Exclusive: Some staunch supporters of Israel believe that its interests are so compelling that they trump American self-governance, with one extremist suggesting the murder of President Obama. Others, however, appear to have joined in an earlier subversion of U.S. democracy, Robert Parry reports.
By Robert Parry
The Israeli press is debating the significance of an article by the publisher of a Jewish magazine in Atlanta, Georgia, urging Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to consider sending Mossad hit men to assassinate President Barack Obama.
After Internet attention focused on this Jan. 13 piece, Andrew Adler, the owner and publisher of the Atlanta Jewish Times, apologized for what he had written, which listed as one of several options for Netanyahu: to “give the go-ahead for U.S.-based Mossad agents to take out a president deemed unfriendly to Israel in order for the current vice president to take his place and forcefully dictate that the United States’ policy includes its helping the Jewish state obliterate its enemies.”
Adler’s two other options for Netanyahu were a pre-emptive strike against Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, or an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. But Adler made clear that he knew what he was suggesting in option three. He added: “Yes, you read ‘three’ correctly. Order a hit on a president in order to preserve Israel’s existence.”
Adler’s extreme suggestion was roundly denounced by American Jewish leaders and Israeli media commentators. For instance, Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League, decried Adler’s words as “irresponsible and extremist,” while taking note that Adler’s ideas “reflect some of the extremist rhetoric that unfortunately exists – even in some segments of our community – that maliciously labels President Obama as an ‘enemy of the Jewish people.’”
Chemi Shalev, a blogger for Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, called comments like Adler’s “the inevitable result of the inordinate volume of repugnant venom that some of Obama’s political rivals, Jews and non-Jews included, have been spewing for the last three years.
“Anyone who has spent any time talking to some of the more vociferous detractors of Obama, Jewish or otherwise, has inevitably encountered those nasty nutters, and they are many, who still believe he is a Muslim, who are utterly convinced that he wants to destroy Israel.”
Adler told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, a wire service for Jewish newspapers in North America, that he regretted that he “made reference to it [assassination] at all.”
Removing a President
Though Adler’s remarks about employing what is sometimes called “executive action” to alter U.S. government policy toward Israel is surely outrageous, there has existed for several decades a more general perspective in some quarters that U.S. policy must move in accord with Israel’s desires and that any action deemed “anti-Israel” must be made politically unacceptable.
U.S. neoconservatives, for instance, have argued that there should be no space between how Israel and the United States view security concerns in the Middle East. Many neocons favored invading Iraq in 2003 because it was a longtime enemy of Israel and many now call for attacking Iran because Israeli leaders claim its potential acquisition of a nuclear weapon represents an “existential threat.”
In Campaign 2012, leading Republican presidential candidates have denounced Obama for allowing even a slight separation to occur in America’s shoulder-to-shoulder support for Israel. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has gone so far as to suggest that he would join Netanyahu in a full-scale invasion of Iran to achieve “regime change” if that was what the Israeli prime minister wanted.
And the notion of Israel participating in efforts to change American political leadership is not as far-fetched as it might seem. There is extensive evidence that Likud Prime Minister Menachem Begin intervened covertly more than three decades ago to undermine President Jimmy Carter’s reelection hopes because Begin feared that Carter would push Israel into accepting a Palestinian state.
Despite strong evidence that Likud officials joined in Republican efforts in 1980 to stop Carter from gaining the release of 52 Americans then held hostage in Iran – a failure that sank Carter’s hopes for a second term – Israeli supporters in the United States have heatedly disputed these allegations and have sought to demonize anyone who takes them seriously.
Yet, among those who give credence to the accusations are people who served in sensitive positions within the Israeli government, including former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. In 1993, I took part in an interview with Shamir in Tel Aviv during which he said he had read Gary Sick’s 1991 book, October Surprise, which made the case for believing that the Republicans had intervened in the 1980 hostage negotiations to disrupt Carter’s reelection.
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, Shamir, who succeeded Begin as prime minister in the 1980s, seemed to regret his frankness and tried to backpedal on his answer, but his confirmation remained a startling moment.
Collapsing Cover Stories
In the last few years, as the official denials of the October Surprise allegations have crumbled – with new revelations that key evidence was hidden from investigators of a congressional task force and that internal doubts were suppressed – the troubling impression that remains is that disgruntled CIA operatives and Israel’s Likud hardliners teamed up to remove a U.S. president from office.
Indeed, it is this disturbing conclusion – perhaps even more than the idea of a Republican dirty trick – that may explain the determined cover-up of this political scandal. Too many powerful interests do not want the American people to accept the possibility that U.S. intelligence operatives and a longtime ally could intervene to oust a president who had impinged on what those two groups considered their vital interests.
Yet, the evidence now points in that direction, and there are key facts that are not in dispute. For instance, there is no doubt that CIA Old Boys and Likudniks had strong motives for seeking President Jimmy Carter’s defeat in 1980.
Inside the CIA, Carter and his CIA Director Stansfield Turner were blamed for firing many of the free-wheeling covert operatives from the Vietnam era, for ousting legendary spymaster Ted Shackley, and for failing to protect longtime U.S. allies (and friends of the CIA), such as Iran’s Shah and Nicaragua’s dictator Anastasio Somoza.
