A former CIA mideast expert’s view of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis

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John Kiriakou. Photo by Troy Page.

John Kiriakou’s story as an Arabic-speaking former CIA agent and CIA torture whistleblower has taken a number of turns throughout his life, including a prison sentence that sent a wrecking ball through his career and personal life. During his time with the intelligence agency, however, he spent significant periods of time in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and other parts of the Middle East on a quest to round up Al-Qaeda militants during the “War on Terror.” Kiriakou’s experience gives him a unique insight into the current crisis in the Palestinian territories and Israel with violence continuing to escalate as Israel fires more than 100 bombs on Gaza. So far the most recent attacks on Gaza have killed at least 230 people, including more than 100 women and children, while in Israel, 12 people, including two children, have been killed. 

On this week’s installment of “Scheer Intelligence,” Kiriakou joins host Robert Scheer to discuss the latest escalation of the decades-long conflict rooted in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. At the heart of the problem, according to Kiriakou, is also the fact that the general framework for conversations about Israel is often skewed due to the misconception that Palestinians and other Arabs pose a “threat to Israel” currently. 

“From the very beginning of my career at the CIA, I realized that the [threat-against-Israel narrative] was nonsense,” says Kiriakou. “Even as early as 1990 on my first trip to Saudi Arabia, no one ever mentioned Israel to me. They were obsessed with Iran [because] their existential threat was Iran. And then when you get further afield, like Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE, Oman--none of those countries have any problems with Israel.

“The reason why the Israelis are always at war is because they run what comes down to an apartheid state,” he concludes. “They oppress the Palestinian people. Whether they like it or not, they’re going to have to share that land. [...] The fact of the matter is, they’re going to have to give something to the Palestinians. You cannot have a South Africa-style apartheid regime--which is what they have right now--[and] expect that everything is just going to be milk and honey.” 

Scheer, who reported from Israel during the the Six-Day War, offers his perspective on how the legacy of the ongoing occupation of Palestinian territories is not only devastating Palestinians, but corroding Israeli society. 

“One of the great ironies of history, really, [is that] in fact the Palestinians are in the position that, historically, the Jews were in,” says Scheer. “They’re in a hostile diaspora, they are oppressed in this diaspora. Then, ironically, the greatest crime of modern history--the extermination of Jewish people--which happens in the Christian nation of Germany and throughout Eastern Europe, somehow gets visited upon the Palestinians, as if they’re responsible for it all. Then it gets extended into this ‘War on Terror’ [as if] they’re somehow responsible for terrorism financed by Saudi Arabia...”

The former CIA agent explores how the “War on Terror” bled into the Palestinian territories and also reveals that within the CIA , he witnessed a “great deal of respect” for Palestinians while receiving many warnings regarding covert Israeli intelligence maneuverings within the U.S. Listen to the full conversation between Kiriakou and Scheer as the two discuss the ongoing violence in the region, as well as the fallout from Kiriakou’s whistleblowing. 



Joshua Scheer