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Beirut Hostages

Around the time of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon several westerners living in Beirut were kidnapped and held captive by the various warring factions within Lebanon. [*]  In late March 1984, the CIA station head William Buckley (officially listed as a political officer at the U.S. embassy) was abducted at gunpoint after leaving his apartment in West Beirut. He was held for a year and a half, tortured, and finally killed.

Victor Ostrovsky, a Mossad katsa or case officer at the time, writes “He could have been saved.” Though most of the examples of Israel’s antagonism to America described in the other articles in this series go to the highest levels of the Israeli government, in this case the antagonism appears confined to the Mossad. Mr. Ostrovsky elaborates: [**]

The Mossad, through its extensive network of informants, had a good idea of where many of the hostages were being held, and by whom. ...

... A group calling itself the Islamic Jihad ... claimed responsibility for Buckley’s kidnapping. Bill Casey, CIA chief, was so anxious to save Buckley that an expert FBI team specially trained in locating kidnap victims was dispatched to Beirut to find him. But after a month, they’d come up with nothing. ...

It didn’t take the CIA long to turn to the Mossad for help. Shortly after Buckley’s kidnapping, the CIA liaison officer in Tel Aviv asked the Mossad for as much information as it could get about Buckley and some of the other hostages.

About 11:30 one morning an intercom announcement at headquarters asked all personnel to stay off the main floor and the elevator for the next hour because there were guests. Two CIA officials were escorted in and taken to Admony’s ninth-floor office. The Mossad head told them he would give them everything the Mossad had ... .
Following Admony’s instructions, the CIA asked Shimon Peres, Israel’s prime minister, to allow this. The prime minister told Admony to give the Americans everything that would help with the hostage situation. Mr. Ostrovsky hints that Peres motivation was to prevent what happened to President Carter from happening to President Reagan, who was (we observe) for the most part strongly pro-Israel.
Two CIA officials were called in to meet with the Saifanim (“goldfish”) department, the PLO specialists. The meeting took place at Midrasha, or the Academy. Since Israel considers the PLO its main enemy, the Mossad often calculates that if something can be blamed on the PLO, it has done its job. So they set about attempting to blame the PLO for the kidnappings, even with the knowledge that many of them, including Buckley’s, had no PLO connection.

Still, hoping to look as if they were cooperating fully, the Saifanim men plastered maps all over a boardroom wall and offered the Americans a considerable amount of data regarding general locations of hostages ... . The Mossad left out many of the details they had garnered from their sources, but told the Americans that from the general picture, they could decide if it was worth going further into the specifics. ...

At the end of the meeting, a full report was sent to Admony. For their part, the Americans went back and discussed it with their officials. Two days later, they returned, seeking more specific information on one answer given them in the original briefing. The CIA thought this might prove to be diamond in the rough, but they wanted to verify the specifics. They asked to speak to the source.

“Forget it,” the Mossad man said. “Nobody talks to sources.”

“Okay,” the CIA man said. “... How about letting us talk to the case officer?”

... [Mr. Ostrovsky describes how this could easily have been accomplished without exposing the case officer.] But the Mossad had no intention of being that helpful. ... the Saifanim officials said they’d have to check it with the head of the Mossad.
... the answer was no. The CIA could not see a katsa. Furthermore, they told the Americans that the information they’d been given was outdated and related to a completely different case, so it had nothing to do with the Buckley case. That wasn’t true, but they further embellished their story by asking the Americans to disregard that information in order to save the lives of other hostages. They even promised to double their efforts to help the Americans in return.

Many people in the office said the Mossad were going to regret it someday. But the majority were happy. The attitude was, “Hey, we showed them. We’re not going to be kicked around by the Americans. ...”

ARI says:  “Israel is our ally in the Middle East.”

This is our ally?

*  Some of these kidnappings were performed by surrogate groups at the behest of Iran after several Iranians had been victims. In mid 1982 three Iranian diplomats, the Iran charge d’affaires, and a Lebanese translator were kidnapped and later killed. Their bodies were found buried in a Christian Lebanese forces parking lot in Beirut. Presumably the Christian Lebanese forces were responsible. According to former CIA agent Robert Baer in a PBS Frontline interview:
“The way it went down is, the Iranians assumed, since the Lebanese Christian forces were our allies and the allies of Israel ... we [the U.S.] had to be responsible for those kidnappings and the murders later. ... Even though we knew nothing about it ... for the Iranians, it was a key event which for them broke the contract.”
www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/tehran/interviews/baer.html  (March 22, 2002)

**  See Chapter 17 of  By Way of Deception  by Victor Ostrovsky (with Claire Hoy).