White House: If Pollard is Freed, It Won’t be Obama Freeing Him

An interesting update, on this Saturday when President Barack Obama is visiting his father’s homeland, Kenya…

His close aides told CBS News that if Jonathan Pollard — the spy for Israel who was sentenced to life in prison — is released this year, it won’t be because the President is freeing him.

It Wouldn't be Obama Doing it

It Wouldn’t be Obama Doing it

They say the ordinary parole process will proceed, and in November of this year — 30 years after Pollard’s arrest — he will be eligible for parole.  (His lawyers will doubtless plead for his release, in part based on his poor health.)

The White House aides say there is no connection at all with the Iran nuclear deal — and no attempt to sway Israeli opinion by releasing the American who spied for Israel.

They do confirm that the Pollard issue has been an irritant, for years, between Israel and the U.S.  (This information was reported by CBS News Chief White House Correspondent, Major Garrett.)

July 25, 2015

Some Perspective on Jonathan Pollard, the American who Spied for Israel — and, 30 Years Later, Might be Released by the United States

[A few thoughts by Dan Raviv, co-author of Every Spy a Prince and the current Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars – on the case of Jonathan Jay Pollard, the American Jew who was a U.S. Navy intelligence analyst and delivered secret documents and photos to Israeli diplomats]:

Jonathan Jay Pollard, circa 1984
Jonathan Jay Pollard, circa 1984

I have been reporting on the Pollard case since the day he was arrested in November 1985 — trying, with his then-wife, to seek shelter in the Israeli Embassy here in Washington.  The Israelis turned him away, and the FBI arrested them both.   He’s my age — both born in 1954.  He was 31 when he was arrested, and (like me) he’s 60 now.

 I immediately wondered why U.S. prosecutors were so hard on him — demanding and getting a life sentence.  After all, he was spying on behalf of an American ally.   Other Americans who sold secrets to foreign powers sometimes got lesser sentences.

But, for Pollard, it was bad luck.   The federal prosecutors wanted to make an example out of him — so that other Americans who had top-secret clearances in their government jobs would not be temped to give or sell any secrets to anyone.

Pollard campaign poster

Part of the Campaign for Pollard’s Freedom

Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger wrote to the judge in the case, reportedly declaring that Pollard had done “incalculable harm” to the U.S.   The reasoning was that in the world of espionage, you never know where the secrets might go.  Israel might conceivably give some secrets — about U.S. military capabilities — to Communist countries such as Russia.  

When I did reporting on the story inside Israel — for the books I’ve co-authored with Yossi Melman about Israeli espionage and security — I found a lot of embarrassment.  The Mossad — the famous and successful spy agency — insisted that it would never spy inside the United States.  The Pollard caper was the overly aggressive idea of one particular agency: a Science Liaison Bureau (Lakam, in Hebrew), which collected science and technology secrets all around the world.

In our research, it became clear that the Mossad and Aman — the large military intelligence agency — benefited from the huge quantity of secrets that Pollard provided.  They must have known there was a spy, working for Israel, inside America’s defense or intelligence establishment.

Because of the embarrassment, Israel was slow to offer any support for Pollard.  Finally, in recent years, Israel has repeatedly asked the U.S. to release him.   Bill Clinton considered doing it, and so did George W. Bush.   But the CIA and Pentagon officials told the Presidents not to do it — not to forgive Pollard in any way, because it would send the wrong signal to other Americans who might be thinking of doing what he did.  The FBI and Justice Department officials, too, were clearly against releasing Pollard.

Yossi Melman and I wrote about the Pollard case in our 1990 best-seller

Yossi Melman and I wrote about the Pollard case in our 1990 best-seller

What the American president — in this case, Barack Obama — needs is some kind of excuse: so he can tell the U.S. intelligence community that “for vital reasons of U.S. national interests,” he chose to release Pollard.    It has seemed in the past that for the sake of keeping the Middle East peace talks going — to get some concessions from Israel that the Obama White House thinks are vital — Obama might grant clemency to Pollard and release him.

Now, a published report suggested, Obama may free Pollard in order to show some good will toward Israel, hoping that Israeli public opposition — and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s highly vociferous opposition — to the nuclear deal with Iran might soften.

Releasing Pollard would spark celebrations in Israel, where there’s a strong tradition of “doing everything necessary to bring home any soldier who’s caught behind enemy lines.”  

But there’d also be a little bit of pain — as the world, and specifically the American people, would be reminded that there’d been an American Jew who was hired by Israel to hand over secrets.   Israelis have explained to me that they are always living with their backs against the wall — so sometimes they have to do desperate and daring things that aren’t polite and gentle.

Spy cases are often embarrassing.  Yet the U.S.-Israel relationship survived the anger caused by Pollard’s arrest in 1985.  The relationship will survive the sharp disagreement over the deal with Iran.  But clearing the decks wherever possible — eliminating the Pollard issue by freeing him — would probably help. 

