Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, February 1992, Page 10

Special Report

Peril in Being President

By Paul Findley

National leadership brings rewards, satisfactions, even frequent moments of exhiliration. In three years, the US presidency has brought many such moments to George Bush, especially in the immediate aftermath of the Gulf war.

There are exceptions. The final week of the 1991 congressional session was devoid of such pleasures. Harsh bickering between the Congress and the White House over which must accept blame for the downturn in the nation's economy contributed to a further decline in public estimation of both institutions.

To this testiness, Israel's Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir added his own brand. In Washington, he fumed against Bush's selection of the time and place for the next round of Arab-Israeli meetings and tried to reschedule them to his own convenience. He declared that his government will not be pushed around by any other nation, even its chief benefactor, the United States.

These aggravations to a president's good nature, serious as they are, cannot be the only problems weighing heavily on Bush's mind. No American president, and especially George Bush, can wisely put out of mind a far more serious threat to his presidency, the question of personal survival.

As long as he remains president, George Bush will be the center of controversy and, therefore, personally at risk. Despite the endeavors of the Secret Service, the agency whose primary purpose is to protect the president of the United States from harm, no occupant of the office can be effectively shielded from danger.

The Secret Service has special reason for concern at this point in George Bush's career. Before Bush headed for the opening day of the peace conference in Madrid, the Secret Service received a warning that elements of Israel's spy operation-the Mossad-might put Bush's life in danger.

The danger was first expressed by Victor Ostrovsky, a former Mossad agent, to a group of Canadian parliamentarians. After four years' service, Ostrovsky had left the Mossad in protest against its methods and had written the book By Way of Deception, exposing Israel's spy operations in intimate detail.

Ostrovsky told the Canadians that the Mossad, not the elected political establishment, is the real engine of policy in Israel. He added ominously that secret intelligence he had been receiving suggested strongly that Mossad's hatred of Bush-and support for Vice President Dan Quayle-may lead to an attempt on the president's life. Quayle, always popular with Jewish groups, is regarded by Israel as much more sympathetic to its problems than Bush.

Ostrovsky told the group that he feared for his own safety and was under Mossad surveillance.

This astounding information was relayed by one of those attending the Canadian meeting to Paul N. "Pete" McCloskey, my former colleague in Congress. McCloskey, an attorney, is my associate on the board of the Council for the National Interest, a Washington-based organization that focuses on Middle East policy. He was recently named by Bush to the National and Community Service Commission.

Alarmed for the safety os his longtime friend, George Bush, McCloskey flew to Ottawa for a face-to-face interview with the former Mossad agent.

Ostrovsky impressed McCloskey as a patriotic Zionist who believes the Mossad is out of contro. Ostrovsky told him the present leadership of the Mossad wants "to do everything possible to preserve a state of war between Israel and its neighbors, assassinating President Bush, if necessary." He said a public relations campaign is already underway in both Israel and the United States to "prepare public acceptance of Dan Quayle as president."

After lengthy discussion during which he became convinced that Ostrovsky was "real" and telling the truth, McCloskey took the next flight to Washington. There he relayed the information to the Secret Service and State Department, receiving mixed reactions to Ostrovsky's reliability. An officer of the Navy Department dismissed him simply as a "traitor to Israel."

Ostrovsky became controversial last year with the publication of his book on the Mossad. The government of Israel sought a court order in both New York and Canada to prevent its publication. The ban-the-book effort produced nationwide publicity for three days. Partly as a result of this publicity, the book became an instant bestseller.

In the book, Ostrovsky reports an episode especially shocking to American readers. He said Mossad agents in Beirut learned in the summer of 1983 that a large truck was being rigged by a terrorist group to hold unusually large bombs. The Israeli agents speculated that the US Marine barracks at the Beirut airport would be one of the most likely targets of the truck-bomb.

They asked Mossad headquarters in Tel Aviv for permission to issue a special alert to US military leaders in Beirut. The answer was negative. The Beirut station was ordered to provide only routine notice, so general, Ostrovsky wrote, that "it was like sending a weather report, unlikely to raise and particular alarm." He said more than one hundred such warnings had been issued during a period of a few days, so one more would be unlikely to attract attention.

In refusing to alert the Americans to the danger, the Mossad leadership in Tel Aviv explained: "We are not there [in Beirut] to protect Americans. They're a big country, send only the regular information."

"The Regular Information"

As a result, only Israeli stations in Lebanon were put on alert. The truck bomb crashed into the barracks, killing 241 US Marines. It was a horrible tragedy that Israel could have prevented.

Is it conceivable that Israel's Mossad might assassinate George Bush in order to put a more sympathetic man in the White House? It is well to remember two earlier occasions when Israeli authorities were willing to sacrifice American lives to serve their own national interests.

During the June 1967 war, Israeli air and sea forces killed 34 US sailors and wounded 171 others in a deliberate attempt to destroy the USS Liberty and its entire crew.

During the October 1973 war, Israeli fighter pilots were ordered to shoot down an unarmed US reconnaissance plan that was overflying Israel's secret nuclear site in a desert area of Israel. At the time the US was helping Israel by ferrying vast quantities of war material from US warehouses. Fortunately, the US plane was flying too high for the Israeli fighters to reach.

The US Secret Service will be wise to assume the worst.

Former Illinois Congressman Paul Findley is chairman of the Council for the National Interest, 1900 18th St., NW, Washington, DC 20009. His best-selling book, They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel's Lobby, is available from the AET Book Club.