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Israel Thumbs Nose at Jesse Helms by Deliberately Violating His Cuba Boycott

  • Aging autocrats who build political empires on the betrayal and abandoned promises of their youth can't be pitied when they are stabbed in the back because of it.
By George Harrer

Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) Faced a crushing put-down three months ago as his most prized "friend," Israel -- in cahoots with his worst enemy, Fidel Castro, Cuba's communist dictator - treacherously turned on him.

Well placed diplomatic sources told of a "stunned" Helms being informed in mid-July that secret negotiations were in progress between Cuban and Israeli trade officials.

The strong-willed senator, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and "pretty much runs U.S. foreign policy," at first refused to believe Israel, his most favored nation, had "sold out' to Castro, related a former State Department official specializing in Middle Eastern affairs.

"Helms began his political career as a standup America-firster, a promising patriotic voice,' recalled this expert, who is now a government relations aide for a U.S. oil company in New York.

While he maintained that principled and closely reasoned position, Helms was a courageous defender of genuine U.S. interests around the world. That, of course, meant taking a stand against the ministate's atrocities in the Middle East and its foreign aid rip-offs in Washington.

But by 1984, with the pro-Israeli lobby clearly the most powerful pressure group in Washington, Helms began having second thoughts.

"The truth is, he buckled under," explained a former foreign service official. "His stand on the Middle East changed completely, like on of those reversible raincoats."

Since then, Helms has heaped his most fervent praise, his most unwavering support and his most generous foreign aid appropriations on the Zionist ministate. He attempted to justify the billions of dollars Congress has lavished on Israel by claiming it was necessary to nurture a "key ally" in a world where America faced some dangerous enemies.

In helm's view of the international scene, the most threatening enemy among all the "hostiles" was Castro, a vile communist archfiend whose firebrand propaganda and terrorist plots "menaced our southern flanks as well as our internal security," the powerful Senate committee chairman frequently proclaimed.

Over the years, ousting the bearded Caribbean caudillo became Helms' signature crusade. In 1995, that campaign took final shape in the so-called Helms-Burton Act, a bill sponsored jointly by the North Carolina senator and Rep. Dan Burton, (R-Ind.).

Helms-Burton tightened the long-standing U.S. economic embargo of Cuba. It imposed stern prohibitions and penalties on any nation attempting to do business in or with the communist island.


And when Castro's air force brutally shot down small unarmed planes piloted by Cuban exiles over international waters in the spring of 1996, President Bill Clinton signed Helms-Burton into law.

Helms was gleeful. "Bye-bye, Fidel," he shouted, telling one and all his "choke-hold" legislation would sink Cuba's foundering Soviet-style economy in short order.

In reality, the opposite happened. Angered by what they saw as U.S. interference in their foreign affairs, Canada and many European governments repudiated Helms-"Burton. In some instances, they increased their trade with Cuba rather than reducing it.

The European-Canadian defection from what Helms had hoped would become a worldwide anti-Castro front rankled. When Britain's new foreign minister, Robin Cook, made a courtesy call on the North Carolina senator last June, he found himself denounced as an "appeaser" of Castroism, The SPOTLIGHT has been told be well-placed diplomatic sources.

"Your deals with Cuba remind me of the spineless Neville Chamberlain and his weakling attempts to suck up to Adolf Hitler," Helms snapped.

Cook protested the comparison with the late Chamberlain, the British prime minister who met with the German leader in Munich in 1939 and afterward expressed the belief all-out war could be avoided. But Cook was cut short.

"Just watch the Israelis,' helms thundered. "They're small, harassed under pressure. But they won't sell out. You don't see the Israelis making underhanded deals with our enemies."

Shortly afterwards, the British minister and his aides found them selves unceremoniously ushered out of Helm's office.


"At that very minute, as Helms was spouting off to the British, a secret team of Israeli trade officials was already wheeling and dealing in Havana,' says Jaime Munoz Borras a Venezuelan journalist who covers Cuba and the Caribbean for a Latin American conglomerate.

The first intelligence reports of a major commercial pact in the making began to arrive in Washington in July. By last month, it was official: The ministate had joined the "appeaser" nations willing to defy Helms and his law in order to do business in Cuba.

The "BM group, a leading Tel Aviv conglomerate of developers and investors, announced it would build a $400 million business center in downtown Havana.

"The center will have acres of shopping malls, hotels, parking garages and plenty of office space for major Israeli companies who openly admit they want to set up shop in Cuba," explained Munoz.

Helms was said to be "devastated" to find the ministate joining the enemy camp.

"Israel's venture is the largest non-tourist investment in Cuba and the worst violation of Helms-Burton ever perpetrated," says Prof. Ignacio Bermejo, a Cuban exile scholar who monitors the economy of his native island at the State University of New York. "The Cuban embargo is a dead letter now."

Perhaps this experience of Israeli deceit and double-dealing will turn the powerful Senate chairman back to the resolute patriotism of his early days, suggested a former staff publicist for the Senate foreign Affairs committee. Like several other sources, this observer, who was close to Helms in those early days, asked not to be quoted by name.

"This man was a mighty sword-bearer for the Stars and Stripes before he became a spear-carrier for Israel,' he recalled. "Now that he has been humiliatingly dumped by the Zionists, if it's not too late he should try to find the way back to his old constituency -- the millions of Americans who honored him as a leader when they saw him as a patriot."