July 24, 2015

Will Key Iranians be Removed from Sanctions Lists? It’s Complicated…

The U.S. Department of the Treasury insists that critics of the nuclear deal with Iran are wrong when they say one of Iran’s notorious exporters of terrorism, General Qassem Suleimani, will be removed from the list of Iranians who are banned from the world’s banking system.  Yet it is true that at least two Iranian nuclear scientists — reliably reported to have been targeted by Israel’s Mossad — will enjoy a lifting of sanctions in just a few years. 

This is based on an analysis by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, written for The Jerusalem Post.

The nuclear deal between world powers and Iran aimed at limiting Tehran’s nuclear program is a complicated and hard-to-understand labyrinth. It is 150 pages long, includes five appendices and contains some 30 thousand words.

Two-thirds of it consists of names of companies, corporations, government offices and individuals included on the list of sanctions levied against Iran since 2006 by the UN Security Council, the US and the European Union.

Iran was already a nuclear threshold state three years ago, before the especially painful sanctions were placed on it. Because of the hard blow that the sanctions dealt to Iran’s economy, its leaders understood that it was time to go to the negotiating table, which it had previously refused to approach.

Iran had already achieved its goal of being a nuclear threshold state.

Alongside maintaining the appearance of national pride and its efforts to minimize international inspection of its nuclear facilities, Iran’s main concern in negotiations with the West was to get the smothering sanctions removed. Now Iran is achieving that goal.

A senior Israeli official told journalists that during the 15-year life of the agreement Iran will enjoy – in addition to the unfreezing of around $100 billion of assets in foreign banks – an even greater flow of money from the renewal of oil exports and a renewal of trade with the world.

The blacklist, until now, included the names of some one thousand banks, insurance companies, ships, oil, gas and petrochemical corporations, airlines and aviation companies — as well individuals who are connected directly or indirectly to Iran’s nuclear program, its missile program or its weapons trade.

The assets – both liquid and real estate – of everyone on the blacklist were frozen, and all UN member states were forbidden from allowing them into their territory or engaging in commerce with them.

According to the agreement, the sanctions will be lifted, but in the next five years the conventional arms embargo on Iran will continue, and for eight years Iran will not be allowed to import or export missiles and their parts.

Three names on this list stick out in particular:

Fereydoun Abbasi Davani, a senior nuclear scientist, who served as the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran from 2011 to 2013. In November 2010, shortly before he got that job, he was wounded in an assassination attempt while entering his vehicle. The failed attempt was attributed to the Mossad. Abbasi Davani’s name was removed from the list of people sanctioned for being part of Iran’s nuclear program, but he will continue to be subject to sanctions connected to involvement in the missile program.

The second is Dr. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi, who was, according to foreign reports, responsible for Iran’s military nuclear program, known as “weaponization.” The group, made up of nuclear scientists and engineers, dealt with experiments using highly powerful explosives and computer simulations that checked how to assemble a nuclear weapon and how to miniaturize it and turn it into a warhead on a Shihab missile. If Iran were to assemble a nuclear weapon, Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi could be labeled “the father of the Shi’ite nuclear bomb.”

According to the same reports, he was the Mossad’s number one target for assassination, but he went into hiding.

Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi was put on the blacklist because of his involvement in work on Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, and because of Iran’s refusal to allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to question him. It can be assumed that his name would be taken off the blacklist of those involved in the nuclear program if Iran were to allow IAEA inspectors to question him. As of now, he will remain under sanctions for the next eight years due to his involvement with the Iranian missile program.

The third name, and perhaps the most interesting of them all, is General Qassem Suleimani, the Commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force. He is considered one of the most influential people in the Islamic Republic and a close confidant of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Iran's Qassem Suleimani visiting Shi'ite Militias in Tikrit, Iraq, fighting ISIS (El Alam News Network)

Iran’s Qassem Suleimani (wearing black headdress) visiting Shi’ite Militias in Tikrit, Iraq, fighting ISIS (El Alam News Network)

The fact that there are two people with the last name “Suleimani” on the list shows how tangled up it is. One of them is Gassen and the second is Qassem. Gassen Suleimani will be taken off the list. As for General Qassem Suleimani, the situation is more complicated.

At the age of 22, with the eruption of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Qassem Suleimani joined the Revolutionary Guards, and took part in the bloody war with Iraq, which lasted eight years. In 2000 he was appointed commander of the Quds Force.

“Al-Quds” is the unit formed in 1980 with the goal of “fighting the Zionist occupation.” However, over the years, its authority was widened and it became Iran’s special forces branch tasked with exporting the Islamic Revolution. The force is responsible for training, arming and providing aid to Shi’ite militias in Iraq and Yemen, for Iran’s ties to Hezbollah, Hamas and more.

