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Michael Ledeen, a neoconservative author who consults for the National Security Council (see Late 1984), meets informally with Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres. Ledeen tells Peres that the Reagan administration will quietly support Israeli arms shipments to Iran. (New York Times 11/19/1987)
David Kimche, the director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, meets secretly with National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane to advise him that Israel may be able to use its influence with Iran (see 1981) to engineer the release of American hostages currently held by Hezbollah. Kimche’s outreach is the final piece in the complex arms-for-hostage deal between the US, Israel, and Iran. (Waas and Unger 11/2/1992) Israel is a logical conduit for arms to Iran, as it has been selling arms to Iran periodically since 1979, originally as part of its efforts to get Iran to allow Iranian Jews to emigrate to Israel. Like the US, Israel hopes to gain influence with Iranian moderates who will presumably take power after the aged, ailing Islamist radical Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini dies. (Earlier attempts to sell US-made arms to Iran had been blocked by the Carter administration.) According to Israeli sources, this Israeli offer began with a group of Israeli businessmen informing Prime Minister Shimon Peres in early July that they had been in contact with Iranian officials, and thought they could facilitate an arrangement to swap US arms for American hostages. The Israelis say that the US point man for the deal is John Poindexter, the deputy national security adviser, and Poindexter tapped National Security Council aide Oliver North to be the US liaison to Israel. Peres quickly authorized the Israeli businessmen to resume their contacts with the Iranians, and the businessmen contacted Saudi arms merchant Adnan Khashoggi. Khashoggi obtained a long list of desired military equipment from the Iranians, including Hawk antiaircraft missiles and radar-guidance equipment for them, antitank missiles, and spare parts for jet fighters. (Church 11/17/1986)
The first arms-for-hostage deal between Iran and the US is completed (see August 6, 1985). On August 30, Israel sold over 500 US-made TOW anti-tank missiles to Iran. Now Iran frees the Reverend Benjamin Weir, an American kidnapped over a year before in Lebanon. White House officials hope for further hostage releases, but none are forthcoming. (Waas and Unger 11/2/1992) Ronald Reagan will telephone Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres to thank him for Israel’s help in securing Weir’s freedom. The TOW missiles will be delivered to Iran on September 20, in the cargo hold of a DC-8 transport plane once owned by a Miami-based air transport company; the aircraft took off from Tabriz, Iran, disappeared from radar screens over Turkey, made what was supposed to be a “forced landing” in Israel and later returned to Iran by a circuitous route. (Church 11/17/1986)
A delegation secretly sent to Iran by the White House to break the arms-for-hostages deadlock (see November 3, 1986) returns to Iran. The two countries have been at an impasse since January, when President Reagan authorized the sale of 4,000 antitank missiles to Iran but US officials insisted that all of the American hostages held by Hezbollah be freed before the missiles would be delivered, a condition the Iranians have refused (see January 17, 1986). The US delegation—actually the third such delegation to secretly visit Tehran—includes former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane; McFarlane’s longtime supporter and current National Security Council member Oliver North; CIA expert George Cave; and North’s NSC colleague, Howard Teicher. Israel, which will facilitate the arms transfer, sends Amiram Nir, a counterterrorism adviser to Prime Minister Shimon Peres. (Church 11/17/1986; Waas and Unger 11/2/1992) McFarlane and North bring with them more spare parts for Iran’s Hawk anti-aircraft missiles. They attempt, and fail, to persuade the Iranians to facilitate the release of all American hostages. (New York Times 11/19/1987) The delegation’s mission has borne no fruit, as the Iranians insisted on “sequencing,” or releasing the hostages two at a time as arms shipments were delivered. Part of the problem surrounds the Iranians’ belief that they are being charged outrageous prices for the missiles, a perception given credence by the fact that profits from the weapons sales are being used to fund Nicaragua’s Contra rebel movement. (Church 11/17/1986; Waas and Unger 11/2/1992)
Unusual Negotiation Tactics - Part of the negotiations involves North, the NSC staffer who coordinates the administration’s dealings with the Contras, offering the Iranians a Bible signed by President Reagan and a chocolate cake. In response, the Iranians stall. Hezbollah will release a few US hostages and take others hostage, maintaining the status quo. (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 65)
Explicit Briefing of President, Vice President - McFarlane later briefs both Reagan and Vice President Bush on the arms-for-hostage negotiations (see May 29, 1986).
