Israel and the Contras

excerpted from the book

The Iran Contra Connection

Secret Teams and Covert Operations in the Reagan Era

by Johnathan Marshall, Peter Dale Scott, and Jane Hunter

South End Press, 1987, paper


It is no accident that Israel, rather than, for example, South Korea, which has also sold its share of arms to Iran, was caught in the thick of things when the two-legged Irangate scheme was exposed in November 1986. For Israel was almost certainly the intellectual author of the plot to make Iran pay for the war against Nicaragua and Israel had already been selling arms to the contras, training them, and otherwise helping Reagan to circumvent Congressional restrictions on the contra program. To find the roots of this behavior we must return to Israel's earliest days.

Surrounded by Arab states whose hostility endured from the rout of their armies and uprooting of the Palestinian population as the Jewish state established itself, Israel has from its outset sought international contact beyond its confinement in the Eastern Mediterranean. Its Labor Zionist government propounded a doctrine calling for the establishment of good relations with the peripheral, non-Arab states of the region: Ethiopia, Turkey, and, of course Iran.

Looking farther afield, in the mid-1950s Prime Minister David Ben Gurion attempted to involve Israel in what would later become the Nonaligned Movement, but was at the time a loose gathering of nations emerging from colonialism. Israel was barred from the now-historic 1955 meeting at Bandung, Indonesia, because it was seen as an outpost of European colonialism.

Israel next turned to Africa, where, after some vigorous behind the scenes wooing of Ghana's founding leader Kwame Nkrumah,' Israel's anticolonialist credentials (based on having fought the British when they ruled Palestine) were accepted. As African nations were granted independence, Israel commenced a program of development assistance on the continent that was nothing short of spectacular, given Israel's size, its resources and its own recent establishment.

In Africa, and in part of Asia as well, Israeli technicians set up experimental farms, taught agricultural methods, established medical programs and "workers banks," helped develop infrastructure including roads, harbors and, for Ghana, a shipping line, and undertook youth training, labor union leadership training, and cooperative formation. Israel also established courses for foreign students in many of these subjects so that by the end of 1970 15,000 foreign students had been to Israel to study.

Development programs run by Israel were successful because the Israelis technicians came from a small country rather than recent colonial masters, and because the Israelis made it a practice to work alongside their students.

However there was also a less savory side to these programs. "For many years...the United States sent millions of dollars in covert aid to Israel for operations in Africa that included training several African intelligence services." During the tenure of the Labor government (until 1977) European Social Democratic regimes also supported Israeli development activities. Understandably, Israel amassed an enormous intelligence capability in sub-Saharan Africa. The big powers often consulted or coordinated with Israeli operatives. Military training and arms sales were also a part of Israel's outreach to Africa, along with its humanitarian gestures. As a result of all this, by 1968 32 African nations had established diplomatic relations with Israel.

In the mid-1960s Israel expanded the programs which had been so successful in Africa (and in parts of Asia as well) to Latin America, a region which needed little courting as its already established governments had provided an important bloc of supporting UN votes in 1947 when that body was considering the partition of Palestine into Palestinian and Jewish states.

After Israel's 1973 war the Organization of African Unity called for a diplomatic embargo of Israel, and all but three African governments- Malawi, Swaziland and Lesotho, all within the tight embrace of South Africa-either already had or shortly thereafter severed diplomatic relations. Israel was then left with little choice but to focus on the Asian nations with which it had relations and on Latin America.

Following the 1973 war, which in turn had followed the 1967 war during which Israel had occupied territory belonging to Jordan, Syria and Egypt, the perception of Israel as an underdog beset by rapacious neighbors was wearing out. In much of the world Israel was criticized for its occupation of Arab territory, its oppression of Palestinians in that territory, its intransigence in the face of all opportunities for peace, and, increasingly, its close links with South Africa. Also around this time, Israel's focus was shifting from development to military power. By 1980 Israel would be railing at the "petro-power" of the Arab governments of the Gulf-which, it claimed had turned Africa against it, with promises of funding for major infrastructural projects-and selling $1 billion worth of arms to a curious assortment of customers, including some of its former African friends. While clinging to as much as it could of the old patina of the days when it was a "light unto the nations," Israel had redefined itself into an arms merchant.