Suleimani is responsible for managing the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria and for helping the regime of Bashar Assad in Syria.

After many years in which he operated invisibly, General Suleimani has resurfaced. He has attended public functions in Iran, given interviews to the media and been filmed on the battlefield in Iraq. However, despite his high position and great influence, his prestige has taken a hit in the past four years and his image as a superman commander has been damaged.

His setbacks occurred amid the “Arab Spring.” When the demonstrations and rebellions began in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Syria, Suleimani believed, and promised to Khamenei, that the table was set for increasing Iran’s influence in the Middle East. But that did not happen as Iran had hoped. The Muslim Brotherhood was ousted from power in Egypt, while in Iraq and Syria, Suleimani, the Quds Force and the militias they ran, struggled to win the war against ISIS and other rebel groups. Assad’s rule has weakened even more in recent months and his people have lost additional land.

General Suleimani was sanctioned from a number of directions: First, the US named the Al-Quds Force a terrorist group. He was also put on the blacklist for exporting weapons to Shi’ite militias.

The United States in particular has a score to settle with Suleimani because Washington sees him as responsible for the deaths of many American soldiers, caused by his people or their proxy Shi’ite militias in Iraq such as “The Bader Force” and “The Mahdi’s Army,” which were responsible for IED attacks against American soldiers in the previous decade.

The second reason is his involvement in an attempt (uncovered by the FBI in 2011) to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, Adel al-Jubeir, who today serves as the Kingdom’s foreign minister — by blowing up a high-class restaurant.

American officials confirmed that indeed Suleimani’s name will be removed from the sanctions list that appears in the nuclear agreement. But in actuality, only the European Union countries will unblacklist him. In the United States, he will remain on the terrorism black list. Because this is an extra-territorial list, the sanctions will apply to all those who conduct commercial dealings with him, irregardless of where they reside.

At least this is some consolation.

July 21, 2015

What Does Netanyahu Really Want? AIPAC Pushes Congress to Vote “No” — See Dan Raviv

Dan Raviv, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, a history of Israeli intelligence and security agencies, appeared on the CBS News television broadcast “Up To The Minute,” analyzing the nuclear deal with Iran — and why Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu is so vociferous in his opposition.

Also — this coming week, when Defense Secretary Ash Carter visits Israel — will significant U.S. “security compensation” be offered to Israel?

Watch the video from CBS News:


July 17, 2015

Israel Could Claim Some of the Credit for Delaying (at least) Iran’s Nuclear Bomb — but Chooses to Complain Bitterly

Tuesday (July 14) was historic and memorable, to be sure.  Israel was not able to persuade the United States and other world powers to walk away from a deal with Iran, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately branded the agreement “a mistake of historic proportions.”  

The tradition, in U.S.-Israel relations, is that — when the Israelis feel their security is diminished by something that America is doing — Israel requests and receive new security systems, weapons, intelligence, or even cash as a form of compensation from Washington.

Congress, where Israel has many supporters and sympathizers, will give the Iran nuclear deal a vigorous 60-day review.  As Republicans have the majority on both the Senate and the House, a vote to reject the deal may well succeed.  But then, as President Obama has already declared publicly, he would cast his veto.  Congress almost surely will not vote by two-thirds majorities to override that veto.

Yet the divisions and suspicions will persist.  The effort to restrict Iran’s nuclear work peacefully will be an issue in the 2016 presidential campaign.  But the deal will almost surely be a reality.

The analysis (below) is based on an article written for The Jerusalem Post by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars and other books including Friends In Deed: Inside the U.S.-Israel Alliance, also co-authored with Dan Raviv.  Note, near the beginning of the article, the Israeli minister’s eye-winking reference to Israel’s own nuclear capability.

In 2007 an Israeli cabinet minister told senior military officials that if a country wants nuclear weapons nothing will stop it.

“I know at least one country that did it,” he remarked.  He had just heard them agree on a strategy to do everything to keep Iran from getting the bomb.

Instead, he advised them to focus on delaying the nuclear program and to ask the U.S. for significant compensation.

Eight years later,  one can say that due to its successful diplomacy, sabotage and assassination operations attributed to Mossad and its demand for sanctions, Israel managed — so far — to prevent Iran from reaching the bomb.

It seems, though, that what Iran really wanted was to be a nuclear-threshold state and not to assemble warheads.  Thus one could say that Iran has succeeded in its goal — for now.

Of course, Israel was not alone in these efforts; it was an impressive international group that presented a unified front.

Another Israeli government could have appropriated the nuclear agreement as its victory. It could have said that as a result of wise diplomacy combined with daring covert actions, Iran was brought to its knees and forced it to sit down, negotiate and compromise on its nuclear program. Tehran had refused to do that from 2002 to 2013.

