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August 20: Israel Sells Weapons to Iran

Lawrence Bush
August 19, 2016

Israel delivered 100 American-made anti-tank TOW missiles to Iran on this date in 1985, in a transaction that would become part of Irangate, also known as Iran-Contra, a scandal caused by the Reagan Administration's attempt to get around a Congressional ban on weapons sales to the Nicaraguan contras, who were attempting to disrupt or overthrow the revolutionary government of Nicaragua. The scandal began as an operation to free seven American hostages held in Lebanon by Hezbollah, which has strong ties to Iran. Considered by the U.S. government to be a state sponsor of terrorism, Iran was desperate for weapons suppliers to sustain it during its war of attrition with Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Israel claimed that the arms would strengthen a moderate Iranian faction within the Khomeini regime and improve American-Iranian relations. Israel's participation was approved by Prime Minister Shimon Peres. Several more shipments of up to 500 TOW missiles, as well as other weaponry, soon followed. It was Oliver North, a rightwing military aide to the U.S. National Security Council, who spearheaded the plan to cut Israel out of the sales and divert the portion of the monies saved to the contras. In the end, fourteen Administration officials were indicted (including Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger), eleven of whom were convicted. Of these, all either had their convictions reversed on appeal or were pardoned by George H.W. Bush in the final days of his presidency.

"Though Israel, along with the United States, suffered a grievous loss with the fall of the shah, its leaders concluded that lasting geo-political interests would eventually triumph over religious ideology and produce an accommodation between Tel Aviv and Tehran. The onset of the Iran-Iraq war in 1980 gave Israeli leaders a special incentive to keep their door open to the Islamic rulers in Iran: the two non-Arab countries now shared a common Arab enemy. As Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon told the Washington Post in May 1982, justifying Israeli arms sales to Tehran, 'Iraq is Israel's enemy and we hope that diplomatic relations between us and Iran will be renewed as in the past.' Four months later he told a Paris press conference, "Israel has a vital interest in the continuing of the war in the Persian Gulf, and in Iran's victory." Such views were not Sharon's alone." --Johnathan Marshall, Peter Dale Scott, Jane Hunter, The Iran Contra Connection

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.