The Dictates of Israel's Arms Industry

Well before there was a state, there was an arms industry, producing small arms which the Jewish settlers in Palestine used against the Arab inhabitants they found there."

In the late 1930s and early 1940s arms acquisition by unconventional means, including smuggling war surplus from the U.S., became a preoccupation of Zionist leaders. After the United Nations approved the partition plan establishing a Jewish national homeland in Mandatory Palestine, great energy was expended securing weapons from a mostly unwilling world for the fight that was expected, following the withdrawal of the British colonialists.

The difficulty experienced in obtaining weaponry, when combined with the legacy of the recently abated Holocaust, seems to have produced a certain mindset in the leaders of the new state of Israel. To call it determined would be to understate it.

The Holocaust reconfirms the perspective that there are those who seek the destruction of the Jews and that Jewish survival should not depend on the guarantees or efforts of others. Thus, Israel sees that it must rely on its own defense capacity to ensure its survival and protect its people.

Emblematic of this grim determination was the decision in 1952 to commit the fledgling nation to the expensive and politically risky development of nuclear weapons.

A similarly far-reaching commitment to establish an arms industry was made in 1967, when France, at the time Israel's major source of weapons (and nuclear technology), canceled contracts for major weapons systems. French President de Gaulle was angered by Israel's decision to go to war. Always resistant to political pressure, Israeli leaders determined to become self-sufficient in arms.

The investment was a political one, without a thought to economies of scale-which would have shown it to be foolish. Actually Israel had had the beginnings of a parastatal military industry from 1948, built up around the secret munitions workshops of the pre-state period. i7 In the late 1960s and through the 1970s new companies were founded and major weapons systems produced. Much of the technology for the weapons Israel manufactured came from abroad, first from France, then from the United States. Investment also was needed from abroad, most notably from U.S. firms establishing joint ventures or subsidiaries and from the government of South Africa which agreed in 1976 to subsidize research and development on major Israeli weapons systems.

Israel's army is ranked among the best in the world, and it is very large in proportion to the country's tiny population, but no major arms-producing state manufactures weapons solely for its own military. In order to lower the unit cost of weapons, they produce more than they need and try to export the difference. In Israel's case the problem was compounded because Israel's possible markets were severely limited. NATO countries for the most part produce for themselves and each other, and likewise for members of the Warsaw Pact. With some notable exceptions (Ethiopia, Indonesia, and recently the Peoples Republic of China) the socialist and Islamic countries shun Israel. Since the 1973 break, most African nations have also kept their contacts with Israel to a minimum. What remained were the ASEAN nations, the pro-Western Asian grouping, Latin America, and the pariah, or untouchable, nations such as South Africa, Taiwan, Chile, and Guatemala. Latin America, where many countries fall into none of these categories and most of the rest fall into the pariah category, became Israel's premier market, although recently Israel has picked up some sales in Europe.

The typical Israeli customer, wrote one leading analyst of Israeli arms exports, most likely to be a non-western country with a defense conscious government, rightist in orientation, in which the military is either the actual or proximate locus of power. It is confronted by a security threat originating either domestically or from a neighboring country.... [L]ike Israel, it, too, is isolated diplomatically and under international criticism, and therefore encounters problems in meeting military requirements from other sources of supply.

Israel never managed to produce even half of its own military gear. But it did become hooked on arms exports, which represented 31 percent of industrial exports in 1975,23 and are now thought to comprise 30 to 40 percent of Israel's industrial output.. Twenty percent of the industrial labor force works in arms production. By aggressively marketing its products where it could, by 1980 Israel had managed to boost its exports to over the $1 billion mark. With the possible exception of 1983, they have remained at that level, and are now above $l.25 billion. Moreover, since these numbers are estimates based on observations and accounts of transactions in the international media-the Israeli government releases no information on its arms sales-if anything, they are too low.

Yet these sales were never enough, especially after 1985, when Israel's defense budget began to suffer regular cuts and orders from the military dropped as part of an anti-inflationary program. The military industries were faced with the necessity of increasing exports to save jobs.

