CIA’s new peace role in Mideast
October 23, 1998
Web posted at: 1:30 p.m. EDT (1730 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) — The Central Intelligence Agency will referee security disputes in the new Israeli-Palestinian land-for-peace deal, giving the U.S. spy service an unusually visible role in the Mideast peace process.
The agreement reached Friday calls for CIA overseas operatives to resolve Israeli-Palestinian disputes over the arrest of suspected terrorists, the management of border checkpoints and other security issues, according to sources.
The U.S. plan for CIA involvement was developed over two years of back-channel talks between the parties and CIA Director George Tenet, who met with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and senior Israeli officials during several trips to the Mideast.
CIA’s current involvement
Despite its new role, CIA participation in Mideast peacemaking is not unprecedented:
- The CIA station chief in Israel has sometimes acted as a mediator in disputes between Palestinian and Israeli security services.
- For years, the CIA, with little publicity, has been training Palestinian security forces in espionage techniques and information-gathering against suspected terrorists.
Tenet “and the people who work for him have, for many years, had a role in shadow diplomacy and mediating disagreements,” said James Woolsey, a former CIA director. “What’s new is that they are front and center,” he told CNN.
The problem, Woolsey said, is that if the agreement runs into trouble, the CIA may be accused of favoring one side over another.
“I don’t think the agency would do that. I don’t think George Tenet would do that, but it’s a risk,” he said.
What CIA will do under new deal
Israel complains that suspects involved in serious terrorist incidents are frequently arrested by the Palestinians and jailed for short periods on minor charges, then released.
Under the accord, sources say, Palestinian terrorist suspects wanted in Israel would not be extradited there for trial. Instead, the CIA would make sure the Palestinians held trials and meted out punishment if there was enough evidence to convict.
Palestinians were especially eager for CIA mediation, according to diplomatic officials and Mideast experts familiar with the negotiations.
The Palestinians were concerned that U.S. lawmakers believed Israeli accusations that Arafat’s Palestinian Authority was secretly condoning anti-Israeli terrorism.
In at least one case 17 months ago, the CIA vouched for the Palestinian version of events in a secret briefing for U.S. senators.
A good idea?
Some within the CIA — which usually acts behind the scenes – – are uncomfortable with the plan, because it puts the agency in a highly visible position.
But former CIA official Gene Gately says it’s a role the agency is well suited for.
“Both sides have already come forward to say that they would like this arrangement. We didn’t select it and they like it because they can trust the CIA,” Gately told CNN.
Rand Corp. analyst Graham Fuller, a former senior CIA official who spent 20 years in the Mideast, said there was nothing new about a quasi-diplomatic role for the CIA.
Especially under former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, “the CIA was used as a quieter form of diplomacy between states when the White House did not want to have negotiations fully paraded in public prematurely,” Fuller said.
“And the CIA was directly involved in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations for withdrawal of the Palestine Liberation Organization from Beirut after Israel attacked Lebanon in 1982.”
Critics, however, say the new role would involve CIA agents in policymaking and politics.
The Israeli-Palestinian deal “would require the United States to play advocate, ally and judge all at the same time, a very difficult juggling act for any outside party,” said Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
The answer from U.S. policymakers is: What’s the alternative?
Correspondents Wolf Blitzer, David Ensor and The Associated Press contributed to this report.