Shamir’s October Surprise Admission

Exclusive: Two decades ago, ex-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir offered the stunning confirmation that “of course” an October Surprise plot had blocked President Jimmy Carter from gaining the release of 52 U.S. hostages in Iran, thus helping Ronald Reagan win the presidency in 1980, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who died on June 30, was one of the last surviving founders of Israel who lived under the dark cloud of the Holocaust and thus felt justified to do whatever was needed to establish and protect the Jewish state. As such, he was less shy than later Israeli leaders in admitting some harsh realities.

I encountered that side of Shamir in 1993 when I took part in an interview with him at his office in Tel Aviv. One question was whether his Likud predecessor, Menachem Begin, had collaborated with Republicans before the 1980 election to block President Jimmy Carter’s attempts to negotiate freedom for 52 U.S. hostages then held in Iran.

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir shaking hands with President Ronald Reagan’s Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger in 1982. (U.S. government photo)

Carter’s failure to free the hostages destroyed his hopes for reelection and set the stage for Ronald Reagan’s landslide victory. Though some Israeli operatives have acknowledged over the years that Israel served as Reagan’s middleman in arms payoffs to Iran’s Islamic leaders, the official Israeli reaction has remained one of denial.

But Shamir was not your typical Israeli official, especially in retirement. He could range from witty to truculent, impatient with outsiders who didn’t understand the hard choices that he and others had made for Israel’s security.

Given his background as a former leader of the violent Zionist underground that fought for Israel’s independence and advanced that cause through acts of terrorism he also surrounded himself with surprising candor about his personal history.

As I waited in his office for the interview, I was approached by one of his young female assistants dressed in a gray and blue smock with a head covering in the traditional Hebrew style. As we chatted, she smiled and said in a lilting voice, “Prime Minister Shamir, he was a terrorist, you know.” I responded, “Yes, I’m aware of the prime minister’s biography.”

Though rarely mentioned in the U.S. press, Shamir like Menachem Begin was implicated in the terrorist violence that radical Zionists employed in the 1940s to drive Palestinians from the land that would become Israel and to eliminate Western officials who were seen as obstacles to a Jewish state.

One of the most famous of those terrorist attacks was the 1946 bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem where British officials were staying. The attack, which killed 91 people, was carried out by the Irgun, a terrorist group which was run by Begin and to which Shamir had belonged before joining an even more violent offshoot known as the Stern Gang.

In 1948, Shamir was one of the Stern Gang leaders who ordered the assassination of the United Nations representative in the Middle East, Swedish diplomat Folke Bernadotte, even though he had, in 1945, negotiated the release of 31,000 prisoners, including Jews, from German concentration camps. [For details on Shamir’s terrorism, see’s  “Yitzhak Shamir: the Well-Liked Terrorist.”]

Expanding Israel

After Israeli independence, Shamir became an intelligence officer in the Mossad and continued the secret war against perceived enemies of Israel. Later, Shamir joined Begin’s Likud Party in seeking expansion of Israel beyond its internationally recognized borders, into Palestinian lands that Israel occupied after the Six-Day War of 1967.

From its founding in 1973, Likud held as a central tenet the goal of changing “the facts on the ground” by placing Jewish settlements in the West Bank to prevent its future use as the land of a Palestinian state.

In the late 1970s, that possibility led to a crack in the normally close U.S.-Israeli relationship. Likud’s first Prime Minister Menachem Begin grew angry with incessant pressure from President Carter to trade land conquered in 1967 for peace. First came the Camp David agreement that returned the Sinai to Egypt, but Begin worried more about Carter seeking a Palestinian state on the West Bank in his second term.

In the 1991 book, The Last Option, former Mossad and Foreign Ministry official David Kimche wrote that Begin had gotten wind of “collusion” between Carter and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat “to force Israel to abandon her refusal to withdraw from territories occupied in 1967, including Jerusalem, and to agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

Kimche continued, “This plan prepared behind Israel’s back and without her knowledge must rank as a unique attempt in United States’s diplomatic history of short-changing a friend and ally by deceit and manipulation.”

