Israel was forced once again over the weekend to reiterate forcefully that it was in no way involved in the shipment of weapons to the Nicaraguan rebels, known as Contras, and that it acted in American arms sales to Iran only at the behest of the United States.
A government spokesman said Sunday that Israel was prepared to answer any questions by the U.S. with respect to the Iran arms affair.
These responses were to reports that surfaced in Washington last Thursday and Friday alleging that Israel had in fact initiated the U.S.-Iran arms sale and was shipping weapons to the Contras last year, apparently on its own initiative.
‘DISTORTED AND BASELESS’ INFORMATION
Premier Yitzhak Shamir characterized as “distorted and baseless” information leaked from the unpublished Senate Intelligence Committee’s interim report on the Iran arms sale that cast Israel in the role of initiator.
Vice Premier and Foreign Minister Shimon Pares, who flew to Rome Friday morning for a 36-hour visit in connection with the 40th anniversary celebrations of the Italian Social Democratic Party, strongly denied any Israeli link to the transfer of funds from the Iranian weapons purchases to the Contras.
The matter came up briefly at Sunday’s Cabinet meeting. Cabinet Secretary Elyakim Rubinstein referred reporters to earlier official government statements disclaiming any link between Israel and Contra funding. Rubinstein also reiterated earlier official statements to the effect that Israel was only responding to an American request in the Iran arms deal.
“If the United States poses questions to us, we will answer those questions,” Rubinstein told reporters after the Cabinet meeting.
Shamir advised the Cabinet that the entire matter would be subject to detailed review by the Inner Cabinet (five Labor and five Likud Ministers) which meets in camera. Communications Minister Amnon Rubinstein urged that Israel hold a full-scale inquiry of its own to counter the reports coming out of Washington.
A GROWING CONCERN
There is growing concern here and among Israeli diplomatic circles in Washington that leaks and disclosures in the Iran affair could harm U.S.-Israel relations. Israeli sources in Washington were quoted by Israel Radio Sunday as “fearing that Israel was now being made a scapegoat” by the White House.
The developments giving rise to these fears and putting Israel once more on the defense were:
The release by the White House Friday of two key documents on Iran policy. One was President Reagan’s “Intelligence Finding” of January 17, 1986 authorizing clandestine operations by the U.S. government with respect to Iran.
The other document was a briefing memorandum to Reagan by his then National Security Advisor Admiral John Poindexter, which stated that an emissary of then Premier Shimon Peres came to Washington with “a plan by which Israel, with limited assistance from the U.S., can create conditions to help bring about a more moderate government in Iran.”
A media report Thursday stated that Reagan was told by his advisors last September that American intelligence had detected Israeli arms shipments to the Contras. Congressional and Administration sources were reported to have seen a White House memorandum on that subject.
NO INDICATION FOR ISRAELI MOTIVES
Reagan was said to have been advised of the alleged Israeli weapons shipments to the Contras on the eve of a White House meeting with Peres last September. According to the sources who purportedly saw the memorandum, Reagan was advised by his aides to thank the Israeli Premier. But the subject appears not have come up at their 60-minute meeting on September 15.
There were no indications in any of the reports what Israel’s motivation could have been for allegedly unilaterally arming the Contras. One source alleged that Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin favored Contra aid.
A spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Ehud Gol, issued a statement Thursday saying: “We can only reiterate our previous unequivocal denial. Israel has not sold, delivered or transferred arms to the Nicaraguan Contras. The subject never came up in the conversation between President Reagan and Prime Minister Peres.”
POINDEXTER’S MEMO TO REAGAN
Israel has yet to address itself directly to the content of Poindexter’s memorandum to the President. It stated, in part:
“The Israelis are very concerned that Iran’s deteriorating position in the war with Iraq, the potential for further radicalization in Iran and the possibility of enhanced Soviet influence in the Gulf all pose significant threats to the security of Israel. They believe it is essential that they act to at least preserve the balance of power in the region.
“The Israeli plan is premised on the assumption that moderate elements in Iran can come to power if these factions demonstrate their credibility in defending Iran against Iraq and in deterring Soviet intervention.
“To achieve the strategic goal of a more moderate Iranian government, the Israelis are prepared to unilaterally commence selling military materiel to Western-oriented Iranian factions… The Israelis are convinced that the Iranians are so desperate for military materiel, expertise and intelligence that the provision of these resources will result in favorable long term changes in personnel and attitude within the Iranian government…”
“As described by the Prime Minister’s (Peres) emissary, the only requirement the Israelis have is an assurance that they will be allowed to purchase U.S. replenishments for the stocks they sell to Iran… “The Israelis are also sensitive to a strong U.S. desire to free our Beirut hostages and have insisted that the Iranians demonstrate both influence and good intent by an early release of the five Americans… Prime Minister Pores had his emissary pointedly note that they well understood our position on not making concessions to terrorists…”
The memorandum did not name the Israeli emissary but described him as the Prime Minister’s “special advisor on terrorism.”
WHITE HOUSE DELETES SEGMENTS OF REPORT
In another development Thursday, the White House acknowledged that it had deleted information about high level U.S. contacts with Israel from the unpublished Senate Intelligence Committee report. One deletion concerned Vice President George Bush’s meeting in Jerusalem last July 29 with an Israeli counter-terrorism expert, Amiram Nir, at which U.S. hostages in Beirut were discussed.
Another deletion was a letter to Reagan from an unnamed head of state. According to media reports, the letter was from Peres urging the President not to give up on his arms to Iran policy and assuring him it would eventually succeed.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.