Israel and Iran: Enemies in Arbitration over an Oil Pipeline — Exclusive Details After an Oil Spill

[Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, has been one of the few journalists tracking unusual business negotiations involving Israel and Iran.  He wrote this article for the Israel-based English-language magazine, The Jerusalem Report.]

To be fair and honest, the greatest environmental disaster in the history of Israel – the oil spill in the Arava desert earlier this month, under the responsibility of the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company (EAPC) – has no direct connection to the convoluted structure of the company, to its owners or its mysterious historical past.

Israel's flag

Israel’s flag

The company is subject to Israel’s Environmental Protection Ministry and is obligated to operate in accordance with that.

A senior official acquainted with the affair told this writer that the disaster occurred as a result of a technical glitch: in the redoubling of a pipe, 5,000 million liters of oil spilled out.

Having said this, the EAPC is one of the most secret companies in Israel, operating under a special legal force since 1968, which gives it immunity from appropriate public control (including from government supervision, from the state comptroller, the Knesset and the media).

Journalists must fight severe censorship appeals to cover any aspect of the company. All of these restrictions only strengthen the sense (whether real or imagined) that the company has something to hide. As the former U.S. Supreme Court Justice and American Zionist leader Louis Brandeis once, said, “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.”

The company’s full name is The Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company, a name which might tie it distinctly and solely to Israel. But in essence, the EAPC is part of a legal entity known as Trans Asiatic Oil, (TAO)  a partnership of the Israeli government (under the auspices of the Finance Ministry) and the National Iranian Oil Company (NOIC).

The Islamic Republic of Iran's flag

The Islamic Republic of Iran’s flag

Following Iran’s de facto recognition of Israel in 1951, the two states during the regime of the Shah – the Iranian monarch – developed special and clandestine cooperation based on four principles: Iranian assistance in the secret emigration of Jews from Iraq, organized by the Mossad; Israeli-Iranian cooperation on matters of intelligence (the Mossad, the Shin Bet security forces and the Israel Defense Forces helped establish, train and operate the Iranian army and Savak – the notorious Iranians security service); in exchange, Savak helped Mossad with documentation and other assistance enabling it to launch operations to recruit and run agents in Iraq, as well as assistance to enhance the Kurdish rebellion. The agreements between the two countries also covered military cooperation and the supply of Iranian oil to Israel.

Until the mid-1950s, Israel received its oil supply from the Soviet Union, from Kuwait (then under British control) and from international oil companies. But in 1955-6, these connections were halted, and Israel was forced to find itself new sources.

Through its secret connections, it turned to the Shah and his aides, and asked them to make Iran into its main oil suppler. The Iranians were hesitant, fearing this would harm their relations with the Arab states, but in the aftermath of the Sinai operation in 1956, which elevated Israel as a strong military power. they relented and agreed to supply oil to Israel.

During the months that Israel controlled the Sinai Peninsula following the military operation, it “expropriated” – meaning, it stole – pumps and pipes from an Italian and Belgian firms operating oil fields in Ras Sudr, in the peninsula. With the help of this equipment, a pipeline was built from Eilat.

Most of the funding for this project came from the bankers of the Rothschild family, the major shareholder of the initiative, called Tri-Continental. At the Iranians’ demands – in order to hide their involvement in the sale of oil to Israel and in the partnership  – a secret company was formed and registered in 1959 within the tax refuge of Lichtenstein, under the name of Pimerco, and in which Iran held 10 percent . The oil was transferred from Iran to Eilat in tankers and channeled through the small pipeline, measuring 40 cm (12 inches) in diameter, to Be’er Sheva.

Following the Six Day War in June 1967 and the closure of the Suez Canal, Israel convinced the Shah (who was codenamed “landlord” in the Israeli documents) to exploit the new situation and establish a joint and expansive oil initiative.

Thus the Trans-Asiatic Oil  (TAO) was established, a company under equal and joint ownership of the Israeli government,, and INOC the Iranian National Oil Company. The Israeli government gave the company an exclusive franchise to transport and store the oil.

The main fear of Iranian supporters of the initiative was that if the cooperation were to be exposed, the Arab countries would use it to bash Tehran. Therefore, in order to maintain secrecy and hide the Israeli partnership, the company and its entities were registered in Switzerland, Canada and Panama – at Iran’s request, as to appear as a foreign company.

The owners of TAO, as they appear in the Israeli Registrar of Companies, were called the Eilat Corporation and Sea Marco — both registered in Panama.

After the Shah agreed in principle, the next obstacle was to secure funding for the joint venture which was estimated to cost $85 million dollars – a huge sum in those days. The Baron de Rothschild refused to fund the new initiative, claiming it would not be profitable. The Israeli representatives were finally able to secure funding from the German Deutsche Bank, through which the financial compensations to Israel were transferred in the 1950s and 1960s.

The chairman of Deutsche Bank, Hermann Josef Abs, who acceded to the Israeli-Iranian request for funding, had a Nazi past – he had been responsible for bank’s foreign deals from 1938 onward, and following World War II, was imprisoned for a few months by the Allies.

This aspect of Abs’s past did not seem to bother the Israeli representatives, nor did it stop them from conducting tight and friendly contact with him.

In Israel, TAO operated as though it were a foreign company. It acquired the pipeline to Be’er Sheva from the Rothschild family and laid a larger pipeline, with a diameter of 42 inches (just over one meter), alongside it, from Eilat to Ashkelon, where they also built terminals for loading and unloading the oil. The construction of the terminals was completed in 1969.

The Israeli government granted the exclusive concession for 49 years, set to expire in 2017, enabling the flow of oil and its storage. The closing of the Suez Canal made it difficult to supply oil to Europe from the Persian Gulf. The tankers were forced to sail on a long route around the Cape of Good Hope.

The idea behind the establishment of the company was to shorten the sailing routes and the supply time, and thus of course earn more money.

The tankers loaded oil in the ports of Iran, sailed to Eilat, where they unloaded the cargo at a special terminal that was built for that purpose, and the oil was transported through the pipeline to Ashkelon. Most of it was then loaded onto tankers bound for Europe, and a small percentage was used for Israel’s energy economy. INOC sold the oil to TAO below the market price and granted it credit for three months.

In its heyday, TAO was an economic empire with a turnover of billions of dollars. It established a subsidiary, EAPC, which owned the two pipelines, and a storage container farm to store the oil in Ashkelon and Eilat. It purchased or leased a fleet of 160 tankers. Its goal was to reach a transport average of 50 million tons per year. – a target that was not achieved.

But after 10 years of prospering business came the crisis. The Shah’s rule was weakened. About two months before Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in 1979, INOC stopped selling to TAO — in effect paralyzing it. One of Khomeini’s first acts when he came to power was to cut relations with Israel completely.

During the first years, the Israeli managers of Trans-Asiatic tried to conduct secret talks with representatives of the Iranian National Oil Company to dismantle the partnership voluntarily and in an orderly manner. But the Iranians broke off contact and refused to hear from Israel.

TAO sold the oil tankers, mostly at a loss, dismissed dozens of employees and closed operations and offices abroad. What saved it from bankruptcy was the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt, in the context of which Egypt promised to sell Israel oil as a substitute for the loss of the oil wells in Sinai. The Egyptian oil, an average of about 1.5 million tons annually, arrived in tankers to Eilat, and from there it was transported via the pipeline to Ashkelon and then to refineries in Haifa and Ashdod.

Today, Israel’s oil is supplied by brokers from various sources including Azerbaijan, Mexico, the Gulf Emirates and even Iran.  

The Iran connection was revealed by the U.S. government three years ago, when it added to its blacklist a Singapore-based tanker company owned by the Israeli brothers Sammy and Yuli Ofer. The company’s tankers, the U.S. learned, had been loading cargo at the Bandar Abbas port and thus breaching American sanctions against Iran.

Surprisingly enough, the man who rushed to defend the Ofer brothers then was the same person who would lead Israel’s international efforts against the Iranian nuclear program and who pushed for very strong international sanctions against the Islamic Republic: Mossad Chief Meir Dagan.

In 1985, the Iranians suddenly began to show a renewed interest in Trans-Asiatic. Via attorneys in Europe they demanded the company pay its debts to their national oil company. The direct debt of TAO, for transporting the oil in the pipeline on credit for three months, was estimated then to be $400 million – a sum that has since inflated to an estimated $4 billion dollars.

When the Iranian claims were made, attorney Elhanan Landau, who in the past had served as the legal adviser of the Finance Ministry and was very familiar with the subject, was appointed to handle the case for Israel representing EPAC.

After Landau’s death he was replaced by his partner, Zvi Nixon, who continues to serve as the legal adviser of the company. The line of action that was decided upon was that the responsibility for the situation lay with the Iranian National Oil Company, because it had unilaterally stopped honoring its commitments to Trans-Asiatic and EPAC, ceased taking an interest in the company and caused it severe damage.

Over the course of the years, arbitration services and litigations were carried out in Switzerland, in the International Court of Commerce in Paris, as well as in another European state, apparently Holland.

The approach Israel adopted since the start of the discussions on the various issues is one of deliberate foot-dragging, fearing that it would have to pay hundreds if not billions of dollars. For years Israel even refused to pay the salaries and expenses of the arbitration.

Representing Iran in the arbitration are its legal advisers who operate in Europe, including its legal adviser at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Lawyers from Switzerland have been conducting the arbitration sessions.

There have been developments in the case of late, when the arbitrators ruled that the Iranian claims carried some weight, and that Israel must compensate Iran — by paying some tens of millions of dollars.

Not exactly the billions Iran demanded. Still Israel appealed the ruling, claiming that there was no legal basis to force it to pay the sums at this time. The arbitration and legal procedures, to Israel’s relief, will continue: the longer, the better.

December 16, 2014

Will Iran Sip from the Poisoned Chalice — and Make a Deal to Reduce its Nuclear Potential?

[Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, traveled to Vienna to assess the state of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 nations led by the United States.  He wrote this article jointly with Ilan Evyatar for the English-language Israeli magazine, The Jerusalem Report.]

