This is a long but interesting article. One of the reasons given by Begin for accepting the Camp David Agreement was that the largest Arab enemy was breaking the mould of rejecting Israel. Others, it was thought, would follow. In hindsight it would have been better to hold out for a comprehensive deal in exchange for the Sinai.
UPDATE: The author is wrong to say “Begin, however, was determined to implement a Likud strategy “to change the facts on the ground” by moving Jewish settlers into the Occupied Territories”. Labor started building settlements for defensive purposes before Begin came into off and after he left office Labor continued to build settlements and not just for defence. If anything, the settlement enterprise is Labour’s baby.
UPDATE: A reader says and I agree;
A careful reading of Robert Parry’s “An Israeli October Surprise for Obama?” suggests that this is an anti-Likud, anti-Republican propaganda piece, full of anti-Israel, anti-Republican, and anti-neoconservative distortions and falsifications.
August 18, 2012
Special Report: A pressing foreign policy question of the U.S. presidential race is whether Israel might exploit this politically delicate time to bomb Iran’s nuclear sites and force President Obama to join the attack or face defeat at the polls, a predicament with similarities to one President Carter faced in 1980, writes Robert Parry.
By Robert Parry. Consortium News
There is doubt in some quarters that Israel’s Likud government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would time an attack on Iran in the weeks before a U.S. election with the goal of dooming the incumbent Democratic president, Barack Obama, or forcing his hand to commit American military might in support of Israel.
But there was a precedent 32 years ago when another Likud government had grown alienated from the Democratic president and found itself in a position where it could help drive him from office by covertly assisting his Republican rivals in another crisis involving Iran.
In that case – known as the “October Surprise” mystery – President Jimmy Carter was trying to gain the release of 52 Americans then held hostage in Iran. Carter also was pushing the Likud government of Prime Minister Menachem Begin to reach a peace settlement with the Palestinians that would allow them to establish their own state on the West Bank.
Begin, however, was determined to implement a Likud strategy “to change the facts on the ground” by moving Jewish settlers into the Occupied Territories, what Likud called Judea and Samaria, part of historical Israel given to the Jewish people by God. That set up a clash with Carter who was determined to achieve a comprehensive Middle East peace that would establish a Palestinian state on the West Bank.
As Begin maneuvered to block such an arrangement, Carter grew frustrated and then infuriated. In his White House Diary, Carter described how heated the confrontation became after Begin insisted on deferring any agreement pending a Knesset debate.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Carter wrote. “We spent about forty-five minutes on our feet in his study. I asked him if he actually wanted a peace treaty, because my impression was that he did with apparent relish everything he could do to obstruct it. He came right up and looked in my eyes about a foot away and said that he wanted peace as much as anything else in the world. It was almost midnight when I left. We had an extremely unsatisfactory meeting …
“I have rarely been so disgusted in all my life. I was convinced he would do everything possible to stop a treaty, rather than face the full autonomy he had promised in the West Bank.”
The disdain was mutual. Begin was furious over what he regarded as Carter’s high-handed actions at Camp David in 1978, forcing Israel to trade the occupied Sinai to Egypt for a peace deal. Begin feared that Carter would use his second term to bully Israel into accepting a Palestinian state on West Bank lands.
Former Mossad and Foreign Ministry official David Kimche described Begin’s attitude in his 1991 book, The Last Option, saying that Israeli officials had gotten wind of “collusion” between Carter and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat “to force Israel to abandon her refusal to withdraw from territories occupied in 1967, including Jerusalem, and to agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state.”
Kimche continued, “This plan – prepared behind Israel’s back and without her knowledge – must rank as a unique attempt in United States’s diplomatic history of short-changing a friend and ally by deceit and manipulation.”
However, Begin recognized that the scheme required Carter winning a second term in 1980 when, Kimche wrote, “he would be free to compel Israel to accept a settlement of the Palestinian problem on his and Egyptian terms, without having to fear the backlash of the American Jewish lobby.”
In a 1992 memoir, Profits of War, Ari Ben-Menashe, an Israeli military intelligence officer who worked with Likud, agreed that Begin and other Likud leaders held Carter in contempt.
“Begin loathed Carter for the peace agreement forced upon him at Camp David,” Ben-Menashe wrote. “As Begin saw it, the agreement took away Sinai from Israel, did not create a comprehensive peace, and left the Palestinian issue hanging on Israel’s back.”
So, to buy time for Israel to build up its West Bank settlements and thus make a Palestinian state impossible, Begin felt Carter’s reelection had to be prevented.
The most inviting way was to cooperate with Republicans both in undermining Carter at home and possibly using Israel’s continuing clandestine influence inside Iran to obstruct Carter’s desperate efforts to win freedom for 52 U.S. hostages held by Islamist radicals there.
Questioned by congressional investigators about this history in 1992, Carter said he realized by April 1980 that “Israel cast their lot with [Ronald] Reagan,” according to notes I found among the unpublished documents in the files of a House task force that had looked into the October Surprise case. Carter traced the Israeli opposition to his reelection to a “lingering concern [among] Jewish leaders that I was too friendly with Arabs.”
