Special Report: Newly available documents reveal how Ronald Reagan’s neocon aides cleared the way for Israeli arm sales to Iran in 1981, shortly after Iran freed 52 U.S. hostages whose captivity doomed Jimmy Carter’s reelection. The move also planted the seeds of the Iran-Contra scandal, reports Robert Parry.
By Robert Parry
Just six months after Iran freed 52 Americans hostages in 1981, senior Reagan administration officials secretly endorsed third-party weapons sales to Iran, a move to align U.S. policy with Israeli desires to sell arms to the Islamic republic then at war with Iraq, according to documents recently released by the National Archives.
This Israeli arms pipeline to Iran already was functioning at the time of the policy shift on July 21, 1981. Three days earlier, on July 18, an Argentine plane strayed off course and crashed (or was shot down) inside the Soviet Union exposing Israel’s secret arms shipments to Iran, which apparently had been going on for months.
After the plane went down, Assistant Secretary of State for the Middle East Nicholas Veliotes tried to get to the bottom of the mysterious weapons flight. “According to the [flight] documents,” Veliotes said later in an interview with PBS Frontline, “this was chartered by Israel and it was carrying American military equipment to Iran. …
“And it was clear to me after my conversations with people on high that indeed we had agreed that the Israelis could transship to Iran some American-origin military equipment. Now this was not a covert operation in the classic sense, for which probably you could get a legal justification for it. As it stood, I believe it was the initiative of a few people [who] gave the Israelis the go-ahead. The net result was a violation of American law.”
The reason that the Israeli weapons shipments violated U.S. law was that no formal notification had been given to Congress about the transshipment of U.S. military equipment as required by the Arms Export Control Act.
But the Reagan administration was in a bind about notifying Congress and thus the American people about approving arms shipments to Iran so soon after the hostage crisis.