With the ball firmly in Tehran’s court, after the extension of nuclear talks, the question is whether Iran’s supreme leader will give his negotiators the flexibility needed to conclude a deal

Iran’s supreme leader will have to drink from the poisoned chalice and swallow the Islamic Republic’s pride if the Iranian nuclear crisis is to come to a satisfactory, final and comprehensive conclusion. That at least was the metaphor that a former senior Obama administration arms control advisor chose to use while speaking to The Jerusalem Report on the sidelines of a conference in the Austrian capital.

IAEA logoTalking after delivering a speech at the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, Robert Einhorn, assistant secretary for nonproliferation during the Clinton administration and a special advisor for nonproliferation and arms control during the Obama administration, discussed the possible outcome of the talks between Iran and the P5+1, the group of five permanent Security Council member plus Germany.

The metaphor that Einhorn employed referred back to the Iran-Iraq war fought between the two countries from September 1980 to August 1988. For many years, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic and its first supreme leader, reportedly refused to allow his generals, despite defeats on the battlefield and the suffering of the Iranian people, to negotiate a cease-fire.

Yet at the final stages of the war the generals led by Mohsen Rezaee, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), persuaded the supreme leader that they could no longer bear the consequences of the war. Khomeini reportedly told them that he would allow them to sign a cease-fire agreement with Saddam Hussein’s army, but for him that was worse than surrender, it was like drinking from a poisoned chalice.

So argued Einhorn there is a precedent. If Khomeini ended that bloody conflict, the 20th century’s longest conventional war, which caused the death of some one million in total on both sides, his successor Ali Khamenei, the current supreme leader, can, at least theoretically, swallow his and his nation’s pride, and order his negotiators to reach a deal with the international community to substantially reduce Iran’s nuclear weapons potential.

The P5+1 talks held at the historic Coburg Palace, now a luxury hotel catering to wealthy American and Saudi Arabian tourists, ended with no agreement, but since ultimately neither side has any interest in bringing an abrupt end to negotiations, they decided to extend the talks for a second time until the end of June 2015.

A year ago, the two sides reached an interim agreement in Geneva known as the Joint Plan of Action that partially halted Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. That agreement stipulated that the Islamic Republic would be allowed to operate only 10,000 centrifuges out of its 19,000 installed. It also forbade Iran to increase the level of 20 percent enriched uranium to over 220 kilograms, the minimal sufficient quantity required to build a nuclear bomb once that amount has been further enriched to 90 percent.

But since then the two sides have failed to overcome the enormous obstacles on the way to a desired comprehensive agreement. Among the issues under contention is the number of operational centrifuges that Iran would be allowed to keep. On this matter, the Israeli stance has been zero tolerance – in other words, Tehran would not be allowed any centrifuges whatsoever – but as a senior Israeli official familiar with the negotiations has told The Report, the international community is not buying into that position.

There are several possible explanations as to why the Israeli line has been ignored. One is because of the deteriorating relations between the administration of President Barack Obama and the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Another is the lack of progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and the continued expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

But above all, the reason is that Israel is perceived as being alarmist and exaggerating with regard to Iran. In this sense Israeli policy vis-a-vis Iran as designed by Netanyahu has failed.

Israel has in the last decade invested huge financial resources and a great deal of diplomatic and political capital on three fronts. First, according to foreign reports, was to equip the Mossad and authorize it to carry out covert operations that included the killing of Iranian nuclear scientists, sabotaging materials and equipment related to the program and cyber warfare aimed at slowing down Tehran’s nuclear project. Despite some impressive tactical successes, strategically that has not worked out.

Secondly, Israel enlarged the IDF’s budget reportedly to allow the air force to practice and simulate aerial attacks on Iran’s nuclear sites. Even if the leadership comprising Netanyahu and the previous defense minister Ehud Barak, his partner in this scheme, did not mean to launch an attack, that investment had to be made in order to create a credible impression that Israel was able and serious regarding the military option.

The third front was the diplomatic effort to persuade the US to impose punitive sanctions against Iran. It’s hard to assess how much Israel influenced the American decision-making process, nonetheless Netanyahu has taken the credit. Meanwhile, with negotiations ongoing, Israel’s theoretical military option has been distanced.

Another point of contention between Israel and the US and EU position is that Israeli intelligence analysis sees Iran as being between three to six months, if it so decides, from breaking out and building a bomb. The US estimate on the other hand, as Einhorn related, is that Iran is at least one year from that point.

The US and EU attitude has been less rigid.  Originally they demanded that Iran be restricted to 1,500 centrifuges – around 3,000 centrifuges are sufficient to enrich uranium to the 90 percent level needed to produce fissile material required in order to make a nuclear weapon – but they are now ready to raise the threshold to between 4,000 to 5,000 centrifuges which surely would enhance the potential of Iran to breakout within a shorter period. However it’s hard to imagine that Iran would agree even to accept that, American proposed, compromise.

The number of centrifuges is not the only unsolved issue between Iran and the P5+1. Another problem is the amount of enriched uranium Iran would be allowed to stockpile and how much of it has to be exported – most likely to Russia to be converted into uranium rods to be used as fuel for nuclear reactors generating electricity.

Yet even greater stumbling blocks are the issue of the longevity of the agreement and how intrusive the verification mechanism will be. The international community would like to see limitations on Iran’s nuclear capabilities in place for 15-20 years; Iran on the other hand would like to see a much shorter period of no more than a few years. Regarding the verification mechanism, the US, EU argument is that the verification regime, given the possible military dimensions (PMD) of Tehran’s program, would need to be much more aggressive than the standard International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verification protocol.

Iran argues that it should not be singled out, but, the US, EU position is, as Einhorn noted, that Tehran “has to restore confidence due to its track record.” Einhorn was referring to nearly 20 years of lack of Iranian cooperation with the IAEA and attempts to conceal parts of its program, mainly suspected possible military dimensions, as indicated by repeated IAEA reports.

The issue of PMDs is of special interest. On the one hand it is a point of contention between Israel and the US: In 2007, the American national intelligence estimate stated that Iran had stopped its military program four years earlier in 2003; Israeli intelligence however countered that the program has not been discontinued and most likely has been going on even to the present day.

Robert Einhorn (courtesy Brookings Institution)

Robert Einhorn (courtesy Brookings Institution)

Regardless of whether or not the military dimension of the program has been stopped, the IAEA and the P5+1 are still demanding full disclosure and transparency of Iran’s nuclear military record. Knowing what Iran has been up to in the past would improve understanding of what capabilities Iran possess and what they are capable of achieving in the future.

Iran has been dancing around the PMD issue for a long time, first with the IAEA and now in talks with the P5+1 – for example, refusing to allow inspections at its Parchin military base which is suspected by the CIA, MI6, Mossad and other Western intelligence agencies of being the site of weaponization capabilities testing.

“The US understands that it’s unrealistic that Iran confesses its entire past activities,” says Einhorn.  In other words, he doesn’t share the optimism expressed by the Iranian, French and US foreign ministers after the latest round of Vienna talks.

The ball, in Einhorn’s analysis, is firmly in the Iranian court. The question is whether the supreme leader, despite his understanding that the Iranian people and the government of President Hassan Rouhani would like to see the lifting of sanctions in return for a final agreement, will drink the poisoned chalice and give his negotiators the flexibility necessary to conclude a deal.

December 13, 2014

Nuclear Talks with Iran were Extended: Did Israel’s Mossad Actually Fail to Stop Iran’s Nuclear Program? Looks That Way

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — currently ensnarled in political controversies at home, with an eye toward scheduling elections early in 2015 and perhaps forming a new coalition — took some time out to express satisfaction with what has happened in the P5+1 talks with Iran on the nuclear issue.

He likes the failure to reach a new agreement, because any new accord would permit Iran to keep enriching uranium — and, though Iran denies, continue to build the potential of producing nuclear bombs.

Did Meir Dagan and the Mossad fail? (Dagan on CBS' "60 Minutes," 2012)

Did Meir Dagan and the Mossad fail? (Dagan on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” 2012)

Netanyahu is happy enough with the decision to extend the deadline for success for another seven months.  He will keep warning the P5+1 — those are the U.N. Security Council’s Permanent 5 (U.S., Russia, China, Britain, and France) + Germany — that “no deal would be better than signing a bad deal.”

What would Israel and the world powers do, if no deal is reached by July 2015?  That is left intentionally ambiguous, even as Netanyahu has returned to a bit of saber-rattling by repeating that Israel reserves the right to defend itself by all possible means.

Netanyahu and his intelligence minister, Yuval Steinitz (who is also “minister of strategic affairs”), have lobbied the Western countries — and apparently Russia and China — to clamp down hard on Iran’s nuclear potential: to demand that all uranium enrichment in Iran stop, and that Iran be compelled to export all the enriched uranium it has amassed.

Yet the P5+1 countries were clearly negotiating with Iran on how many centrifuges for uranium enrichment it may continue to operate and what type of centrifuges — while demanding more intensive monitoring by U.N. nuclear inspectors.  Still unknown is how Iran might convince Western governments that it is not running secret nuclear facilities. In addition, Iran resists any inspections or oversight of its military technology programs, including the development of medium- and long-range missiles.

We shall write more — soon — on the question of whether Israel has actually succeeded in stopping Iran’s nuclear program.

The former Mossad chief under Netanyahu and his predecessors Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert — Meir Dagan — has publicly claimed that a combination of covert action and sanctions did prevent Iran from marching nuclear bomb capability. Yet we are finding plentiful, though disturbing, reasons to declare that Iran is already a “nuclear threshhold state.”

Iran could, if it so chooses, advance quickly to the status of being “one turn of screwdriver” away from building a nuclear bomb.  Is that not failure, more than a decade (so far) of Israel’s secret war to stop Iran’s nuclear potential?

November 30, 2014

Iran and the West: No Nuclear Deal — Israel and Saudi Arabia Covertly Worked to Block an Accord

[This analysis by Yossi Melman, co-author of SPIES AGAINST ARMAGEDDON: INSIDE ISRAEL’S SECRET WARS, was written for The Jerusalem Post.]

