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2004-06-22

Seymour Hersh: Israeli Agents Operating in Iraq, Iran and Syria

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Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh reports that Israel warned the US last year it would not be able to bring stability or democracy to Iraq. Now, hundreds of Israeli agents, including members of Mossad, are conducting covert operations in the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq, Iran and Syria.[includes transcript]

As the June 30th so-called transfer of sovereignty in Iraq approaches, resistance to the US occupation continues unabated. Bombings, assassinations, house raids, mass detentions, kidnappings, torture are daily occurrences in Iraq as US forces and Iraqi resistance clash under occupation.

As far back as July 2003, Israel had warned the US would not be able to bring stability or democracy to Iraq. Israel was one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the Iraq invasion. This according investigative reporter Seymour Hersh in this week’s issue of the New Yorker.

Ehud Barak, the former Israeli Prime Minister, reportedly warned Vice-President Dick Cheney that America had lost in Iraq and said the only issue was "choosing the size of your humiliation."

Now, Israel has hundreds of agents, including members of Mossad operating in the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq. In addition Mossad is now conducting covert operations in Kurdish areas of Iran and Syria. One former Israeli intelligence officer told Hersh "It’s Realpolitik. By aligning with the Kurds Israel gains eyes and ears in Iran, Iraq and Syria."

  • Seymour Hersh, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist for the New Yorker.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh joins us on the phone. Welcome to Democracy Now!

SEYMOUR HERSH: Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you tell us in full what you found in yet another one of your ground-breaking pieces today?

SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, it’s simply, as you said, Israel did very much support the war and I’m sure some of the people in the audience know there’s even internal investigations going on now inside Israel into whether there had been falsification of evidence on weapons of mass destruction and some of the falsification had been give ton the United States before the war. Obviously as an Israeli once told me, it’s wonderful to wake up in the morning and see America in the east, you know, in Iraq to the east of Israel. And so for Israel obviously getting the United States into the Middle East was very important. But once we got there, we did it so badly that by last summer, there was a lot of concern. One of the concerns being we were ignoring the fact that Iranian — Iranians were coming across the border and helping the resistance to organize. No Iranian was taking any offensive action against America. They were simply helping their allies who were against us, to organize as I said. And eventually what happened is they moved into the Kurdistan. The Israelis have had long standing ties to the Talibani and Marzani clans Kurdistan and there are many Kurdish Jews that emigrated to Israel and there are still a lot of connection. But at some time before the end of the year, and I’m not clear exactly when, certainly I would say a good six, eight months ago, Israel began to work with some trained Kurdish command does, obstensively the idea was the Israelis — some of the Israeli elite commander units, counter-terror or terror units, depending on your point of view, began training — getting the Kurds up to speed. I think the initial goal was to help the United States fight the insurgency. We were doing very badly. Our special forces were not able to find the opposition, despite all the value our Delta Force and SEALS simply weren’t able to accomplish the mission that we thought they could. That is through interrogation and house-to-house searching, find the people that were running the opposition against us, the growing opposition. I think, of course, there was a lot of miss judgment. One of the big ones being that last fall we concluded there was a finite number of 5,000 people or so who were involved in leading the insurgency. Remember those statistics that were given to us by Abizaid and Sanchez, the American army commanders there. It seems clear now that was a huge mistake that was as a widespread disaffection, probably inspired by our actions as much as anything else. In any case, once there, Israel got into terrific trouble with turkey. Turkey is Israel’s — the whole point of Israel’s survival mechanism is to final non-Arabs and like them, like Kurds. In fact case of turkey, they establish add very good relationship with a largely Islamic country, a very progressive country. And in terms of being Islamic, not fundamentalist. Israel, I think something like 300,000 Israelis vacation every year in turkey. It is a great place to go. Good shopping, etc. And Israel’s jeopardizing that long-standing relationship now. Because the Turks have gone batty about Israeli’s support for Kurdistan simply because that also suggests that the Kurds will do, as they’re threat tong do, go independent. And also move to seek the oil. Therefore, the Kurdish borders are about 40 miles or so from Kirkuk, the large oil field in Northern Iraq. And all of this is very dangerous. It would spark another great conflict up there if Kurdistan goes independent. The Turks would not tolerate. That is not acceptable. There is huge Turkish minorities inside — Kurdish minors inside Turkey, inside Syria, inside Iraq, inside Iran and all those countries would feel very shaky. For example, two million Kurds live in Syria. They would feel very shaky by an independent Kurdistan. It is a destabilizing move by Israel. A move that they see in their good interest. As you said, the Israelis are actually helping to — are involved on the ground, I understand, inside Iran. They’re not inside Syria. But Israeli agents are working to collect intelligence on Iran because Israel sees Iran as its great menace. Not only because of its potential nuclear weaponry, Iran, we don’t know exactly what Iran is doing with nuclear weapons. But also because Iran, as everybody agrees, if there is a winner in this mess in the former Iraq or whatever we want to call it now, it is going to be Iran. They are going to emerge as the strongest country. They have the — they have a large population. They’re going to emerge as the winner politically of the whole mess.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk more about the Iran-Syria-Turkey relationship increasingly close relationships?