If we accept the calculations of the U.S. and other teams that negotiated the deal in Vienna, it will lengthen the amount of time it would take for Iran to amass fissile materials and produce a bomb to at least one year — for at least the 10-year term of the agreement.

It’s estimated that before Iran agreed to talk and clinch the interim agreement it was just two to three months from the bomb. The number of centrifuges of the old and outdated models at the uranium-enrichment sites in Natanz and Fordow will be reduced to a third of the current inventory: to 6,000 from 19,000.

Iran is forbidden to enrich uranium above 3.6%; its enriched uranium will be dwindled from 10 tons to a mere 300 kg.; and the nuclear reactor in Arak will be redesigned and won’t be able to produce sufficient plutonium as fissile material.

As for international inspection, even if it is not sufficiently intrusive, it still will be tighter than it is now.

If Iran honors the deal, the chance of a nuclear race in the Middle East by countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey will be slimmer.

Netanyahu's display at the UN in New York (Sept. 2012)

Netanyahu’s display at the UN in New York (Sept. 2012)

But Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has decided to take a different path. Instead of working hand-in-hand with the international effort to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions and claiming victory, it has preferred to stand alone.

Israel is opposed to the agreement. To any agreement with Iran, a lethal foe that declares it wants the Jewish State wiped off the map.

But Netanyahu tried to create a wedge between the US president and Congress and failed.  Israel exaggerated the Iranian threat and portrayed it in monstrous proportions.

Netanyahu was ridiculed, this week, for a tweet in which he declared that Iran not only aspires to impose its hegemony in the region, but to control the entire world.

True, it may have been better for Israel if the world were to keep harsh sanctions on Iran forever — strangling its economy until it surrendered all of its nuclear facilities, if one believes that Iran would ever have done that.

In any event,  Israel is not the center of the universe. The big powers have their own interests and sometimes they don’t listen to Israeli warnings — just as Israel, in many instances, is not attentive to requests from other nations, including its allies; for example, on the Palestinian question.

The nuclear deal is far from perfect, but the skies are not going to fall tomorrow.

Israel remains the strongest and most technologically advanced state in the Middle East. And, according to foreign reports that Israel declines to confirm, it has an impressive arsenal of nuclear warheads.

It is also true that lifting the sanctions will help revive the Iranian economy. But, according to estimates by US economists, the recovery will be slow. It is very unlikely that a dramatic shift in Iran’s rush for regional hegemony will be seen. Its ambitions are already high.

The deal will not increase Iran’s grip on Hezbollah, which is already full. Its support for terrorist groups and its subversive attempts to undermine and destabilize countries will not necessarily be enhanced. They are already in full gear.

These efforts, after all, are a double-edged sword. The more Iran intervenes in other countries’ domestic problems, the likelier it will be bleeding itself. Look at what happens to Iran in the Syrian mud, Yemen’s slippery slopes, and Iraq.

It is rather surprising to hear our leaders expressing fears about what will happen upon expiration of the agreement 10 years from now when they cannot say what will occur two or three months down the road on our borders with Gaza, Golan, Sinai or Lebanon.

All in all, it is possible to estimate that at least two tangible results will emerge from the nuclear deal. Israel’s military-security establishment will demand that its budget be expanded; and Israel will ask the US to supply it with a security compensation package. That is basically what the cabinet minister suggested eight years ago in the military briefing.

July 14, 2015

Before the Talks with Iran: U.S. and Israel Were Close on Sanctions and Sabotage, but Not on Assassinations (FLASHBACK)

[This is an adaptation from Chapter 1, “Stopping Iran,” in the history of Israeli espionage, Spies Against Armageddon by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman.  We pick up the story somewhere around early 2008.]

Israeli and American intelligence agencies evaluated the sanctions and determined that they were too soft.  The assessment was that only stronger, crippling sanctions might have some effect on Iran’s leadership.

It seemed that the kind of steps required would include a ban on buying Iranian crude oil and its byproducts.  China and Russia refused to lend a hand to that effort.  Sanctions thus were not hobbling the determination of Iran’s leaders to keep up their nuclear work.

Meir Dagan on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” 2012

The Mossad concluded that more drastic measures were needed.  Mossad director Meir Dagan’s battle plan called next for sabotage.  That took various shapes.  He encouraged joint planning and, eventually, joint operations on the Middle East’s clandestine fields of battle.

A CIA suggestion was to send a physicist, a Russian who had moved to the United States, to Iran to offer his knowledge to the Iranian nuclear program.  The caper was ridiculously mishandled when the CIA altered a set of nuclear warhead plans that the physicist was carrying, but neglected to tell him.  The Iranians would have received damaging disinformation.  Unfortunately for this scheme, the ex-Russian noticed errors and told the Iranians that something was flawed.  He simply did not know that the CIA wanted him to keep his mouth shut and pass along the materials.