The decision to extend the deadline to clinch a nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers until July 2015 is a defeat for Iran and an achievement for the US and the European Union.

The Iranians threatened during the talks held in Vienna that if by Monday a final agreement is not reached and the sanctions imposed on them lifted, they would walk away. Iran’s approach was “everything, now or never.”

Yet they had to swallow their words and pride and agree for another extension – the second of its kind – while the sanctions are still in place and their nuclear program is restrained, as far as the number of centrifuges and the quantity of the enriched uranium are concerned.

True, the world powers (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) agreed to unfreeze $700 million from Iran’s frozen bank accounts all over the world every month. The P5+1 negotiators realized that they have to grant a minor concession as a reward to the moderates in Iran led by President Hassan Rouhani and his chief nuclear negotiator, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

They didn’t want them to return to Tehran with empty hands and pockets. But frankly, unfreezing $2 billion to $3b. out of $100b. in frozen assets is no more than throwing crumbs to a hungry person.

No doubt the moderates will be lashed out at by the radicals who would accuse them of failure. But as long as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who is calling the shots, is backing the negotiating team, there is a hope, though it is still slim, for a final agreement to be signed.

There is a simple reason to explain why Iran backed out on the last day and agreed for more talks. This is because Iran is anxious to rid itself of the sanctions hurting its economy, which has further deteriorated over the last few months with the drastic drop in oil prices.

The Iranian budget for 2014/15 is based on a $140 per barrel price – whereas the current price is $80 per barrel. This means a huge deficit in the Iranian budget. Iran can cover it by austerity measures – cutting subsidies of food, fuel and housing – but its leaders fear that such steps will bring upon them the wrath of the masses, which already suffer from the recession. Iran’s government prefers to print money and raise inflation.

One should not be mistaken. Iran has not given up its wish to get as close as possible – a screwdriver turn away – from a nuclear bomb. It is already almost there.

It is three to six months away from assembling nuclear bombs if it decides in the future to turn from the negotiation table and “break out” to the bomb.

Iran already has the know-how and technology to build a bomb. Neither a diplomatic nor a technical deal, nor even a military assault, can take that away from Iran. With however many centrifuges and enriched uranium it is and will be allowed to keep, it is clear that Iran has reached the status of a nuclear threshold state.

Ultimately, any deal with Iran boils down to a single question: How long will an agreement delay Iran from assembling a nuclear bomb – one year? Two years? Three years?

Watching actively from the sidelines are Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have been working in close covert and unprecedented cooperation to sabotage the deal.

For these countries, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said numerous times, a bad deal – which the West is prepared to accept – is worse than having no deal at all. But it seems that these efforts have had limited effect, if any.

The realization that Iran has not made the required concessions and thus that the time and terms are not yet ripe at this stage for a comprehensive deal is to the credit of the US and EU governments. Certainly, Israel under Netanyahu (considering the bad blood between him and US President Barack Obama) is limited in the levers it can use to influence the process.

The outcome of the Vienna talks derives from two facts. First, the gaps between the sides are still big. Second, neither side is interested to end the diplomatic option. Second, the alternative – of not having any deal, neither interim nor comprehensive – is much more dangerous to the world.

November 24, 2014

Massacre in a Jerusalem Synagogue — ‘Palestinian Leader Didn’t Order It’

The head of Shin Bet (the domestic security services also known as ISA, Israel Security Agency) — Yoram Cohen — has declared that Palestinians who have murderously attacked Israelis in recent months were not sent or authorized by any Palestinian organizations.

From Shin Bet's Website shabak.gov.il

From Shin Bet’s Website shabak.gov.il

Cohen was briefing the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee of Israel’s parliament, the K’nesset, hours after two Palestinian cousins invaded a synagogue in West Jerusalem — using a meat cleaver and a gun to kill four rabbis (three of them who were U.S.-Israeli dual citizens) and a police officer.

Cohen said the two attackers did not train and are not known to have planned their assault.

When terrorists have no training camp and don’t visibly practice, it is of course very difficult for counter-terrorism forces — such as the ubiquitious and ever-watching Shin Bet — to detect a terrorist attack in the making.

Cohen’s analysis, based on Israeli intelligence’s best available information about the recent upsurge in Palestinian violence against Jews, is generally considered a significant disagreement with his boss — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The prime minister has repeatedly charged that the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas (also known as Abu Mazen), has been inciting violence — by spreading the impression that Israeli authorities plan a Jewish takeover of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.

Naftali Bennett, a rightwing cabinet minister who doesn’t believe it would be safe to create a Palestinian state in the West Bank, also blames Mahmoud Abbas for the upsurge in bloodshed.  So does Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon, the defense minister who suggests Palestinians would be satisfied with some form of autonomy — but without independence and sovereignty.

In fact though Cohen told parliamentarians that Abbas does not favor violence — and has no reason to want a third intifada (uprising) — the Shin Bet chief also declared that Abbas’s statements about Jews trying to take over all of Jerusalem had incited attacks by Palestinians.

The security agency director also cast some blame on right-wing Jews. Cohen said there is a highly negative effect — igniting dangerous tension — when Jews act on their claims to the Temple Mount (known to Muslims as Haram ash-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuaryby marching onto the area surrounding the famous golden- and silver-domed mosques that crown the holy city.

<Lone Wolves are Very Hard to Detect>

All in all, when terrorist attacks are carried out by individuals with no organizational affiliation — Shin Bet is now calling that “popular terror” — and the attackers don’t have jail records (so they are not on surveillance lists), it is very difficult for counter-terrorism agencies to gather information about them and prevent their murderous actions.

November 18, 2014

The Gaza War and Israeli Intelligence Agencies — Competing Claims, and a Clash of Egos

[This article was written for The Jerusalem Post by Yossi Melman, co-author of Every Spy a Prince and the new, updated history of Israeli intelligence and security agencies, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.]

It was a silly and unnecessary battle about ego, credit and public relations that has now ended with a face-saving clarification by Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), which practically has to be read as an apology to the Israel Defense Forces and Aman (the IDF’s military intelligence agency).

Shin Bet's logo: Hebrew words mean "The Defender That Won't Be Seen"

Shin Bet’s logo: Hebrew words mean “The Defender That Won’t Be Seen”

Trying to mend an unprecedented rift with the army and restore close cooperation, Shin Bet admitted that it did not provide an early warning that Hamas had planned to initiate an all-out war with Israel last summer, which became known as Operation Protective Edge.

The clash began already during the first days of the war, when the head of Shin Bet, Yoram Cohen, said during a cabinet meeting that his agency had issued a warning of a pending war. Ministers responded angrily, telling him that they did not recall such a warning.

Yoram Cohen, Shin Bet chief (official photo, found at Haaretz.com)

Yoram Cohen, Shin Bet chief (official photo, found at Haaretz.com)

Actually, the exchange should have served as a warning for Cohen himself and Shin Bet to restrain themselves in their search for glory and credit. But they didn’t stop there. After the war, Shin Bet continued its PR campaign by leaking the same claim off the record and briefing journalists who published it.

Despite being furious, the IDF at least publicly swallowed its pride. But this week it could no longer tolerate what it has perceived as systematic and deliberate efforts by Shin Bet not only to grab the credit — but also to defame the army.

< Defamation of the Army’s Character>

The trigger that got on the IDF’s nerves was the prestigious, highly rated TV program — Uvda (“Fact”) — on Channel 2, which aired the whole story, not just the facts and information. The program interviewed two very senior Shin Bet officials – one of whom is a candidate to replace Cohen when his term ends in two years.

IDF photo of Chief of Staff, Gen. Benny Gantz

IDF photo of Chief of Staff, Gen. Benny Gantz

This was an unprecedented act. Never before had Shin Bet officials on active duty gone public on television, even if their faces were blurred and names not given, as the law requires. No doubt the two appeared on the show with the authorization, blessing and encouragement of Cohen.

Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz could no longer remain silent. He exploded, along with the previous chief of Military Intelligence, Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. The three interpreted the ongoing saga as a direct assault on them for not preparing the army for the war.

Going out of his way, Gantz wrote a letter to his boss, Ya’alon, and to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is responsible for the Shin Bet. The letter, not surprisingly, reached the media. In his letter Gantz complained that Shin Bet did not provide any warning of Hamas’s plans for a July war.

“Never, not in any meeting headed by me, was the issue of the possible war or [terrorist] operation presented, let alone [any] discussion at the beginning of 2014 on the matter of a coming war,” the letter stated.

For Gantz, the security service had crossed a red line by cooperating with a “television show, which glorified the organization while tarnishing the political echelon.” This, the military chief of staff declared, was “a moral and ethical breach.”

Netanyahu called a special meeting on Wednesday night with Ya’alon, Gantz and Cohen. He called Cohen and Gantz to order, reprimanded them and demanded in the name of “national responsibility for security” that they stop quarreling and “continue to fully cooperate for the safety of the citizens of Israel.”

<Was There Warning of a War with Hamas — or Not?>

The truth is that, already in January, Shin Bet had gleaned information mainly from its impressive SIGINT (electronic intelligence) capabilities pointing to the start of “preparations and training by Hamas of a possible conflict with Israel.”

But, as Shin Bet admitted in its statement, “It was only at the end of April that Shin Bet issued a warning of Hamas’s intentions to conduct a large terrorist attack that could lead to a conflict.”

Most probably Hamas planned to launch an attack through one of its tunnels leading from Gaza to Israel.

It is worth mentioning that, in the field of intelligence, an early warning of a war has a very clear meaning. It has to contain precise information, answering questions as when, where, and how. The Shin Bet information in the months leading to the war didn’t have this.

It goes without saying that, being a terrorist organization and not a regular army, Hamas was not in a position to launch a war against Israel; it could only plot a series of big and even coordinated terrorist or semi-military attacks.

All experts agree that the recent war in Gaza was the result of undesired escalation by both sides, which got out of control. It was not premeditated.

