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Arson Seen in Attack on Ex-Israeli Spy

By       Message Robert Parry     Permalink
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Later in May 1991, Ben-Menashe faced an apparent plan by George H.W. Bush's administration to divert him from Los Angeles Airport to Israel when he was en route to Washington to testify to Congress about his allegations. If he had been turned over, his fate would likely have been similar to that of technician Mordechai Vanunu, who disclosed Israel's secret nuclear weapons program and then was kidnapped in Rome and returned to Israel for trial and imprisonment.

A Last-Minute Tip

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However, before Ben-Menashe's flight, I received a tip from a U.S. intelligence source about the plan and checked with congressional investigators who were expecting to interview the Israeli. When they couldn't get a clear commitment from the Bush administration about Ben-Menashe's safe passage, I called him in Australia as he was about to leave for the Sydney airport.

I suggested that he delay his flight, which he did. Later, I was informed by congressional investigators that they finally had extracted assurances from the Bush administration that Ben-Menashe would be allowed to proceed to Washington, and he rescheduled his flight. Though he was not diverted to Israel, he was taken aside by U.S. authorities in Los Angeles and subjected to some harsh questioning.

That evening, I picked Ben-Menashe up at Dulles Airport and was surprised how shaken he was. I drove him to my home in Arlington, Virginia, and he asked if he could spend the night in my guest room, thinking that he was under surveillance and fearing for his life. With some hesitation, I consented.

Months later, when pro-Israeli journalists escalated their character assassination of Ben-Menashe, one New Republic writer Steven Emerson criticized my ethics for allowing Ben-Menashe to stay over in my house, which struck me as a curious accusation not only because there is no such ethical standard but because the fact had never been made public. The reference led me to believe that Ben-Menashe had not been paranoid when he worried about being under surveillance or for his safety.

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Although substantial evidence has emerged to support Ben-Menashe's claims, Republicans and the Israeli government continued to deny the October Surprise story and U.S. congressional investigations in the early 1990s confronted a stonewall of Republican obstruction. Ultimately, the investigations concluded that solid evidence of a GOP conspiracy was lacking. [For the latest details on this controversy, see Robert Parry's new book, America's Stolen Narrative.]

A Life of Intrigue

When published in 1992, Ben-Menashe's memoir, Profits of War, provided further details about the cloak-and-dagger operations conducted by U.S. and Israeli intelligence.

A Jew who was born in Iran and who emigrated to Israel as a teenager, Ben-Menashe explained how his background proved valuable to Israeli intelligence after the Shah of Iran, a close Israeli ally, was overthrown in 1979. As Israel tried to rebuild some relationship with Iran, Ben-Menashe was able to reconnect with some of his friends from his youth who were rising inside the new revolutionary government.

Ben-Menashe said those contacts led him into a role as an intermediary on military sales to Iran during the U.S.-Iranian hostage crisis in 1980 and placed him near the decision by Prime Minister Menachem Begin to throw in Israel's lot with Republican Ronald Reagan in his campaign to unseat President Jimmy Carter. Over the next several years, Ben-Menashe remained a key middleman in the arms transactions that were crucial to Iran in its long war with Iraq.

Yet, by the early 1990s, after his arrest and acquittal, Ben-Menashe had become a man without a country. On Oct. 23, 1991, he was informed that his refugee application in Australia had failed. A departmental officer declared that "there appears to have been ample opportunity for one government or another [the U.S. or Israel] to have taken action against Mr Ben-Menashe if his political importance made him of real interest to them." [See here and here.]

Ben-Menashe appealed the finding, but on Dec. 12, 1991, the Refugee Status Review Committee confirmed the adverse ruling. A letter signed by its Chairman said in part: "The applicant's fear of the consequences of breaking Israeli law does not warrant international protection. ... The applicant has, therefore, not established a well-founded fear of persecution were he to return to Israel.'' [See hereherehere and here.]

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However, the decision was not unanimous, as Austrialian journalist Marshall Wilson reported. One member of the panel added...

"I request a meeting to discuss aspects of this case, particularly the matters of what constitutes persecution given this extraordinary mix of international conspiracies and intrigue and the laws under which the applicant could be charged should he return to Israel.

"I believe the applicant has been an intelligence operative of the Israeli Government and has been involved in various arms deals. The American use of Israel to sell arms to Iran during the Iran-Iraq War is attested to by a number of sources. The delay in the release of the American hostages also is now widely accepted as true."

In the end, Ben-Menashe left Australia of his own free will without further resort to the courts. He eventually settled in Canada, married a Canadian woman, received citizenship and built a new life as an international consultant.

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at It's also available at

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