More ‘Moral’ Than Netanyahu: Ex-Israeli Spook Defends Lobbying for Sudanese Junta

Ari Ben-Menashe once worked for Israel’s Military Intelligence. Now he's lobbying Russia and the U.S. on behalf of Sudan’s military council and regime opponents in Venezuela

Ari Ben-Menashe being hustled into a car by Zimbabwe security personnel shortly after his arrival at Harare International Airport in 2002.
ASSOCIATED PRESS

A controversial ex-Israeli intelligence agent is lobbying the U.S. and Russian governments on behalf of the Sudanese military junta and opposition forces in Venezuela, according to documents filed recently with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Ari Ben-Menashe registered as a foreign agent in Washington after his firm, Dickens & Madson — which is registered in Canada — signed a deal to lobby on behalf of the new Sudanese regime. Ben-Menashe’s firm signed the $6 million deal to work on improving the Sudanese military regime’s media coverage, as well as lobbying “the executive and/or legislative branches of the government of the United States and its agencies to support the Transitional [Military] Council of Sudan’s efforts to establish a democratic government,” the documents said.

A deal was also signed with an opposition party in Venezuela in its efforts to replace Nicolás Maduro as president with the more progressive Henri Falcón.

Ben-Menashe confirmed both deals in an interview with Haaretz over the weekend. He also defended his involvement with the Sudanese junta, which seized power of the east African state in the spring and has been accused of conducting a brutal crackdown on members of the opposition.

According to U.S. foreign agent registry documents, Dickens & Madson is representing Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo from Sudan’s ruling military council. The firm has also been working with Sudan’s de-facto head of state, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, but Ben-Menashe said that Dagalo — known as Hemeti — is the one with true power as leader of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces. The military ousted Sudan’s longtime dictator Omar Hassan al-Bashir in April.

Since the military council assumed control, human rights groups have called for an International Criminal Court probe into the Sudanese paramilitary’s involvement in a massacre in the capital, Khartoum, that left 100 people dead.

A deal was signed last week between the Transitional Military Council and pro-democracy leaders in Sudan, but activist Niemat Ahmadi — founder of the D.C. nonprofit Darfur Women Action Group — told Haaretz this week that the agreement “failed the people of Sudan.”

With a slew of criminal allegations against the Rapid Support Forces and lack of accountability, Ahmadi said she believes the military will not give up power easily.

But Ben-Menashe told Haaretz the Sudanese paramilitary leader has “promised” him that all he wants is for Sudan to have fair elections.

Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (aka Hemeti) delivering an address in Khartoum, Sudan, May 18, 2019.
MOHAMED NURELDIN ABDALLAH/REUT

“Hemeti, in spite of his past — if it’s a morality contest, he would beat Netanyahu hands down,” he said, referring to the Israeli prime minister. “How many people died in the Middle East trying to make quote, unquote ‘Israel safe’? Sorry, but I have to make this comment.”

“I’m not his fan really,” Ben-Menashe added, discussing his Sudanese client. But “he’s the only guy that can keep order until this civilian government takes hold. What we’re also banking on that is there’s an army and there’s the Rapid Support Forces: one would put [a] check on the other.”

According to the lobbyist, Sudan’s leadership is having trouble balancing its support of the Trump administration and the U.S. president’s “Saudi friends,” who Ben-Menashe claims are pressuring Hemeti to continue sending Sudanese troops to Yemen to fight the Iran-backed Houthi militia. But, he added, Hemeti knows the arrangement “is not a good thing for Sudan.”

Ben-Menashe has enjoyed a colorful career. It began in Israel’s Military Intelligence in the 1970s, where, according to his 1992 book “Profits of War: Inside the Secret U.S.-Israeli Arms Network,” he was involved in arms sales to both the Americans and Iranians (in the days before the 1979 Islamic Revolution). He also alleged that he was instrumental in covering-up political scandals and bribes for Israeli intelligence — claims that Israel denies.

He was later implicated in a lawsuit over illegal arms-trading to Iran, according to the Washington Post, but was acquitted of all charges in November 1990. The Israeli government has denied Ben-Menashe’s account of his work, with a spokeswoman from the Israeli Embassy in Washington in 1991 referring to his position as that of a “low-level translator.”

Ben-Menashe moved to Australia in 1992 and later to Canada, where he became a citizen and president of Dickens & Madson, lobbying on behalf of a number of high-profile clients. These included Zimbabwe’s longtime dictator Robert Mugabe: Ben-Menashe became embroiled in a high-profile court case in Harare in the early 2000s after he said a leading opposition figure had asked him to help “eliminate” the Zimbabwean president.

‘Powers outside Venezuela’

In recent weeks, Ben-Menashe’s firm also signed a $200,000 contract with opposition forces in Venezuela to “attempt to influence United States policy in favor of” the Progressive Advance political party. The aim is to get its leader, Henri Falcón, elected as the country’s new president.

Both contracts were filed under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which aims to promote transparency with foreign agent activity in the United States. The law was created in 1938 to combat Nazi propaganda, but came to prominence during Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Progressive Advance party leader Henri Falcón arriving at the Supreme Court in Caracas, Venezuela, May 30, 2018.
Fernando Llano/AP

Falcón attempted to run for the Venezuelan presidency in 2018 but faced opposition from the United States, which threatened sanctions against him for participating in what was described as an unrecognized and fraudulent election by the Maduro government. Now, Ben-Menashe’s firm is lobbying executive and legislative branches within the United States and Russia to recognize Falcón.

This January, the United States recognized the country’s main opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, as Venezuela’s president. Other nations soon followed, including Israel. But Maduro — who succeeded Hugo Chavéz after the latter’s death in 2013 — and supportive nations like China, Russia, Turkey and Iran labeled Guaidó as a puppet of the United States.

Ben-Menashe said his firm’s take on the situation in the beleaguered South American country “is that the Venezuelans need to feel that this is a betterment of their home, not imposed by outside.” He added that the Venezuelans believe “Guaidó has been imposed” from the outside.

According to the lobbyist, Falcón contacted Dickens & Madson during Maduro’s 2018 reelection campaign, “but at that time we couldn’t really help him there.” However, they stayed in touch and he has subsequently met with Falcón in Venezuela and on Sunday in Panama.

Falcón “understands Venezuela is for the Venezuelans but that you have to deal with powers outside Venezuela too,” Ben-Menashe explained.

As a result, Ben-Menashe said, one of Falcón’s policies includes reopening relations with Israel. These have been nonexistent since then-President Chavéz cut ties with the Jewish state in January 2009, following Israel’s 20-day offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Three months later, Venezuela officially recognized the State of Palestine.

Speaking on his client’s behalf, Ben-Menashe said: “It doesn’t mean that we back Israel’s policies — we don’t. But it’s always good to open the dialogue.”

His firm’s goal is to lobby the Russian government to convince Maduro to step down in a peaceful way and guarantee that the people around the president are part of the coalition with Falcón.

Ben-Menashe said he believes Falcón can be a “real compromiser” and win over the Russians and Americans, plus Venezuela’s military and Chavéz loyalists in the government.