Nimrodi Reveals Iranians Offered Israel Soviet Tank
TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) _ An Israeli businessman who arranged the initial 1985 U.S. arms sales to Iran said Friday an Iranian mediator offered Israel a Soviet T-72 tank as partial payment for a full ship load of Israeli-made arms.
Yaakov Nimrodi said the May 1985 operation involved delivery of $50 million worth of mortars, 155mm cannons, aerial bombs and ammunition. In the ship bringing the arms, the Iranians were supposed to send the tank - one of three captured from Iraq, Nimrodi said.
He said the deal fell through at the last minute when the Iranians changed their minds and instead demanded 500 U.S.-made TOW anti-tank missiles.
Israel has not yet handled the sophisticated T-72 with its state-of-the-art technology and increased fire power. The tank could have great intelligence value to Israel and possibly also to its ally, the United States.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Nimrodi bitterly attacked the ″amateurs and charlatans″ who took over the secret arms dealings with Iran in 1986, both in Israel and the United States.
In Washington, a new Senate report issued Thursday portrays a U.S.-Iranian arms deal largely plotted by foreign weapons merchants, encouraged by Israel and kept alive by White House aide Lt. Col. Oliver North’s zealous support for Nicaragua’s Contra rebels and by President Reagan’s concern for U.S. hostages in Lebanon.
Washington hoped Iran might help win the hostages’ release.
A major aspect of the controversy has been diversion of profits to Contras.
Nimrodi insisted his role in the weapons dealings was only to help Israel and the West establish links with Iranian pragmatists wishing to overthrow the fundamentalist regime of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
The Iraqi-born Nimrodi spoke at his home in suburban Tel Aviv, a $2.5 million mansion modeled after the White House.
Nimrodi speaks Farsi, the Iranian language. He was station chief of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency in Iran for 14 years and subsequently Israel’s military attache there until the fall of the Shah in 1979.
Surrounded by antique swords and clay vases, mementos of his years in Iran, the 60-year-old Nimrodi pounded on the desk as he said, ″Anyone who can prove I made a cent out of this will get $1 million from me.″
″On the contrary, I lost money.″
Other sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, have told the AP Nimrodi lost as much as $800,000.
He said when Iran changed its mind about the Israeli weapons, ″We had already chartered a boat and the weapons were ready to be loaded in the (Red Sea) port of Eilat.″
Nimrodi said the idea of selling Iran weapons was first broached to him by his friend and business associate, Adnan Khashoggi, a Saudi Arabian.
He said Shimon Peres, then Israeli’s prime minister and now foreign minister, preferred to sell Iranians food supplies they badly needed.
To help persuade Israeli officials, Nimrodi arranged for Iranian businessman Manucher Ghorbanifar to come to Israel on a Greek passport and stay for a week at Nimrodi’s home. Ghorbanifar claims to have close ties to Iranian Prime Minister Hussein Musavi.
Israeli officials gave the go-ahead to sell weapons after questioning Ghorbanifar, Nimrodi said.
He said when the deal collapsed, Nimrodi and his associate Al Schwimmer suggested that Israel accede to Iran’s request for 500 TOWs. Peres insisted on obtaining U.S. approval, he added.
Nimrodi said in seeking to persuade Washington there was a chance of renewing ties with Khomeini’s Iran, the Israelis presented Robert McFarlane, then national security adviser, with a list of so-called moderates in Iran who could be approached.
He said the list was given to Israelis by Khashoggi and Ayatollah Mehdi Karroubi, deputy head of Iran’s Parliament, and contained names of pragmatists ″who wanted to act before it was too late, before their country fell into the hands of the Communists.″
Other sources, who demanded anonymity, told the AP 90 names were included, including Parliament Speaker Hashemi Rafsanjani and Ahmed Khomeini, son of the ayatollah.
Nimrodi said the United States gave Peres and his emissaries permission to sell TOWs, and Nimrodi and Schwimmer chartered a plane and hired a crew. The daily Maariv said Friday the Colombian-born pilot and his crew were hired in Miami and were experienced in shipping arms to South America.
Israel sent Tehran 500 TOWs in two planes - one in August 1985 and the other a month later - and asked Iran for $5 million.
U.S. accounts put the number of TOWs at 508.
Nimrodi said he gave $3 million of the money to Israel’s Defense Ministry to pay the Americans. The rest covered expenses and paid Ghorbanifar a $600,000 broker’s fee, with $1 million deposited into a U.S. bank account in Switzerland.
Nimrodi said the United States was to use the money to charter planes to fly U.S.-made Hawk ground-to-air missiles from U.S. stores in Portugal to Iran. He said Iran demanded missiles for release of all U.S. hostages in Lebanon.
Maariv said this account was later used for deposits of Iranian money for U.S. arms shipments in 1986 and may have been used to funnel funds to the Contras.
″Nonsense. Contras? Shmontras. I never heard the name until this whole story came out,″ Nimrodi said.
He said Peres asked him and Schwimmer to bow out in December 1985. ″It pains me greatly. Had we stayed on, all the hostages would have been freed by now,″ he said.
Nimrodi said he was proud of his role and would gladly cooperate with any U.S. inquiry if asked to do so by the Israeli government.