By Ion Mihai Pacepa, Wall Street Opinion JournalSeptember 27, 2003.
The Israeli government has vowed to expel Yasser Arafat, calling him an "obstacle" to peace. But the 72-year-old Palestinian leader is much more than that; he is a career terrorist, trained, armed and bankrolled by the Soviet Union and its satellites for decades.
Before I defected to America from Romania, leaving my post as chief of Romanian intelligence, I was responsible for giving Arafat about $200,000 in laundered cash every month throughout the 1970s. I also sent two cargo planes to Beirut a week, stuffed with uniforms and supplies. Other Soviet bloc states did much the same. Terrorism has been extremely profitable for Arafat. According to Forbes magazine, he is today the sixth wealthiest among the world's "kings, queens & despots," with more than $300 million stashed in Swiss bank accounts.
"I invented the hijackings [of passenger planes]," Arafat bragged when I first met him at his PLO headquarters in Beirut in the early 1970s. He gestured toward the little red flags pinned on a wall map of the world that labeled Israel as "Palestine." "There they all are!" he told me, proudly. The dubious honor of inventing hijacking actually goes to the KGB, which first hijacked a U.S. passenger plane in 1960 to Communist Cuba. Arafat's innovation was the suicide bomber, a terror concept that would come to full flower on 9/11.
In 1972, the Kremlin put Arafat and his terror networks high on all Soviet bloc intelligence services' priority list, including mine. Bucharest's role was to ingratiate him with the White House. We were the bloc experts at this. We'd already had great success in making Washington--as well as most of the fashionable left-leaning American academics of the day--believe that Nicolae Ceausescu was, like Josip Broz Tito, an "independent" Communist with a "moderate" streak.
KGB chairman Yuri Andropov in February 1972 laughed to me about the Yankee gullibility for celebrities. We'd outgrown Stalinist cults of personality, but those crazy Americans were still naive enough to revere national leaders. We would make Arafat into just such a figurehead and gradually move the PLO closer to power and statehood. Andropov thought that Vietnam-weary Americans would snatch at the smallest sign of conciliation to promote Arafat from terrorist to statesman in their hopes for peace.
Right after that meeting, I was given the KGB's "personal file" on Arafat. He was an Egyptian bourgeois turned into a devoted Marxist by KGB foreign intelligence. The KGB had trained him at its Balashikha special-ops school east of Moscow and in the mid-1960s decided to groom him as the future PLO leader. First, the KGB destroyed the official records of Arafat's birth in Cairo, replacing them with fictitious documents saying that he had been born in Jerusalem and was therefore a Palestinian by birth.
The KGB's disinformation department then went to work on Arafat's four-page tract called Falastinuna ("Our Palestine"), turning it into a 48-page monthly magazine for the Palestinian terrorist organization al-Fatah. Arafat had headed al-Fatah since 1957. The KGB distributed it throughout the Arab world and in West Germany, which in those days played host to many Palestinian students. The KGB was adept at magazine publication and distribution; it had many similar periodicals in various languages for its front organizations in Western Europe, like the World Peace Council and the World Federation of Trade Unions.
Next, the KGB gave Arafat an ideology and an image, just as it did for loyal Communists in our international front organizations. High-minded idealism held no mass-appeal in the Arab world, so the KGB remolded Arafat as a rabid anti-Zionist. They also selected a "personal hero" for him--the Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, the man who visited Auschwitz and reproached the Germans for not having killed even more Jews. In 1985 Arafat paid homage to the mufti, saying he was "proud no end" to be walking in his footsteps.
Arafat was an important undercover operative for the KGB. Right after the 1967 Six Day War, Moscow got him appointed to chairman of the PLO. Egyptian ruler Gamal Abdel Nasser, a Soviet puppet, proposed the appointment. In 1969 the KGB asked Arafat to declare war on American "imperial-Zionism" during the first summit of the Black Terrorist International, a neo-Fascist pro-Palestine organization financed by the KGB and Libya's Moammar Gadhafi. It appealed to him so much, Arafat later claimed to have invented the imperial-Zionist battle cry. But in fact, "imperial-Zionism" was a Moscow invention, a modern adaptation of the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," and long a favorite tool of Russian intelligence to foment ethnic hatred. The KGB always regarded anti-Semitism plus anti-imperialism as a rich source of anti-Americanism.
The KGB file on Arafat also said that in the Arab world only people who were truly good at deception could achieve high status. We Romanians were directed to help Arafat improve "his extraordinary talent for deceiving." The KGB chief of foreign intelligence, Gen. Aleksandr Sakharovsky, ordered us to provide cover for Arafat's terror operations, while at the same time building up his international image. "Arafat is a brilliant stage manager," his letter concluded, "and we should put him to good use." In March 1978 I secretly brought Arafat to Bucharest for final instructions on how to behave in Washington. "You simply have to keep on pretending that you'll break with terrorism and that you'll recognize Israel--over, and over, and over," Ceausescu told him for the umpteenth time. Ceausescu was euphoric over the prospect that both Arafat and he might be able to snag a Nobel Peace Prize with their fake displays of the olive branch.
In April 1978 I accompanied Ceausescu to Washington, where he charmed President Carter. Arafat, he urged, would transform his brutal PLO into a law-abiding government-in-exile if only the U.S. would establish official relations. The meeting was a great success for us. Mr. Carter hailed Ceausescu, dictator of the most repressive police state in Eastern Europe, as a "great national and international leader" who had "taken on a role of leadership in the entire international community." Triumphant, Ceausescu brought home a joint communique in which the American president stated that his friendly relations with Ceausescu served "the cause of the world."
Three months later I was granted political asylum by the U.S. Ceausescu failed to get his Nobel Peace Prize. But in 1994 Arafat got his--all because he continued to play the role we had given him to perfection. He had transformed his terrorist PLO into a government-in-exile (the Palestinian Authority), always pretending to call a halt to Palestinian terrorism while letting it continue unabated. Two years after signing the Oslo Accords, the number of Israelis killed by Palestinian terrorists had risen by 73%.
On Oct. 23, 1998, President Clinton concluded his public remarks to Arafat by thanking him for "decades and decades and decades of tireless representation of the longing of the Palestinian people to be free, self-sufficient, and at home." The current administration sees through Arafat's charade but will not publicly support his expulsion. Meanwhile, the aging terrorist has consolidated his control over the Palestinian Authority and marshaled his young followers for more suicide attacks.
Mr. Pacepa was the highest ranking intelligence officer ever to have defected from the former Soviet bloc. The author of "Red Horizons" (Regnery, 1987), he is finishing a book on the origins of current anti-Americanism.