These attitudes of "the CIA within the CIA" and the Likudniks appeared to stem from their genuine beliefs that they needed to protect what they regarded as vital interests of their respective countries. The CIA Old Boys thought they understood the true strategic needs of the United States and Likud believed fervently in a "Greater Israel."
However, the lingering October Surprise mystery is whether these two groups followed their strongly held feelings into a treacherous bid, in league with Republicans, to prevent Carter from gaining the release of the 52 hostages in Iran.
Carter's inability to resolve the hostage crisis opened the door to Ronald 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 on Jan. 20, 1981, 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 pointedly dismantled from the White House roof.)
Reagan's victory also was great news for CIA cold-warriors who were rewarded with the choice of World War II spymaster (and dedicated cold-warrior) William Casey to be CIA director. Casey then purged CIA analysts who were detecting a declining Soviet Union that desired detente 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 again embraced old-time CIA swashbuckling in Third World countries and took pleasure in stonewalling 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 gave a green light to Israeli weapons shipments to Iran (which was fighting a war with Israel's then-greater enemy, Iraq). The weapons sales also helped Israel rebuild its contacts inside Iran and to turn large profits, which were used to help finance 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 surely 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 played out with the help of CIA personnel, Begin's government, right-wing intelligence figures in Europe, and a handful of other powerbrokers in the United States. [For details, see Robert Parry's Secrecy & Privilege or Consortiumnews.com's "The CIA/Likud Sinking of Jimmy Carter."]
Today, as the United States enters a new presidential election year -- and as some extremist supporters of Israel dream of President Obama's elimination -- the current Israeli government might prove its true friendship with the United States by releasing whatever documents it has related to Begin's apparent sabotage of Carter's reelection in 1980.
It is way past time to tell the full truth about those historic events.
Cross-posted from Consortium News