However, Begin recognized that the scheme required Carter winning a second term in 1980 when, Kimche wrote, “he would be free to compel Israel to accept a settlement of the Palestinian problem on his and Egyptian terms, without having to fear the backlash of the American Jewish lobby.”

In a 1992 memoir, Profits of War, Ari Ben-Menashe, an Israeli military intelligence officer who worked with Likud, agreed that Begin and other Likud leaders held Carter in contempt and wanted him out of office.

“Begin loathed Carter for the peace agreement forced upon him at Camp David,” relinquishing the Sinai to Egypt in exchange for a peace treaty, Ben-Menashe wrote. “As Begin saw it, the agreement took away Sinai from Israel, did not create a comprehensive peace, and left the Palestinian issue hanging on Israel’s back.”

Carter also recognized how much Israel’s Likud leadership wanted to deny him a second term. Questioned by congressional investigators in 1992, Carter said he realized by April 1980 that “Israel cast their lot with Reagan,” according to notes I found among the unpublished documents in the files of a House task force on the so-called October Surprise controversy.

Carter traced the Israeli opposition to his reelection to a “lingering concern [among] Jewish leaders that I was too friendly with Arabs.”

To prevent a Palestinian state and buy time for Israel to further “change the facts on the ground” by moving more Jewish settlers onto the West Bank, Begin felt Carter’s reelection had to be prevented. The Likud also believed that Reagan would give Israel a freer hand to deal with problems on its northern border with Lebanon.

The Likud-Republican collaboration reportedly led to Israel becoming a go-between for the Reagan campaign’s secret contacts with Iran, helping to prevent Carter from resolving the U.S.-Iranian hostage crisis and dooming his reelection hopes.

The so-called “October Surprise” mystery of 1980 whether Begin’s government did assist Republicans in thwarting Carter’s hostage negotiations with Iran was hotly disputed when it emerged as an issue a decade later. Republicans and pro-Israeli propagandists sought to discredit the inquiry, often with the help of timid Democrats. [For more on this history, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege or’s “New October Surprise Series.”]

Asking Shamir

That was the context in which I met Yitzhak Shamir in 1993, after I was asked by a documentary film team to assist in an interview with him.

I wasn’t expecting much new information about the October Surprise story, but Shamir was an unpredictable figure. He also had served as Israel’s foreign minister in 1980 and succeeded Begin as prime minister in 1983, putting him in positions where he might well know what happened.

During the interview, Shamir told the documentarians that the Iranian revolution in 1979 had “constituted a danger for us. We are worried all the time about what is going on there.” Iran had been a key Israeli ally under the Shah before radical Islamists took power and dubbed Israel “the little Satan” to America’s “great Satan.”

As for restoring some relations with the new Islamist government in 1980, Shamir said, “We did what we could. This was the principle. I don’t know many details about it. I was not involved in the details, and, you know, I am used to forgetting details.”

But Shamir had a startling assessment of the larger October Surprise issue. “I know about all the efforts of the Carter administration,” he said. “And, well, I read this interesting book of Gary Sick’s,” a reference to the 1991 book, October Surprise, in which former National Security Council aide Gary Sick made the case for believing the Republicans had disrupted the hostage negotiations before the 1980 election.

With the topic raised, one interviewer asked, “What do you think? Was there an October Surprise?”

“Of course, it was,” Shamir responded without hesitation. “It was.”

Later in the interview, I tried to get Shamir to expand on his confirmation that an October Surprise plot had occurred in 1980. But Shamir seemed to have second thoughts about his frankness. After all, the official Israeli position was that the Begin government had not gone behind Carter’s back to collaborate with the Republicans.

“Well, I know in America, they know it,” Shamir said cryptically. “I have not been interested in it, and I don’t remember anything that could help. ”

“If you did know about it, would you tell us?” I asked.

