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General News    H3'ed 6/25/09

Iran Divided & the 'October Surprise'

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Besides tapping into stockpiles of U.S.-made weaponry, the Israelis also arranged shipments from third countries, including Poland, according to Israeli intelligence officer Ben-Menashe, who described his work on the arms pipeline in his 1992 book, Profits of War.

Since representatives of Likud had initiated the arms-middleman role for Iran, the profits flowed into coffers that the right-wing party controlled, a situation that created envy inside the rival Labor Party especially after it gained a share of power in the 1984 elections, Ben-Menashe said.

The Iran-Contra Case


In this analysis, Labor's desire to open its own arms channel to Iran laid the groundwork for the Iran-Contra scandal, as the government of Prime Minister Shimon Peres tapped into the emerging neoconservative network inside the Reagan administration on one hand and began making contacts to Iran's leadership on the other.

Reagan's National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, who had close ties to the Israeli leadership, worked with Peres's aide Amiram Nir and neocon intellectual (and NSC consultant) Michael Ledeen in spring 1985 to make contact with the Iranians.

Ledeen's chief intermediary to Iran was a businessman named Manucher Ghorbanifar, who was held in disdain by the CIA as a fabricator but claimed he represented high-ranking Iranians who favored improved relations with the United States and were eager for American weapons.

Ghorbanifar's chief contact, as identified in official Iran-Contra records, was Mohsen Kangarlu, who worked as an aide to Prime Minister Mousavi, according to Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman in his 2008 book, The Secret War with Iran.

However, Ghorbanifar's real backer inside Iran appears to have been Mousavi himself. According to a Time magazine article from January 1987, Ghorbanifar "became a trusted friend and kitchen adviser to Mir Hussein Mousavi, Prime Minister in the Khomeini government."

In November 1985, at a key moment in the scandal as one of the early missile shipments via Israel went awry, Ghorbanifar conveyed Mousavi's anger to the White House.

"On or about November 25, 1985, Ledeen received a frantic phone call from Ghorbanifar, asking him to relay a message from the prime minister of Iran to President Reagan regarding the shipment of the wrong type of HAWKs," according to Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh's Final Report.

"Ledeen said the message essentially was 'we've been holding up our part of the bargain, and here you people are now cheating us and tricking us and deceiving us and you had better correct this situation right away.'"

Earlier in the process, Ghorbanifar had dangled the possibility of McFarlane meeting with high-level Iranian officials, including Mousavi and Rafsanjani.

Another one of Ghorbanifar's Iranian contacts was Hassan Karoubi, the brother of Mehdi Karoubi. Hassan Karoubi met with Ghorbanifar and Ledeen in Geneva in late October 1985 regarding missile shipments in exchange for Iranian help in getting a group of U.S. hostages freed in Lebanon, according to Walsh's report.

A Split Leadership

As Ben-Menashe describes the maneuvering in Tehran, the basic split in the Iranian leadership put then-President Khamenei on the ideologically purist side of rejecting U.S.-Israeli military help and Rafsanjani, Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi in favor of exploiting those openings in a pragmatic way to better fight the war with Iraq.

The key decider during this period--as in the October Surprise phase--was Ayatollah Khomeini, who agreed with the pragmatists on the need to get as much materiel from the Americans and the Israelis as possible, Ben-Menashe said in an interview this week from his home in Canada.

Ben-Menashe said Rafsanjani and most other senior Iranian officials were satisfied dealing with the original (Likud) Israeli channel and were offended by the Reagan administration's double game of tilting toward Iraq with military and intelligence support while also offering weapons deals to Iran via the second (Labor) channel.

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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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