Despite imperfect penetrations at first, the entire concept of “poisoning” both information and equipment was attractive; and the Mossad, the CIA, and the British kept doing it.  These agencies set up front companies that established contact with Iranian purchasing networks.  In order to build up trust, they sold Iran some genuine components.  But at a later stage,  they planted – among the good parts, such as metal tubes and high-speed switches – many bad parts that damaged Iran’s program.

The results of this international sabotage began to show.  Iran found itself having trouble keeping control of the equipment that it had bought from overseas.

The peak of these damage operations was a brilliantly innovative computer worm that would become known as Stuxnet.  Though its origin was never officially announced, Stuxnet was a joint project by the CIA, the Mossad, and Aman’s technological unit.  The malicious software was specifically designed to disrupt a German-made computerized control system that ran the centrifuges in Natanz.

The project required studying, by reverse engineering, precisely how the control panel and computers worked and what effect they had on the centrifuges.  For that purpose,  Germany’sBND– very friendly to Israel, in part based on a long habit of trying to erase Holocaust memories – arranged the cooperation of Siemens, the German corporation that had sold the system to Iran.  The directors of Siemens may have felt pangs of conscience, or were simply reacting to public pressure, as newspapers pointed out that the company was Iran’s largest trading partner in Germany.

For a better understanding of Iran’s enrichment process, old centrifuges – which Israel had obtained many years before – were set up in one of the buildings at Dimona, Israel’s not-so-secret nuclear facility in the southern Negev desert.  They were nearly identical to the centrifuges that were enriching uranium in Natanz.

The Israelis closely watched what the computer worm could do to an industrial process.  The tests, reportedly conducted also at a U.S. government lab in Idaho, took two years.

Virtual weapons of destruction such as Stuxnet can conceivably be e-mailed to the target computer network, or they can be installed in person by plugging in a flash drive.  Whether hidden in an electronic message or plugged in by an agent for the Mossad, the virus did get into the Natanz facility’s control system sometime in 2009.  Stuxnet was in the system for more than a year before it was detected by Iranian cyber-warfare experts.  By then, it was giving the centrifuges confusing instructions, which disrupted their precise synchronization.  They were no longer spinning in concert, and as the equipment sped up and slowed repeatedly, the rotors that did the spinning were severely damaged.

The true beauty of this computer worm was that the operators of the system had no idea that anything was going wrong.  Everything at first seemed normal, and when they noticed the problem it was too late.  Nearly 1,000 centrifuges – about one-fifth of those operating at Natanz – were knocked out of commission.

Iranian intelligence and computer experts were shocked.  The nuclear program was slowing down, barely advancing, and falling way behind schedule.  Stuxnet, more than anything else, made the Iranians realize they were under attack in a shadow war, with hardly any capability to respond.

In late 2011, they announced two more cyber-attacks.  One virus, which computer analysts called Duqu, showed signs of being created by the same high-level, sophisticated hackers who authored Stuxnet: U.S.and Israeli intelligence.

If that were not enough, like the Ten Plagues that befell ancient Egypt, the Iranians were hit by yet another blow – this time, a lethal one.  Between 2007 and 2011, five Iranian scientists were assassinated by a variety of methods.  One supposedly was felled by carbon monoxide from a heater in his home.  Three others were killed by bombs, and one by gunfire: four attacks by men on motorcycles.  That was a method perfected by the Mossad’s Kidon unit.

It was noteworthy that the United States flatly denied any involvement.  American officials even went so far as to publicly criticize the unknown killers for spoiling diplomatic hopes, because the chances of negotiations with Iran became slimmer after every attack.  The Americans, in private, said that they were chiding Israel.

July 13, 2015

Meet the IAEA Official Who’ll Monitor Iran’s Nuclear Program — with Spy Agencies’ Help

[This is adapted from an article by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, for The Jerusalem Post.]

Let’s consider Massimo Aparo. He is the international bureaucrat who is to be on the watch to make sure that, in case of an agreement, Iran doesn’t violate it. And, in the absence of a deal, he would aim to be able to tell the world if Iran is rushing to produce its first nuclear bomb.

Massimo Aparo (center) : photo by IAEA

Massimo Aparo (center) : photo by IAEA

In other words, Aparo is the gatekeeper and has to act as the international community’s bad cop in its dealing with the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions.

Aparo, an Italian, heads an elite unit of the International Atomic Energy Agency known as Iran Task Force. It was created three years ago by IAEA’s director-general, Japanese diplomat Yukiya Amano.

The Iran Task Force is part of IAEA’s Department of Safeguards and Verification, which is in charge of making sure that all its state members properly use nuclear technology and knowhow for the declared civilian and peaceful purposes: scientific research, medicine, agriculture and industry – and not for illegally producing nuclear weapons.