There are two main victims of this battle – the public trust in its security chiefs and Yoram Cohen. Cohen is emerging from the incident battered and less sophisticated than had been thought about him.

The Shin Bet chief is now viewed by the prime minister, defense minister and cabinet as a man who cares more about his image than the truth. He is less respected by his subordinates for dragging the agency into an unwanted rift with its military peers.

November 14, 2014

Significant if True — Syrian Nuclear Experts Assassinated: Wouldn’t That Please Israel?

It’s only an unconfirmed report, but it is starting to get attention in parts of the Middle East: that five nuclear experts were killed in an ambush while riding a bus to their workplace in Syria’s capital, Damascus, a few days ago.

The story immediately fueled conspiratorial theories that Israeli intelligence, namely the Mossad, may have accomplished a daring mass assassination.

This all began with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which reported that this attack occurred on Sunday near the Barzeh neighborhood of Damascus.

Barzeh is the site of a small nuclear laboratory run by President Bashar al-Assad’s government. Barzeh has a Chinese-built miniature neutron source reactor, a compact research reactor copied from a Canadian design.

This reactor, from its inception, has been under the supervision of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency. IAEA inspectors have visited the site many times.

The CIA's Reconnaissance Photos of Syria's Reactor in 2007 -- Before and After Israel's Air Raid

The CIA’s Reconnaissance Photos of Syria’s Reactor in 2007 — Before and After Israel’s Air Raid

The truth — it turned out — was that the small Barzeh reactor, fueled by highly enriched uranium supplied in miniscule amounts by China and a few other nuclear facilities, served as a decoy. While its presence and work were fully registered with the UN’s IAEA, Barzeh was diverting attention from the secret construction of a much bigger nuclear reactor in eastern Syria being built by North Korea — the one that was bombed by Israel’s air force in 2007, with no announcement or official confirmation by Israel.

The Syrian government has not yet reacted to this week’s reports. The Iranian media also ignored it, until Iran’s Press TV put out a short item about the incident — although it fails to mention that probably one of the five dead experts was an Iranian engineer.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, which occurred in an area controlled by forces loyal to President Assad.

As exciting or intriguing as it may be to attribute the attack to Israel, there is no evidence to back up such an assertion. Israeli involvement is, in fact, unlikely.

Israeli analysts believe that after the nuclear reactor in northeastern Syria was destroyed in September 2007, when it was on the verge of being operational and capable of producing plutonium as fissile material for nuclear bombs, the threat of Syria becoming a nuclear power was removed.

According to foreign news reports, Israel has occasionally interfered in the civil war by sending its air force to bomb convoys of Syrian trucks transporting sophisticated weapons bound for Hezbollah in Lebanon. Israel perceives any ground, sea and air missiles supplied to Hezbollah as a threat.

But that is not how Syria’s practically non-existent nuclear program is seen.

Thus, there is no incentive for Israel to risk its intelligence-gathering operatives and military forces by launching an assassination mission. Put simply, Syria no longer poses a serious military – not to mention nuclear – threat to Israel. So why bother?

Furthermore, it is not the first time that Syrian nuclear scientists were targeted during the civil war. In a similar incident in July of last year, six people who also worked at Barzeh were killed in a mortar attack carried out by anti-government militants.

It thus seems likely that a murder of five nuclear experts was not the work of Israel — but another act of violence by one of the rival groups fighting the Assad regime.

We shouldn’t even rule out the possibility that it was an act of revenge – an inside job by the regime itself, for reasons unknown in the fog of a civil war that has raged for nearly five years.

November 11, 2014

One Daring — Foolish? — Canadian-Israeli Woman Went to Syria, Joined Kurds to Fight ISIS

By noting the stunning story of Gill Rosenberg at IsraelSpy.com we are not suggesting in any way that she is employed by Israel’s espionage agencies.

Gill Rosenberg (right), apparently with a colleague in "YPJ," a Kurdish women's militia

Gill Rosenberg (right), apparently with a colleague in “YPJ,” a Kurdish women’s militia

Born in Canada, she attended a Jewish high school and learned how to fly aircraft at a technology college in Vancouver. Rosenberg “made aliyah” [immigrated] to Israel and joined the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).  She was an instructor in search-and-rescue techniques.

Rosenberg once told an Israeli interviewer that she tried to join the Mossad — hoping to be involved in covert operations around the world — but was rejected by the spy agency.

Later, according to Israeli officials, she became involved with criminals and took part in a bogus lottery conspiracy that defrauded senior citizens in the United States.  American prosecutors had her extradited, and she served around three years in prison in the U.S.

Gill Rosenberg's photo of Erbil's airport (from her Facebook page)

Gill Rosenberg’s photo of Erbil’s airport (from her Facebook page)

As chronicled on her Facebook page — where she Israelized her name to Gila Rosenberg — she returned to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and reconnected with favorite places and friends.

Obviously a daring woman, she made her way this month to Jordan’s capital, Amman, and then flew to the capital of the Kurdish autonomous region of Iraq, Erbil.

She must have found it easy there to make contact with Kurdish factions that have fighters in both Iraq and Syria — doing their best to hold back the vicious and relentless forces of the Islamic State (ISIS).

Rosenberg's selfie: on Facebook, she indicates this is in Iraqi Kurdistan

Rosenberg’s selfie: on Facebook, she indicates this is in Iraqi Kurdistan

In a Facebook post on November 9, she wrote: “In the IDF, we say אחריי [achara'i] – After Me. Let’s show ISIS what that means.”

Rosenberg apparently believes she can bring some of the bold spirit of Israel’s army — including the notion that leaders lead at the front and not from the rear — to the Kurdish battle against ISIS.

In Israel, her lawyer told Reuters that going to Syria to fight “is exactly the sort of thing she would do.”

Israeli legal authorities have prosecuted some Arab citizens of Israel who entered Syria to fight against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Some are believed to have joined affiliates of ISIS. Israeli law bans unauthorized travel to “enemy states” including Syria and Iraq. There were no indications from Israel that Rosenberg might face prosecution — if and when she returns from the Syrian civil war.

Syrian Kurds said Rosenberg is the first foreign woman to fly in to join them in their battle against murderous Islamist radicals.

November 11, 2014

Islamic State (I.S.) “No More Than a Passing Episode,” MidEast and Western Experts Say — Don’t Build a Mythic I.S. Giant

[This article was written by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, for The Jerusalem Report magazine.]

Israel’s former defense minister Ehud Barak (who also served as prime minister for a time) and former chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi have little in common. Given the bad blood between them, to say that they loath each other would be the understatement of the year.

Yet, both share the perception that the threat posed by the Islamic State is being grossly exaggerated by Western media, Middle East experts and, to a certain degree, political leaders.

And Israel is no exception. Barak expressed this view in a recent television interview, and Ashkenazi expressed his views to me in a private meeting. They are not alone.

In a series of meetings and interviews with Israeli, Western European and American intelligence and security experts who asked not to be named, a similar point of view was conveyed to me.

< ISLAMIC STATE “A PASSING EPISODE”, AL-QAEDA JUST “A NUISANCE” >

“With all due respect to IS’s recent military successes in Iraq and Syria, which cannot be written off, from a historical perspective, IS is no more than a passing episode,” one of these analysts told me.

ISIS Arrogance Flies High - May Flop (photo at MEMRI.org)

ISIS (IS) Arrogance Flies High – May Flop (photo at MEMRI.org)

Drawing a comparison to al-Qaeda, the analyst said: “After 9/11, Osama bin-Laden and his group were perceived as the greatest existential threat to human kind. The US invaded Afghanistan, crushed al-Qaeda’s hard core and its scattered activists and sympathizers.

“True, the post invasion ramifications resulted in several bloody terror attacks in Indonesia, Madrid, London, Morocco, Istanbul — while other plots were prevented — but in the last five years the intensity of al-Qaeda operations and the threat posed by the group have dwindled.”

Another expert observed:  “Intelligence communities worldwide have learned the modes of operation of al-Qaeda, managed to recruit agents and infiltrate it. Al-Qaeda is now no more than a nuisance that the world can live with.”

Sooner or later the same is going to happen to IS, said several of the interviewees for this article.

“Let’s not be mistaken or disillusioned. IS is not going to disappear and fade away overnight. It is going to stay with us for a few more years – certainly as long as the civil war in Syria continues. But sometime in the foreseeable future the Islamic State will weaken,” one of them observed.

Another former senior intelligence official described IS “as a trendy fashion and, like any successful fashion, it has succeeded in promoting and marketing its label as a unique product and thus attracted high demand.”

IS “customers” are the organization’s thousands of volunteers – second or third generation Muslim immigrants to the West and tens of thousands of Arab and Muslim zealots. Both are seeking thrills, adventure, a meaningful outlet for their unfulfilled aggression, and easy and free sex with a stamp of religious authorization.

IS has managed to turn into the “talk of the town” as a result of impressive marketing adopted by its leadership: i.e. its cruel, horrific and seemingly uninhibited methods of sowing fear and terror in the West. These include massacres of rivals; death by beheading and stoning; torture; rape; and forced conversions – practically every measure that contradicts basic moral values and norms.

But that on its own is not enough. As veteran Israeli diplomat and cabinet minister Eliyahu Sasson observed some 60 years ago, “If you acted and didn’t report it, you hadn’t act.”

IS’s marketing experts are presumably unfamiliar with Sasson and his  dictum, but they clearly know the art of propaganda and manipulation – they not only act brutally but also make sure that the brutal acts will be heard, seen and disseminated.

By using advanced-digital methodology, they produce short, fast, agile clips and load them onto the Internet to spread messages that appeal to their clientele among alienated, disfranchised young Muslims around the world.

There is no doubt that professionals are behind the frightening and cold-blooded digital campaign. Clearly, some of them, if not all, are Western- educated volunteers with experience, creativity and skill in modern PR.

It already has been reported that IS has a few “media centers” with names such as “Al Hayat” and “Al Itisam al Furqan” operating in secret locations in areas under IS control in Iraq and Syria. They are responsible for the production of the clips and messages and are assisted by a worldwide clandestine network of sympathizers who enhance the spread of the materials over all available platforms from YouTube to Twitter and Facebook.