Vice President Bush, planning to leave for Iraq on a secret errand to persuade Saddam Hussein to escalate his bombing of Iranian targets in order to increase pressure on Iran to release American hostages (see July 28-August 3, 1986), is briefed by two top National Security Council aides, Oliver North and Howard Teicher, before leaving for the Middle East. Teicher will later recall: “We told him what the status was, that [US] arms had gone to Iran. We were preparing him for a possible briefing by either [Shimon Peres, the prime minister of Israel] or [Amiram] Nir [Peres’s counterterrorism adviser]. We didn’t want him to discuss it with anyone else, for security reasons. He asked us some questions, but he didn’t express any opinions.” While Bush will repeatedly deny ever discussing the Iranian arms sales with William Casey (see July 23, 1986), a former CIA official will say in 1992 that Casey did brief Bush extensively about the program. “Casey felt Bush had a methodical, orderly manner for the task,” the official will say. “[Casey] had great confidence in him to carry it out. He said he briefed Bush in great detail about the initiative to bomb Iran.” (Waas and Unger 11/2/1992)
Vice President Bush meets with several national leaders during his trip to the Middle East (see July 28-August 3, 1986). Ostensibly Bush is visiting the region to “advance the peace process,” but in reality his trip has three reasons: to raise his own public profile as an experienced hand in foreign relations for his upcoming presidential bid, to negotiate for the release of US hostages held by Iran, and to secretly pressure Iraq to increase its bombing of Iran to aid in those negotiations.
Meeting with the Israelis - Bush meets briefly with Amiram Nir in Jerusalem. Nir, a close friend of Oliver North’s and a counterterrorism adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, meets with Bush at North’s behest. Bush will later characterize his meeting with Nir as “generally about counterterrorism,” and will admit obliquely that the two did have “some discussion of arms sales as a means to ‘reach out to moderate elements’ in the Iranian government. Arms sales would ‘establish bona fides’ with the moderate element, who ‘might use their influence with the people who were holding the hostages.’” However, the meeting is later described very differently by others, including Craig Fuller, Bush’s chief of staff, who is present at the meeting; according to Fuller, the two discuss the arms-for-hostages deal in great detail, including specifics about what arms will be delivered, and both are ready to negotiate with the Islamic radicals of the Khomeini regime who control the American hostages. The hostages are to be released in a group in return for 4,000 US-made antitank missiles. Nir himself reports the contents of the meeting to Peres, and his later account of it is virtually identical to Fuller’s. Nir also notes that his biggest question—how to get the Iranians to release the hostages all at once and not one or two at a time—went unanswered by Bush. “The [vice president] made no commitments nor did he give any direction to Nir,” Fuller notes.
Meeting with King Hussein - Bush then flies to Jordan to meet with King Hussein. Their meeting has an element not divulged to the press: Hussein has often been used as an intermediary between Reagan officials and Iraq. The CIA uses Jordan as a conduit to pass intelligence to Iraq, with the Jordanian involvement providing critical “deniability.” Bush tells the king that Iraq needs to be more aggressive in its war with Iran if it wants to win the war, and tells Hussein to tell the Iraqis to use its air force more expansively. Hussein promises to pass the message along.
