On the eve of UN recognition of Palestine, 18 years after the Oslo Accords carried Arafat to the White House and from there to the Nobel Peace Prize, and seven years after his death, the U.S. government now confirms that Arafat was responsible for the 1973 murder of its ambassador and his deputy in Khartoum, Sudan. The two were taken hostage and killed "with the full knowledge and by the personal authorization" of Arafat, according to a study released last month by the U.S. State Department's Office of the Historian, entitled "Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969-1976, Volume XXV, Arab-Israeli Crisis and War, 1973."Here is how the State Department describes the incident in the document:
The incident began on March 1, 1973, when eight members of Black September stormed the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Khartoum during a reception, and captured the Saudi ambassador and four of his guests: American ambassador Cleo Noel, U.S. deputy chief of mission George Curtis Moore, and the Belgian and Jordanian charge d'affaires in Sudan. Black September was a transparent front for Fatah, and Arafat was the commander of both, as well as head of the PLO. When the kidnappers understood that Jordan, Israel and the United States would not be releasing prisoners in exchange for the captives, Fatah headquarters in Beirut ordered them to shoot the two Americans and the Belgian, Guy Eid.
Two months later - and one month after the so-called Spring of Youth raid on Beirut by an elite Israel Defense Forces unit, paratroopers and the Mossad, which killed three senior Palestinian leaders - Foreign Minister Abba Eban visited U.S. President Richard Nixon's National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger.
In the early evening of March 1, eight Black September Organization terrorists seized the Saudi Embassy in Khartoum during a diplomatic reception. The terrorists took U.S. Ambassador Cleo Noel, U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission George C. Moore, the Belgian Charge´, the Saudi Ambassador, and the Jordanian Charge´ hostage. In return for the hostages’ freedom, the terrorists demanded the release of various individuals, mostly Palestinian guerrillas, imprisioned in Jordan, Israel, and the United States. The Khartoum operation was planned and carried out with the full knowledge and personal approval of Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the head of Fatah. When the terrorists became convinced that their demands would not be met and after they reportedly had received orders from Fatah headquarters in Beirut, they killed the two U.S. officials and the Belgian Charge´. Thirty-four hours later, upon receipt of orders from Arafat in Beirut, the terrorists released the other hostages unharmed and surrendered to Sudanese authorities.Already a month after the incident, Secretary of State Rogers showed that the US knew the orders for the murders came from Beirut:
Memorandum From Secretary of State Rogers to President Nixon
Washington, April 11, 1973.
Actions to Encourage Lebanon to Move Against Black September and Other Terrorist Groups
As you know, the Black September Organization’s operation in Khartoum was planned and directed from headquarters which that group has in Lebanon.
Abba Eban and Henry Kissinger spoke in May:
Kissinger: During the Khartoum incident, someone suggested we ask you for help. You would have blown up Beirut.In November, there was an initial backchannel communication between the CIA's Deputy Director of Central Intelligence Walters and PLO leaders in Morocco, including Khalid al Hassan, at the time Arafat's number two man. Even then, there are appearances that the US was willing to downplay the murders of the diplomats in order to strengthen relations with the PLO, although Khalid put out an opaque denial:
Eban: You know that it was from Beirut that the phone call went to finish them off.
Kissinger: We know that.
He then with visible embarrassment asked me whether the U.S. had anything to do with the murder of their leaders in Beirut. I replied quite firmly that we had nothing to do with these murders. I gave him my word of honor as a soldier this was so. I replied that we did not resort to murder because it was morally wrong, dishonorable and did not produce results. Bullets killed only men, not ideas. I said I would ask him no questions about Khartoum but we did not resort to murder. He replied with some embarrassment that in all large groups where there has been much suffering, there are some who undertake violence on their own. I understood him to be telling me that the Khartoum murders were not sanctioned by the Fatah leadership.As Ha'aretz writes, the NSA knew about Arafat's orders to murder the men ahead of time:
At the end of the 1990s, a former navy officer named James Welsh launched a campaign to denounce the intelligence, security and diplomacy establishments' failure to warn about the Khartoum attack. In letters to Congress and interviews with the media, Welsh said that between 1970 and 1974, he had worked in the NSA and secretly monitored the Palestinians' actions.
A day or two before the attack, the NSA recorded conversations about the terror plans, Welsh said, adding that he recognized the voice of Arafat telling his aides, Abu Jihad and Abu Iyad, to carry out the attack. The U.S. State Department was warned immediately, so it could pass on the message to the diplomats in Khartoum.
When he heard about the attack in the media, Welsh was astounded to discover that the person on duty had decided on her own that the warning was not urgent, and thus had delayed disseminating it. It arrived in Khartoum after the murders.
Welsh claimed that when he demanded that the State Department's failure be investigated, his superiors at the NSA told him such a campaign would cost him his security clearance and result in his transfer from Washington's quiet corridors to the rigors of a navy fueling ship. Welsh backed down.
If you think that the information here still allows for the possibility that the State Department believed that Black September was not under the complete control of Yasser Arafat, this State Dept. summary of a June 1973 intelligence memo should dispel all doubt:
The Khartoum operation was planned and carried out with the full knowledge and personal approval of Yasir Arafat, Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and the head of Fatah. Fatah representatives based in Khartoum participated in the attack, using a Fatah vehicle to transport the terrorists to the Saudi Arabian Embassy.
Initially, the main objective of the attack appeared to be to secure the release of Fatah/BSO leader Muhammed Awadh (Abu Da'ud) from Jordanian captivity. Information acquired subsequently reveals that the Fatah/BSO leaders did not expect Awadh to be freed, and indicates that one of the primary goals of the operation was to strike at the United States because of its efforts to achieve a Middle East peace settlement which many Arabs believe would be inimical to Palestinian interests....
The Khartoum operation again demonstrated the ability of the BSO to strike where least expected. The open participation of Fatah representatives in Khartoum in the attack provides further evidence of the Fatah/BSO relationship. The emergence of the United States as a primary fedayeen target indicates a serious threat of further incidents similar to that which occurred in Khartoum.
The picture that emerges is that the US seemed to be willing to overlook the PLO participation in the murders of its diplomats for what it perceived was the greater good of engaging the PLO in the nascent "peace process."
Only a year later, murderer Yasser Arafat was greeted by a standing ovation at the United Nations.
(h/t Yoel for original Ha'aretz article)