What distinguishes IS from al-Qaeda are not only religious nuances or perceptions as to who is the enemy that should be targeted, but also the approach to mass media social networks and the ability to spread messages around the globe. In that sense, IS can be compared to a cheetah, fast and agile, and al-Qaeda to a plodding turtle. IS’s agility and ability to adapt have enabled it to repel cyber attacks against its on-line operations by Western intelligence agencies. IS rebuilt networks where they have been damaged.

However, IS’s successful propaganda and fear campaigns could paradoxically be the beginning of its own downfall. It is, in a way, reminiscent of the dialectic of the German philosopher Georg Friedrich Hegel, which states that in every thesis there is a built-in contradiction – the anti-thesis that is unleashed to destroy itself. IS’s advanced propaganda apparatus is generating its own demise.

In the first two years after its emergence, IS performed its despicable acts – beheading, raping, crucifying, and butchering its real or imagined enemies in Iraq and Syria – unnoticed by the West. The Western media and politicians didn’t care as long as Muslims were killing Muslims.

It all changed when IS started beheading Westerners and displaying the beheadings on social media.

“That was their biggest mistake,” one security expert told me. “It seems that they were so carried away by their initial successes in Iraq and Syria that they became very arrogant and self-confident that they could do the same to the West.”

This direct provocation shocked Western media and public opinion and was perceived as a threat that created a chain reaction.

Under public pressure, Western governments, led by US President Barack Obama could no longer sit idly by.

Thus, slowly and reluctantly, the US administration started to react. It created an international coalition to build a legal umbrella for military action and began a campaign of air strikes.

To military experts, certainly Israeli ones, the measured US and coalition air strikes seem somewhat inadequate. So far, over a period of six or so weeks, the air strikes only number a few hundred.

Nevertheless, the experts I talked to agree that despite the flaws and weakness, the airstrikes are causing damage to IS and slowing its advance – its tanks and heavy artillery are being destroyed, and oil production facilities, which are a main source of revenue for the organization, are being bombed, choking off its finances.

The Iraqi Kurds, thanks to the aerial umbrella, have managed to recapture the Mosul dam. Iraqi Shiite militias, supported by Iran, have retaken some towns. IS is far from conquering Baghdad.

In Syria, the Kurdish enclave of Kobani along the border with Turkey is holding on, and IS has failed to enter the city’s center.

But perhaps more important than success on the battlefield against IS is the fact that the world is awakening. For the first time in many years, there are signs that Western nations, Arab countries and even Iran see eye-to-eye and have a common interest in stoppingthe Islamic State.

Still, even if IS is defeated, the region’s problems and challenges are not going to go away.

“The Islamic State is not only a problem, it’s also a symptom of the disintegration of the Middle East as it was designed 100 years ago in the French-British colonial deal [the Sykes-Picot agreement] aimed at dividing the region into spheres of interests and influence,” said one intelligence analyst.

What began as the “Arab Spring” – a genuine drive by the masses for democratization, better and more equal distribution of national resources, and as a campaign against corruption – has turned into a volcanic eruption bringing in its wake disintegrating states (Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen are already dysfunctional entities) and threatening to bring chaos to others.

October 28, 2014

‘Klinghoffer’ Opera Controversy in New York: Remember the Israeli Intelligence Role in Exposing PLO Hijacked the Ship?

New York's Met, Selling Tickets and Not Backing Down

New York’s Met, Selling Tickets and Not Backing Down

The Metropolitan Opera, in New York, is going ahead with the controversial opera by John Adams — “Klinghoffer” — which, according to critics, gives too much credit and dignity to the anti-Jewish and anti-Israel complaints of Arab terrorists.

Leon Klinghoffer, a wheelchair user at age 69, was shot dead by the Palestinian hijackers of a cruise ship, the Achille Lauro, in October 1985.  The innocent man from New York and his wheelchair were dumped overboard.

The opera performers who portray the terrorists sing, in “Klinghoffer,” about why they killed him — out of hatred for Jews and Israel.

A few days after the hijackers left the cruise ship — part of a deal that let them walk free in Egypt — Israel’s director of Military Intelligence (the agency known as Aman) gave reporters transcripts — and a snippet of audio — to “prove” that PLO leader Yasser Arafat had ordered the hijacking of the cruise ship.

The Aman director was a future prime minister, Maj. Gen. Ehud Barak.  His rare revelations were written about in major newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times which noted that Arafat’s role was not absolutely proven — and “one well-informed Israeli source said there were arguments within the military over whether to release the transcript.”

Readers may recall that when a chartered aircraft left Egypt — to fly the hijackers to wherever they wanted to go — President Ronald Reagan ordered U.S. military jets to intercept that Egyptian airliner.  It was forced to land at a NATO base in Italy.

It was Israel’s military intelligence — specifically its eavesdropping experts in Unit 8200 — that gave the United States government full details of the Egyptian plane that was about to take off with the hijackers aboard.

The Israelis were enraged — and the Americans extremely disappointed — when Italy then released the hijackers and their commander, Mohammed Abbas.  Abbas, who had not been on the ship, was heard — in the Israeli recordings — chatting with and giving orders to the hijackers.  Abbas, in subsequent interviews, would claim that he was merely mediating the hijackers’ peaceful surrender to Egypt.

One revelation out of the entire drama was that Israeli intelligence’s Unit 8200 could — and did — listen to virtually any radio communications in the Middle East.  

Telephone calls, especially if they are on mobile (cellular) systems, are also relatively easy to intercept.  As are e-mails.

Similar to what the NSA has said since the 2013 leaks by Edward Snowden, Israeli intelligence people say: “Our enemies know we are listening in on them, but still they have to communicate — and we have the electronic advantage.”

 

October 20, 2014

Kurds Under Siege in Kobani Hint at Mass Suicide, Say Israel and all Nations Have Good Reasons to Help Fight ISIS

This article was written by Yossi Melman (co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars) for The Jerusalem Post and (in Hebrew) for Ma’ariv — after he and another Jerusalem Post contributor, Yasser Okbi, reached a Kurdish leader in the city of Kobani (on Syria’s side of the border with Turkey) now trying to repulse the Islamic State guerrilla army.

“If we receive help, we can push them back,” Anwar Musalem, a Kurdish leader in the besieged Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani, told us by telephone this week.

An attorney by trade, Musalem is one of the leaders of the Kurdish Defense Council. He is also one of the few local council members who have remained in Kobani in order to fend off Islamic State invaders.

In an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post’s sister publication Ma’ariv Hashavua, he told this reporter and Yasser Okbi that “the problem is that Islamic State has heavy weaponry.

“In recent days, we saw T-57 tanks and Hummers on the outskirts of the town,” he added. “We are being shelled with heavy artillery.”

Musalem said that thus far Islamic State fighters are occupying 40 percent of the town, particularly the suburbs, though they have been unsuccessful in gaining control of the city center.

“In the last week, they’ve sent truck bombs into the city center,” he said. “We are up against a superior fighting force that numbers over 10,000 men. Islamic State has also enlisted criminals from nearby regions, promising to give them the best houses in the city center if they join in the fighting. But we have managed to repel them. Hundreds of bodies [of Islamic State fighters] are scattered in the city center.”

Musalem declined to give a number as to how many Kurdish fighters are taking part in the defense of Kobani.

“You have to understand,” he said. “We have no interest in divulging military information to the terrorists.”

Kurdish women are also taking up arms and enlisting in the cause. The commander of the all-female units told Asharq al-Awsat this week that 500 women were fighting “at the head of the pack.”

Even if the number is a bit exaggerated, that doesn’t take away from the fact that there is a strong, impressive female contingent that is fighting for the Kurdish town’s survival. There are even rumors to the effect that Islamic State fighters are fearful of being killed by women since it would deny them the promised award of reaching paradise, where the services of 72 virgins await.

“If we receive military aid, with an emphasis on anti-tank weapons, ammunition and humanitarian aid food, and medicine, the town won’t fall, and ultimately we will prevail,” Musalem said.

“Even though there is a slight change in the Turkish position because of American pressure, we still need to see if this will be translated into serious action,” he said. “It’s hard for us to put stock in Turkish promises.”

Musalem was referring to various media reports – which have been denied – that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is showing more flexibility by agreeing to allow the United States and its NATO allies to use a Turkish military base for its aerial bombardments of Islamic State targets. Erdogan has thus far refused to join the campaign against Islamic State, although Turkey is a member of NATO.

Islamist Websites Suggest what ISIS Would Do to Kurds

Islamist Websites Suggest what ISIS Would Do to Kurds

According to Musalem, the town of Kobani, which lies just one kilometer from the Turkish border, numbers 15,000 Kurds, 700 of whom are elderly who either refuse to flee or are physically incapable of crossing the border. On the Turkish side of the border, there are hundreds of Kurds willing to aid their brethren, but the authorities have refused to allow them to cross over.

This is Turkish hypocrisy at its worst. Throughout the course of the civil war, Turkish authorities, including the military and other security services, knowingly permitted thousands of volunteers from around the world – including 30 Israeli Arabs – to traverse its territory and join rebel and insurgent forces in Syria and Iraq. These volunteers were primarily interested in joining Islamic State.

Kobani is of great strategic importance. It lies at crossroads.

Taking the town would permit the barbarians of Islamic State to use another access point along the Turkish border. It would also extend its control of Syria while giving it a considerable push in its campaign to reach the coast of the Mediterranean.

When asked if the Kurds expect aid from Israel, Musalem didn’t answer in a direct manner.

“We don’t have direct cooperation with Israel,” he said. “I don’t think Israel is involved in the war. But I also believe that every country in the world, every UN member state, is aware of and shares the concern regarding the dangers of terrorism. So it’s clear that it is in Israel’s interest, as well as the interest of every country, to assist us.”

Musalem would not even entertain the thought of what would happen if his Kurdish comrades fail to beat back the Islamic State onslaught.

