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The Attempted Assassination of a U.S. Ambassador

The following is adapted from the article “US Envoy Writes of Israeli Threats” by Barbara Crossette which appeared in The Nation magazine, April 13, 2009. The original title is misleading, the subject of the article was an act not a threat, in motivation reminiscent of the Count Bernadotte affair. [*]  And as with many other Israeli crimes the U.S. government tried to cover it up.

Ms. Crossette’s text has been silently abridged and copyedited for clarity, but not her quotes. [**]

In his forthcoming memoir John Gunther Dean, former U.S. ambassador, says that over the years he not only came under pressure from pro-Israeli groups and officials in Washington but also was the target of an Israeli-inspired assassination attempt in 1980 in Lebanon.

Dean’s suspicions that Israeli agents may have been involved in the mysterious plane crash in 1988 that killed Pakistan’s president, General Mohammed Zia ul Haq, led to a decision in Washington to declare him mentally unfit, forcing his resignation from the foreign service after a thirty-year career.

After he left public service, he was “rehabilitated” by the State Department, given a distinguished service medal and eventually encouraged to write his memoirs. Now 82, Dean says the subsequent positive attention he has received is proof that the insanity charge – which he calls Stalinist – was phony, a supposition later confirmed by a former head of the department’s medical service.

Dean was American ambassador in Lebanon in August 1980 when a three-car convoy carrying him and his family was attacked near Beirut.

“I was the target of an assassination attempt by terrorists using automatic rifles and anti-tank weapons that had been made in the United States and shipped to Israel,” he writes. “Weapons financed and given by the United States to Israel were used in an attempt to kill an American diplomat!” After the event, theories abounded in the Middle East about who could have planned the attack, and why. Lebanon was a dangerously factionalized country.

The State Department investigated, Dean said, but he was never told what the conclusion was. He “worked the telephone for three weeks” and met only official silence in Washington. By then Dean had learned from weapons experts in the United States and Lebanon that the guns and ammunition used in the attack had been given by Israelis to a Christian militia allied with them.

Dean describes how he had been under sharp criticism from Israeli politicians and media for his contacts with Palestinians. “I know as surely as I know anything that Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, was somehow involved in the attack. ... Undoubtedly using a proxy, our ally Israel had tried to kill me.”

Dean’s memoir is entitled Danger Zones: A Diplomat’s Fight for America’s Interests.  Its underlying theme is that American diplomacy should be pursued in American interests, not those of another country, however friendly. A Jew whose family fled the Holocaust, Dean resented what he saw as an assumption, including by some in Congress, that he would promote Israel’s interests in his ambassadorial work.

Dean began his long diplomatic career opening American missions in newly independent West African nations in the early 1960s, served later in Vietnam and was ambassador in Cambodia, Denmark, Lebanon, Thailand and India.

He was sometimes a disputatious diplomat not afraid to contradict superiors, and he often took – and still holds – contrarian views. In the midst of the Soviet endgame in Afghanistan he fell afoul of the State Department for the last time. After the death of General Zia in August 1988, in a plane crash that also killed the American ambassador in Pakistan, Arnold Raphel, Dean was told in New Delhi by high-ranking officials that Mossad was a possible instigator of the accident, in which the plane’s pilot and co-pilot were apparently disabled or otherwise lost control. There was also some suspicion that elements of India’s Research and Analysis Wing, its equivalent of the CIA, may have played a part. India and Israel were alarmed by Pakistan’s work on a nuclear weapon – the “Islamic bomb.”

Dean was so concerned about these reports, and the attempt by the State Department to block a full FBI investigation of the crash in Pakistan, that he decided to return to Washington for direct consultations. Instead of the meetings he was promised, he was told his service in India was over. He was sent into virtual house arrest in Switzerland at a home belonging to the family of his French wife, Martine Duphenieux. Six weeks later, he was allowed to return to New Delhi to pack his belongings and return to Washington, where he resigned.

Then suddenly his health record was cleared and his security clearance restored. He was presented with the Distinguished Service Award and received a warm letter of praise from Secretary of State George Shultz. “Years later,” he writes in his memoir, “I learned who had ordered the bogus diagnosis of mental incapacity against me. It was the same man who had so effusively praised me once I was gone – George Shultz.”

The Ayn Rand Institute says:  “Israel is our ally in the Middle East.”

This is our ally?

*  See footnote four of  The Attempted Assassination of President Truman  in this series.

**  Offered here for educational purposes only, under U.S.C. Title 17 Section 107.