Ex-Israeli intelligence officer Ari Ben-Menashe says he narrowly survived a possible assassination attempt Sunday night when his upscale home in Montreal was set ablaze in what Canadian authorities are describing as suspected arson. Police cited how quickly the house was ravaged and noted that a suspicious person was seen fleeing the scene shortly after the fire began.
In a phone call with me on Monday, Ben-Menashe said that when he detected the fire, he alerted a woman staying in the house to flee and then was able to escape through a back door. But he said everything inside was destroyed, including his passport, personal papers and his clothing. "Everything is gone," Ben-Menashe said.
Among Ben-Menashe's enemies are some of his former Israeli superiors who consider him a traitor for exposing senstive Israeli secrets and powerful Republicans, including former President George H.W. Bush whom Ben-Menashe fingered as involved in national security scandals in the 1980s.
Ben-Menashe, who served in Israeli military intelligence in the 1970s and 1980s, was arrested in the United States in 1989 for his involvement in military sales to Iran. He says the Israeli government then urged him to plead guilty to the U.S. charges, but he refused and began disclosing Israeli secrets to journalists, including me, in early 1990 when I was a correspondent for Newsweek magazine.
At first, the Israeli government denounced Ben-Menashe as an "impostor" but after I obtained official Israeli letters of reference describing his decade-long work within the External Relations Department of the Israel Defence Forces, Israeli officials changed their story. They labeled him simply "a low-level translator." But the letters described Ben-Menashe's service in "key positions" and said he handled "complex and sensitive assignments."
Despite the evidence that Israeli officials had first lied and then retreated to a new cover story, the Bush administration and the Israeli government managed to galvanize friendly journalists who went out of their way to discredit Ben-Menashe as a compulsive liar. [For details about one of the key denouncers of Ben-Menashe, see Consortiumnews.com's "Unmasking October Surprise "Debunker'".]
However, Ben-Menashe convinced a New York jury that he indeed had been working on official Israeli business in his transactions with Iran. He was acquitted in fall 1990. Ben-Menashe also continued to give interviews and provide testimony about the secret dealings involving Republicans and the Israeli government.
October Surprise Allegations
Perhaps Ben-Menashe's most controversial claim was that he and other Israeli intelligence officers assisted the Republicans in brokering a deal with Iran's Islamic regime of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1980 to hold 52 American hostages until after the U.S. election to ensure President Jimmy Carter's defeat. As a result of this so-called October Surprise caper, the hostages were not released until Jan. 20, 1981, immediately after Ronald Reagan was sworn in as U.S. President, Ben-Menashe said.
After leveling his October Surprise accusations in 1990-1991 -- and providing investigative journalist Seymour Hersh information about Israel's nuclear program for his book The Samson Option -- Ben-Menashe was essentially a man on the run from both the Israeli government and the U.S. administration of George H.W. Bush.
Ben-Menashe sought refuge in Australia, arriving in spring 1991, still carrying his Israeli passport. After obtaining Ben-Menashe's Australian immigration records, journalist Marshall Wilson reported that Ben-Menashe requested what amounted to political asylum.
Dated May 15, 1991, Ben-Menashe's 25-page declaration stated: "My case is an unprecedented case of political persecution by two governments. It was an attempt by Israel and the United States to cover up their relations with Iran since 1979."
Ben-Menashe detailed the curious circumstances of his 1989 arrest while on a private visit to the U.S. and added:
"I was not willing to keep quiet and be discredited by pleading guilty to the bogus charges. I did not accept my government's proposal to do so. Any arms sales to Iran that I was involved in was solely in the capacity of being an employee of the Israeli government. Everything I did was authorised by the appropriate authorities in the Israeli and United States governments.
"Since I did not go along with the program and decided I would truthfully defend myself in court, I was disowned by the Israeli Government and will be prosecuted for breaking the Official Secrets Act if I return. ... I will be prosecuted ... behind closed doors, 'for national security reasons,' and I will never again see the light of day."
But Ben-Menashe said his case had other implications. "As an aftermath of my  trial a new scandal has broken directly involving the President of the United States [George H.W. Bush],'' Ben-Menashe wrote, "about the President being involved in an arms-for-hostage release delay deal [with Iran] in 1980. I am a central witness on that issue.
"Democratic members of the US Congress are going to speak to me about that and other issues involving US sales of unconventional weapon systems to Iraq, all connected to the present [George H.W. Bush] administration of the US,'' Ben-Menashe told Australian immigration. "Paradoxically speaking I am now being punished for being acquitted."