Part II - Blood Money
excerpted from the book
Profits of War
Inside the Secret U.S.-Israeli
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
... 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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