New evidence showing that Yasser Arafat ordered the assassination of two U.S. diplomats in 1973 may require the Bush administration to issue a warrant for his arrest.
Late in May, 53-year-old Sarah
Blaustein, a Long Island, N.Y., native who moved to Israel last year
with her husband, was killed by Palestinian terrorists while driving
to attend a funeral in Jerusalem. She was the 18th American victim of
Palestinian terrorists in Israel since Palestinian leader Yasser
Arafat stood on the White House lawn with former president Bill
Clinton and Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in September 1993
and signed the Oslo peace accords.
A Palestinian spokesman, Saeb Erekat, implicitly accepted responsibility for the drive-by shooting, telling CNN that cease-fires only can be forged between armies. ìWe are not an army,î he said pointedly.
Also wounded in the attack were Blausteinís husband, Norman, 52, and her son Samuel Berg, 28, who was visiting Israel from New York.
Every year since Arafat set up shop in Gaza in 1994, there have been moves in the U.S. Congress to cut off aid to his Palestinian Authority (PA), which runs several hundred millions of dollars each year. But an end to his U.S. subsidy soon could become the least of Arafatís worries. New evidence establishing that Arafat personally ordered the assassination of two U.S. diplomats in Khartoum, Sudan, in 1973 could lead Attorney General John Ashcroft to issue an arrest warrant for Arafat, effectively barring the Palestinian leader from any future role in Middle East peace negotiations.
The evidence includes highly classified intercepts of Arafatís verbal orders to the killers and has been suppressed for years by the State Department and by political appointees at the National Security Agency (NSA). It finally is coming to light, thanks to the efforts of a former NSA employee, James J. Welsh, who has been shaking heaven and earth the last six months, trying to get official Washington to pay attention to Arafatís trail of infamy.
During his six years as a U.S. senator, Ashcroft was one of Arafatís fiercest critics. In June 1999, he successfully introduced legislation requiring the State Department to compile a report every six months on U.S. citizens killed by Palestinian terrorists. The latest report, released in April, carefully skirts involvement by members of Arafatís security forces in anti-U.S. terrorist attacks.
But the trap was laid. ìThe United States government attaches a high priority to ensuring that the perpetrators of these terrorist acts are brought to justice,î the report states.
What if the perpetrator is named Yasser Arafat and the evidence of his crimes includes recordings and transcripts of him giving direct orders to the killers who murdered U.S. diplomats in cold blood? As a pro-Israeli lobbyist tells Insight, ìThere is no statute of limitations for murder.î Therefore, should the new evidence come to light, by law the Department of Justice must issue a warrant for Arafatís arrest on charges of murder.
In 1973 Welsh was a 27-year-old NSA employee at Fort Meade, Md., whose job was to analyze military communications of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) for potential threats to the United States and to U.S. allies. On Feb. 28 of that year he received a call from a colleague in Cyprus, Mike Hargreaves, alerting him to a highly unusual radio message intercepted between Beirut and Khartoum. The NSA code-named these intercepts FEDAYEEN.
ìArafat and his top deputy, Salah Khalaf, were giving orders over their shortwave network to a team of PLO operatives who had just arrived in Khartoum,î Welsh recalls. ìFrom the transcript, it was clear that everyone was armed and ready to go. We didnít know what the target was, but it was clear that a major operation was in the works. This was not just a bunch of hand-grenade throwers. These were the big guys.î
At first, Welsh thought Arafat and his Fatah organization were planning an attack on Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, who was scheduled to arrive in Khartoum later that day for talks with Sudanese President Muhammad Gaafar al-Nimeiry. Welsh pressed his superiors to send an unusual FLASH message ó the highest priority ó to the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, warning of imminent danger.
Welsh went home that Wednesday night thinking he had helped avert a disaster. Just six months earlier, he knew, a similar tip-off had been ignored just hours before Palestinian terrorists burst onto the world scene in Munich, where they seized a dormitory at the Olympic Village and murdered 11 Israeli athletes in cold blood. ìWe felt tremendous satisfaction over the job that we had done,î Welsh recalls. ìWe went to bed thinking: ëAt least our embassy personnel will be safe.íî
Early the next morning, Welsh received a call at home telling him to turn on the television. A Fatah commando had just stormed the Saudi Embassy in Khartoum during a diplomatic reception and taken U.S. Ambassador Cleo Noel and ChargÈ díAffaires George Curtis Moore hostage, along with other diplomats.