“This will not happen,” he said.

A source in the Kurdish leadership told us through an intermediary that “we are also armed with knives in the event that we run out of fighters and we do not receive ammunition.”

“It’s obvious to us that we cannot leave our city,” the source said. “Islamic State will murder us, just like it has done in every other place it has overrun. We have no illusions. There are those among us who will prefer to commit suicide rather than fall captive in the hands of murderous terrorists.”

The Kurdish fighters of Kobani may end up turning into the modern-day version of the Jewish defenders of Masada who killed themselves rather than submit to the Romans.

October 18, 2014

What if U.S. Bombing Doesn’t Stop IS in Kobani? What About the ‘Nusra’ Extremists in Syria?

[The following article by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, was written for The Jerusalem Report.]

As the fanatics of the Islamic State (IS) advance into the beleaguered Syrian-Kurdish town of Kobani butchering, beheading and raping in what has become an all too familiar ritual of death  the international community sits idly by.

The events of Kobani are an ugly reminder of Srebrenica.

The Srebrenica massacre was an act of genocide by Serbian military units in July 1995 during the Bosnian war. Eight thousand Muslim Bosnians, mostly men, were murdered, and many women were raped and sexually abused, while international forces (led by Dutch troops) deployed to protect them did nothing.

Kobani has now been under siege for weeks by IS jihadist, for whom the capture of the town would be a major strategic accomplishment.

Taking Kobani would give IS control of a major gateway to Turkey; deepen the area under its control in Syria and take it further westward and closer to desired access to the Mediterranean. As these lines are written at the end of the second week of October, IS had captured half the town.

Kobani’s Kurdish militia fighters are outnumbered and running out of ammunition and food. The US Air Force has launched a handful of airstrikes to slow IS’s advance as part of the new strategy adopted by President Barack Obama – but to no effect.

The US president had declared that IS is a threat not only to the Middle East but also to the US and Europe, and, in effect, to the whole of Western civilization.

Therefore, one could have expected that the US – supported by other Western (UK, France, Australia, Canada) and Arab (Jordan, Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia) air forces – would fight this battle with the utmost vigor.

Yet, the US has so far launched no more than a few hundred air strikes against IS in Iraq and a few dozen in Syria. This is not only too little too late, it is an absurdity. Is this all mightiest air force on earth can do? Surely, they can do better.

By comparison, Israel’s Air Force launched, on average, more than 100 aerial strikes daily against Hamas during the recent Gaza war that lasted 50 days.

No less troubling is the behavior of Turkey, a member of NATO. Turkey’s strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan, until recently the country’s prime minister and now its president, put his army on a state of alert. Turkish tanks and troops are deployed at the border just over a kilometer from Kobani where they can see smoke pouring out of the besieged town, yet do nothing – just as the Dutch and other Western forces did in Srebrenica.

Erdogan has his own reasons for not sending in Turkish troops. In his short-sighted policy, he perceives Syrian leader Bashar Assad as a greater threat than IS – ignoring the aspiration expressed publicly by IS leaders to march one day into Istanbul. He hates the Kurds and doesn’t care if they bleed, thus hoping to weaken his own Kurdish minority, which aspires to self-rule.

As for the Kobani Kurds, they expect the worst.

“We were given knives in case bullets run out.” This message was indirectly conveyed to me by some local commanders in Kobani. “We don’t expect to leave alive if the world doesn’t help us to push back IS.”

What IS does to innocent Americans (video still by SITEintelGroup.com)

What IS does to innocent Americans (video still by SITEintelGroup.com)

If this happens, Kobani could turn into a modern-day version of the tragic end of the Jewish zealots in their ill-fated stand against the Romans at Masada.

Turkey might be justified if it prefers not to see only the blood of its sons being spilt in this battle. The US, its NATO allies, the Arab nations and as many UN states as can be mobilized must also deploy their troops. Without boots on the ground, IS will not be defeated – not in Kobani nor in the rest of Syria and in Iraq. And it will not end there.

IS is also present in Lebanon. It has some embryonic cells in various parts of the country, especially in the northern city of Tripoli. But, more dangerously, it is sending battle-hardened combatants from Syria into Lebanon.

There are daily battles along the Lebanese-Syria border between IS on one side and the Shiite Lebanese Hezbollah and the Lebanese Army on the other that already have already cost hundreds of casualties on both sides.

Former Lebanese president Michael Suleiman (Lebanon’s political parties have failed time and again over the last 10 months to elect a new president) said in interviews to the press in early October that IS’s ultimate goal is to conquer Lebanon in order to gain access to the Mediterranean.

At first glance in would appear to be a surprise that in these border clashes IS has been joined by its archrival, the Nusra Front – the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda. But, until two years ago, the two groups were united – or rather they were part of one organization that pledged allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri, who replaced Osama bin-Laden as leader of al-Qeida after the latter was killed by the US.

But during the heyday of the Syrian civil war, al-Zawahiri disapproved of some of the tactics used by IS and in return, IS rebelled against the al-Qaida leader and declared itself an independent group, under Abu Baker al-Baghdadi as caliph.

The main difference between the two groups is that while al-Qaeda is dedicated to first fight the West, IS’s priority is control of territory.

Thus came into being the declaration of establishing the “Caliphate of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” recently changed the grandiose “Islamic State” a clear hint of the group’s desire to conquer all the Arab and Muslim lands in the Middle East (Israel included) and beyond to spread into Europe.

In the last year, ISIS started battling Nusra Front fighters and eventually expelled them from the northeastern parts of Syria, including from Kobani and its surroundings.

Outnumbered by IS, Nusra redeployed its 7,000 combatants to southern Syria. They now control most of the border areas on the Syrian Golan facing Jordan and Israel.

Israeli military sources have told me on a few occasions that they closely monitor Nusra terrorists along the border but that so far it seems they have no intention of turning their guns against Israel.

A senior Israeli intelligence officer who follows the two organizations tells The Jerusalem Report that he was “not surprised” by the tactical alliances and cooperation occasionally seen between IS and Nusra. “The two cooperated in the past and continue to do so when it suits their interests,” he explains. “They share the same goal of fighting the Assad regime and are also ready to join forces against Hezbollah, which supports Assad.”

There were reports after the US commenced air strikes against IS in Syria that Nusra had declared it would ally itself with IS against the US. These reports, however, have been refuted by Israeli intelligence.

The senior source points out that among the targets bombed by the US were two that belonged to the Khorasan unit – a mixed bag of terrorists from various parts of the world including Chechen, Pakistani and Afghani members of al-Qaida who came as volunteers to Syria to fight alongside Nusra.

In response, the Nusra commander, Abu Mohammad al-Julani (his name implies he is a Syrian from the Golan) has denounced the US-led air raids and warned of retaliatory attacks on the “homes” of the Western and Arab countries that have taken part in the bombings.

In an audio message, he called on European and US citizens to denounce Washington’s actions. “Muslims will not watch while their sons are bombed. Your leaders will not be the only ones who would pay the price of the war. You will pay the heaviest price,” he said, warning that the battle would be brought “to the hearts of your homes.”

But, as the senior intelligence officer explains, there was nothing in the message that could be interpreted that Nusra will join IS in the battle. “Basically, the coordinated efforts by the two groups directed against Hezbollah are a tactical and temporary move. Nusra and IS remain bitter enemies. They are like water and oil.”

October 15, 2014

No Surprises, but Much to Discuss, for Obama and Netanyahu at the White House

No surprises were expected, and there certainly weren’t any in the public remarks by President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — as they began a closed-door meeting in the Oval Office by posing for photographs.

Here is the text, as issued by the White House Press Office — Wednesday (1 October) around 11:40 a.m. in Washington:

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, it’s good once again to welcome the Prime Minister of Israel, Bibi Netanyahu.  Obviously, he’s no stranger to the White House.  I think I’ve met with Bibi more than any world leader during my tenure as President.

We meet at a challenging time.  Israel is obviously in a very turbulent neighborhood, and this gives us an opportunity once again to reaffirm the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel, and our ironclad commitment to making sure that Israel is secure.

President Obama, in a recent Oval Office chat with Vice President Biden and leaders of Congress (White House photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama, in a recent Oval Office chat with Vice President Biden and leaders of Congress (White House photo by Pete Souza)

Throughout the summer, obviously all of us were deeply concerned about the situation in Gaza.  I think the American people should be very proud of the contributions that we made to the Iron Dome program to protect the lives of Israelis at a time when rockets were pouring into Israel on a regular basis.  I think we also recognize that we have to find ways to change the status quo so that both Israeli citizens are safe in their own homes and schoolchildren in their schools from the possibility of rocket fire, but also that we don’t have the tragedy of Palestinian children being killed as well.

And so we’ll discuss extensively both the situation of rebuilding Gaza but also how can we find a more sustainable peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Our agenda will be broader than that, obviously.  I’ll debrief Bibi on the work that we’re doing to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL, and the broader agenda that I discussed at the United Nations, which is mobilizing a coalition not only for military action, but also to bring about a shift in Arab states and Muslim countries that isolate the cancer of violent extremism that is so pernicious and ultimately has killed more Muslims than anything else.

And we’ll also have an opportunity to discuss the progress that’s being made with respect to dealing with Iran’s nuclear program, which obviously has been a high priority for not only Israel, but also the United States and the world community.

So we have a lot to talk about, and I appreciate very much the Prime Minister coming.  It’s challenging I think for an Israeli Prime Minister to have to work so hard during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but I know that the Prime Minister’s utmost priority is making sure that his country is safe during these difficult times.  And we’re glad that the United States can be a partner in that process.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  Mr. President, first I want to thank you.  I want to thank you for the unflinching support you gave Israel during our difficult days and difficult summer we had — expressed in so many ways, but also in an additional installment of support for Iron Dome, which has saved so many lives, saved many lives across the border.  And I thank you for that, and for the continuous bond of friendship that is so strong between Israel and the United States.

I also want to thank you for this opportunity to meet with you and to discuss the enormous challenges facing the United States and Israel in the Middle East.  There’s definitely a new Middle East.  I think it poses new dangers, but it also presents new opportunities.

