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munich black september
One of the Black September aggressors in Munich

The official history of the Middle East, at least the one written on history books or newspapers, is only a part of the story of what actually happened. We usually know who friends and foes are. And the external observers often decides whose side to be on. The truth is that there is also another history that we know very little about because it is part of a dirty game where the lead actors are not willing to speak up. Hidden truths, gray areas, arch-foes – at least officially – that conspire together along the lines of “my enemies enemy is my friend”, at least for as long as is necessary to attain their goals. A game of shadows where intelligence agencies play a key role and will carry their secrets to the grave.

Israel and the Saudis

Recently, a former Mossad official has unveiled part of these intrigues. In the mid 1960s there was a civil war in Yemen that saw the royalists supported by Saudi Arabia and the republicans by Egypt and the Soviet Union. At that time no one could envisage any type of relationship between Tel Aviv and Riyadh. But, as usually happens when two enemies face a common threat, both the Israelis and the Saudis feared Nasser’s nationalism and socialism. Gamal Abdel Nasser was a menace to the survival of the monarchies in the Arabic Peninsula and of Israel, as the 1967 Six Day War that followed showed.

Furthermore, in those days Egypt was a staunch ally of the Soviet Union, while Israel sided with the West. This is why Saudi Arabia contacted the Brits, the MI-6 called Mossad and the Israelis began shipping weapons and equipment to the royalists through an air lift. Weapons that bore no insignia or any other element that could help trace back their origin.

Everyone against Nasser

Another untold story is of when, in September 1958, the heads of the Intelligence Services of Turkey, Iran and Israel agreed to carry out a series of joint operations against Gamal Abdel Nasser and Egypt. A leonine contract supported by the US and that lasted until ayatollah Khomeini chased the Shah out in 1979. A common headquarter was created in the outskirts of Tel Aviv, where officers from each country were deployed and exchanged information on a daily basis monitoring both radical Arab countries and Soviet initiatives in the region. The deal also comprised arming Lebanese Shia factions, helping Jewish communities flee Iraq through Kurdistan and to Israel and contrasting Nasser’s subversive activities.

In 1978 then Iranian PM, Shapour Bakhtiar, went so far as asking Mossad to discuss the possibility of eliminating ayatollah Khomeini, then a refugee in France. The request was not implemented with all the consequences that followed. Including the killing of Bakhtiar himself by Iranian agents in Paris in 1991.

yitzhak rabin
Yitzhak Rabin

Secret Morocco

In the 70s Israel was also holding secret talks with Morocco, trained Hassan II’s bodyguards and provided technologically advanced intelligence equipment in exchange for information on Arab summits. A trip to Rabat by Yitzhak Rabin to meet with the Moroccan king is part of this tangle of secret contacts. Rabin was wearing a blonde wig to avoid being recognized. More encounters followed in Morocco between Mossad and then Anwar Sadat’s Deputy Prime Minister, Hassan Tuhami, who also met with Moshe Dayan, Israeli Foreign Minister at the time, who took his eye patch off for the occasion. These clandestine reunions led to the signature of the Camp David agreement in 1978 and the Israel-Egypt peace treaty in 1979.

Black September

There also more lesser known stories. At the end of the Six Day War in 1967 Jordan lost the West Bank and was flooded with Palestinian refugees. The Hashemite kingdom led by king Hussein was in an uncomfortable demographic position: the Palestinians had outnumbered the local beduin population. The circumstance was suggesting to Yasser Arafat and his fighters that they could create a Palestinian state in Jordan or, instead, use its territory as a rearguard for its well-armed factions. In September 1970, a month that went into history books as the “Black September”, king Hussein and his loyal Arab legion made up of beduin soldiers declared war on the Palestinians. It was a carnage. The Palestinians fled. And who helped them escape?

It’s not on the official history books, but the older fedayn know the story well. Although it may sound unlikely, Israel helped them out. Some may ask: weren’t the Palestinians the arch-enemies of the Israelis? Wasn’t king Hussein favoring their goals by getting rid of their armed factions? Why were the Israelis helping them cross into the West Bank, then Israel and all the way to Lebanon? The answer is pretty tortuous, especially for those who don’t know the history of the Middle East.

At that time – dates are important – Israel needed to safeguard the territorial integrity of Jordan (king Hussein was constantly in touch with Golda Meir even when tensions arose) and, at the same time, destabilize neighboring Lebanon by pushing the Palestinians there. The outcome was the expected outbreak of a bloody sectarian civil war in Beirut only a few years later.

yasser arafat
Abu Ammar / Yasser Arafat

Side-effect Hamas

The rise of Hamas is another one of those dirty games ending with an unexpected outcome. Between 1988 and 1989 Israel’s primary strategy was to weaken the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) led by Yasser Arafat. To reach its goals, Mossad favored the political rise of sheikh Ahmed Yassin in Gaza, whose sermons openly defied Abu Ammar’s leadership. Fatah led the PLO and was a secular group as were other main factions – Democratic Front, Popular Front etc. – who were of marxist inspiration. Only a minor and insignificant group headed by sheikh Taysser Tamimi was clearly Islamist.

So what Israel did was to favor a strong Islamic current in contrast with the PLO’s secularism to try to weaken Arafat’s hegemonic role. What happened after that is that Hamas and Yassin grew so much and became so radical that they turned into Israel’s main threat. Sheikh Yassin was arrested multiple times and was taken out by a targeted air strike in 2004. With its control over Gaza, Hamas is presently much more of a menace to Tel Aviv than Abu Mazen’s Palestinian National Authority in Ramallah. The same thing happened when the US supported and armed Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan to fight against the Russians and then saw him cheering after the Twin Towers were taken down.

However, Hamas and Israel have allegedly recently held a series of secret talks to negotiate a ceasefire. We still don’t know if Qatar played a role and what the terms of the agreement are. No one is confirming the meetings, but a person knowledgeable of Palestinian affairs blew the whistle: Palestinian president Abu Mazen. It seems that the latest intifada in Jerusalem changed the scenario.

The Iranian nuclear threat

Over the past decade Iran has been the target of international sanctions to prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon. But in the 60s and 70s it was Israel, through Shimon Peres, that had offered nuclear technology to the Shah. In those days Iran was facing the Iraqi threat and had they had time to accept the offer there would have been no Geneva talks or deals with the ayatollah’s regime. The deal with the US was brokered after lengthy contacts and secret talks held in Muscat, Oman, while Israel was planning to strike the Iranians. At least three attack plans were approved by two successive Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu.

Over the last few months there has been talk of secret encounters in Amman by non-identified Arab countries and Israel. The Sunni regimes fear Iran’s rise from the ashes after the deal on its nuclear program. Israel also considers Tehran a threat. And a common enemy pushes former foes closer. This could also help explain news of the opening of an Israeli embassy in Abu Dhabi.

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