The export statistics do not begin to describe the power wielded by the arms producers, much less the "pro-arms lobby," a wider group including top ranks of the Israeli military, directors of various industries, unions whose members depend on incoming weapons orders for their livelihood, and several Israeli leaders with close ties to arms industries including Shimon Peres, who as a protege of Ben-Gurion at the defense ministry, is credited with being the architect of Israel's arms producing sector, and Moshe Arens, a former president of Israeli Aircraft Industries.

Some critics even charge that the defense ministry, at the apex of the arms producing sector, has taken over Israeli foreign policy. That policy is directed, they say, for short term objectives which often foreclose the possibility of longer term diplomatic aims which might bring Israel out of its isolation. Under the sway of this system, Israel's overall "conduct of external affairs...tends to be unsystematic, with a strong emphasis upon short-term contingency planning and crisis management." "Because of the feeling which has taken root that weapons must be sold at almost any price, countries described as 'dirty' are attracted to us as to a magnet," lamented the military columnist for Israel's leading daily. "The irony is that many of these countries are even ashamed to publicize the fact that they purchase weapons from Israel, as though we were lepers."

Compounding this situation is the process by which sales are approved. It is conducted in secrecy by four men-the prime minister, the defense minister, the foreign minister, and the minister of trade and industry-who convene as the Ministerial Committee on Weapons Transfers. As with Israel s part in Irangate, other cabinet ministers are kept in the dark and, similarly, the Knesset, Israel's parliament has neither the authority nor the will to veto arms sales.

None of this has been without its effect on Israel's mainstay, the United States, which has played a crucial role in Israeli arms marketing in several respects. Much of what Israel has to sell contains U.S. technology and thus needs Washington's permission before it can be exported, or, as was the case with some of the sales to Iran, came to Israel through its U.S. military assistance grants. As the Jerusalem Post reported in March of 1985, its economy m serious enough trouble to warrant a supplementary U.S. aid package of $1.5 billion, Israel targeted the United States as an untapped market for its weapons exports.

An interesting intersection with the U.S., and one with much bearing on Israel's relationship with the contras, is the search for markets. Israel has asked the U.S. to set aside certain markets for exclusive Israeli exploitation. It has requested help in marketing, and it has requested U.S. financing for its weapons sales to impoverished governments. It has also asked that recipients of U.S. military aid be allowed to purchase Israeli weapons, an unprecedented break with the traditional "buy American" practice, considered to be the underpinning of U.S. military assistance.

None of these elements were operative when Israel first began marketing its military wares in Central America in 1973. Israel simply pushed into the market itself, introducing its new products at fairs and with a shipboard showroom. Aided by contacts developed during the previous decade when it had conducted technical assistance programs in the region, Israel sold lts castoff French combat jet aircraft to El Salvador and in 1975 to Honduras-these were the region's first jet fighters and first supersonic jets, respectively, and the buyers had not yet made peace following a shooting war in 1969-and a variety of armored vehicles, patrol boats, counterinsurgency aircraft and small arms to these two nations and to Nicaragua and Guatemala. Before very long, however, Israeli sales would increase and that increase would be thanks to events in the U.S., which created sales opportunities for Israel.

Opportunity in Central America

The same Carter human rights doctrine that brought campaign contributions from wealthy Guatemalans to Ronald Reagan brought orders to the Israeli arms industries. By 1978 Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala were found guilty of human rights violations connected with insurgencies arising from longstanding social and political inequities. U.S. military aid was terminated and all three of these nations then turned to Israel to fill the gaps left by withdrawal of U.S. aid.

As part of this windfall Israel supplied the military regime of El Salvador with over 80% of its weaponry for the next several years, including napalm for use against the Salvadoran civilian population. Israeli advisers trained the Salvadorans in counterinsurgency and installed a computerized intelligence system able to track insurgents and, by monitoring Utility usage, pinpoint safe houses.

It is almost certain that these advisers remained after 1981 when Washington made the cause of the Salvadoran landowning oligarchy its own and resumed military aid. The Israelis thus helped the U.S. exceed the congressional limitation of U.S. advisers in El Salvador at any one time. According to a member of El Salvador's short-lived First Junta (1979-80), Israeli advisers who came to train officers of ANSESAL, the Salvadoran secret police originally established by the CIA and closely linked to the infamous death squads, remained in El Salvador as late as 1983.