Meeting with Mubarak - Bush then jets to Egypt to meet with its president, Hosni Mubarak. Reporters note that Bush tells Mubarak that the US cannot increase aid to Egypt. They are unaware that Bush asks Mubarak to pass along the same message that he has asked of King Hussein: to exhort Iraq to step up its air war against Iran. By the time Bush speaks with Mubarak, the NSA, monitoring Jordanian-Iraqi communications, learns that Hussein has already passed along the message. The talking points for Bush’s meeting with Mubarak are authored by Teicher. (Waas and Unger 11/2/1992; Affidavit. United States v. Carlos Cardoen, et al. [Charge that Teledyne Wah Chang Albany illegally provided a proscribed substance, zirconium, to Cardoen Industries and to Iraq] 1/31/1995 ; Windrem 8/18/2002)
During the first Knesset debate on the Oslo peace accords (see September 13, 1993), Likud party chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, a close ally of US neoconservatives and Christian fundamentalists, compares the accords to British attempts to appease Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler before World War II. Referring to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, he shouts at Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, “You are worse than Chamberlain.” Netanyahu is so aggressive in part because he has the public and private support of influential US neoconservatives and Christian fundamentalists. “I was ambassador [to the US] for four years of the peace process, and the Christian fundamentalists were vehemently opposed to the peace process,” Israeli ambassador Itamar Rabinovich will recall (see July 1993). “They believed that the land belonged to Israel as a matter of divine right. So they immediately became part of a campaign by the Israeli right to undermine the peace process.” Netanyahu’s outburst on the floor of the Knesset is a deliberate part of this strategy. (Knesset Homepage 2003; Unger 2007, pp. 136)
Right-wing political leader Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu becomes Israel’s new prime minister. When the campaign to replace assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (see November 4, 1995) began in early 1996, even Netanyahu’s fellow Likud leaders did not believe he had a chance of being elected. At at least one rally after Rabin’s death, crowds chanted “Bibi’s a murderer!” accusing Netanyahu of inciting the violence that led to Rabin’s death (see October 1995 and November 4, 1995 and After). Netanyahu’s opponent, Shimon Peres, cast himself as Rabin’s successor, and the Clinton administration tacitly endorsed Peres as the best hope for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. But Netanyahu is a polished orator with a strong following among the hardline conservatives and religious fundamentalists both in Israel and the US. He also knows how to appeal to America’s more secular, cosmopolitan Jewish community. He hired Arthur Finkelstein, a prominent Republican political consultant, to run a campaign smearing Peres as a weak, ineffective leader who will betray Israel to the Arabs. Peres was befuddled by Netanyahu’s slick, US-style attack campaign and his ability to secure financial and other support among American Christian fundamentalists. The election hung in the balance when a timely spate of Hamas bombings in February and March, and a Netanyahu ad campaign blaming the attack on Peres’s supposed weakness, gave Netanyahu enough voter support for him to eke out a razor-thin margin of victory. US envoy Dennis Ross, one of the Clinton officials involved in the Oslo peace talks, later recalls that he and his colleagues were horrified at Netanyahu’s victory. “Our collective relief became a collective dread,” he will later write. (Unger 2007, pp. 143-144)
According to a New York Times article several days later, on this day President Bush holds a National Security Council meeting with Secretary of State Powell, National Security Adviser Rice, and others, to consider how to change his Middle East policy. This potential change in US policy comes after the Saudis threatened to end their alliance with the US because of US policy towards Israel and Palestine (see August 27, 2001 and August 29-September 6, 2001). It is reported that he is considering meeting with Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat when Arafat is scheduled to come to New York for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly two weeks later. Bush has so far been firm in refusing to meet with Arafat. According to the New York Times, at this meeting, “Bush discussed the wisdom of changing tack, officials said. While no clear decision was made, there was an inclination to go ahead with a meeting with Arafat if events unfolded in a more favorable way in the next 10 days or so…” Additionally, it is reported that Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres will meet with Arafat in mid-September, in what it is hoped will be “the first of a series that could start a process of serious dialogue” between Palestine and Israel. (Perlez 9/9/2001) Reporter Bob Woodward will add in 2006, “Bush agreed to come out publicly for a Palestinian state. A big rollout was planned for the week of September 10, 2001.” (Woodward 2006, pp. 77) But after the 9/11 attacks a few days later, Bush and Peres do not go forward with any meetings with Arafat and US policy does not change. The Nation will later comment, “In the aftermath of [9/11], few people recalled that for a brief moment in the late summer of 2001, the Bush Administration had considered meeting with Arafat and deepening its political involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” (Rozen 7/14/2005) The leak to the New York Times about this September 6 meeting will result in a wide FBI investigation of Israeli spying in the US (see September 9, 2001).