As for the dangers, Israel fully supports your effort and your leadership to defeat ISIS.  We think everybody should support this.  And even more critical is our shared goal of preventing Iran from becoming a military nuclear power.

As you know, Mr. President, Iran seeks a deal that would lift the tough sanctions that you’ve worked so hard to put in place, and leave it as a threshold nuclear power.  I fervently hope that under your leadership that would not happen.

Equally, I think that there are opportunities.  And the opportunities, as you just expressed, is something that is changing in the Middle East, because out of the new situation, there emerges a commonality of interests between Israel and leading Arab states.  And I think that we should work very hard together to seize on those common interests and build a positive program to advance a more secure, more prosperous and a more peaceful Middle East.

I remain committed to a vision of peace of two states for two peoples based on mutual recognition and rock solid security arrangements on the ground.  And I believe we should make use of the new opportunities, think outside the box, see how we can recruit the Arab countries to advance this very hopeful agenda.  And I look forward to our discussions on these and many other matters.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you very much, everybody.

October 1, 2014

A Nuclear Deal with Iran? The Palestinian Issue? At the U.N. and with Obama, Netanyahu Tries to Minimize the Damage to Israel

Israel has warned that Iran’s secret project to build nuclear bombs must be stopped. In fact on Monday (29 September), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the United Nations General Assembly that defeating ISIS — while at the same time letting Iran continue with its nuclear weapons program — would be “winning a battle, but losing the war.”

Netanyahu, leaving Tel Aviv on Sunday, said he would also speak about the Palestinian issue at the United Nations in New York – and indeed he countered “all the lies directed at us” during and after the 50-day war with Gaza’s Hamas rulers. He specifically rejected what Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said at the U.N., including a charge that Israel committed “war crimes.”

Are any breakthroughs toward peace with Abbas’s Palestiian Authority expected soon?  To put it simply — no. Netanyahu raised the possibility that moderate Arab countries would see that ISIS and Hamas are basically the same, and those nations could help cement Israeli-Arab peace. Netanyahu did not even mention the principle of a “two-state solution” for Israelis and Palestinians.

This analysis by Yossi Melman (co-author of SPIES AGAINST ARMAGEDDON, an updated history of Israeli espionage and securitywas written for The Jerusalem Post the day before Netanyahu started his visit to the United States.

-

by YOSSI MELMAN

As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu departed to address the UN General Assembly in New York, and to meet with US President Barack Obama in Washington, fear in Israel was mounting with regard to the warming ties between Iran and the United States.

UN logoAmid the struggle against Islamic State (ISIS or IS), there were more and more indications that the US and the Western powers were willing to relax their position regarding Iran’s nuclear program. This impression became stronger, following the reports that the US is coordinating with Iran in its aerial assaults on IS in Iraq and Syria. 

Israel is worried that the offers made to Iran in the negotiations over its nuclear program, which Iran has rejected as unsatisfactory, demonstrate the world powers’ willingness to accept the Islamic Republic of Iran as a “threshold nuclear power” — just a screw’s-turn away from possessing a nuclear bomb.

Israel’s anxiety was apparent on Wednesday (24 September) when Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz revealed classified information – with the permission of the military censor’s office that is friendly to the government and more strict toward the media.

Steinitz revealed that Iran has used its Parchin military base as the site for secret tests of technology that could be used only for detonating a nuclear weapon.   

The reason why Steinitz came out with the information was to influence the world powers in the nuclear talks to delay the signing of an agreement with Iran that would leave Iran with significant capabilities to enrich uranium.

The negotiations with the “P5+1″ countries – the US, France, Britain, Russia, Germany and China – are supposed to end with a permanent agreement in around two months. Over the last week, senior officials in the Obama administration leaked some ideas that could form the basis of an agreement with Iran.

One idea is that Iranian centrifuges will not be dismantled but will rather be disconnected from the system that fuels them and connects them together. Another idea under consideration is to allow Iran to keep some 5000 centrifuges, which would put Tehran in a good position to enrich high level weapons-grade uranium in the future if it chose to do so. These offers that are unsatisfactory to Iran have infuriated Jerusalem.

Israel’s position was that in any agreement Iran would have to dismantle all its centrifuges or only be able to keep around 1000 which would prevent it from enriching uranium to a high level.  The latest developments in the Middle East have hardened Iran’s bargaining positions in the nuclear talks.

Netanyahu's red line in New York (Sept. 2012)

Netanyahu’s red line in New York (Sept. 2012)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and the moderates around him are interested in a permanent agreement on the nuclear issue that will remove the painful sanctions against their economy. 

On the other hand, as the master of “bazaar-style” negotiating, Tehran senses that it can reach a better deal for Iran if it stands firm. Iran feels that the West wants to see it a de facto partner in the coalition that is forming against ISIS. Even the accomplishments of the Shi’ites in Yemen, who currently control large parts of the capital Sana’a, encourage the Iranians and give them hope that regional events and time are in their favor. 

And because for Prime Minister Netanyhu  relations between Iran and Israel are a zero sum game, any Iranian achievement and any Western concession to Iran is a loss for Israel.

In Netanyahu’s speech at the General Assembly on Monday and in his meeting with Obama, the prime minister will try to minimize the negative fallout for Israel. It is doubtful that he will succeed. The world knows that the military threats that Israel wielded successfully from 2011-2013 are no longer realistic.

September 29, 2014

Unprecedented: A Recruiting Video on Mossad’s Website — “Your Imagination is My Reality”

Perhaps inspired by the increasing presence of Israeli spies in popular TV — fictional (and not always attractive) characters on Covert Affairs, Homeland,  The Americans, The Honourable Woman, NCIS and other series — the real-life Mossad is now having its say. On video.

For the first time, the Mossad’s website features a video aimed at making the secret agency’s work look exciting, significant, and satisfying.

It’s in Hebrew, but here are some highlights for the non-Hebrew speaker:

The male and the female (who may be Mossad personnel or may be actors) are portrayed as family people. That has been a constant theme, when Israeli intelligence operatives and veterans have spoken about their careers — and why they decided to engage in work that they cannot tell anyone about: To strengthen their country and protect their families.

The woman in the video declares: “I learned about myself, things that i didn’t know.” Later, the man says the same thing — and he also says: “My friends think I work in marketing.”

Together they say: “I always know there’s someone by my side I can depend on.”

The woman has a provocative line: “Your imagination — is my reality.”

Making the job seem attractive they both say: “I know I’m in the right place.”

And as they head home to their families (including a kid who flies a small drone aircraft?), she has the final word: “This is my mission. And maybe it’s yours.”

September 22, 2014

Mossad’s Longtime Assassinations Chief Has Died: Mike Harari Recently was Talkative

Mike Harari, the longtime head of operations for the Mossad — and founder of the ultra-secretive and effective Kidon unit that specialized in innovative assassinations — has died at age 87 in Israel.

Below please read what we posted about him, this past April 6:

Mike Harari has decided to talk – and the longtime commander of Mossad operations is confirming many of the episodes detailed in our book, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.

The long-retired and long-silent head of the operations unit named Caesarea, Harari is now confirming that he led the assassination campaign against Palestinian terrorists – mostly in Europe – after the massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972.

In a TV interview after retiring, he revealed almost nothing, but now...

In a TV interview after retiring, he revealed almost nothing, but now…

It had been believed that Mossad gunmen and bombers killed 5 or 6 Palestinian targets, before a case of mistaken identity – when the wrong man was killed in Norway – ended the string of assassinations in 1973.  A new biography of Harari, published in Hebrew with his full cooperation, says the number was twelve.

Harari is now 87 years old and, to a degree, seems to have decided to set the record straight while he still can do so.

As is stated in our book, Spies Against Armageddon, Caesarea operatives bristle at the notion that the Mossad is considered a kind of Murder: Incorporated. Killing Israel’s enemies is but a small part of what the famed foreign intelligence agency does.

Harari is now revealed to have a Beretta pistol with a silencer framed at home – the very weapon used to kill the first Palestinian target in the post-Munich campaign.

But when he gave the Mossad some valuable advice about ten years ago – stepping out of retirement (as noted when he granted an interview to the newspaper Yediot Ahronot) – did that mission involve assassination?  Yes.  Israel’s spy agency was about to embark on a series of killings of Iranian nuclear scientists, and Mossad veterans with relevant experience were consulted.

Delving farther back into Mossad history, Harari’s new clarifications echo and amplify much of what we describe in Spies Against Armageddon and in our previous books.  He does indeed dismiss as rubbish the portrayal of the post-Olympics killings in Steven Spielberg’s movie, Munich.

Harari also says that the code names publicized by journalists for the series of assassinations – Gideon’s Sword and Wrath of God – are pure inventions. The codes for the individual missions actually were names of Mossad’s female operatives.

As Spies Against Armageddon declares, there was no formal “Committee X” to consider death warrants for terrorists – despite reports by other writers over the years. Rather than a tribunal, there was a list of targets composed by the Caesarea unit – with the help of the military intelligence agency, Aman. Some of them were involved in the planning of the Olympics massacre, and others were just activists in or key helpers of the PLO and its shadowy Black September.

As for the mistake that left the wrong man dead in Lillehammer, Norway – and several Mossad operatives in a Norwegian jail – Harari now offers new details. He says 7 Israelis – a majority of the assassination squad sent to Scandinavia –misidentified the victim. Before the shooting, they declared certainty that the man was Ali Hassan Salameh – a crafty and dangerous Palestinian militant was very close to PLO leader Yasser Arafat.

Other members of the Mossad team, referring to the same photo of Salameh, felt that the man they had located was not the PLO man they were seeking.

Harari’s mistake was going with the majority.

He reveals that he and his boss – then-Mossad chief Zvi Zamir – submitted their resignation, but Prime Minister Golda Meir refused to accept it.

September 22, 2014

A New Mossad Website: “Do the Impossible” — Glitzier Drive to Recruit Spies Worldwide

The Mossad — the foreign intelligence and “special tasks” agency that used to reveal nothing about itself — has launched the most open attempt ever to recruit analysts and spies.