“No, no, I don’t remember such matters, you know,” Shamir said with a wry smile.

With that Shamir refused to elaborate further. The planned documentary with the Shamir interview never was aired, since the producers ran out of money before it could be completed. I included more on the interview and other details gleaned from that Israeli trip in my 1993 book, Trick or Treason.

To read more of Robert Parry’s writings, you can now order his last two books, Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, at the discount price of only $16 for both. For details on the special offer, click here.]  

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.

11 comments for “Shamir’s October Surprise Admission

  1. hogorina
    July 11, 2012 at 20:22


    Why are the world’s Gypsies treated so ugly. Under Zackariah, the prophet, these people were Jews.

    This prophet let them go into Egypt in order to get away from the famine in Canaan. No man is nothing

    that turns his back on his fellow man. We are all God’s children and should come under the covenant in which our creator swore that all nations through Abraham’s seed line would be blessed. However, the Gypsies are left on their own to be persecuted through out the world. The questioned remains : why can’t

    these people get their palms into the U.S Treasury in using the organized religious scheme in raking in a few bucks from national tax payers. The rejuvenated scriptures-Come unto me and your man-made gods

    will fill thy temples, ( bodies ), with worldly goods. Please do not turn thy backs on fellow creatures. This

    would be an insult to an unknown creator.

  2. John Nicklay
    July 4, 2012 at 18:00

    Yes, this lie was presented by Gary Sick, who incidentally has fabricated other lies about the Republican party over the years. In this particular lie, Mr. Sick claimed that George H. W. Bush, then campaigning for vice president, flew to Paris to make arrangements with the Iranian hostage takers (re:government) to hold onto the hostages until the day of Ronald Reagan’s inauguration, approximately 15 minutes before President Reagan began his inaugural address. Hmm, Whenever liberals make up stuff, they make the same mistake over and over. They are completely specific about dates which leads repeatedly to their undoing. On the date Mr. Bush supposedly met the Iranians, he was proven to be in the U.S. running for Vice President, (go figure). So next time you want to make up something about the evil Republicans, do yourself a favor, and be less specific, not more. No one will believe you but, no one believes you now, and now we have proof you’re spouting fiction.

    • F. G. Sanford
      July 5, 2012 at 12:15

      Show us the proof.

    • Richard Ryckoff
      July 6, 2012 at 06:01

      J. Nicklay:

      It’s rather ironic for you to claim Bush’s involvement in the Rebublican’s treasonous October Surprise operation is a lie.
      Try reading The October Surprise series ON THIS WEBSITE….!!
      Bush – former head of the CIA – ran the covert operation to PREVENT the releasing of the hostages before the election.
      Whether or not he was in Paris as has been alleged is irrelevant.
      The Republicans effectively stole BOTH the 1968 election (Nixon) and the 1980 election — not to mention the 2000 election of Bush 2.
      Also see Robert Parry’s documentation of Nixon’s treasonous negotiations w/Vietnam as a PRIVATE CITIZEN in 1968.
      On this same website….

      P.S.: Bush was supposedly campaigning (the cover story). BUT, there was a many hours gap in his whereabouts on that day and evening that would have allowed him to fly to Paris and return in time to resume campaigning.
      Since Bush is a documented serial liar, I would tend to go with the more credible witnesses.
      P.P.S.: Since you apparently haven’t even read Robert Parry’s documentation on this — WHY ARE YOU ON THIS WEBSITE?
      (and others, BTW, e.g.: see “October Surprise” by Barbara Honegger – worked for Reagan during the campaign + was on his White House Staff + worked in the Justice Dept. – and was the 1st resignation of conscience during the Reagan presidency in 1983. She said: “Their guiding principles were that loyalty to a royalist version of the Presidency was more important than the Constitution, and that the truth was a ‘problem’ to be solved.”)

      Nicklay,maybe you’re just a republican disinformation agent….