In 1993, a special House task force released a report claiming to have found “no credible evidence” to support various allegations by Iranians, Israelis, Europeans, Arabs and Americans that the Reagan campaign went behind Carter’s back to make contacts with Iran that stopped Carter from gaining the hostages’ release until after Reagan was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 1981.
The task force stuck to that conclusion despite discovering that the Israelis began shipping U.S. military equipment to Iran in 1981 with what they claimed was approval from the Reagan administration. Those shipments were exposed when one of the Israeli-chartered planes crashed inside the Soviet Union in July 1981.
However, over the past couple of years, the House task force’s conclusions crumbled amid discoveries that important evidence was hidden from investigators, that internal doubts on the task force were suppressed, and that George H.W. Bush’s administration withheld information in 1991 that would have corroborated a key allegation.
The collapse of those 1993 findings by the House task force left behind a troubling impression — that Israel’s Likud hardliners may have teamed up with ambitious Republicans and some disgruntled elements of the CIA to help remove a U.S. president from office. And since the earlier Likud government had gotten away with it, that might encourage the current one to try something similar.
As for the historical mystery, it is far more reassuring to think that no such thing could occur, that Israel’s Likud – whatever its differences with Washington over Middle East peace policies – would never seek to subvert a U.S. president, and that Republicans and CIA dissidents – no matter how frustrated by the political direction of an administration – would never sabotage their own government.
But the evidence from 1980 points in that disturbing direction, and there are some points that are not in dispute. For instance, there is no doubt that CIA Old Boys and Likudniks had strong motives for seeking President Carter’s defeat in 1980.
Inside the CIA, Carter and his CIA Director Stansfield Turner were blamed for firing many of the free-wheeling covert operatives from the Vietnam era, for ousting legendary spymaster Ted Shackley, and for failing to protect longtime U.S. allies (and friends of the CIA), such as Iran’s Shah and Nicaragua’s dictator Anastasio Somoza.
Legendary CIA officer Miles Copeland told me in 1990 that “the CIA within the CIA” – the inner-most circle of powerful intelligence figures who felt they understood best the strategic needs of the United States – believed Carter and his naïve faith in American democratic ideals represented a grave threat to the nation.
“Carter really believed in all the principles that we talk about in the West,” Copeland said, shaking his mane of white hair. “As smart as Carter is, he did believe in Mom, apple pie and the corner drug store. And those things that are good in America are good everywhere else. …
“Carter, I say, was not a stupid man,” Copeland said, adding that Carter had an even worse flaw: “He was a principled man.”
Carter’s inability to resolve the hostage crisis set the stage for Reagan’s landslide victory in November 1980 as American voters reacted to the long-running hostage humiliation by turning to a candidate they believed would be a tougher player on the international stage. Reagan’s macho image was reinforced when the Iranians released the hostages immediately after he was inaugurated, ending the 444-day standoff.
The coincidence of timing, which Reagan’s supporters cited as proof that foreign enemies feared the new president, gave momentum to Reagan’s larger agenda, including sweeping tax cuts tilted toward the wealthy, reduced government regulation of corporations, and renewed reliance on fossil fuels. (Carter’s solar panels were later dismantled from the White House roof.)
Reagan’s victory also was great news for CIA hard-liners who were rewarded with World War II spymaster (and dedicated cold-warrior) William Casey as CIA director. Casey then purged CIA analysts who were detecting a declining Soviet Union that desired détente and replaced them with people like the young and ambitious Robert Gates, who agreed that the Soviets were on the march and that the United States needed a massive military expansion to counter them.
Casey embraced old-time CIA swashbuckling in Third World countries and took pleasure in misleading or bullying members of Congress when they insisted on the CIA oversight that had been forced on President Gerald Ford and had been accepted by President Carter. To Casey, CIA oversight became a game of hide-and-seek.
As for Israel, Begin was pleased to find the Reagan administration far less demanding about peace deals with the Arabs, giving Israel time to expand its West Bank settlements. Reagan and his team also acquiesced to Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, a drive north that expelled the Palestine Liberation Organization but also led to the slaughters at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.
And, behind the scenes, Reagan’s administration gave a green light to Israeli weapons shipments to Iran (which was fighting a war with Israel’s greater enemy, Iraq). The weapons sales helped Israel rebuild its contacts inside Iran and to turn large profits, some of which were plowed into financing West Bank settlements.
In another important move, Reagan credentialed a new generation of pro-Israeli American ideologues known as the neoconservatives, a move that would pay big dividends for Israel in the future as these bright and articulate operatives fought for Israeli interests both inside the U.S. government and through their opinion-leading roles in the major American news media.
In other words, if the disgruntled CIA Old Boys and the determined Likudniks did participate in an October Surprise scheme to unseat Jimmy Carter, they got much of what they were after.
Yet, while motive is an important element in solving a mystery, it does not constitute proof by itself. What must be examined is whether there is evidence that the motive was acted upon, whether Menachem Begin’s government and disgruntled CIA officers covertly assisted the Reagan campaign in contacting Iranian officials to thwart Carter’s hostage negotiations.
On that point the evidence is strong though perhaps not ironclad. Still, a well-supported narrative does exist describing how the October Surprise scheme may have gone down with the help of CIA personnel, Begin’s government, some right-wing intelligence figures in Europe, and a handful of power-brokers in the United States.