Israeli President Shimon Peres issues a special message to the Iranian people, in time to commemorate the Iranian holiday of Nowruz. Peres sends his message just minutes after US President Obama sent his own video message to Iran (see March 19, 2009). Unlike Obama, Peres refuses to address the Iranian government, but issues his message directly to the Iranian people, and adopts a far less conciliatory tone than the American leader. He tells the Iranians: “Unfortunately, the relations between our two countries have hit a low point, stemming from ideas that compel your leaders to act in every possible way against the state of Israel and its people. But I am convinced that the day is not far off when our two nations will restore good neighborly relations and cooperation in thriving in every way.” Peres continues: “Things in Iran are tough. There is great unemployment, corruption, a lot of drugs, and a general discontent? You can’t feed your children enriched uranium, they need a real breakfast. It cannot be that the money is invested in enriched uranium and the children are told to remain a little hungry, a little ignorant. [I suggest] you don’t listen to [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, it is impossible to preserve a whole nation on incitement and hatred, the people will become tired of it.… I see the suffering of the children and ask myself, why? [Iran] is such a rich country with such a rich culture, why do they allow a handful of religious fanatics take the worst possible path, both in the eyes of God and in the eyes of man?” Peres then encourages the Iranian people to overthrow their own government: “It is impossible to preserve a whole nation on incitement and hatred. I think that the Iranian people will topple these leaders, these leaders who don’t serve the people—in the end the people will realize that.” Some of Peres’s message is recorded in Farsi, and the message is broadcast on Israel’s Radio Farsi, which has a large audience in the Middle East. (Erdbrink and Kessler 3/20/2009; Ha'aretz 3/21/2009) The neoconservatives of the Weekly Standard applaud Peres’s speech, writing, “Now that’s how a president should be speaking to the prisoners of the Mullahcracy.” (Abrams 3/20/2009)
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman says that Israel’s new right-wing government will not be bound by a US-backed understanding to work towards establishing an independent Palestinian nation, the so-called “two-state solution.” Lieberman’s remarks outrage many Palestinian leaders, and indicate a sharp divide between the Obama administration and the government of newly elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The conservative Netanyahu has long opposed the idea of a sovereign Palestinian state, though he has recently said he supports an agreement towards limited Palestinian self-rule. Lieberman’s speech, described by the Los Angeles Times as “blunt and openly hawkish” and by the New York Times as “blunt and belligerent,” warns against giving concessions to the Palestinians, saying they “only bring pressure and more wars.” “[T]hose who wish for peace should prepare for war,” he adds. “Those who think that through concessions they will gain respect and peace are wrong. It is the other way around; it will lead to more wars.” The 2007 agreement, made at Annapolis, Maryland between then-US President George W. Bush, then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, committed the parties to further “the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine.” Now, Lieberman says: “It has no validity. The Israeli government never ratified Annapolis, nor did parliament.” Palestinian spokesman Nabil abu Rudaineh calls Lieberman’s position dangerous, and recommends that the Obama administration “take a clear position against this policy before things get worse.” Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says Lieberman has “closed the door on Annapolis and closed the door in the face of the international community.” An Obama spokesman says that the US remains committed to a two-state solution. Lieberman’s statement is contradicted by a warning from Israeli President Shimon Peres that “the majority of countries in the world” back the Palestinian quest for statehood, hinting that to withdraw support for a two-state solution will result in Israel’s isolation. “The outgoing government espoused the vision of two states for two peoples, which was initiated by the American government and accepted by the majority of countries in the world,” Peres states. “It is up to your government to decide the shape of the reality to come.” Netanyahu has privately told Western officials that he, not Lieberman, will set Israel’s foreign policy; Netanyahu gave Lieberman the position because Lieberman’s nationalist party, Israel Is Our Home, is a member of Netanyahu’s rightist coalition government. But Netanyahu’s own foreign policy adviser, Zalman Shoval, says that the prime minister also considers the Annapolis declaration nonbinding. Tony Blair, the former British prime minister now serving as an envoy to the Middle East peace negotiations, says the peace process is in “very great jeopardy.” (Kershner 4/1/2009; Boudreaux 4/2/2009)