Kimche Says US-Israel Fully Coordinated Arms Sales
JERUSALEM (AP) _ The former director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry said top-level U.S. officials approved secret Israeli shipments of American weapons to Iran during 1985 - months before President Reagan has acknowledged approving the operation.
David Kimche, breaking his silence on the sales, said Friday on Israel television: ″The smallest thing that we did, at least as long as I dealt with this subject, was in full coordination with the Americans, and they knew every tiny detail of what we did.″
However, Kimche did not specify which U.S. officials approved the shipments.
In a separate television interview, Israeli arms dealer Yaacov Nimrodi said 500 U.S.-made TOW anti-tank missiles were shipped to Iran in payment for the release of Presbyterian minister Benjamin Weir in September 1985.
The interviews with Kimche and Nimrodi were among the most extensive public comment so far by people involved in the transactions.
Published accounts have portrayed Israel as the middleman in the secret delivery of half a dozen shipments of U.S. weapons to Iran, which are said to have begun in August 1985.
Kimche has emerged as Israel’s liaison with Robert McFarlane, the former national security adviser, from July to December 1985. He was Foreign Ministry director-general at the time.
Asked if the arms shipments during that period had top-level U.S. approval, Kimche replied: ″Yes, definitely. It was for that reason that I was sent to the United States, to clarify this subject and find out whether, and how much, the Americans at the highest level wanted to carry out this operation.
President Reagan has said he approved the deal only in January 1986. Kimche’s trip to the United States reportedly was six months earlier.
U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese III disclosed last month that profits from the arms sales to Iran were secretly funneled to Swiss bank accounts for use by Nicaraguan Contra rebels fighting to overthrow the leftist Sandinista government. Israel has denied it was involved in that aspect of the operation.
Kimche said he was brought into the arms operation in July 1985, several months after the United States sent a representative to Israel ″to ask for our assistance on the Iran affair.″
He did not name the American representative, but other reports identified him as Michael Ledeen, a former U.S. National Security Council consultant.
Kimche said both Israel and the United States wanted to make contact with pro-Western factions in Tehran who believed the Soviet Union was Iran’s greatest threat. He said shipping weapons was ″like a calling card, a kind of demonstration that we had the ability to get things done.″
But Kimche said the Iranians proved unreliable.
″We did not get all the hostages, and that’s a shame. But we did receive one, and it was highly likely that we would have gotten the rest if certain things had not happened, which I will not talk about,″ he said.
He did not elaborate, but may have been referring to reports that Iran was sent a consignment of obsolete Hawk anti-aircraft missiles instead of the later model it had ordered.
Kimche said an argument in December 1985 brought the contacts to a standstill, and he and Nimrodi stepped out of the picture. He did not say what the argument was about.
Nimrodi said the Israelis ″built a bridge between Americans and Iranians. Also, we succeeded in releasing the priest (Weir) for 500 TOW″ missiles.
Nimrodi, a former military attache in Tehran before the 1979 Islamic revolution, was critical of the way the operation was handled after he left it. Shimon Peres, then prime minister, appointed counterterrorism adviser Amiram Nir to head the operation, government officials have told The Associated Press.
″We did it quietly, almost without the Americans. We did the work for them,″ Nimrodi said of the period during which he was involved.
After he left, he said, ″it appears they started doing it on an American scale - planes, helicopters and who knows what else. I wasn’t involved and I don’t know.″