Inside Intel / Assassination by Proxy

Did Israel try to kill the U.S. ambassador in Lebanon in the early 1980s?Haggai Hadas' experience is not necessarily an advantage in the talks over Gilad Shalit's release The Israeli intelligence community has committed quite a number of crimes against the United States during its 60-year lifetime. In the early 1950s it recruited agents from among Arab officers serving in Washington (with the help of military attache Chaim Herzog). In the 1960s it stole uranium through Rafi Eitan and the Scientific Liaison Bureau in what came to be known as the Apollo Affair, when uranium was smuggled to Israel from Dr. Zalman Shapira's Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation - in Apollo, Pennsylvania). In the 1980s it operated spies (Jonathan Pollard and Ben-Ami Kadish), and used businessmen (such as Arnon Milchan) to steal secrets, technology and equipment for its nuclear program and other purposes.

Now the Israeli government is being accused of attempted murder. John Gunther Dean, a former U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, claims in a memoir released last week that Israeli intelligence agents attempted to assassinate him. Dean was born in 1926 in Breslau, Germany (today Wroclaw, Poland), as John Gunther Dienstfertig. His father was a Jewish lawyer who described himself as a German citizen of the Jewish religion who is not a Zionist. The family immigrated to the U.S. before World War II. As an adult Dean joined the State Department and served as a diplomat in Vietnam, Afghanistan and India, among other states.

In the late 1970s Dean was stationed posted to Lebanon, where he observed first-hand Israel's profound involvement in the country. He believed that Israel's policy toward Lebanon and the Arab world in general ran counter to American interests, and tried to oppose it. Toward that end he formed strong ties with Palestinian officials and tried to convince the leader of the Christian Phalangists, Bashir Gemayal, not to serve as a tool of Israel. His approach was unacceptable to Israeli leaders and officials, and more than once it also led Dean into confrontation with the U.S. ambassador to Israel at the time, Samuel Lewis.

In August 1980 Dean was traveling in Lebanon with his wife, their daughter and her fiance, in a three-car convoy. When they reached the outskirts of Beirut they were ambushed by rocket and automatic-weapons fire. They were not injured. In book "Danger Zones: A Diplomat's Fight for America's Interest," Dean writes: "Weapons financed and given by the United States to Israel were used in an attempt to kill an American diplomat!"

Dean relates that the State Department investigated the incident but never informed him of its conclusions. Dean decided to conduct his own investigation. Experts in Washington told him that Israel had sent weapons provided to it by the U.S. to an Israel-allied Lebanese Christian militia. "I know as surely as I know anything that Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, was somehow involved in the attack," Dean wrote. "Undoubtedly using a proxy, our ally Israel had tried to kill me."

In 1988 the State Department forced Dean to resign, truncating his term as ambassador to India. Dean claims the heads of the State Department did so to prevent him from undermining the presidential election campaign of vice president George H.W. Bush and to silence Dean's criticism of the policy of Bush and president Ronald Reagan in Afghanistan. Dean says his bosses forced him to receive psychiatric treatment under false pretenses, as a result of what he calls a false diagnosis. Eventually he was permitted to retire, after which he divided his time between Paris and his wife's farm in Switzerland.

It is of course difficult to verify Dean's version of events. Former senior Israeli intelligence and defense officials who were active in formulating and implementing Israel's policy in Lebanon believe Dean was in effect imagining things. "Is it reasonable that the Israeli government under Menachem Begin would have approved the killing of a U.S. diplomat?," they ask. And yet the manuscript of Dean's book was vetted and approved by the U.S. State Department, albeit after insisting on a few changes.

The length of the rope

The appointment of Hagai Hadas as the prime minister's representative to the negotiations for the release of Gilad Shalit was presented to the public as a breakthrough. Hadas' Mossad past was cited as an important factor that which will help him in his work, but the truth may be just the opposite. Hadas served in the more operational units in the Mossad. According to foreign publications he was the head of the Kidon unit, which is said to have carried out "special assignments" - including, according to foreign reports, the assassination of Arab terrorists such as Islamic Jihad head Fathi Shikaki, who was killed in Malta in 1995. Kidon also reportedly assassinated foreigners who helped enemy states to acquire nonconventional weapons, such as the Canadian engineer Dr. Gerald Bull. Later Hadas headed Caesarea, the Mossad's special operations unit.

In Hadas' new job his professional experience does not provide him with an advantage. He does not speak Arabic, is not an expert negotiator and his knowledge of the Arab world is probably through a gunsight at best. His predecessors in the post of prisoner-release negotiator came from the Shin Bet security service (Yossi Ginossar, Jacob Perry, Ofer Dekel) or were civil lawyers (Shmuel Tamir, Arieh Marinsky, Uri Slonim). Arie Lova Eliav, a politician and educator, was an exception. He was recruited for the position because of his connections with the European left and with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

In any case, the personality and qualities of the mediator make no difference one way or the other. His ability to reach a deal depends on the length of the rope given to him by his superiors. If the prime minister and the entire cabinet want a deal and are ready to pay the heavy price of releasing hundreds of terrorists, as Hamas is demanding, it can be achieved at any given moment. At present it seems that the Benjamin Netanyahu-Avigdor Lieberman-Ehud Barak government is not willing to pay the price, which was too high even for the Ehud Olmert-Tzipi Livni-Ehud Barak government.