Although increasing U.S. military assistance cut into the amount of business available to Israel, Israel continued its relationship with the Salvadoran military, most recently providing a sophisticated "pacification" plan which involves the forcible resettlement of civilians into communities under military control. Following the failure of confidently announced U.S. plans to "win the hearts and minds" of the long suffering Salvadoran populace, the Israeli program (funded by the World Bank, the U.S. and West Germany) is a quid pro quo for El Salvador's decision to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

If Salvadoran "model villages" follow the pattern of those Israel has helped establish in Guatemala, their "citizens" will soon be growing fancy vegetables for export in exchange for barely enough food for their families, turning a profit for their military "guardians." The agricultural operations under Israeli advisement are likely to order Israeli high tech farming equipment and Israelis have invested heavily in Guatemala's agricultural sector. Already some Salvadoran officers are trying to imitate Guatemala's involuntary "self defense" forces, an integral part of its "pacification" program.

Since 1977 the Guatemalan military has relied heavily on Israel for each phase of its anti-insurgency campaign. Israeli advisers appeared on the scene when the military government was engaged in killing and dispossessing the largely Mayan highland communities in an effort to squash the Indians' support for a revolutionary movement inspired by the incredible inequality of land ownership. Over the following eight years, Israeli weapons and advisers helped the Guatemalan military halt the growth of the insurgency-by a mass carnage of at least 10,000 which some observers have not hesitated to call genocide.

Israel, according to Benedicto Lucas Garcia, brother of head of state (1978-1982) Romeo Lucas Garcia, and former chief of staff of the Guatemalan Army, "did not provide us with large amounts, but it was the only [state] which provided us with military support so that we could deal with the guerrillas." The arms might not have been numerous enough to please Lucas, but in 1983 a Time reporter marveled that "the Israelis have sold the government everything from anti-terrorism equipment to transport planes. Army outposts in the jungle have become near replicas of Israeli army field camps."

Moreover, Israel also provided Guatemala with two computer centers, one of which, located in an annex to the Presidential Palace, was used to monitor dissidents and compile and disseminate death lists. Israel has also been instrumental in providing advice and direction for Guatemala's audacious program of long term social control: four "poles of development" with dozens of "model villages" in which are interned indigenous peasants driven off their land or captured by the army. Wrested from their corn-oriented culture and under direct military control, the peasants grow export crops. This social experiment-the Guatemalan officer who directs the program compared the model villages to Israeli kibbutzim-has enjoyed support from the U.S. religious right. South Africa is also known to be assisting with the "resettlement" program.

Nicaragua escaped the same fate, but not for want of Israel's attention. In the late 1970s, dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle, last of a dynasty that had run Nicaragua as a family fiefdom since 1933, was faced by an insurrection of virtually the entire population, and in 1978, at the latter stages of events, the Carter Administration finally cut off U.S. assistance. Somoza was then faced with a fairly rigorous informal embargo; no country seemed willing to sell him weapons.

The Israelis were quick to take up the slack, and from September of that year until the following July when he was ousted, Israel sold Somoza 98 percent of the weapons he used against the Nicaraguan population. Those included not only Uzi submachine guns and "thousands" of Israeli-made Galil assault rifles, but large quantities of ammunition, surface-to-air missiles (the FSLN, the Sandinistas, had no air force), nine combat-armed Cessna aircraft and two Sikorsky helicopters, which Somoza's Guard used as platforms for machine gun strafing. Sometimes they rolled 500 pound bombs out the helicopter doors.

With the tacit permission of the Carter Administration, the Israelis continued to ship arms to Somoza until the end of June 1979. Three weeks before the dictator was forced to flee, Washington said "enough," and Israel recalled supplies (including two patrol boats) that were then on their way to Nicaragua. From exile, Somoza fretted about the ship that was recalled to Israel: "Somewhere in Israel there is a large consignment of arms and ammunition which could have saved Nicaragua." Someday, his men would reclaim that cargo, but killed in Paraguay in 1981, Somoza would not live to see that, nor would he see how hard Ronald Reagan would work to restore Nicaragua to his National Guard.

