News flash: Top-secret intelligence memos written during the last years of the Bush administration describe covert activities—in intelligence parlance, a "false flag" operation—by Israeli Mossad officers, posing as American CIA agents, who recruited assassins from Jundallah, an obscure Pakistan-based Sunni Muslim terrorist organization, to target Iranian nuclear scientists. Jundallah had a history of targeting Iranian civilians; indeed, American intelligence was barred from "even the most incidental contact" with them. Yet the Israelis brazenly negotiated with them under British and American noses in London; and in doing so, they put American lives at risk by inviting Iranian attacks in kind. According to a CIA source, when the news reached the White House, President Bush "went ballistic."
Or so Mark Perry would have you believe in his recent article in the magazine Foreign Policy.
A reader might benefit from knowing who Mark Perry is. Perry has run an organization called the Conflicts Forum, which specializes in what it calls "dialogue with a wide range of leading Islamists," prominently including Hamas and Hezbollah. In 1989 he became "unofficial advisor" to Yasir Arafat, head of the terrorist Palestine Liberation Organization. Perry maintained his role until Arafat's death in 2004.
None of this background is disclosed by Foreign Policy.
Not accidentally, Perry's claims appear to be nonsense. The Israeli government, whose policy is not to confirm or deny involvement in intelligence operations, has broken its general silence to call his story "absolute nonsense." There is external corroboration of Israel's position. In recent years, three high-ranking Israeli intelligence and defense officials have been forced to resign their posts because of Israeli actions that U.S. officials deemed against American interests—actions far less damaging than the "false flag" operation Perry describes. Yet Meir Dagan, who was chief of Mossad at the time of the alleged operation, not only kept his job but remained a Washington favorite.
So, what to make of the memos? Who were the two CIA sources that told Perry about them? Who were the six "currently serving or recently retired" CIA sources who confirmed the "level of anger among senior intelligence officials about Israel's actions?" Perry provides so little detail about his sources—How many current? How many retired? When? What were their roles in the Bush administration's venomous internal policy debates?—that it is hard to tell.
Conceivably, the memos were fabrications. More likely, they exist but were wrong, for honest or dishonest reasons. In Perry's own account, they were written for an exculpatory purpose: to rebut press accusations that it was the United States that was fomenting assassinations in Iran. When the U.S. intelligence community becomes embroiled in this kind of public controversy, the quality of the data and analysis it produces is—well, less than impeccable. That, surely, is the lesson of the American debate over the existence of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.
The recent assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists have revived accusations of covert U.S. support for such actions. And—surprise!—here come Perry's sources again, leaking further purported evidence of American innocence and Israeli guilt. The reader is entitled to some suspicion.
Perry's article is subtly deceitful, not to mention deeply hypocritical. There is no discussion of the Iranian nuclear program except to say there is a "covert, bloody, and ongoing campaign aimed at stopping" it. There is no discussion, for or against, of the targeting of individuals engaged in such a program. Since "false flag" operations are not unusual, Perry must show why this one was especially heinous; therefore, he emphasizes, graphically, the particular danger to Americans from Jundallah's provocation of Iran through terrorist acts against Iranian civilians. This alarm about the consequences of terror comes from the man who advised Arafat and pushes "dialogue" with Hamas and Hezbollah. This solicitude toward civilians is shown by a man who makes no mention of the terror wreaked by Iran on its own citizens. Indeed, Perry's priority, in addition to tarnishing Israel's image, seems to be the softening of Iran's, a country that comes off in his telling as the hapless victim of a malevolent Jewish plot, actualized by Jundallah's Sunni madmen over protestations from a weak-willed America.
Apparently, the "false flag" issue that so enraged President Bush was "resolved" when President Obama came into office and scaled back U.S.-Israel covert cooperation vis-à-vis Iran. If this is true, Perry hasn't done President Obama much of a favor by revealing it. But the veracity of this statement, like the rest of Perry's article, is hazy.
The one certainty about Perry's piece is that it is provocative. That was doubtless among the motivations for its publication on the part of the editors of the Washington Post-owned Foreign Policy. But then again, the magazine has, more generally, established itself as an industry leader in online Israel-bashing, hosting not only a blog by Stephen Walt, co-author of the notorious book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, but a panoply of anti-Israel products. A recent example is an article lambasting the Republican presidential candidates' near-unanimous support for the Jewish state.
Perry is at his most vivid in describing CIA anger at Mossad aggressiveness. "Israel regularly proposes" targeting Iranians, one unnamed source says: "They come into the room and spread out their plans," and "we say to them . . . [T]he answer is no." (This is the same Israel that was so close-mouthed about the Jundallah caper?) As if in defense of the CIA's and Foreign Policy's position, Perry quotes an intelligence official—unnamed, naturally—as saying, "Israel is supposed to be working with us, not against us. If they want to shed blood, it would help a lot if it was their blood and not ours. . . . [T]hey're supposed to be a strategic asset. Well, guess what? There are a lot of people now, important people, who just don't think that's true." That much is evident in the pages of Foreign Policy, which has found itself an entrenched prospect and seems to be enjoying the view.
Jonathan Neumann is the Tikvah Fellow at Commentary, the current issue of which features his essay on Occupy Wall Street and the Jews.
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