The only country that is a member of IAEA and is under a unique and particular watch with a specially assigned unit to monitor it is Iran. And rightly so.

Iran has a bad and dubious track record of 12 years of cheating, cover- ups, lies and concealment of the true nature of its nuclear program with its 18 sites, including two uranium- enrichment facilities, reactors, laboratories, waste plants and more.

It established secret purchasing networks operating worldwide to illegally buy equipment and technology for its program by circumventing the sanctions.

It has worked indefatigably to advance its plans to be a nuclear- threshold country, and in doing so it has been in breach of many IAEA and UN Security Council resolutions.

Here enters Aparo. The mere fact that Amano ordered the establishment of the Iran Task Force is evidence of the huge mistrust that even a politically biased UN agency such as the IAEA and certainly the international community feel facing Iran and its leaders.

When the task force was established, its main focus was to collect data and analyze what was happening in the Parchin military base. According to information collected by Western and Israeli intelligence services and forwarded to the IAEA, the base served as a testing laboratory for “weaponization.”

There, Iranian nuclear scientists and engineers were conducting tests with highly sophisticated explosives and simulations to learn the process of a chain reaction to trigger a nuclear explosion.

When asked by Amano to allow Aparo and his task force to visit Parchin, Iran flatly rejected the request. Since then, according to images obtained from commercial satellites, Iran was involved in extensive cleanup works by removing huge chunks of soil, flooding some parts of the base with water and destroying several buildings – all to cover up what really happened in Parchin and to make sure that if task force inspectors were ever to visit the place and take samples, no traces of illegal nuclear activity would be found.

Aparo’s task force has 50 or so inspectors of different nationalities. They are nuclear engineers, physicists, chemists, computer and communication experts and intelligence data analysts.

Iran insisted that neither Americans nor Brits be included in the force. To the Iranian mind, they are spies. Actually, in the Iranian perception, the entire Iran Task Force is an extension of the CIA, Mossad, MI6, you name it. Eventually, Iran had to agree to the inclusion of one American member and one British member.

In the past, Iranian intelligence officers tried to recruit agents among the IAEA inspectors. As Olli Heinonen, a former deputy director-general of the IAEA and head of the Department of Safeguards and Verification told me, he himself faced many Iranian efforts to recruit him by offering him bribes and gifts.

It can be assumed that Iran will continue to disrupt, preempt and gain advance knowledge and understanding of task force plans.

Aparo’s problems are twofold. First are the rigid regulations of IAEA which require that a country be notified in advance – days, sometimes weeks in advance – about the inspection visits.

It gives the host country sufficient time to conceal and cover up whatever it doesn’t want the inspectors to see.

Iran has mastered the measures it has taken in its concealment and stalling tactics. Heinonen recalls that Iran even came up with the excuse “We lost the key” when it was requested to let him and his team into a particular site.

Second, IAEA monitoring equipment is old and outdated. It includes mechanical seals and cameras which are attached to the centrifuges enriching uranium and the cylinders and barrels where the uranium and other nuclear-related materials are stored.

To enhance the inspection, what Aparo needs are provisions that will permit him and his crew to have snap visits, on the spot, with advance notification of only a matter of hours. He also has to be allowed to use much more advanced monitoring equipment, including online cameras and seals, as well as lasers and sensors directly linked to IAEA control rooms in Vienna.

Aparo, in his late 50s, is an expert in nuclear machinery and instruments.

He graduated from Sapienza University of Rome, worked for an Italian agency advancing new technologies, and was employed by the European Space Agency. Around 20 years ago he was recruited by the IAEA.

I was told by former IAEA inspectors that he is a serious and solid nuclear expert but lacks leadership qualities.

Leadership skills are needed not only to lead a complex international force with members of different backgrounds and perhaps different agendas but to be tough and determined in dealing with his Iranian counterparts and hosts, who will do everything possible to sabotage his mission by endlessly arguing about every minor step and detail.

But above all, Aparo – with or without a deal, even with new monitoring equipment and intrusive inspections – will have to rely at the end on outside assistance.

As in the past, the Mossad and Israeli Military Intelligence – along with the CIA, MI6, German BND, French intelligence and others – will have to enhance their efforts and improve intelligence collection on Iran’s nuclear program in order to detect ahead of time whether the Islamic Republic is breaking out to the bomb.

July 12, 2015

Where to Buy ‘Spies Against Armageddon’: on the People, Missions and Goals of Mossad and Israeli Security from 1948 to the Headlines of Today

Click here for full details of how (and where) to buy Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, the most complete and balanced history of the Mossad and Israel’s other security and espionage agencies.