In response to criticism occasionally leveled at it in subsequent years, Israel has always insisted that it stood by Somoza because of a debt dating back to the 1930s. At that time, and again following World War II, Anastasio Somoza Garcia, the father of the toppled dictator, vouched for weapons purchased in Europe by the pre-state Zionist military forces, the Haganah. The Zionists who dealt with him paid Somoza extremely well at the time, so it is somewhat ludicrous for the Israelis to argue that they were honor bound to help his son murder thousands of Nicaraguans decades later. However, they have gotten by with this line of defense, since no one with any leverage over Israel has challenged it, and the arms sales were very lucrative, probably amounting to $250 million.

Israel, the White House Junta and the Contras

The lack of criticism from where it mattered-the U.S. Congress and influential liberal and progressive constituencies in the U.S.-to any of its arms dealings in Central America emboldened Israel to cooperate with the Reagan Administration in supporting the contras in the early days of the program. But there came a time, as early as the summer of 1983, when the administration wanted more from Israel than Israel was willing to risk. The tension that arose then persisted and almost certainly set the course for the scheme which would become known as Iran-Contra affair.

Whatever else the story demonstrates, it shows clearly that Israel might cooperate extensively with the administration or its covert agents in many parts of the world, but it is far from the supine proxy that such a role suggests. The dickering back and forth which went on over what Israel could do for the contras was never completely resolved: when the federal furniture is rearranged following the investigations of the affair, there will be even greater pressure on Israel to stand up in public with the contras. But much money and many weapons changed hands while the relationship grew up around that point of contention. The participants' divergent wishes about Israel's role with the contras resulted in the linking of two operations, which were eventually exposed as the Iran-Contra scandal.

''Strategic'' Cooperation

Until the U.S.-approved Iran arms sales began, U.S.-Israeli collaboration in the war against Nicaragua appears to have been carried out in the framework of a series of agreements. Israel's Likud government, which took office in 1977, had always pursued concessions from the U.S. to help it develop and market weapons. Some elements of what Israel desired were incorporated in a Memorandum of Agreement signed by the two countries in March 1979. Four months after the Reagan Administration was sworn in, Secretary of State Alexander Haig signed a commitment extending the privileges of the 1979 pact.

On November 30,1981 the administration signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Strategic Cooperation with Israel. In addition to provisions aimed at boosting Israel's weapons industry, the MOU bound the two countries into a loose mutual defense pact (aimed, as quickly became de rigeuer in the Reagan years, at the USSR) and covered cooperation in Africa and very likely other areas of the developing world. Although this agreement was suspended almost immediately when Israel angered Washington with its surprise annexation of the Golan Heights, "its spirit and some of its initiatives continue under the 1979 MOA." (Defense Minister Ariel Sharon said the suspension of the MOU did not hurt Israel as the U.S. would pay interest for the delay in its implementation.)

The cooperation was unspecified in the MOU, but an Israeli official said it was left to be evolved. The Israelis wanted-and until David Kimche took his leave from the Foreign Ministry shortly before the Iran-contra scandal broke, continued to want-U.S. funding to entice African nations to reestablish diplomatic relations with them. Defense Minister Ariel Sharon said that Washington had promised Israel money for its activities in Africa. (Sharon arrived in Washington to sign the MOU for Israel immediately after having traveled through Africa. He urged the Reagan Administration to sell arms to South Africa so it too could help in the fight against communism.)

Israel was also eager for the formal pact because it believed that the connection would boost public perception of Israel as a "strategic asset" of the United States, rather than Washington's biggest foreign aid client- although the goal of the perception engineering was in part to obtain more U.S. aid.

Judging from the way the Israelis would keep seeking it, Washington never put a great deal of money into Israel's Africa operations. And whatever spirit of the 1979 Memorandum survived Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon and, in the aftermath, Prime Minister Begin's arrogant rejection of the timid peace plan proffered by President Reagan, was quite withered.