Welsh rushed back to Fort Meade, where his NSA office was in an uproar. ìWe were shocked,î Welsh recalls. ìHow could the ambassador have gone to the Saudi Embassy reception if he had gotten our warning?î As Welsh learned later, the warning had been downgraded by Juanita Moody, a NSA liaison officer, after a State Department desk officer complained that it had come from ìa couple of enlisted guys.î (Both Welsh and Hargreaves, who worked the radios in Cyprus, had been detailed to NSA from the U.S. Navy). The downgraded cable didnít arrive for another 48 hours.
During those next two days, FEDAYEEN intercepts from PLO shortwave radios began pouring in from the Cyprus listening post, this time with clear orders from Arafat and his deputy, Salah Khalaf (Abu Iyad), who were directing the hostage-taking from their headquarters in Beirut.
Arafat used a Racal Single-Side Band radio tuned to 7150 kHz to communicate directly with his top deputy Khalil Wazir (Abu Jihad), who had been dispatched to Khartoum from Beirut to carry out the kidnapping. Wazir, in turn, relayed the orders by telephone to the terrorist commandos holed up inside the Saudi Embassy. Details of the operation and the communications scheme penetrated by NSA were reported in a previously secret postmortem account that was commissioned by the Rand Corp. in 1975.
The PLO operation was code-named ìCold River,î after a Palestinian refugee and training camp, Nahr al-Barad, that Israeli fighter jets had attacked 11 days earlier. At one point, the Palestinian commando was ordered to demand release of Sirhan Sirhan, the Palestinian who assassinated Sen. Robert Kennedy. When then-president Richard Nixon refused to negotiate, Arafatís deputy in Beirut, Abu Iyad, gave the order to execute the hostages: ìRemember Nahr al-Barad. The peopleís blood in Nahr al-Barad is screaming for revenge. These are our final orders. We and the world are watching you.î
The transcript of Abu Iyadís call to the PLO office in Khartoum shows that it took place at around 8 p.m. local time on March 2, 1973. But when the international news media still hadnít reported the execution of the American diplomats one hour later, Arafat himself came on the radio and reiterated the command to execute the American diplomats.
In one of the last FEDAYEEN intercepts that day, Arafat praised his gunmen for pumping 40 bullets into U.S. diplomats Noel and Moore and a Belgian colleague. ìYour mission is ended,î he told his men. ìRelease Saudi and Jordanian diplomats. Submit in courage to Sudanese authorities to explain your just cause to [the] great Sudanese Arab masses and international opinion. We are with you on the same road.î
The Rand report, which relied on the still-classified intercepts, states categorically: ìThe order to kill three of the hostages came from Beirut. Ö The barrage of messages which they received from Beirut Ö strongly suggests that the operation was being tightly controlled from Beirut, presumably by Khalaf and Arafat.î
Welsh believes that recordings of those intercepts still exist ó either the U.S. originals or contemporaneous copies made by Israeli- or British-intelligence listening posts in the region. Wall Street Journal editorial writer Robert Pollock says that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon confirmed to him recently that Israel gave the U.S. government copies of its own intercept of Arafatís order to murder the Americans.
ìSeveral authorities on signals intelligence have given the opinion that this message, coming at the height of a hostage crisis that had been under way for 25 hours, and broadcast over open radio waves in a voice transmission, could not realistically have escaped interception and recording by the intelligence-gathering facilities of the United States and other countries,î the Rand report states. ìOne authority said, ëIt would be impossible not to have intercepted it.í Another offered the observation that, ëIf the U.S. didnít catch it, hundreds of people should have been fired.íî
But through the years the State Department and the NSA have sought to downplay the incident, especially in the wake of the October 1973 Arab-Israeli war, when Arafat and the PLO publicly embraced an end to international terrorism.
In 1986, 47 U.S. senators signed a letter to then-attorney general Edwin Meese demanding that the Justice Department indict Arafat for murder. One of the signatories was Tennessee Democrat Al Gore Jr. As vice president ó and during last yearís presidential campaign ó Gore championed Arafat as Americaís ìpartnerî for Middle East peace. But in the 1986 letter, Gore excoriated the Reagan administration for making excuses for Arafat.
