US Covert Operations in the Middle East

US Journalist Tom Engelhardt asks why the media has not picked up on the key claim in Seymour Hersh’s recent article The Redirection:

To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush
Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in
the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Administration has coöperated with
Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations
that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is
backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations
aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has
been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant
vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda. (New Yorker)

According to Hersh, these off-the-books operations are being run by a group of veterans of the 1980s Iran-Contra scandal. So Engelhardt wants to know why the response to these explosive allegations has been so muted.   

As far as I can tell, no one in the mainstream even blinked on the
Iran-Contra angle or the possibility that a vast, secret Middle Eastern
operation is being run, possibly illegally and based on stolen funds
and Saudi money, out of the Vice President’s office. You can certainly
find a few pieces
on, or reports about, "The Redirection" — all focused only on the
possible build-up to a war with Iran — and the odd wire-service mention of it; but nothing major (TomDispatch.Com)

One of Hersh’s sources, former MI6 agent Alistair Crooke has co-authored an Asia Times article alleging that US Deputy National Security Advisor Elliot Abrams was behind a covert operation to oust Hamas from power in the Palestinian Authority.

The Abrams program was initially conceived last February by a group of White House officials who wanted to shape a coherent and tough response to the Hamas electoral victory of January. These officials, the authors were told, were led by Abrams, but included national security advisers working in the office of the vice president, including prominent neo-conservatives David Wurmser and John Hannah. The policy was approved by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. (Asia Times)

Both the Hersh and Crooke/Perry articles attribute recently launched covert operations in the Middle East ot what looks like the same set of people – Elliot Abrams, who is singled out by Crooke/Perry, is also described as key player by Hersh.

However, there are perplexing differences between the two articles. Crooke/Perry point to a coup attempt against Hamas in the face of opposition from Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni regimes. Whereas Hersh’s piece suggests an attempt in alliance with the Saudis to co-opt Hamas away from links to Iran.

It’s not clear how these two accounts can be reconciled. Possibly the emergence of the latter policy is a reflection of the failure of the former.

Both articles are suggestive of the kind of policy differences within the intelligence community that I discussed in the PC Spooks series of posts last year.

Some of the methods used in US covert operations are discussed in my ongoing series of posts US Covert Action in Britain Today. The Roy Godson book which I discuss there covers methods I have not discussed in a British context, such as parmilitary operations and assasination, but that would be relevant in the Middle East.

Godson’s book, Dirty Tricks or Trump Cards, is partly a meditation on the Iran-Contra Affair. If one takes the criteria in the book at face value, then some of the operations described by Hersh, Crooke and Perry, look very much like a repeat of Iran-Contra’s mistakes.

With policy unclear both inside and outside the Government, covert action rather than being a useful instrument of policy, became itself the subject of public controversy. Eventually the Congress cut off funds to the Contras and the White House resorted to irregular maneuvers to fund them – a strategy that ended in the so-called Iran-Contra scandal of the mid-1980s. (Dirty Tricks or Trump Cards)

Iran-Contra was the subject of an informal “lessons learned” discussion
two years ago among veterans of the scandal. Abrams led the discussion.
One conclusion was that even though the program was eventually exposed,
it had been possible to execute it without telling Congress. (New Yorker







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