Moreover, with the resignation of Secretary of State Haig and his replacement by George Shultz, a longtime employee of the giant Bechtel construction firm with close business ties to Arab governments, Israel and its U.S. backers expected relations to get worse. Instead, then Deputy Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci-he has since been appointed national security adviser-persuaded Shultz to work with Robert C. Ames, the CIA senior officer for the Middle East. Moshe Arens, Israel's ambassador at the time and his aide Benjamin Netanyahu (since Israel's ambassador to the UN) made the reeducation of Shultz their personal project, building a personal relationship with the Secretary of State. The "real turning point" came at the end of 1982, when Shultz tried to block a S200 million addition to Israel's U.S. assistance, proposed by Congress at the behest of AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Israel's registered lobby in the U.S.). He lost and acknowledged the lobby's power-and Israel has regarded him as a firm friend ever since.

That summer four Shultz assistants began to press the secretary to establish closer links with Israel. One of the four was Undersecretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, who would later be assigned to act as U.S. Iiaison on bilateral covert activities. When the group had completed their position papers arguing for "strategic cooperation" with Israel, Shultz and Robert McFarlane, at the time national security adviser, went to see the President and sold him the new policy, over the opposition of CIA Director Casey and Secretary of Defense Weinberger. They argued that it would help contain Soviet expansion in the Middle East.

The political correspondent for Israel's military radio credited Robert McFarlane with the breakthrough. "It is stressed in Jerusalem that even before the massacre [the October bombing of marine headquarters] in Beirut, a tendency had emerged in Washington toward increasing cooperation with Israel in the wake of deliberations in the U.S. capital after Robert McFarlane became the new national security adviser."

In late October 1983 President Reagan signed National Security Decision Directive 111, establishing strategic cooperation with Israel. Israel's Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir arrived in Washington the following month to discuss the pact-he described it as, in part, "a dialogue on coordinating activity in the third world"-and it was formally signed the following March.

Largely unknown in this country, in Israel the new pact was leaked before it was even signed, much less discussed, after a visit to Israel by Under Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger. The conservative Israeli paper Ma'ariv, said that early in November Eagleburger told Prime Minister Shamir that "the president would like to meet with a personality or personalities from the most senior echelons in Israel."

Ma'ariv pointed out that what the White House wanted was "substantive, and not just intended to shut Israel up and justify the AWACS deal with Saudi Arabia," and that it finally recognized Israel "as a real asset." The paper speculated that Eagleburger, Secretary of State Shultz, "and the members of the National Security Council advocating a pro-Israeli line are currently enjoying Reagan's support," over those aligned with Defense Secretary Weinberger.

Ma'ariv said that the Reagan Administration admitted that it had dealt harshly with Israel over Lebanon and, "during the invasion of Grenada, when the United States used all the explanations Israel used to explain its invasion of Lebanon within the framework of the Peace for Galilee Operation, which the United States did not find satisfactory."

Shamir left Washington with promises of increased U.S. aid, short term economic credits, concessions on the sales of Israeli weapons systems to the U.S., and an administration commitment to a Free Trade Agreement. Shortly thereafter, the Defense Department relented in an ongoing standoff and released technology packages for the Lavi aircraft Israel was developing. To the media, Secretary of State Shultz acknowledged that there was "no quid pro quo in the new arrangement with Israel, that the United States received no major concessions in return." Clearly the administration was propitiating Israel and there was only one conceivable reason it could have been doing so: it wanted Israeli help with the contras.

Well before the U.S. invasion of Grenada, and while the State Department was still fashioning its new pro-Israeli policy, a bilateral committee spearheaded by Robert McFarlane began what would become twice-yearly meetings. In 1982, as an aide to Secretary of State Alexander Haig, McFarlane had been sent to Israel to discuss Haig's vision of a conservative Middle East alliance. McFarlane's interlocutor had been David Kimche, director-general of the Israeli foreign ministry. When McFarlane moved over to the White House he established links between Kimche and senior State Department officials, launching what came to be known as the U.S.-Israel Political Military Committee. The committee 'which would meet every spring and fall (alternately in Washington and Jerusalem)' was set up "to look at the big picture," meaning everything but what is euphemistically known as the Middle East "peace process." It would later be subsumed under the 1984 strategic agreement.

At the first meeting of the group, in June 1983, discussion was mainly on cooperation in the developing world, centered especially on Central America-on "the intention of the U.S. Administration to get Israel to supply the armies of the pro-American regimes there," with funds "the U.S. cannot directly transfer to its allies in the region...paid to Israel directly from the United States."

