Part II - Blood Money

excerpted from the book

Profits of War

Inside the Secret U.S.-Israeli Arms Network

by Ari Ben-Menashe

Sheridan Square Press, 1992, hardcover


Mordecai Vanunu was a former cab driver who had been talking his head off to a church group in Sydney, Australia's red-light district, King's Cross, claiming that he had worked as a technician at a nuclear facility near Dimona, Israel.

When the Israeli intelligence community got wind of this, they immediately checked into Vanunu's background and found it was true. Born in Morocco to a rightwing Jewish family that had migrated to Israel in the early 1960s, he had grown up in Beersheba before being drafted. He was stationed in Dimona and trained as a technician. After his military service, he stayed on. While a civilian, he also started studying philosophy at the University of the Negev in Beersheba and began sympathizing with the Palestinian cause. He aligned himself with North African Jews who had migrated to Israel and told his pals how horrified he was that Israel had so much nuclear firepower. From his work he had a very good idea what Israel had.

Deciding he had had enough of life in Israel, he sold his Beersheba apartment, left his job and the university, and took off with a knapsack on his back. He headed for Thailand and Nepal, where he converted to Buddhism. He stayed free at Buddhist monasteries, although in his knapsack he had a lot of cash from the sale of his apartment. He also had something far more valuable photographs and undeveloped film of the inside of the Israeli nuclear facility.

The [Sunday} Times was planning to fly Vanunu to London, interview him at length, and publish his story in detail. The arrangement was that after the story had been printed, Vanunu would get £250,000 advance on a book about Israel's nuclear capability that he would write with one of the newspaper's staff.

... The Mossad station chief in London tipped off MI-5 that Israel had a security problem - on British soil. The British intelligence agency agreed to try to help Israel track down Vanunu but warned the Israelis not to do anything that was likely to cause a political diplomatic incident on British soil.

... When he [Vanunu] arrived at the Rome apartment, three Mossad agents were waiting. He was grabbed, given a knockout injection and pushed into a large crate. Then the crate was taken to an, Israeli ship and loaded on as diplomatic cargo, which meant the authorities could not inspect the container.

Once the ship was on its way, he was brought out of the crate, handcuffed, and taken to a guarded cabin. As soon as the vessel arrived in Ashdod in Israel, a colonel in the police presented him with a formal arrest warrant on security grounds. Even though an Israeli Air Force 707 could have flown Vanunu from Britain's Stansted Airport to Tel Aviv, Mossad had been asked by MI-5 not to kidnap him on British soil because this would have embarrassed Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

... Vanunu was sentenced behind closed doors to 18 years in jail for espionage and treason.

The door to working side by side with the South Africans had in fact already been opened by Shimon Peres as part of his early plan to give Israel a nuclear deterrent. By 1959, there had been military cooperation between the two countries, with South Africa selling uranium to Israel, mined in South-West Africa, now Namibia.

The first shipment flown up from the south in 1959 was the seed of commercial El Al flights to South Africa and South African Airways flights to Israel. The crates of uranium came through as agricultural equipment, but later the whole nuclear trade with South Africa was carried out under the guise of machinery and parts to be used for the water pipeline being built from the Sea of Galilee to the south. Under the cover of TAHAL, the government water corporation, tons of uranium were shifted, and the underground silos that were being built were also said to be for the water corporation. (The reactor was the one I have mentioned in the Negev Desert, but there were also missile silos in the north built under the name of TAHAL Waterworks.)

South Africa, of course, expected something in return for its cooperation. When Shimon Peres became the first Israeli official to visit South Africa in 1959, he promised the sale of arms from Israel Military Industries and a share of technology.

The first Indian Ocean nuclear testing on Israel's behalf too place in 1968 when a crude bomb with low radioactive fallout was dropped. The test was to see if the detonator mechanism worked. During that same year, South Africa and Israel signed a nuclear cooperation agreement. Israel would train South African scientists and share knowledge with them, and the South Africans would finance some of Israel's nuclear program and provide it with testing grounds in the Indian Ocean.

... Between 1968 and 1973, 13 bombs were built, each with a destructive power that was three times that of the weapons that wiped out Nagasaki and Hiroshima. In spite of the difficulties, some tests were carried out in underground tunnels in the Sinai; the others were in the Indian Ocean. And if anyone questioned whether Israel would ever be willing to use its nuclear capability, the answer came in 1973 during the October War with the Egyptians and the Syrians. The Syrians penetrated the Golan Heights, and there was fear they would get close to Tiberias. So Moshe Dayan ordered the arming of all 13 nuclear bombs and put 24 B-52 bombers on standby. The U.S. had sold the old planes to Israel, not realizing what Israel needed them for. (Israel had not completed its missile delivery systems at the time and needed the B-52s for bomb drops. Following the arming of the bombs, the Soviets and the Americans were warned to keep the Arabs at bay - or else. In response to this action, the Soviets targeted Tel Aviv, Haifa, Beersheba, and the port of Ashdod with nuclear missiles (though not Jerusalem). An alarmed President Richard Nixon announced an all-out military alert around the world and put US. forces on combat readiness. As it turned out, the stalemate was overcome, because a week into the war Israel reversed the Syrian advance.

