IRANGATE: JUST ARMS FOR HOSTAGES — PLAIN AND SIMPLE – 28/11/1988

[Diary of a Vengeance Foretold] Part 149

NOVEMBER 28 1988

”I don’t care if I have to go to Leavenworth; I want the hostages out.”

President Ronald Reagan

Oliver North

Oliver North

In the summer of 1985 Michael A. Ledeen, a consultant to the National Security Council, was introduced to Manucher Ghorbanifar at the Tel Aviv home of an Israeli arms dealer.

Ghorbanifar, an Iranian businessman living in France, told Ledeen he had high-level contacts in Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s Government. Ghorbanifar suggested to Leeden that American hostages held in Lebanon could be swapped for American-made weapons.

To establish his credentials, Ghorbanifar called a contact at the Prime Minister’s office in Teheran. Mohsen Kengarlou, a Deputy Prime Minister and head of intelligence operations, confirmed that Tehran officials were interested in such deal and that the agreement would include the release of William Buckley.

Buckley was the C.I.A. station chief in Beirut. He had been kidnapped by Shiite terrorists the previous year.  Rumors of his breakdown under torture had created instant anxiety in Washington and among former CIA colleagues.

Ledeen left the meeting with a ”wonderful impression” of Ghorbanifar. But, right from the start, there was a small glitch with the grand plan. Buckley had already been tortured to death. [1]

Had Ledeen done his homework, he would have known that Ghorbanifar had been rejected by the C.I.A. as a ”dangerous fabricator”. [2]

Whatever the facts, Ledeen was happy with Ghorbanifar and his bold proposal to release the hostages. The Iran-contra scandal had begun.

Ledeen, who describes himself as a ”personal courier” for the White House, got the United States involved in one of the worst covert operations of the Reagan-Bush administration.

The three Israelis who brought Ledeen and Ghorbanifar together are: David Kimche, a former director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry; Al Schwimmer, the American-born founder of Israel Aircraft Industries; and Yaacov Nimrodi, a former Israeli senior intelligence official who built a fortune selling arms to the Shah.

As the shady deal evolved, Ledeen, Ghorbanifar, and the Israeli arms dealers were replaced by Col. Oliver North who added yet another twist to the affair. North decided to sell the weapons at a premium and use the money to fund the Contras in Nicaragua, de facto associating the US administration with a group responsible for unspeakable acts of Human Rights violations. [3]

Even Leeden could see that:

”North was plagued with the increasing inability to distinguish between what was true and what he wished to be true.”

It remains largely unknown what role President-elect Bush played in the affair. But in any case, as Ledeen stated, ”Bush did play a major role in the minds of the Iranians,” for they believe that the former Director of Central Intelligence, the Iranians was ”the man pulling all the strings on the Iran initiative.”

According to Segev, Ghorbanifar told Iran’s Prime Minister, Mir Hussein Moussavi, that it was Bush who was behind the operation. [4]

”The Iranians’ repeated failures to free all the American hostages, despite their promises and the delivery of so many weapons, should have stopped the affair at several junctures,” Segev wrote.

But as Fox Butterfield has argued, the affair had created a strange interdependence.

”President Reagan wanted the hostages; Mr. North wanted more arms sales to divert money to the contras; Israel wanted a link to Iran; the leaders in Teheran wanted weapons; Mr. Ghorbanifar wanted money.” [5]

”In the end it was greed and stupidity that blew the scandal wide open. Despite warnings that the deal could backfire, Mr. North, hoping for better results than he had got with Mr. Kengarlou and Mr. Ghorbanifar, moved to open a so-called second channel to Iran,” Butterfield concluded.

Kengarlou, angered by being cut out, ended a moratorium on taking American hostages. Three more were seized in September and October 1987.

Ghorbanifar, equally angered, wrote a letter to Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, widely seen at the time as Ayatollah Khomeini’s heir apparent, in which he reported the dealings with the United States.

In turn, Ayatollah Montazeri asked Mehdi Hashemi to leak the news to a Beirut weekly magazine. The story was printed on Nov. 3 1986, exposing, at least part, of the Iran-contra affair.

”Whichever candidate wins the elections, remember that the unyielding refusal to deal with this matter is not going to make it go away; it is not going to free us,” said Anderson, chief Middle East correspondent of The Associated Press.

”Our problem could have been solved a long time ago without such complications as arms deals,” Anderson said on Nov 1st of this month. (01/11/1988)

”I’ve been very close to being released several times over the past two years, but each time it seems that the U.S. Government uses its influence to stop any agreement of being made. And I don’t understand this.”

Anderson is quite correct. Both Paris and Bonn have managed to get all their hostages out of Beirut. American hostage have yet to be freed.  And that is a clear testimony to the failure of the Reagan-Bush Administration’s policy.

NOTES AND REFERENCES

Arms for Hostages — Plain and Simple — November 27, 1988</a>

(1) See for instance ”The Iranian Triangle” by Samuel Segev. There is even suggestion that Kengarlou himself had arranged Mr. Buckley’s capture.

(2) The CIA was not the only Agency to have such opinion regarding Ghorbanifar. As a matter of fact, when Ghorbanifar had approached the Egyptians about selling arms to Iran only months before, Cairo had also rebuffed him.

(3) North apparently regretted the change. See ”Perilous Statecraft”

(4) Segev is an editorial writer and columnist with the Israeli newspaper Maariv. Segeev is a former officer in Israeli Army intelligence.

(5) Fox Butterfield was a reporter on the metropolitan staff of the New York Times. Butterfield covered the iran-contra affair for the Times.

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