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Sharon Linked to '82 Anti-Khomeini Coup Plot

October 28, 1988|DAN FISHER | Times Staff Writer

JERUSALEM — Former Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon was involved in an ill-starred 1982 plot to overthrow Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that also involved several people who would emerge three years later as key figures in the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages affair, according to a book scheduled to be published next week.

The previously secret plan had the approval of the late CIA Director William J. Casey, according to the book, which was written by Samuel Segev, a former military intelligence officer.

Segev is favored by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres for the post of consul-general in Los Angeles, but whether he is actually nominated depends on the outcome of next week's elections in Israel.

Segev says in the book that Sharon was to supply $800 million in arms and military instruction to the plotters. But the coup never came off because the controversial Sharon was forced out of the Defense Ministry by an Israeli commission of inquiry that found him indirectly responsible for the September, 1982 massacre of Palestinians in Beirut's Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps.

Segev's book, "The Iranian Triangle: The Untold Story of Israel's Role in the Iran-Contra Affair," is to be published in the United States next week by The Free Press, a division of Macmillan Inc. A Hebrew-language version is scheduled to appear a few days later.

Segev said in an interview that the book is based on private discussions with participants whom he is not free to name. The book says the plot grew out of a British Broadcasting Corp. radio interview in February, 1982, with Yaakov Nimrodi, a former Israeli military attache in Tehran who had become a private arms dealer. Nimrodi, it says, openly advocated that Khomeini be overthrown and that Western interests help train the forces to do it.

Call From Shah's Son

The book then lays out the following account of what it says developed:

Based on the Nimrodi radio interview, Reza Pahlavi, son of the deposed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi of Iran, telephoned Nimrodi and invited him to Rabat, Morocco, where the family was then living in exile. When Nimrodi and fellow Israeli businessman Adolph Schwimmer arrived in Rabat in the summer of 1982, they were greeted at the airport by Gen. Said Razvani, then deputy chief of staff of the Iranian army, and a representative of the Moroccan secret service. In the course of three days of discussions with these officials and the Shah's son, the coup plan was born.

Nimrodi and Schwimmer later confided in another acquaintance, Saudi Arabian businessman Adnan Khashoggi, who used his connections with the royal family to secure assurances of Saudi financial backing, Segev's book continues. Khashoggi also met secretly at his farm near Nairobi with Sharon, who made an unscheduled stop there during an official trip to Zaire.

By late September, 1982, shortly after the massacre at Sabra and Chatilla, Razvani and another Iranian general--Segev said he was unable to identify this officer by name--visited Sharon in Israel with a written request to buy $2-billion worth of arms, equipment and instruction. The weapons were to be transferred to Sudan, where President Jaafar Numeiri had agreed, in exchange for $100 million, to provide a training and supply base for the operation.

According to the narrative, Sharon had doubts about the coup's chances of succeeding but was anxious to sell some of the tons of weaponry captured by Israeli troops in Lebanon as a way to help offset the cost of the war. Assured that the plot had Casey's approval, he agreed to provide $800 million worth of arms.

After Sharon was deposed, his successor, Moshe Arens, the former ambassador to Washington, was cool to the idea, as was Yitzhak Shamir, the Likud Bloc leader who became prime minister when Menachem Begin resigned in 1983. Neither man "thought Israel should be involved in a new adventure," Segev says.

Nimrodi, Schwimmer and Khashoggi emerged in 1985 as brokers in the ill-fated attempt to trade U.S. and Israeli arms for American hostages held by pro-Iranian Muslim fundamentalists in Lebanon.

Iranian Officials Named

Segev's book names two Iranian officials as the key intermediaries in arms-for-hostages contacts with Israeli and U.S. officials. It says that Mohsen Kengarlu, a deputy prime minister, was the key Iranian government contact of Manucher Ghorbanifar, the expatriate Iranian businessman who helped broker the deal, and also the man who organized the secret 1986 trip to Tehran by former National Security Adviser Robert C. McFarlane.

The book includes what it says is the text of a letter delivered to McFarlane by Israeli officials in the summer of 1985 and cites this as evidence that they were in touch with Iranians who could deliver. The purported letter, marked "Top Secret--Destroy After Reading," is signed "H. K." According to Segev, the initials are those of the Ayatollah Hassan Karoubi, a senior Iranian cleric close to Khomeini and the brother of the deputy Speaker of the Iranian Parliament.

Segev, 62, said his purpose in writing the book "is to give the rationale for (Israeli) involvement in Iran even after Khomeini."

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