The authors are Dan Raviv (of CBS News) and Yossi Melman (the longtime Haaretz expert on intelligence, who now is a defense, strategy, and espionage analyst for the Jerusalem Post and other Israeli media).

This is their fifth book together.  Their best seller (in 1990-91) about Israel’s intelligence community was Every Spy a Prince.  They also wrote a character-filled history of U.S.-Israel relations, Friends In Deed.

To glance at readers’ reviews posted at Amazon.com, please click here.  For example:

Despite the book being over 350 pages, it goes by very quickly (I read it in a weekend). ” –daniel michael  |  17 reviewers made a similar statement
Highly recommended read for those interested in Middle East events. ” –zedillo99  |  15 reviewers made a similar statement
“Raviv and Melman have written a wonderful history of Mossad. It reads like a thriller, but conveys a thorough history of the Israeli intelligence agency.” –Kai Bird, Pulitzer Prize winner

Spies Against Armageddon, israel spy, covert operations, dan raviv, yossi melman

SPIES AGAINST ARMAGEDDON is a powerful, vivid history of Israel’s intelligence community – led by the famous and feared Mossad – from the country’s independence in 1948 right up to the crises of today. Israel’s battle plan, aimed at stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program, may drag the United States into war and soaring oil prices. The plan is based on deception, sabotage, assassination, and intimidation. The book tells the story, never told before, of Kidon – the super-secret unit that is like a Mossad within the Mossad. Kidon carries out special operations, including assassinations and sabotage. Kidon had a daring role in destroying Syria’s nuclear reactor in 2007.

Israel’s methods and motivations can be fully understood only when seeing how they developed over the decades. Bold spies have penetrated enemy capitals, and secret agencies felt a historic responsibility to protect Jews worldwide. The authors chronicle major changes in Israeli intelligence agencies’ priorities – away from Palestinian peace prospects, shifting to Iran as the main focus. The book also exposes some episodes of which Israeli spies are ashamed; scandals they would prefer remain buried. Still, in the age of the internet and spy satellites, Israel is the most innovative nation in the use of espionage as an alternative to war.

Dan Raviv

yossi melman, spies against armageddon, iran nuclear

Yossi Melman

Among the burning questions addressed and answered in SPIES AGAINST ARMAGEDDON are these: Who planted a powerful computer worm in Iran’s uranium enrichment centrifuges? Who has been motorcycling boldly through the streets of Tehran, assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists? Are Israeli spies regularly inside Iran and other enemy countries? Did the Mossad make a huge mistake when two dozen of its operatives were seen by hotel security cameras in Dubai, or was it a successful murder mission? Do the assassins, as portrayed in the movie “Munich,” really feel pangs of conscience? Have Israel’s enemies ever managed to plant agents in the Israeli government? Does the United States really trust Israeli intelligence, or is the relationship limited by mutual mistrust? Why do U.S. security agencies believe their close ally is spying on America? Is Israel trying to maneuver the U.S. into attacking Iran?

This book contains new information about the Mossad director from 2002 to 2010, Meir Dagan, and how he put “the dagger back between the teeth” of the spy agency. When he publicly declares that he opposes an Israeli military strike on Iran, what does he favor instead? The authors of this book have spoken with all the major players, and a multitude of minor players as well, to gain a balanced and deep understanding of Israeli actions at times of crisis – and Israel almost always feels it is in a crisis.  Click here for reviews and more information on Spies Against Armageddon.


July 11, 2015

Censorship Lifted: Two Israelis Missing in Gaza — Shabby Treatment to at Least One Family

[Yossi Melman wrote this analysis for The Jerusalem Post.]

Once again, Israel’s security establishment proved how it disregards the right of the public to know. But the scandalous efforts to prevent the publication of the case of Avera Mengistu, the young Israeli of Ethiopian origins who went into Gaza — on his own — by climbing over the border fence, is nothing compared to the way the government treated his family and the entire Israeli Ethiopian community.

The family claims they were threatened by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and police officers not to talk to the media about the fate of their son. It turned out that they were rarely briefed by the authorities who were handling the case and that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bothered only Wednesday to call them.

The strong feeling is that if the skin color of the missing Israelis would have been paler or had he come from a different socioeconomic class, the security apparatus would have treated the case with less indifference.  We would have seen more care and consideration.

It is true that the government and the military establishment have set an important goal to deprive Hamas of having “assets” and “bargaining chips” — in order to reduce the price Israel would have to pay for the release of Mengistu and another Israeli of Arab origins who also infiltrated into Gaza and is missing.

The government wants to prevent the repetition of past prisoner swaps such as the 1985 Jibril swap, the 2004 swap for Colonel (res) Elchanan Tenenboim, who was lured to a drug deal and kidnapped by Hezbollah, and more recently the Gilad Schalit case with Hamas. On all these occasions, and others, the government found itself pressured by the public, families and lubricated PR campaigns, eventually caving in to both the domestic pressure and to the other side.