SEYMOR HERSH: It’s always been dicey. 10 years ago, Turkey and Syria almost came to war because Turkey, as I said, had I think from about '84 on, for 15 years, at least a dozen years, anyway, there was a huge violent Kurdish insurrection inside turkey, more than 30,000 Muslim and Kurds, but Turkish citizens were killed by the group we now call the P.K.K. or called then the P.K. K., a group led by a name of Abdullah Ocalon. And the Turks were just as brutal in stamping it out in the middle ’90's. They snuffed it out with horrible brutality and great abuses and the leader of what we now call the P.K.K. Went to — went to Syrian a was harbored there by the Syrians and Turkey in the late 1990’s, literally their generals threatened war with Syria and now Syria released the guerilla leader, the insurrection leader, and the Israelis helped track him down and catch him somewhere in Africa. Not Nigeria, but one other countries in Africa, I think Kenya. And the Israelis actually captured the Turkish or helped capture the Turkish insurrection leader, the Kurdish leader which endeared them a little bit to Turkey. That helped improve Israel’s relationship with Turkey. But, boy, by the 1999-2000 turkey and Syria were really staring daggers at each other. There’s always been a natural rivalry between Turkey and Iran. They are both the same size. One is a fundamentalist country now, the other one, obviously Iran, theocracy and here is Turkey very much committed to a very progressive form of Islamic rule. Really if there was a role model for the America to follow in the world, in the Middle East, it would be Turkey instead of trying to recreate a democracy that is impossible to obtain in Iraq anyway. So, there’s always been tension between Turkey and Iran and Turkey and Syria and now because of the Kurdish threat and because of the disaster in Iraq and, you know, obviously everybody there is telling me if you think–"we ain’t seen nothing yet" , wait until July 1. And I quote a German intelligence official, very senior official as saying to me, with almost humor, I guess you could call it, black humor, " You are going to hand over sovereignty, is that what you call it, to the Iraqi new premier, prime minister, etc.? What sovereignty? What are you handing over? There is no miss, there’s no army, there’s no government, there’s no electricity, there’s no water, there’s no mail, there’s no telephone. What exactly are you giving to this government? You know, you don’t have it to hand over!" which is probably as good assessment — you won’t read in newspapers that America you’re going to get. There you are. We’ve driven turkey, Syria, and Iran into each other’s arms. They’re all cooing. We have a looming disaster on our hands in Iraq. We have a new prime minister that I write about that’s very dubious, at best. Mr. Allawi. And once again, I guess you could say we do like to live in a bubble, don’t we?

AMY GOODMAN: Sey Hersh, what is Israel’s role in the covert presence in Iraq?

SEYMORE HERSH: Obviously acquiescence. At the minimum, acquiescence. We certainly didn’t lean on them. There is a high level — i think the chief of staff of the Turkish armed forces, there is a very high level military dell investigation of Turkish military officials in Washington now. They arrived over the weekend I think. They are certainly here now, leading generals, to talk just about this issue. What are we going to do with Israel? I asked add senior C.I.A. Intelligence official about this last week. And his comment, which I think is really pretty accurate, he said really how much control do we have over Israel. They will do what’s in their best interest no matter what we say. This is a complicated one. Because Richard Perle, a Neocon, was really a great champion of the Turkish-Israeli relationship and now that move into Kurdistan is destabilizing that. What the Israelis did, which is remarkable stupid, I think, and I understand has caused enormous problems inside the Israeli government on just the issue of how dumb they are is when the Turks began to raise questions about the obviously growing Israeli presence in Kurdistan, and Kurdistan, Iran has got great intelligence and so does turkey. It is not hard to penetrate. Kurds are, you know, they’re great bargainers and buyers and sellers. And one can easily buy information there. In any case, turkey learned quite a bit earlier this year and asked the Israelis their great buddies about this. And Israel said officially to them that there is nothing there and the people that are there, Israelis are there as private citizens doing their own work. And I can tell you I was an anchor and I did see — I can’t quote him, but it’s clear from my story, very senior people in the government and they are really angry about this. They will not tolerate an independent Kurdistan. They will simply go to war immediately and they won’t even tolerate the idea that the Kurds are getting closers and edging — in their public statements, the Kurds are saying more and more that if things go badly in Iraq, they will consider going independent. So, Israel sort of screwed the pooch with its own ally and then they put themselves in a terrible position with a journalist like me of having to issue these stringent and strong denials, which, between you and me, people in the government acknowledge are just pro forma. They stuck themselves. They said we don’t have anything there. What happened is some of the intelligence people and some of the military people, obviously don’t go into Kurdistan and run operations in Iran with Israeli passports or anything connected to Israel. So, they wash them. We use the word sheep dip for taking in a military person. In America, when you take in a military officer and redress them as a civilian and send them into a war zone, that’s called sheep dipping. Same thing happened with the Israeli Mossad and their military people. They went in undercover.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Seymour Hersh, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Pulitzer prize-winning reporter. His latest piece appears in this week’s edition of the "New Yorker" magazine.

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