In May 1967, Israel was itching to launch a preemptive attack on Egypt. The director of Mossad at that time, Meir Amit, had a meeting with John Hadden, the CIA chief in Tel Aviv. Hadden warned Amit that if Israel attacked Egypt, the United States would send in troops to defend Egypt. Hadden advised his counterpart that if Israel wanted the U.S. on its side, it would need a suitable pretext.
“Help us by giving us a good reason to come in on your side. Get them to fire at something, a ship, for example,” Hadden told Amit.
This exchange is revealed by the Israeli journalist, Ronen Bergman, in the cover story for this weekend’s New York Times magazine.
Bergman writes: “Since 1967, the unspoken understanding that America should agree, at least tacitly, to Israeli military actions has been at the center of relations between the two countries.”
The telling of the Amit-Hadden exchange, seems like a way of signalling that as far as Israel is concerned, come the time that it decides to launch an attack on Iran, the United States has no choice but to “agree.” Indeed, Israel is happy to point to the history of U.S. complicity in Israel’s acts of war, including the willingness of an American official to invite an Israeli instigated attack on a U.S. ship in order to fabricate a justification for entering a war.
In other words, transposing the 1967 incident to the current context, the Israelis want to insinuate that if the U.S. Fifth Fleet is attacked by “Iran” in the coming months and Israel covertly has a hand in this attack, then in truth Israel will merely be “helping” the United States to do what it wants to do at a time when domestic political considerations prevent Washington from being open about its intentions.
The irony about Hadden’s invitation in 1967 is that in some sense the Israelis did pick it up two weeks later. But rather than engineer an “Egyptian” attack on a U.S. ship, the Israelis attacked the U.S.S. Liberty claiming they thought it was an Egyptian ship.
Was Israel punishing the U.S. for its neutrality in the Six-Day War — knowing that it could do so with impunity because the U.S. could not suffer the embarrassment that would have been caused by revealing the CIA’s willingness to sacrifice Americans?
In June 2007, I met with a former director of the Mossad, Meir Amit, who handed me a document stamped, “Top secret, for your eyes only.” Amit wanted to demonstrate the complexity of the relations between the United States and Israel, especially when it comes to Israeli military operations in the Middle East that could significantly impact American interests in the region.
Almost 45 years ago, on May 25, 1967, in the midst of the international crisis that precipitated the Six-Day War, Amit, then head of the Mossad, summoned John Hadden, the C.I.A. chief in Tel Aviv, to an urgent meeting at his home. The meeting took place against the background of the mounting tensions in the Middle East, the concentration of a massive Egyptian force in the Sinai Peninsula, the closing of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping and the threats by President Gamal Abdel Nasser to destroy the State of Israel.
In what he later described as “the most difficult meeting I have ever had with a representative of a foreign intelligence service,” Amit laid out Israel’s arguments for attacking Egypt. The conversation between them, which was transcribed in the document Amit passed on to me, went as follows:
Amit: “We are approaching a turning point that is more important for you than it is for us. After all, you people know everything. We are in a grave situation, and I believe we have reached it, because we have not acted yet. . . . Personally, I am sorry that we did not react immediately. It is possible that we may have broken some rules if we had, but the outcome would have been to your benefit. I was in favor of acting. We should have struck before the build-up.”
Hadden: “That would have brought Russia and the United States against you.”
Amit: “You are wrong. . . . We have now reached a new stage, after the expulsion of the U.N. inspectors. You should know that it’s your problem, not ours.”
Hadden: “Help us by giving us a good reason to come in on your side. Get them to fire at something, a ship, for example.”
Amit: “That is not the point.”
Hadden: “If you attack, the United States will land forces to help the attacked state protect itself.”
Amit: “I can’t believe what I am hearing.”
Hadden: “Do not surprise us.”
Amit: “Surprise is one of the secrets of success.”
Hadden: “I don’t know what the significance of American aid is for you.”
Amit: “It isn’t aid for us, it is for yourselves.”
That ill-tempered meeting, and Hadden’s threats, encouraged the Israeli security cabinet to ban the military from carrying out an immediate assault against the Egyptian troops in the Sinai, although they were perceived as a grave threat to the existence of Israel. Amit did not accept Hadden’s response as final, however, and flew to the United States to meet with Defense Secretary Robert McNamara. Upon his return, he reported to the Israeli cabinet that when he told McNamara that Israel could not reconcile itself to Egypt’s military actions, the secretary replied, “I read you very clearly.” When Amit then asked McNamara if he should remain in Washington for another week, to see how matters developed, McNamara responded, “Young man, go home, that is where you are needed now.”
From this exchange, Amit concluded that the United States was giving Israel “a flickering green light” to attack Egypt. He told the cabinet that if the Americans were given one more week to exhaust their diplomatic efforts, “they will hesitate to act against us.” The next day, the cabinet decided to begin the Six-Day War, which changed the course of Middle Eastern history.
Amit handed me the minutes of that conversation from the same armchair that he sat in during his meeting with Hadden. It is striking how that dialogue anticipated the one now under way between Israel and the United States. Substitute “Tehran” for “Cairo” and “Strait of Hormuz” for “Straits of Tiran,” and it could have taken place this past week. Since 1967, the unspoken understanding that America should agree, at least tacitly, to Israeli military actions has been at the center of relations between the two countries.
During my lengthy conversation with Barak, I pulled out the transcript of the Amit-Hadden meeting. Amit was his commander when Barak was a young officer, in a unit that carried out commando raids deep inside enemy territory. Barak, a history buff, smiled at the comparison, and then he completely rejected it. “Relations with the United States are far closer today,” he said. “There are no threats, no recriminations, only cooperation and mutual respect for each other’s sovereignty.”
That characterization of U.S.-Israeli relations certainly jives with President Obama’s description of an unbreakable bond between the two nations. At the same time, Mark Perry’s recent report on an Israeli false flag operation in which Mossad agents posed as CIA officers suggests that those who think they are protecting a nation facing an existential threat tend to believe that anything goes.