During the same time frame the White House was starting to appreciate Israel for what it could do to promote administration aims in Central America and Israel's willingness to "assist" the U.S., administration officials had said, helped to improve strained relations between the two countries. An Israeli account said that such cooperation was the only "aspect of be energetically pursued during the last two years."

Israel had allowed S2 I million to be reprogrammed from its foreign assistance to El Salvador in 1981, before Congress had had an opportunity to cave in to the new Reagan Administration's demands for major military aid for the Salvadoran regime. Israel already had the Guatemalan situation well in hand, and it had reinforced the words of UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick to debt-ridden Costa Rica: if you want aid you must create an army.' And it was involved in a low-key way with the contras.


An Evolving Modus Operandi

In early 1985 both Reagan Administration officials and members of Congress said that Israel had again stepped up aid to the contras, but denied that U.S. foreign aid was funneled through Tel Aviv, El Salvador or Honduras. The denial came as the Reagan Administration began signaling its desire to find a legal way to send aid through third countries. In March 1985 it said it was considering asking "friendly" Asian countries to support the contras. Taiwan and Thailand were mentioned, and it was never made clear whether-U.S. aid or the friendly countries' own resources would be used. An administration official said both U.S. aid recipients and non-recipients were under consideration.

Ominously, an administration official said "Right now there is a proscription from any third country providing assistance. Well, might the Congress not wish to reconsider that ?"

After a few such feelers on this score produced negative reactions from Congress, the pronouncements ceased. The White House announced that it had "rejected a series of proposals for indirect financing of the Nicaraguan rebels." But the conniving continued.

In July 1985 the Reagan Administration not only got S27 million "non-lethal" aid out of Congress for the contras, it also figured out a way to "legalize" shaking down U.S. aid recipients for contributions to the mercenaries. (Incidental but not unrelated to this process, the $12.6 billion foreign aid bill containing contra aid-the first foreign aid bill since 1981 to stand on its own rather than skulk in a continuing resolution-won the votes of a number of liberals because it also contained S4.6 billion in U.S. aid for Israel. Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) called it "critical assistance. " ~ 77 The House leadership either did not try to separate the contra aid from the aid to Israel or was unable to do so.)

The president signed the foreign aid bill containing the S2 7 million on August 8.'79 Before he signed it, however, while the bill was in a House-Senate conference the White House ordered surgery on one of its amendments. Named for Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI), the offending language forbid the Reagan Administration from making a formal or informal arrangement with U.S. aid recipients to aid the contras. Unless the Pell Amendment was removed, it was threatened that the president would veto the entire bill. The State Department explained that the amendment might prevent the president from soliciting "nonlethal" aid from Israel, Taiwan, South Korea, and other such allies, some of which had already spoken to the White House about donations.

In a highly unusual move, Sen. Pell, Foreign Relations Chairman Richard Lugar (R-IN) and White House and congressional staff sat down together and rewrote the amendment. The new language read:

...the U.S. shall not enter into any arrangement conditioning expressly or impliedly the provision of assistance under this act...upon provision of assistance by a recipient to persons or groups engaging in an insurgency...against the government of


Both houses of Congress passed this language before they adjourned for the summer. Henceforth the administration was allowed to put the arm on aid clients-just not to the point of threatening to cut off their aid!

The following week it became evident that the heat was off Israel, as contra boss Adolfo Calero catalogued contributions for reporters: "A lot of people help on weapons. Gen. Singlaub, some Germans, some French. The people who help us are not government people, but governments can give leaves of absence or it can be a retired person. We have no Israeli dealings. They have not given or sold us anything." Earlier that year a reporter for National Public Radio had seen Israeli-made artillery pieces at the FDN's main camp in southern Honduras.

Although information is now coming to light about arms shipments made by the Secord-Hakim-North junta through Portugal and France, there have been very few reports of weapons coming from Europeans for the contras. As to financial contributions that might have been used to purchase weapons, Edgar Chamorro insists that the occasional reports of such money from Europe are a "smokescreen." "Money only goes through Europe to be laundered," he says."

