WASHINGTON (Nov. 18)
While Israel had a major role in opening and continuing the controversial sales of U.S. arms to Iran, the United States government bears the basic responsibility for the policy, according to the congressional committees that investigated the Iran/Contra affair.
The 690-page report by the Senate and House select committees, released Wednesday, also finds Israel was not involved in the diversion of the profits from the sale of arms to Iran to the Contra rebels fighting the Nicaraguan government.
The report clearly confirms that Israel sought and received explicit approval from the Reagan administration for every step in the selling of arms to Iran in the effort by the United States to achieve an opening with Iran and gain the release of American hostages in Lebanon.
The Israel Embassy had no comment, but Yosef Gal, the embassy spokesman, pointed to the comments by Israel Premier Yitzhak Shamir in The New York Times Wednesday.
Shamir said Israel had no regrets about its participation in the American effort. “It was done by a common decision of our Cabinet and we are convinced that our policy was a correct one,” Shamir told the Times. “We did it together with the United States, and I do not see any reason to regret it.”
Shamir also denied that Israel was selling arms to Iran, but said the government has no control over what some Israeli businessmen may be doing.
REAGAN CALLED RESPONSIBLE
The Senate-House committees concluded that the responsibility for the Iran/Contra affair lies with Reagan, because even if he did not know that funds for the arms sale were being diverted to the Contras, “he should have.”
“The president created or at least tolerated an environment where those who did know of the diversion believed with certainty that they were carrying out the president’s policies,” the report said.
Six Republican House members and two Republican senators issued a minority view that Reagan and his staff could be faulted only with mistakes in judgment that were not unconstitutional or improper, as the committees had concluded.
On Israel’s involvement, the report said Reagan and his advisers placed “great weight” on Israel’s sponsorship of the Iran initiative and the use of Manucher Ghorbanifar, an Iranian businessman, as an intermediary because “Israel has taken a strong stand against international terrorism and Israeli intelligence services are among the most respected in the world.”
(In a reaction Tuesday in anticipation of the report, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said in Jerusalem that, “Perhaps the minority (of the congressional committee) may feel we were a friend who was too energetic in our offers of help, but no one can say we had any intentions other than to help the United States to free the hostages. That is what was at the basis of this operation.”)
The main report noted that Robert McFarlane, then Reagan’s national security advisor, sent Michael Ledeen, a consultant to the National Security Council, to Israel to seek cooperation on intelligence about Iran “because of dissatisfaction with CIA capabilites.”
Ledeen testified that the then Israeli premier, Shimon Peres, told him that Israel’s intelligence on Iran was also inadequate.
ISRAEL’S NEEDS SAID TO BE UNDERSTOOD
The report also noted that the United States was under no illusions regarding Israel’s motives. “The Israelis strongly advocated the initiative, viewing it as a joint U.S.-Israel operation, and were willing to give the United States deniability — so long as it did not subject them to criticism by Congress and the Secretary of State (George Shultz) was fully informed,” the report said.
It added that both McFarlane and his successor, Rear Adm. John Poindexter, told the Israelis that “since Israel — and not the United States — was selling to Iran, U.S. policy was not being violated.”
Ledeen had testified to the committees that Peres had told him in May 1985 that Iran had requested arms, but he “would not do this unless he had explicit American approval for it.” Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin had also demanded that Shultz be informed.
The committees concluded in the report that “the president was under no illusion that the interests of the United States and Israel were synonymous. As early as June 1985, Secretary Shultz had pointed out to McFalane that Israel had little to lose by promoting the initiative; it had no policy against arms sales to Iran, and, given the hostility of most of its neighbors, Israel was more willing to gamble on the prospects of changes in the Iranian government.
“No foreign state can dicate the conduct of U.S. foreign policy. Superpowers make their own decisions. And the United States did so in this instance. Nevertheless, Israel’s endorsement of the Iran initiative cannot be ignored as a factor in its origin or in its continuation.”
The minority view also stressed that while Israel was promoting the Iran initiative for its own national interests, “we believe the U.S. government responsibly made its own judgments, and its own mistakes.”
CLEARED ON DIVERSION OF FUNDS
On the diversion of funds to the Contras, the committees heard testimony that after the Israeli shipment of TOW missiles to Iran in November 1985, the Israelis told Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North, then an aide on the National Security Council, to use profits from the sale for “whatever purpose he wanted.” North then decided to use the funds for the Contras, according to testimony.
North told the committees that at a meeting in Washington in January 1986, Amiram Nir, the Israeli premier’s advisor on counterterrorism, suggested using the profits to replenish the Israeli TOWs sold to Iran and for joint Israel-United States anti-terrorist activities, including the release of hostages.
North also testified that the diversion of the funds to the Contras was suggested to him by Ghorbanifar at a meeting later that month as a means of convincing the United States to continue the initiative.
However, the committees reported that at a meeting with Israel Defense Ministry officials in December 1985, North said the United States wanted to generate profits from the sale of arms to Iran to help finance the Contras.
The report noted that testimony on this came from one of the Israelis who took notes while two other israelis, who did not take notes,could not recall North’s remarks. North has denied making the statement.
The Republican minority view faulted the committees for accepting this testimony since the Israeli government did not allow key Israelis in the affair to give sworn depositions.
However, at a press conference releasing the report, Sens. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), the committee’s Senate chairman, and Warren Rudman (R-Vt.), the committee’s ranking minority member, praised Israel as being most cooprative with the committees.
Israel had given the committees a written historical chronology of its involvement in the Iran initiative.
The report by the committees does not officially end the Iran/Contra affair. An independent counsel, Lawrence Walsh, is presenting evidence to a federal grand jury. North and Poindexter are identified as targets of possible prosecution.
The Israeli government is fighting an attempt by Walsh to subpoena David Kimche, former director general of the Israel Foreign Ministry, as well as Nir and two Israeli private arms dealers, Al Schwimmer and Yaakov Nimrodi.