by Joseph Sobran
Yes, says Victor Ostrovsky, a former Israeli secret agent. In his book, By Way of Deception: (Published 1990) A Devastating Insider’s Portrait of the Mossad, Mr. Ostrovsky says the Israelis had advance notice of the suicide attack that killed 241 Marines in Beirut in October 1983 but withheld the information from the United States in the hope that the attack would poison American Arab relations.
The Israeli government is desperately trying to block publication of the book, which also says the Israelis are « actively spying, recruiting, organizing and carrying out covert activities mainly in New York and Washington, which they refer to as their playground. »
Although it can hardly succeed and will probably back fire, the censorship attempt enjoyed initial success in both the U.S. and Canada. Obliging courts in both countries have ordered that the book be at least temporarily suppressed When it comes to Israel, freedom of speech and of the press is considerably less than total, even in America.
Mr. Ostrovsky says Israeli agents heard he had written the book and tried to bribe and threaten him to dissuade him from going into print. He is now in hiding.
More than 17,000 copies of By Way of Deception are in print, and many reviewers have already received copies. If the book divulges sensitive information, as the Israelis’ lawyers say, it’s too late to stop other governments from getting it. The only purpose of the censorship is to stop Americans from reading Mr. Ostrovsky’s account of how Israel allowed U.S. Marines to be slaughtered
Books are rarely suppressed in America (at least not by direct government intervention), and by the time you read this, By Way of Deception will almost certainly be unshackled. Then the Israelis will have to either discredit the author or argue, as they did in the case of the spy Jonathan Pollard, that the decision to let the Marines be killed was a « rogue » action.
Mr. Ostrovsky’s allegations should be shocking. Letting the troops of a benefactor nation be blown up in their own compound is hardly the act of a « reliable ally, » as Israel is said to be.
But you have to wonder whether anyone will really be shocked. The act would be consistent with a long pattern of reprehensible Israeli behavior toward the U.S. Some of it has been widely publicized; no doubt the largest part of it has never been discovered.
If anyone ought to be stunned, it’s the many pundits who echo Israeli propaganda to the effect that Israel is America’s only valuable and trustworthy ally in the Middle East. If they mean what they say, they should be publicly changing their minds, or at least demanding a thorough investigation into Israeli conduct toward this country.
Congress ought to be shocked, too, to the extent that its all-out support for Israel has been sincere rather than venal and cowardly. But how many of our elected representatives will dare, or care, to ask tough questions about whether our ties to Israel have done serious damage to this country’s interests?
Such questions are not only long overdue, they are especially urgent right now, when the United States may be on the verge of a full-scale war in the Middle East, and the Israel lobby is eager to see America launch hostilities against Israel’s chief enemy, Iraq.
The path of least resistance is to say nothing, to go on pretending that the interests of the U.S. and of Israel are virtually identical, to keep repeating that Israel is our « reliable ally » and « strategic asset. » Any politician or journalist who says otherwise, even for the good of America, does so at risk to his career. That’s why there is so little open debate on these matters. Even our press isn’t fully free.
And now the Israeli government has mounted a direct attack on press freedom in America itself. It will be instructive to see whether the press corps goes on acting unshocked.
Joseph Sobran is a nationally syndicated columnist who now maintains a Website at http://www.sobran.com.