    • will
      July 6, 2012 at 14:53

      What about Bush’s whereabout’s on the day he was supposedly officially at a country club (a republican at the country club? go figure!). But there aren’t any official secret service records that prove he was there. There are many hours of unexplained missing time where it can’t be proven that he was indeed at the country club.

      America has jets that can fly to Paris in a few hours. There are French intelligence reports that put Bush in Paris at that day and time. William Casey was also involved in this as well (Reagan’s CIA director) and spent considerable time meeting with the Iranians prior to setting this meeting up between Bush and representives of the Iranian revolutionary government wherein that came to a deal which traded weapons for the delay of the release of the American hostages.

      Sometimes the truth is staring us in the face. The hostages were released during the swearing-in of the new president, Reagan. Is that coincidence? Reagan was famously anti-Iranian, as he linked them with terroists. Does anyone remember, “We (meaning his administration) do not negoiate with terroists.” Well, that turned out to be just one of his many, many lies. The simple truth is he and his election team were colluding with terroists before he won election; and his administration continued to do so after the election.

      This is treason. And those who are responsible should be held accountable. Even old Bush, the fake hero who used his past CIA connections to pull this off–to the everlasting detriment of all of us–should be prosecuted and if found guilty, Guantanamo his ass!!!!!

  3. Jay
    July 4, 2012 at 10:03


    No, the Clooney movie “Argo” is about the subject of your last paragraph. Not about a failed commando raid.

    • Atticus Dogsbody
      July 5, 2012 at 02:32

      “George Clooney (aka Nathan Birnbaum)”

      Ha! Oh my God! George Clooney is George Burns in disguise!

    • Rehmat is a Liar
      July 5, 2012 at 09:39

      George Clooney was raised in the Roman Catholic church by his Irish father.

      “Nathan Birnbaum” was the birth name of the comedian George Burns.

      YOU are a kook and a liar!

  4. Hillary
    July 3, 2012 at 19:59

    Some Americans successfully carried out a plan with a foreign Government (Israel )to “dump” sitting US President Jimmy Carter.

    Some people might rightly call that Treason.

    • Dory in Az
      July 6, 2012 at 13:27

      Seems there’s quite a lot of treason going around these days….I await the day these liars and crooks are outed, prosecuted, RICO’d, and thrown in jail to rot!

      • hogorina
        July 11, 2012 at 21:05


        Old King Solomon may have been the wisest man in the ancient world, but did not possess the supreme hold

        over his governed mental slaves, as the characters lounging on the court’s bench, glorying in duping our national Republic, to the extent that would corrupt the mentality of Machiavelli. The trick is obvious having nine individuals over the court, while one is a plant to break any and all ties. This is nothing less than a back alley crap game; where the dealer before hand, arms him self with loaded dice. Is it possible that eight of these individual were politically loaded before the ivory was tossed. More than likely, the plant [ individual ], had to be high on something when bamboozling three hundred million people forced into the insurance racket. Here, we have a President being previously tied to the Supreme Court through earlier appointees, participating in a racket of

        gambling with some shady back-alley crap game promoter.

        Nevertheless, King Solomon’s son, King David, before hand, attuned his flocks ( nation ), with his extremely

        beautiful music from a harp. But, some what like contemporary civilization, ( America ), David had his Holy

        Melchizedek Priesthood holders to sit on supreme hearings, and seating in some what like the Sanhedrin of modern day Palestine, closely in resembling our Supreme Court of today. Now, our Supreme Court, Sanhedrin,

        and the President’s curious religious functionary, plus insurance industries, – one plant and eight team members

        as a political priesthood becomes a riddle. David and Solomon would turn in their tombs if either even considered

        as individuals. each, telling three-hundred million people how to be hoarded into one massive commercial herd,

        for the likes of unemployed street walking pundits sitting in as a ( god ) over inarticulate humanity. More than likely, if Satan himself, were to have been invited into the health care issue, he most like would have said that this place is hot as hell, and I’m going back to hell where it is warmer.

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