In 1986, in a scenario at least as ironic as the forcing of Iran to finance the war against Nicaragua, Richard Secord shook down the government of Saudi Arabia for funds for the contras. The Saudis gave in after being reminded that the administration had stuck its neck out and "defied the powerful pro-lsraeli lobby" to get the AWACs sale through Congress. Secord himself had lobbied for the sale. Secord then used the Saudi money "to acquire Soviet-made weapons from Egypt, from Israeli-held stocks captured in Lebanon, and from international arms dealers."

During the years Congress limited funding for the contras, CIA Director Casey and UN Ambassador Vernon Walters traveled to a number of U.S. clients and urged contributions. Both Israel and Egypt donated money in response to these pleas "when reminded of the substantial U.S. aid they receive."

It was not all giving though. While some of the money that Israel volunteered is said to have been passed through Oliver North, it is more than likely that the money Israel gave was immediately recycled in Israel for weapons, a pattern that was to be repeated when the siphoning off of the Iran profits commenced. (The same pattern which ensures that much of U.S. foreign aid is spent on U.S. weapons or civilian imports.) Former contra leader Edgar Chamorro has pointed out that arms dealers do not seek out the contras, nor do the mercenaries often make purchases on the open market. He explained that "a very few people, close to the White House, tell the FDN how to get weapons...Calero is told by the people in charge where to go to buy weapons. They even make the connections."

Massive Israeli Arms Shipments

... An arms expert estimated that the Israelis had sent the contras "thousands" of AK-47s. Seventy AK-47s and 100,000 rounds of AK-47 ammunition were among other items on the plane shot down by Nicaragua on October 5, 1986.

During the 1985-86 period Israel sent at least 6 shiploads of East bloc assault rifles, grenade launchers and ammunition to Honduras for the contras. Some of the 400 tons of weapons shipped by Southern Air Transport to Ilopango Air Base in El Salvador came from Israel, via Portugal. One shipment, a "significant quantity" of East bloc arms (interestingly, the only Israeli arms shipment to the contras to be mentioned in the Senate Intelligence Committee's report) was offered by Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin on September 12, 1986. They were to be picked up during the following week and taken on a foreign-flag vessel to Central America. Admiral Poindexter had corresponded with Oliver North about the Israeli shipment and wrote North a note characterizing the deal as a "private deal between Dick [Secord] and Rabin that we bless," and telling North to "go ahead and make it happen."

An Israeli source confirmed that the shipload of weapons had indeed been on the way to Central America. He said that it had been recalled after the scandal broke.

In a briefing he prepared for President Reagan in advance of a scheduled September 15 meeting with Prime Minister Shimon Peres, Poindexter advised Reagan to thank Peres for the shipment "because the Israelis held considerable stores of bloc ordnance compatible with arms used by the [contras]." Such shipments might have been a regular feature of the "strategic" relationship between the U.S. and Israel, or that blessed deal might have been a unique occasion. Many, if not most of the Israeli shipments went through private Israeli dealers, who exist for just such business.

The Attractions of Obscurity

Over the many hearings, investigations, and other dissections of Iran-contra affair, Israel's purposes are likely to remain obscure to the public. Israeli citizens, be they officials, arms dealers, or civilian witnesses are not bound by U.S. Iaw to testify or cooperate in investigations. Israel has already made it clear that it will shield its citizens who were involved in the affair behind its national sovereignty and will only cooperate to the extent necessary to placate public opinion.

And that, given the well-oiled media machinery of Israeli loyalists in the U.S., is a very limited proposition. As was seen during the invasion of Lebanon, when the cameras focus in too close a vast cry will go up, charging media imbalance and probably also anti-Semitism.

The Congress, which had many opportunities to examine Israel's activities in Central America and to discourage them, understands the problems attached to those activities all too well but members of Congress would be the first to admit (if only they dared) that they are powerless to restrain Israel. Organizations dedicated to reversing the post war trends in U.S. foreign policy are also unlikely to depart from their ingrained tendency to avoid confrontation with Israel.

Israel's immunity to U.S. Iaw and the silence it has created around itself by years of methodical intimidation will protect it through the bloodletting ahead. These built-in attractions are also likely to make Israel the vehicle of choice for the next tragic and avoidable essay in covert foreign policy.

The Iran Contra Connection

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