Up until the 1973 war, Israel had enjoyed good relations with I the black African nations. They had seen Israel as the underdog fighting the Arabs-a situation that black Africans could identify with because they had their own conflicts with the northern Moslems. But the war brought this bond to an end. The black nations claimed that in crossing the Suez Canal, considered to be the line between Asia and Africa, Israel had actually invaded Africa. Slowly but surely, most black African countries cut relations, eventually spurred on by Libya's President Muammar Qaddafi, who promised monetary rewards to African nations that agreed to wave goodbye to Israel. As it turned out, the Libyan leader never paid.

However, to counteract the move by the black nations, the South Africans, who had diplomatic relations with Israel at a consular level, quietly proposed to Israel an exchange of ambassadors. Within months, in 1974, this was implemented by the Labor government of Yitzhak Rabin.

After that, Israeli-South African relations developed rapidly. Israeli scientists helped the South Africans develop their own bomb. Curiously, some of the French scientists who were working in the late 1960s in Israel but left when the 1967 embargo was announced, met up with their former Israeli colleagues in South Africa. They started working side by side again in Capetown.

The tests proceeded so well that by 1976 Israel had a missile delivery system that was capable of hitting the Soviet Union. A year later, when Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was handing over office to the newly elected Menachem Begin, one of Begin's first orders was to target a number of southern Soviet cities, including Yerevan in Armenia and Baku in Azerbaijan.

... Between 1978 and 1979 the Israelis sold to South Africa 175mm artillery that could carry small nuclear devices. More than money was involved. Not only did the South Africans agree to invest in Israel's nuclear program, they also decided to give Israel a free hand to carry out tests in the Indian Ocean without South African supervision. In 1979 Israel carried out a number of such tests, one of which was detected by satellite because its big flash occurred during a break in the otherwise cloudy weather. The South Africans rightly denied it was theirs. To this day, the Israeli government has refused to comment on this test. It did, however, issue a blanket denial of Seymour Hersh's book, The Samson Option, which asserts that the 1979 flash was, in fact, an Israeli atomic device. By 1979, Israel had approximately 200 very advanced atomic bombs and nuclear artillery- 175mm artillery shells. It also had missile delivery systems that were not all that developed but were capable of reaching the Soviet Union and Baghdad.

The go-ahead for Israel to develop a hydrogen bomb for testing was given in 1980 by the director general of the Defense Ministry, Mordechai Tsippori. By 1981, Israel had the H-bomb, having tested it in the Indian Ocean. In that year, the count was more than 300 atomic bombs stored in silos-the structures had again been built by TAHAL, the water company-and more than 50 hydrogen bombs. The fleet of B-52 bombers had also increased somewhat.

A tactical atom bomb program had also started, under Defense Minister Ariel Sharon. Israeli scientists designed a low-yield, low-radiation atom bomb, very effective for the battlefield. But the supplies from South Africa of the necessary metals and related chemicals were only enough for experiments. The South Africans said they would provide more, as long as Israel promised to sell them this bomb.

However, between 1985 and 1988, Israeli-South African relations deteriorated. In part, this was because of the gradual renewal of relations between Israel and the black African states. More importantly, it was because South Africa began to sell conventional equipment and missile technology to Iraq. In 1988, Israel pointed out that the Iran-Iraq war had stopped, so there was no need to help the Iraqis, but all requests fell on deaf ears in Pretoria. This rebuff brought about a complete breakdown in Israeli-South African military relations.

The immediate result was that Israel had no place to get the vital minerals and chemicals it needed to move its tactical bomb into mass production. Three critical, and rare, minerals - uranium, titanium, and molybdenum - and two even rarer chemical compounds-heavy water (deuterium oxide) and tritium-could, as it happened, be found in Peru.* So my first assignment for the Prime Minister's Office was to travel to Peru to try to arrange their purchase.

The big worry was Iraq. The U.S. was not only refusing to listen to our concern, but was actually helping Saddam Hussein build his arsenal of unconventional weapons. Chemicals and the artillery cups to contain them were pouring in from Chile and South Africa, and Israel felt helpless to stop the flow. But it was clear that something had to be done.

... By late 1986 Israel was expressing great concern about the arms shipments to Iraq, with Prime Minister Shamir threatening to go to Congress. So Robert Gates, now deputy director of the CIA, called a meeting in Santiago, the sole aim of which was to calm the Israelis.

... At the gathering Gates was quite clear. The United States, he said, wanted to maintain the channel of arms to Iraq. It had to try to pull Iraq into its sphere of influence through the sale of conventional but not sophisticated weaponry. Israel was being paranoid, he said, and he gave his assurance that Israel would not be hurt. It was also understood that the Israelis would continue to supply the Iranians, and the South Africans would supply the Iraqis, to Israel's dismay.

... All this added up to a frightening situation for Israel. Our most powerful enemy, Iraq, was being systematically built up with weapons of mass destruction by our so-called friends. And we were supposed to go along simply because Robert Gates had given us his word that it would be okay.

