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Four years ago, I recommended that my friend, then prime minister Ariel Sharon, ask Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy to bring him the Israeli report that ought to be found in the dusty archives of the Israeli intelligence community proving that Yasser Arafat was directly involved in the murder of American diplomats in Khartoum, Sudan, in 1973. Sharon told me later that he had indeed asked to see the material but that he had never received it from Halevy.
Last week it was reported in the United States that among the secret documents that the State Department recently released after 30 years is a document demonstrating that the US was aware from the outset of the key role Arafat played in murdering those American diplomats. "The Khartoum operation was planned and carried out with the full knowledge and personal approval of Yasser Arafat," said an official US intelligence memorandum dated June 1973. It added that representatives of Fatah, Arafat's faction of the PLO, "participated in the attack, using a Fatah vehicle to transport the terrorists to the Saudi Arabian Embassy."
At that time, Arafat tried to distance himself from all responsibility for the murder of the diplomats in Khartoum and the PLO, just as he tried to distance himself from the massacre of the Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in September 1972, diverting responsibility to the Black September faction. Indeed, despite the fact that the American administration was well aware of the truth, it placed official blame for the murders on the Black September.
THE ADMINISTRATION of US president Richard Nixon was in its final decline in the wake of the Watergate affair. The attack in Khartoum appalled and outraged the world. Eight terrorists had seized the diplomats during a Saudi Arabian embassy function in Khartoum.
On March 2, 1973, the Palestinians murdered US ambassador Cleo Noel and US charg d'affaires George Curtis Moore, along with a Belgian diplomat, Guy Eid.
The secret American report from 1973 that has just been released notes that the murder was carried out only after the terrorists received orders from Fatah headquarters in Beirut: "The open participation of Fatah representatives in Khartoum in the attack provides further evidence of the Fatah/BSO relationship," a relationship that Arafat denied.
"Thirty-four hours later [from the beginning of the attack], upon receipt of orders from Yasser Arafat in Beirut to surrender, the terrorists released their other hostages unharmed [after murdering the three diplomats] and surrendered to Sudanese authorities," states the report.
The release of the American intelligence document officially lifts the veil of secrecy shrouding both one of the most serious moral-legal-diplomatic-historic scandals in Israeli-American relations, on the one hand, and Yasser Arafat and the PLO on the other.
AS A journalist, I immediately learned after the murders in Khartoum in 1973 that Israeli intelligence had succeeded in intercepting radio-telephone transmissions between Yasser Arafat and his Beirut aides and the Palestinian murderers in Khartoum. Naturally, this achievement remained a closely guarded secret - but prime minister Golda Meir ordered that the incriminating intelligence material be passed on to the CIA and Nixon's White House through the proper channels.
Except that the US didn't need Israel's interception of Arafat's telephone and radio transmissions. Its own wiretapping services based in Cyprus received the exact same criminal transmissions between Arafat in Beirut and his hit men in Khartoum.
While the American intelligence report from June 1973 does of course not note the secret sources of the intelligence, but is based only on the essence of those interceptions, the report was able to note that "A key aim of the Khartoum siege was [...] to punish the US," the newly released document points to only the tip of the scandalous iceberg: Despite the fact that the American administration knew and had legal proof of Yasser Arafat's direct involvement in the murder of its own diplomats, they turned a blind eye.
On the contrary, throughout all the years, the Americans exerted pressure on Israel to turn Arafat into a "peace partner."
Thanks to diplomatic cynicism, the Nixon administration was willing to whitewash a person directly responsible for the murder of American diplomats.
AFTER SOME time passed, I was the first to make public the fact that Israel had intercepted the radio transmissions from Arafat in Beirut. When Arafat's suicide bomber offensive continued, Sharon looked for a way to bring about his delegitimization - as he indeed ultimately succeeded when President George W. Bush completely repudiated Arafat in a speech he gave on June 24, 2002.
But many months later, when the State Department was still trying to protect Arafat, I suggested to Sharon that Halevy produce the material incriminating Arafat - the records of the transmissions that Israel had intercepted in 1973.
Sharon told me that he had repeatedly asked Halevy to bring him the material but that Halevy had come back empty handed.
Thankfully, documents don't get lost in Washington, and finally, even if after many years of criminal negligence, the secret papers have been released.
What should be on our minds, however, is how many hundreds or thousands of innocents might still be alive today had the US related to Arafat properly, as the depraved murderer that he was and treated him accordingly, already back in 1973, when it had the proof that it kept hidden from its own citizens. After all, the US, unlike Israel, is a country in which law and order abide.