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General News    H3'ed 6/25/09

Iran Divided & the 'October Surprise'

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Begin's alarm about a possible Carter second term was described, too, by Israeli intelligence and foreign affairs official David Kimche in his 1991 book, The Last Option. Kimche wrote that Begin's government believed that Carter was overly sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and was conspiring with Arabs to force Israel to withdraw from the West Bank.

"Begin was being set up for diplomatic slaughter by the master butchers in Washington," Kimche wrote. "They had, moreover, the apparent blessing of the two presidents, Carter and Sadat, for this bizarre and clumsy attempt at collusion designed to force Israel to abandon her refusal to withdraw from territories occupied in 1967, including Jerusalem, and to agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state."

Collaborating with Republicans

Extensive evidence now exists that Begin's preference for a Reagan victory led Israelis to join in a covert operation with Republicans to contact Iranian leaders behind Carter's back and delay release of the 52 American hostages until after Reagan defeated Carter in November 1980.

That controversy, known as the "October Surprise" case, and its sequel, the Iran-Contra scandal in the mid-1980s, involved clandestine ties between some leading figures in today's Iran crisis and U.S. and Israeli officials who supplied Iran with missiles and other weaponry for its war with Iraq. The Iran-Iraq conflict began simmering in spring 1980 and broke into full-scale war in September.

Khamenei, who was then an influential aide to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, appears to have been part of a contingent exploring ways to resolve the hostage dispute with Carter.

According to Army Col. Charles Wesley Scott, who was one of the 52 hostages, Khamenei visited him on May 1, 1980, at the old U.S. consulate in Tabriz to ask whether milder demands from Iran to the Carter administration might lead to a resolution of the hostage impasse and allow the resumption of U.S. military supplies, former National Security Council aide Gary Sick reported in his book October Surprise.

"You're asking the wrong man," Scott replied, noting that he had been out of touch with his government during his five months of captivity before adding that he doubted the Carter administration would be eager to resume military shipments quickly.

"Frankly, my guess is that it will be a long time before you'll get any cooperation on spare parts from America, after what you've done and continue to do to us," Scott said he told Khamenei.

However, Khamenei's outreach to a captive U.S. military officer--outlining terms that became the basis of a near settlement of the crisis with the Carter administration in September 1980--suggests that Khamenei favored a more traditional approach toward resolving the hostage crisis than the parallel channel that soon involved the Israelis and the Republicans.

In that narrow sense at least, Khamenei was allied with Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, the sitting Iranian president in 1980 who also has said he opposed dealing with Israel and the Republicans behind President Carter's back. In a little-noticed letter to the U.S. Congress, dated Dec. 17, 1992, Bani-Sadr said he first learned of the Republican hostage initiative in July 1980.

Bani-Sadr said a nephew of Ayatollah Khomeini, then Iran's supreme leader, returned from a meeting with an Iranian banker, Cyrus Hashemi, who had led the Carter administration to believe he was helping broker a hostage release but who had close ties to Reagan's campaign chief William Casey and to Casey's business associate, John Shaheen.

Bani-Sadr said the message from the Khomeini emissary was clear: the Reagan campaign was in league with pro-Republican elements of the CIA in an effort to undermine Carter and wanted Iran's help. Bani-Sadr said the emissary "told me that if I do not accept this proposal they [the Republicans] would make the same offer to my rivals."

The emissary added that the Republicans "have enormous influence in the CIA," Bani-Sadr wrote. "Lastly, he told me my refusal of their offer would result in my elimination." Bani-Sadr said he resisted the GOP scheme, but the plan ultimately was accepted by Ayatollah Khomeini, who appears to have made up his mind around the time of Iraq's invasion in mid-September 1980.

Clearing the Way


Khomeini's approval meant the end of the initiative that Khamenei had outlined to Col. Scott, which was being pursued with Carter's representatives in West Germany before Iraq launched its attack. Khomeini's blessing allowed Rafsanjani, Karoubi and later Mousavi to proceed with secret contacts that involved emissaries from the Reagan camp and the Israeli government.

The Republican-Israeli-Iranian agreement appears to have been sealed through a series of meetings that culminated in discussions in Paris arranged by the right-wing chief of French intelligence Alexandre deMarenches and allegedly involving Casey, vice presidential nominee George H.W. Bush, CIA officer Robert Gates and other U.S. and Israeli representatives on one side and cleric Mehdi Karoubi and a team of Iranian representatives on the other.

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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 secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
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