Yitzhak Shamir was not about to sacrifice the security of Israel on anyone's word, let alone that of an American CIA official. And so, the conclusion of our August 1988 meeting was that Israel had take the matter into its own hands.

President [Alfredo] Stroessner had been put in power in 1954 by the CIA to protect Nazi intelligence officers and German scientists with whom the U. S. government had made deals after World War II. At the end of the war, the Office of Strategic Services did not see the Nazis as the enemy; they regarded the Soviet Union under Stalin as the real threat. So they actually recruited Nazi intelligence officers and weapons experts to glean intelligence on the Soviet Union and signed agreements allowing some of these people to live in the United States and others, with changes of identity, to go to South America. President Stroessner, with his German background and connections with the Nazi Party during the war, was an excellent candidate for the CIA to put in power. Indirectly he would be serving the United States.

Israel's connection with Paraguay was not exactly a consistent relationship. Mossad agents continued to track Nazi groups through the 1950s and 1960s, resulting in the deaths of at least two Israelis. A truce was called, and Stroessner tried very hard to blot out his Nazi-loving reputation by promising full cooperation with the State of Israel, though he didn't end up doing much to help on the Nazi issue.

Israel, however, did take advantage of Paraguay's willingness to turn a blind eye to arms passing through its airport. Huge numbers of illegal weapons shipments to Israel from various countries were flown to Paraguay in the 1960s, and then on to Tel Aviv. Paraguay also became one of the conduits for smuggling materiel from South Africa for the nuclear reactor at Dimona-an unlikely route.

Landlocked Paraguay has very few highways other than the circular route surrounding the capital, Asunción. Getting out of what was once the old colonial capital of southern South America without a helicopter or a plane is difficult. The country outside Asuncion is basically divided into ranches, where the Indian workers remain at the mercy of their Spanish or German masters.

With its lush vegetation and plains, Paraguay remains an ideal place to hide-or to operate a secret factory such as a chemical production plant. God only knows what happens on the infamous ranches and land tracts. The country is a black market paradise where anything goes. Marlboro cigarettes are brought in for less than their cost ex-factory. Brand new Mercedes cars, probably stolen from Brazil and driven along some secret path, can be bought for about $10,000, complete with Paraguayan license plates. Many of the goods to be found in Asunción are the spoils of blatant theft or con jobs from around the world. The biggest money launderer in India, known in financial circles only as "the Swami from Madras," had a representative in Asunción. Even military equipment being flown from the United States to South Africa would be flown via Paraguay, a perfect smokescreen.

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 neighboring 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 maneuver 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.

Alter 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.

Alter the Camp David agreements, and after the Republicans had taken over in 1981, the U.S. and the "moderate" Arab countries started pressing for a mini-Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, which would not threaten U.S. oil interests, as would a Palestinian 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 U.S. policy. But Likud, a major partner in the coalition, blocked the whole initiative and thus accelerated the US. tilt toward Iraq.

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 Chehrikov 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, the Jews were getting exit visas to Austria and Italy and then waiting. They would apply to leave the Soviet Union saying they wanted to go to their homeland, but in Vienna and Rome they would apply for immigration visas to the U.S. 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 paperwork 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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.

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 U. S. in early 1991, the Palestinian populace all over the world suddenly started seeing him as their hero. Here was an Arab leader fighting singlehandedly against US. 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.

Looking back, I can say that the 1980s were a mean decade perverted in their lack of humanity. It would be too easy to say simply that I regret my role-though I am deeply sorry for the human suffering of the Iranians and Iraqis. I also regret that Israel continued to develop its capacity for nuclear destruction and that we were unable to bring about peace with the Palestinians.

But I do not regret that my experience allowed me to see firsthand how secret intelligence agencies increasingly dominate the foreign policy of nations like the United States and Israel. Whereas once intelligence was supposed to inform leaders and guide them in making policy decisions, today covert intelligence operations and foreign policy are too often inseparable, one and the same. The tools of secret slush fund money, covert operations, and disinformation have been used on such a grand scale that they have changed the nature of the entire political process. A handful of people never elected by anyone are now able to manipulate politics.

And my former colleagues, the international arms merchants, with whom I had so many dealings, are not out of business, not by a long shot. If there isn't a big war going on at any given time, there are always a number of small wars. The events in Eastern Europe-in Yugoslavia and in the former Soviet republics continue to generate profits for them. As I sit here I imagine them around their tables, waiting for the next big one, just like Iran and Iraq. Perhaps India and Pakistan. Plenty of cannon fodder to be equipped, a balanced enough conflict to last a long time, no one in the West to care who gets killed - a real goidmine.

I am a humbler man today than I was in the 1970s when I joined Israeli intelligence. I've learned the hard way that everyone makes mistakes, some of them so big that they are irrevocable. I've also changed my view of Israel and the Jewish people. When I was young, I shared with many Israelis a deep nationalistic feeling - the self-righteous and arrogant belief that we were right and everyone else was wrong, that it was more important for Jews and Israel to survive than others, that we were - as the Bible says-the chosen people.

I still believe that Jews are chosen. But no longer can I accept the premise on which the Iranian arms deals were based: "Better that their boys die than ours."

People are people. We are all chosen.

Profits of War

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