping stone. I explained to him over dinner that my prime minister would be most grateful, and would ensure increased military assistance to his army, if Sri Lanka would agree to act as the conduit for the C-130s. The minister arranged for me to meet Premadasa at the presidential palace the next day. The first step of my mission had been accomplished.
The next morning I had a low key breakfast meeting with the PLO representative. Israel, I said, was willing to pay the Tamils $8 million if the PLO would help Iran to get the three captured soldiers out of the hands of the Shi'ite groups in Lebanon. Officially, the money was to be used by the Tamils for 'humanitarian purposes' although we were both aware it would go to the purchase of weapons from the PLO.
Back at the hotel that evening, I spotted Leon Siff dancing on his own again. When he saw me, he left the dance floor and made his way over. He asked how my day had been and where I had gone, but I dodged the topic. Then he turned the subject around to money.
'Ari', he said, 'my group needs all the support it can get. I know you can help. I'd like you to come to the US some time and see what we do. How about it?'
`Sure', I said, 'if I'm in Los Angeles, I'll look you up.'
In the next 48 hours I met the president, the commander of the Sri Lankan Air Force, and the PLO representative, nudging them all along toward the execution of the Israeli plan to sell the C-130s in exchange for the three soldiers. I still had to meet the Tamils, even though contact had been made with their London office, to arrange their payment. Of course, this part of the deal was unknown to the Sri Lankan government.
Trip to Jaffna
My journey to Jaffna was not the most relaxed. I had decided to drive myself because I didn't want any witnesses to my movements or negotiations. The narrow road took me through numerous roadblocks set up by either the Sri Lankan Army or the Indian Army. The Indians were highly suspicious of a 'tourist' heading north to Jaffna at a time when the rebels were active. But after a great deal of argument they allowed me to proceed, even though the area north had been designated as a military operations zone.
That night, as previously arranged through the PLO representative, I was picked up at the Subhas Hotel in Jaffna and driven to a Tamil village. My guide took me to a large house where teenage boys stood guard, each holding a Kalashnikov rifle. I was ushered inside, where a number of men were waiting in the stark light of a propane lamp. Their leader, whose codename was Tiger One, spoke reasonably good English and introduced himself and his compatriots. I was a sitting duck for their propaganda, but it had to be done.
Tiger One, a middle-aged, short, chubby, dark-complexioned man, paced the room as he informed me there were 50 million Tamils on the Indian mainland in Tamil Nadu, and they were all very unhappy with the way they had been treated by Rajiv Gandhi and his Congress Party. Gandhi had created a pro-Indian front in Sri Lanka, and he wanted to annex the Tamil areas in Sri Lanka to India.
'He has become a bully,' Tiger one snapped. 'He even wants the top part of Sri Lanka – our homeland. Well, let us tell you that Rajiv Gandhi will pay for his heavy-handedness. We will continue our struggle for independence to the last man. We will fight whatever and whomever they throw at us.'
I explained that I was there to make a contribution to their cause. The Tamil leader was quick to point out that the Israeli government might well be offering them $8 million, but the Israelis were also assisting the Sri Lankan Army against the Tamils. They conceded, however, they needed the money. I explained it was ransom for the three soldiers, but I didn't tell them about the C-130s that were going to Iran as well.
My hosts and I struck a deal. They would accept the money from Israel, and they would contact the PLO mission in Colombo informing them of the arrangement. Hopefully, we could then expect PLO assistance in trying to secure the release of our soldiers.
The return journey to Colombo was horrendous. Inevitably, the car broke down, and I ended up being towed, sleeping in the car, and finding myself at the point of a gun as a gang of Tamil road bandits demanded money.
Back in the capital, I phoned Nick Davies and told him to go ahead. This was our prearranged signal for him to make the $8 million payment to the Tamils through their London office. Naturally, the money came out of a Slush-fund account.
I flew back to Israel, right into a storm. The talks with the PLO had been leaked, I found out, by Rabbi Ovadia Yusef, leader of the Shas Party, who had himself had discussions about the Palestinian question with Arab leaders. Some coalition members were furious. Shamir was on the receiving end of their anger, and he realized he had to be seen to be backing out of his commitment. He needed scapegoats.
I guessed what was coming and decided to stay one step ahead. I consulted the other two signatories to the slush-fund accounts, and persuaded them that for the physical and financial protection of everyone who'd been on the Joint Committee, we should move the CIA money now controlled by Israel to the East Bloc.
The CIA money, by now up to $710 million, went into the East on a series of straightforward transfers, without using Maxwell's companies as a conduit. the move left Maxwell dangling. The banks that had lent him money in 1988 no longer had their guarantees. Shamir was furious that his friend had been left in such a vulnerable position, and he had to conduct a swift public relations exercise with the banks to ensure they continued to shore Maxwell up.
In early fall 1989, Shamir called me into his office. He was sitting behind his desk, his tiny body dwarfed in the large leather chair. I stood in silence staring into his severe face. This was to be the showdown.
`You have got too close to our enemies,' he said.
`If you're talking about the PLO contacts, you know I was only following orders. And we couldn't back off anyway. I have personally promised the families of those soldiers that we will do all we can to help them.'
`You exceeded your authority.' His face was like a stone, cold and grey. `And what about the money?' he asked. 'Are you stealing it?'
An old Hebrew saying came into my head. Ganav ganav patur,' I said. 'A thief from a thief is off the hook.'
He glared at me for a moment. Then with a flick of his hand he dismissed me. 'Lech! – Go' he ordered. I went. I knew him well enough to know that this was not the end of the affair.
Shamir's 1989 secret peace plan, from which he was now trying to extricate himself, never got anywhere. Infighting in the cabinet effectively ended any contact between the PLO and Shamir's office. King Hussein, through his own intelligence network, heard about the plan to unseat him and took precautionary steps. He aligned himself even more closely with Saddam Hussein and extracted a promise that the Iraqi leader would help the king if there were an uprising in Jordan.
The Americans, meanwhile, kept up the pressure on Shamir. They joined in full chorus with Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq, and insisted that the West Bank and Gaza Strip should be the new Palestinian state. The King of Jordan had also officially relinquished any responsibility for the Palestinians or for the West Bank and said he would no longer be interested in any negotiations over a Jordanian-Palestinian federation. This was the situation when the US finally fell out with Saddam Hussein in August 1990 and decided it needed to establish its own military presence in the region.
When Saddam Hussein clashed with the US in early 1991, the Palestinian populace all over the world suddenlystarted seeing him as their hero. Here was an Arab leader fighting single handedly against USA imperialism. Arafat had no choice but to show public support for Iraq against the United States. The King of Jordan. whose loyalties were divided, did not know where to turn at first, but then decided to lean toward Saddam Hussein and show the Palestinians that he was also a protector of the Arab cause. The Syrians, however, who were anti Saddam Hussein, suddenly changed sides and went to the Americans.
As events were to prove, when the Gulf War ended in Iraq's defeat and the loss of tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers, Arafat lost his standing. His money sources from Saudi Arabia and other gulf states were cut off, and what little credibility he'd built up in the West was nullified.
The King of Jordan, even though he had backed Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War, quickly returned to the US fold.
The Syrians, for their cooperation in the Gulf War, were given control over Lebanon, Israel found itself back in one of the most difficult diplomatic situations possible, in which the Americans were saying the 'moderate' Palestinians and not the PLO were to be involved in negotiations with Israel over the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
All the covert negotiations between Likud and the PLO leadership
in 1988 and 1989 went down the drain. A real attempt to solve the
Palestinian question, without threatening the existence of the State
of Israel, was again aborted by the Americans and their friends.