A new graphic says "One doesn't write history, one MAKES history," citing David Ben-Gurion

A new graphic says “One doesn’t write history, one MAKES history,” citing David Ben-Gurion

Take a look at Mossad.gov.il — in the upper right click “EN” to see the site’s pages in English.

In Hebrew there is a surprisingly revelatory list of jobs that the spy agency needs to have filled: including translators, especially to translate from Hebrew to key languages it identifies as English, French, Spanish, and Italian.

Spanish and Italian?  Fertile imaginations will guess that undercover Israelis do a significant amount of work in countries — or with businesses — that use Spanish and Italian.

Part of the new mossad.il.gov

Part of the new mossad.il.gov

As for highly proficient translators to Hebrew — for Israeli consumers of intelligence — the key languages are named as Persian, Russian, and Arabic.

The Mossad website also says the agency is seeking to hire foreign-language instructors to teach adults, especially for these languages: Persian, Arabic, Spanish and “English for business.”

September 21, 2014

What’s in the New ‘Spies Against Armageddon’? Mossad Options Limited in Iran, Palestinian Peace Hopes Stymied, Pressure from America, Upheavals in Syria and Egypt — and a Traitor

The authors of a best-selling history of Israel’s intelligence community – who revealed in 2012 that the Mossad had Israeli assassins operating inside Iran – now report that the assassination campaign has stopped.

Mossad chiefs decided that it became too dangerous, as Iran’s counter-intelligence units conducted an intensive manhunt. The Mossad could risk seeing its best combatants – Israel’s term for its most talented and experienced spies – arrested and hanged. Another factor: strong signals to Israel by the Obama Administration that it did not want acts of violence to continue inside Iran when negotiations were starting.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered the Mossad instead to focus – inside Iran – on hunting for evidence that the Iranians are cheating on their nuclear commitments to the West.

A new edition of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars reveals that the Mossad – the lethal, feared and respected intelligence agency of Israel – is going through tough times, even as the Middle East is in turmoil: posing an unprecedented set of challenges to Israel and the United States.  (The new edition was published in the Spring of 2014.)

In their updated book the authors – Dan Raviv of CBS News and Israeli journalist Yossi Melman (whose jointly written Every Spy a Prince was a national best seller in 1990) – report that a four-year campaign of assassinations ended after the killings of 5 nuclear scientists in Iran. The Associated Press and The New York Times (July 12, 2012) reported on Raviv and Melman’s original Spies Against Armageddon.

"Updated - New Revelations"

“Updated – New Revelations”

Also related to Iran, according to the updated book, the Mossad suffered unprecedented blows in 2013 when it was revealed that two of its operatives betrayed the organization and caused severe damage to its operations, morale, and omnipotent image. In prison they were known only as X and X2 – their identities kept secret by Israeli censorship and judicial gag orders. X turned out to be an Australian-born Mossad man whose story was unveiled after he hanged himself in his cell.

Authorities continue to block release of any details of X2’s action, except to hint that he gravely endangered former teammates.

The new Spies Against Armageddon has fresh information and perspective on huge events that have occurred since the original book came out in 2012:

–The civil war in Syria has become more vicious and complex, with the death toll rising to 130,000 and the list of lethal participants broadening to include al-Qaeda groups and intervention by Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other foreigners. Israeli spies were sent into action (crossing borders), and the air force has bombed Syrian targets – without any public confirmation.

–Egypt has had two changes of leadership: first, the election of a Muslim Brotherhood president, and then the toppling of President Mohamed Morsi by the Egyptian military. Israeli intelligence now secretly cooperates with Egypt against radicals in the Sinai – and potentially against Hamas in Gaza.

–Iran reached an interim agreement with the West, agreeing to scale back nuclear activities for at least six months; and Israeli leaders are frankly alarmed by signs of a rapprochement between Iran and America. The Mossad is scouring for evidence of cheating by Iran.

–The Israelis and Palestinians tried negotiating for a possible end to their historic conflict, and the intelligence community prepared for a possible outbreak of violence as Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts collapsed. A 51-day war between Israel and Gaza ensued within months.

–All the significant players in the Middle East seem to agree that leadership by the United States has been lacking, with Egyptians, Syrians, Iranians, Lebanese, Jordanians, and others – including America’s allies in Israel – wondering what President Barack Obama really wants.

The newly updated Spies Against Armageddon reveals that Israel has had to adjust rapidly its response to the tragic civil war that continues in neighboring Syria. Even as Israeli doctors treat wounded civilians, the Mossad takes the opportunity to glean intelligence – and, based on well established patterns, spies take advantage of chaos by crossing in and out of Syria.

Iran has been the Mossad’s top focus since 2002, but the mission has changed. As noted above, the assassination campaign has ended, due to increased dangers and opposition by the United States. Also narrowing Israel’s options: the Obama Administration’s determination to “give the talks a chance.” It’s clear now that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would not dare to bomb Iran. Netanyahu might saber-rattle, but there is no likely military option now

The Iranians, meantime, learned how to defend their nuclear computers and thus minimized damage from cyber-attacks – such as the Stuxnet virus, a joint U.S.-Israel creation.

Spies Against Armageddon is published in paperback and all e-book formats by Levant Books. Over 20,000 copies of Spies Against Armageddon have sold so far in Barnes & Noble outlets, independent bookstores, and on line. In addition to the national best seller Every Spy a Prince, other books co-authored by Raviv and Melman include Friends In Deed: Inside the U.S.-Israel Alliance and Behind the Uprising: Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians.

Their blog is IsraelSpy.com .

September 21, 2014

After the Scandal Dust Clears, Unit 8200 Will Probably Return to Israel’s Usual Eavesdropping

Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, wrote an analysis of the latest spy scandal in Israel: the protest by reservists in Unit 8200 (specializing in electronic or signals intelligence) who say they can no longer stand eavesdropping on Palestinians — because, they claim, a lot of the information they glean from phone calls and other conversations is unfairly used against innocent Palestinians.

The entire analysis by Melman appears on the website of the weekly newspaper Forward, whicih is published in New York.

Here is an excerpt:

Yossi Melman

Yossi Melman

In their letter, the mutineers stated that they would not carry out their assigned duties because doing so involves, among other things, listening in on the phone calls of Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, including many who are uninvolved in violence, to gather information on their health, infidelities, sexual orientations, financial problems, sex habits and other private matters. As the mutineers noted, those nuggets of intelligence are then used to pressure and blackmail the targets, to force them to act as agents and collaborators for the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security service.

The forty-three letter signers also complain that information gleaned from Sigint, or signals intelligence, that they provide sometimes results in the killing of innocent Palestinians during military strikes based on that information.

Their protest shocked Israeli society and generated condemnation from across the Jewish political spectrum, including the mainstream dovish opposition.

“I’m not saying that there are no mistakes. It is certainly possible that there were,” Israeli Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog wrote on his official Facebook page. “But there are ways to complain and to ensure that such claims are examined and discussed.” Herzog is himself a former major in Unit 8200.

But even angrier were thousands of reservists and veterans of the intelligence unit. …

[Yet] despite the current storm, after the dust settles down Unit 8200 will continue with its traditional duties as Israel’s intelligence shield and a hotbed of technology.

[For the full article, CLICK HERE] : Forward.com .

September 17, 2014

Death of an Israeli Spymaster: Former Mossad Director Yitzhak Hofi was 87

A former chief of the Israeli foreign espionage agency, the Mossad, has died.   Yitzhak Hofi, a retired general, was 87 and had varied health problems.

YItzhak Hofi, mossad, spies against armageddon

Yitzhak Hofi, as an officer in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces)

Hofi was head of the Mossad from 1974 to 1982, a period between two major wars: the 1973 Yom Kippur War (which took Israel by surprise, although General Hofi had been one of the few who warned that war could be coming) and the Lebanon war of 1982 (which ensnared the Mossad and all of Israel in a long military occupation and complex secret connections with Arab factions).

As head of the Mossad, he scored several notable achievements.  Obituaries are praising him for his role in rescuing hijacked airline passengers from far-off Entebbe, Uganda, in July 1976 — because the daring mission by army commandoes was preceded by Israeli spies surveilling the area and gathering all possible information about the Entebbe airport, the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin and his soldiers, and the German and Palestinian hijackers who held more than a hundred hostages.

In addition (as chronicled in our books, Every Spy a Prince (1990) and Spies Against Armageddon (2014)):

1. As Mossad chief, Hofi led a covert sabotage campaign against the nuclear ambitions of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. Israeli operatives killed scientists and damaged equipment that was about to be shipped from Europe to Iraq.

2. Hofi conducted secret peace talks with Egypt, which led to the historic visit to Israel by Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat in 1977 and then an American-mediated peace treaty in 1979.

Official photo of the retired Yitzhak "Haka" Hofi (Mossad chief 1974-1982)

Official photo of the retired Yitzhak “Haka” Hofi (Mossad chief 1974-1982)

3. Hofi arranged a dramatic rescue: the complex airlift of Ethiopian Jews, many of whom struggled to walk long distances to air strips in a neighboring country in complete secrecy. America’s CIA helped at several junctures.

4. Hofi’s Mossad had an important role in continuing a struggle against Palestinian terrorism, although the frustration of the PLO’s Yasser Arafat commanding a large force in neighboring Lebanon was eventually deemed by the Israelis to be intolerant — and the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 was the result.  That involvement, with many tragic mistakes and attempts to manipulate alliances with Lebanese factions, continued for eighteen years until Israeli forces withdrew.

Before he was appointed as Israel’s spymaster, General Hofi earned high praise — as Commander of the Northern Front — for being one of the few Israelis who took seriously the possibility that Syria might invade the Golan Heights (captured by Israel in 1967) and northern Israel. His instincts and observations led him to see that a war in 1973 could be near.

Israel’s Military Intelligence agency (Aman) emphatically rejected the possibility that Egypt or Syria might invade.

September 15, 2014


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