As for Israel, Prime Minister Begin was furious over Carter’s high-handed actions at Camp David in 1978 forcing Israel to trade the occupied Sinai to Egypt for a peace deal. Begin feared that Carter would use his second term to bully Israel into accepting a Palestinian state on West Bank lands that Likud considered part of Israel’s divinely granted territory.
In the 1991 book, The Last Option, former Mossad and Foreign Ministry official David Kimche described Begin’s attitude in noting that Israeli officials 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,” 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.”
So, in order to buy time for Israel to “change the facts on the ground” by moving Jewish settlers into the West Bank, Begin felt Carter’s reelection had to be prevented. A different president also presumably would give Israel a freer hand to deal with problems on its northern border with Lebanon.
CIA Within the CIA
As for the CIA Old Boys, legendary CIA officer Miles Copeland told me that “the CIA within the CIA” – the inner-most circle of powerful intelligence figures who felt they understood best the strategic needs of the United States – believed Carter and his naïve faith in American democratic ideals represented a grave threat to the nation.
“Carter really believed in all the principles that we talk about in the West,” Copeland said, shaking his mane of white hair. “As smart as Carter is, he did believe in Mom, apple pie and the corner drug store. And those things that are good in America are good everywhere else. …
“Carter, I say, was not a stupid man,” Copeland said, adding that Carter had an even worse flaw: “He was a principled man.”
These attitudes of “the CIA within the CIA” and the Likudniks appeared to stem from their genuine beliefs that they needed to protect what they regarded as vital interests of their respective countries. The CIA Old Boys thought they understood the true strategic needs of the United States and Likud believed fervently in a “Greater Israel.”
However, the lingering October Surprise mystery is whether these two groups followed their strongly held feelings into a treacherous bid, in league with Republicans, to prevent Carter from gaining the release of the 52 hostages in Iran.
Carter’s inability to resolve the hostage crisis opened the door to Ronald Reagan’s landslide victory in November 1980 as American voters reacted to the long-running hostage humiliation by turning to a candidate they believed would be a tougher player on the international stage.
Reagan’s macho image was reinforced when the Iranians released the hostages immediately after he was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 1981, ending the 444-day standoff. The coincidence of timing, which Reagan’s supporters cited as proof that foreign enemies feared the new president, gave momentum to Reagan’s larger agenda, including sweeping tax cuts tilted toward the wealthy, reduced government regulation of corporations, and renewed reliance on fossil fuels. (Carter’s solar panels were pointedly dismantled from the White House roof.)
Reagan’s victory also was great news for CIA cold-warriors who were rewarded with the choice of World War II spymaster (and dedicated cold-warrior) William Casey to be CIA director. Casey then purged CIA analysts who were detecting a declining Soviet Union that desired détente and replaced them with people like the young and ambitious Robert Gates, who agreed that the Soviets were on the march and that the United States needed a massive military expansion to counter them.
Casey again embraced old-time CIA swashbuckling in Third World countries and took pleasure in stonewalling members of Congress when they insisted on the CIA oversight that had been forced on President Gerald Ford and had been accepted by President Carter. To Casey, CIA oversight became a game of hide-and-seek.
As for Israel, Begin was pleased to find the Reagan administration far less demanding about peace deals with the Arabs, giving Israel time to expand its West Bank settlements. Reagan and his team also acquiesced to Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, a drive north that expelled the Palestine Liberation Organization but also led to the slaughters at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.
And, behind the scenes, Reagan gave a green light to Israeli weapons shipments to Iran (which was fighting a war with Israel’s then-greater enemy, Iraq). The weapons sales also helped Israel rebuild its contacts inside Iran and to turn large profits, which were used to help finance West Bank settlements.
In another important move, Reagan credentialed a new generation of pro-Israeli American ideologues known as the neoconservatives, a move that would pay big dividends for Israel in the future as these bright and articulate operatives fought for Israeli interests both inside the U.S. government and through their opinion-leading roles in the major American news media.
In other words, if the disgruntled CIA Old Boys and the determined Likudniks did participate in an October Surprise scheme to unseat Jimmy Carter, they surely got much of what they were after.
Yet, while motive is an important element in solving a mystery, it does not constitute proof by itself. What must be examined is whether there is evidence that the motive was acted upon, whether Menachem Begin’s government and disgruntled CIA officers covertly assisted the Reagan campaign in contacting Iranian officials to thwart Carter’s hostage negotiations.
On that point the evidence is strong though perhaps not ironclad. Still, a well-supported narrative does exist describing how the October Surprise scheme may have played out with the help of CIA personnel, Begin’s government, right-wing intelligence figures in Europe, and a handful of other powerbrokers in the United States. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege or Consortiumnews.com’s “The CIA/Likud Sinking of Jimmy Carter.”]
Today, as the United States enters a new presidential election year – and as some extremist supporters of Israel dream of President Obama’s elimination – the current Israeli government might prove its true friendship with the United States by releasing whatever documents it has related to Begin’s apparent sabotage of Carter’s reelection in 1980.
It is way past time to tell the full truth about those historic events.
[For more on related topics, see Robert Parry’s Lost History, Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, now available in a three-book set for the discount price of only $29. For details, 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 neckdeepbook.com. 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.