ìThese allegations, if substantiated, leave little doubt that a warrant for Arafatís arrest should be issued, and a criminal indictment filed against him,î the Senate letter concluded. ìTo allow other factors to enter into this decision is to make a mockery of our laws and our stated commitment to eradicate terrorism.î
The Monday after Noel and Moore were murdered on Arafatís orders, the NSA director, Lt. Gen. Samuel C. Philips, drove over to the State Department carrying a special folder with Welshís warning. ìWhen he returned, we were told, ëItís over,íî Welsh recalls. ìI was 27 years old and got angry. I threatened to go to Congress to tell them that our warning had been discarded and was now being covered up. I was told in no uncertain terms by my superior that if I didnít shut up Iíd have my clearances pulled and be sent out on a fleet oiler within 48 hours.î A year later, after eight years in the Navy, Welsh left the NSA and resigned.
Twenty-eight years later, Welsh finally is going to Congress asking for an investigation. Former intelligence analysts consulted by Insight believe Welsh is right, and that transcripts of Arafatís orders to kill the U.S. diplomats were sent to CIA stations in Beirut, Cyprus, Paris and Khartoum and still exist. If so, they could be entered into evidence before a court of law as Exhibit A in U.S. v. Arafat.
Arafatís American Victims Since September 1993
For Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), Yasser Arafat is an ìevil, terrorist dictator, whose Palestinian Authority [PA] should be placed on the list of international terrorist organizations.î
For many years, Klein and the ZOA have been tracking American victims of Palestinian terrorism. Since September 1993, when Arafat signed the Oslo peace accords on the White House lawn with President Clinton, 18 Americans have been killed by Palestinian terrorists in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.
Until late last year, Arafatís PA made a show of occasionally arresting some of these killers. But in a Nov. 6, 2000, interview on Palestinian television, Arafatís police chief, Ghazi Jabali, boasted that ìnot even oneî of these known terrorists still was in a PA jail. All had been released as violence between the two sides escalated and peace talks broke down.
The American victims of Palestinian terror:
Sarah Blaustein, 53, from Lawrence, N.Y., killed by Palestinian gunmen in a drive-by shooting near Efrat, May 29, 2001.
Jacob ìKobyî Mandell, 13, of Silver Spring, Md., one of two teen-agers murdered by Palestinian gunmen in Tekoah, south of Jerusalem, May 9, 2001.
Binyamin Kahane, of New York City, and his wife, Talia Hertzlich Kahane, murdered in a drive-by shooting near Ofra, Dec. 31, 2000. Five of their children, all U.S. citizens, were wounded in the attack. The Israeli police announced they had captured three members of Arafatís Force 17 ìpresidential guardî who confessed to the killings.
Esh-Kodesh Gilmore, 25, murdered in Jerusalem on Oct. 30, 2000, by terrorists allegedly from the same Force 17 unit that murdered the Kahanes.
Dov Dribben, 28, a father of four from New York City, murdered by Palestinians near the town of Maon, April 19, 1998.
Rabbi Hilel Lieberman, 36, a father of seven from New York City, murdered while trying to rescue Torah scrolls from the Tomb of Joseph, a Jewish holy site near Nablus, as it was being destroyed by a Palestinian mob on Oct. 8, 2000.
Yael Botwin, 14, from Claremont, Calif., one of four people killed in the Sept. 4, 1997, Hamas bombing on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem.
Leah Stern, an elderly woman from Passaic, N.J., one of 15 people killed in the Hamas bombing of the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, July 30, 1997.
Yaron Ungar, 25, killed in a drive-by shooting near Beit Shemesh, June 9, 1996. His wife, Efrat, also was killed in the attack. They left behind a toddler and an infant, ages 2 and 7 months.
David Boim, 17, from New York City, killed in a drive-by shooting near Beit El, May 13, 1996.
Sara Duker, 22, of Teaneck, N.J., killed along with her fiance, Matthew Eisenfeld, 25, and Ira Weinstein of New York, in the Hamas bombing of a Jerusalem bus, Feb. 25, 1996.
Joan Davenny, 46, one of three people killed in the Aug. 21, 1995, Hamas bus bombing in Jerusalem. Davenny was a teacher at the Ezra Academy in New Haven, Conn.
Alia Flatow, 19, a New Jersey resident who was one of 7 people killed in an April 9, 1995, bus bombing in Kfar Darom, Gaza, carried out by Islamic Jihad.
Nachshon Wachsman, a dual-national serving in the Israeli army who was kidnapped and subsequently murdered Oct. 9, 1994. The mastermind of this killing, Mohammad Dief, was placed in ìpreventive detentionî by the PA to protect him from the Israeli Shin Beit and subsequently released.
Yitzhak Weinstock, 19, a student form Los Angeles, murdered by Hamas guerrillas in a drive-by shooting near El Bireh, north of Jerusalem, Dec. 1, 1993.