Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May 2004, pages 13, 94

Special Report

Israel’s Failed Assassination Attempt on U.S. Ambassador Documented

By Andrew I. Killgore

Had Mossad, Israel's secret intelligence organization, succeeded, it would have been the perfect crime—the crime of the century. The plan was breathtaking in concept: to assassinate the American ambassador to Lebanon, in Lebanon, with American weapons, intended for Israeli’s defense only. Everything about it would point to Lebanon as the culprit.

But fate intervened, and things went wrong. The tires on Ambassador John Gunther Dean’s limousine automatically reinflated when they were shot out in 1979 (see November 2002 Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, p. 15). The light tank shell simply bounced off the car’s armor. And, horror of horrors, Lebanese intelligence had retrieved the empty shell casing on which was written, “Made in the United States of America.”

Mossad’s specialty was dirty tricks, even if (or perhaps because) it was not very good as an intelligence organization. Its modus operandi had always been the same: pull off a dirty trick but make it appear somebody else had done it. An early example was the Lavon Affair, named for Pinhas Lavon, Israel’s minister of defense back in 1953. This Mossad operation persuaded some Jewish men in Egypt to burn U.S. Information Service libraries on the assumption that Egyptian President Jamal Abdul Nasser would be blamed. But one of the incendiary devices went off prematurely, and the young spies were caught. Some of them were executed. This provoked a scandal in Israel, and in the ensuing investigation it eventually turned out that Lavon’s signature authorizing the operation had been forged at the behest of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. A dirty trick within a dirty trick!

Then came the June 8, 1967 attack on the USS Liberty, killing 34 Americans and wounding 171. Perpetrated by the Israeli air force and navy, this was not a Mossad operation, but it was suffused by the same spirit of stealth and trickery. During the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, unmarked Israeli jets raked the all-but-unarmed spy ship Liberty, steaming slowly off Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, with napalm and machine gunfire.

The Liberty was flying a large American flag, and the ship’s designation, in English, was clearly visible on a cloudless day. But Israel said it thought it was attacking an Egyptian transport ship. Israel pleaded “a tragic accident” and still pleads that miserable lie today.

Now, thanks to Ambassador John Gunther Dean, the full taste of Mossad’s evil will be available at former President Jimmy Carter’s Presidential Library in Atlanta, Georgia. A part of the National Archives, the Carter Center will contain 42 files on Dean’s service as ambassador to Lebanon. The overwhelming majority of the material is unclassified and thus readily available to researchers, scholars and journalists.

The Dean papers—which include documents, messages, reports and telegrams—constitute hard evidence on the stultifying influence of the Israeli lobby as Dean tried to get answers from the Department of State on the Israeli assassination failure. Nobody was willing to talk with him because the subject was just too “sensitive.”

The papers include documentation of efforts by the Palestinians to help the U.S. with the American hostages in Iran. They demonstrate that, unlike today, the United States administration considered the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) “valid interlocutors” in the search for a negotiated settlement of the Palestine-Israel conflict. In fact, PLO leader Yasser Arafat and an assistant made a special visit to Iran, where they succeeded in gaining the immediate freedom of several of the American diplomatic hostages. Arafat performed a real favor for the United States for which he never received any thanks—perhaps because, once again, it would have been too “sensitive.”

By June 2004 all other papers in Dean’s possession will be housed in the National Archives. Among the information they will contain will be the role of certain congressmen with respect to nuclear proliferation. Some of the American legislators struck Dean as motivated more by fear of Pakistan obtaining “the Islamic bomb” than they were by defending U.S. policy of preventing the proliferation of arms. 


Andrew I. Killgore, a retired foreign service officer and former U.S. ambassador to Qatar, is publisher of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs,.