This conduct by the security establishment is rooted in a new obsession that began in the last Gaza war.

It is the desire to prevent the kidnapping of Israeli civilians or soldiers at all costs.

When it comes to soldiers in the battlefield, the IDF used an illegal and unethical method coded “Hannibal,” in which it employs unrestricted fire power to prevent attempts to kidnap soldiers, even though it could kill the soldier and many innocent civilians.

Indeed, Professor Asa Kasher, who wrote the ethical code of the IDF, claimed Tuesday that at least one soldier who was targeted for kidnapping by Hamas fighters was killed by Israeli fire. And indeed many Palestinians were killed by IDF fire under such circumstances.

And now we witness the cases of Menigistu and the other Israeli who went into Hamas-ruled Gaza. They are civilians, and not soldiers, and the methods used to hurt them are different: not friendly fire, but court gag orders and heavy censorship.

The overriding goal remains the same – not to surrender to Hamas.

But no matter how important that aim is, the use of dubious measures cannot be justified. If the government wishes to be tough and determined and not to cave in this time, it can do it by showing its will power in negotiations – and there are already secret negotiations underway via Egyptian and German intelligence officials – and not by ignoring the family and making a mockery of basic values in a democratic society.

July 9, 2015

One Year After a Gaza War, Israel Braces for Another — Lessons Learned?

[This article is adapted from an article by Yossi Melman — co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars — in The Jerusalem Post newspaper on Friday, July 3.]

A year ago this week, Israel launched its invasion of Gaza — the third war with the Hamas-ruled Palestinian strip in less than seven years.

Israeli security officials speak of another round of warfare as almost inevitable — insisting there is solid intelligence showing weapons being smuggled into Gaza, Hamas and other factions building more rockets to be aimed at Israel, and tunnels being dug (and even Hamas claiming that it has again progressed underground beneath Israeli territory).

After investigating last year’s war — which killed 2,251 Palestinians (including 551 children, according to the United Nations) and 73 Israelis — a U.N. team documented what it judged to be possible war crimes by both Israel’s army (the IDF) and the Palestinians of Hamas.

UN Human Rights Council

UN Human Rights Council

On Friday, the U.N.’s Human Rights Council voted to condemn only Israel.

It was noteworthy that the United States — despite a recent spotlight on tensions between President Barack Obama and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — was the only nation voting “no” on the anti-Israel resolution.  

The vote was 41 to 1.  (Israeli diplomats took some comfort from the fact that India — a huge and important nation Netanyahu has been cultivating with friendship — abstained on the resolution.)

The first Gaza war — following Hamas’s violent ouster of the al-Fatah faction — was in December 2008, and the second was in November 2012. Simple calculation shows that the time elapsed between the first and second campaigns was nearly four years.

While the cease-fire between the second and third wars lasted just 19 months, on average it can be calculated that every 22 months Israel has found itself facing the same problem in Gaza.

So, with the same calculation, Israel can expect another round in Gaza in the spring of 2016.

But Middle Eastern realities are not mere products of statistics.

They don’t necessarily adhere to the scripts written by the planners. Sometimes the military battles generate surprising twists in the drama.

The last war, codenamed by IDF computers “Protective Edge,” could be one of these unexpected events. It has the potential for a long-term tacit or formal arrangement between Israel and Hamas, one that could put an end to the rocket launching, sporadic or systematic, from Gaza and could bring quiet and tranquility for the residents of southern Israel.

In that sense, the last Gaza war could turn out to be a mirror image of the Second Lebanon War in 2006. That war exposed many tactical weaknesses of the Israel Defense Forces but, on the strategic level, empowered Israeli deterrence. The inhabitants of northern Israel have for nine years since enjoyed and benefited from a peaceful border as Hezbollah is deterred from attacking Israel.

Something similar can emerge in the South. The situation Israel has witnessed in the last 12 months on the Gaza front is complex; alongside hopes, it contains risks and danger that another war is on the horizon.

What were the war’s flaws and weakness? It lasted 50 days and was not only the longest of all three Gazan campaigns, but also the second- longest war in the history of the State of Israel after the 1948 War of Independence.

During Protective Edge, Israel was bombarded with nearly 5,000 rockets, more than in any other of its military clashes, including the two previous Gaza wars and the Second Lebanon War.

For its critics, the war was also too long. But there was a reason for it. The political echelon led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, as well as the IDF leadership, were concerned about reducing Israeli casualties, which due to the urban and densely populated terrain could have been higher than the 67 soldiers who died in battle.

It was also said that Israeli intelligence failed to have accurate information about the number, size and spread of the tunnels Hamas had dug to be used as a surprise weapon.

But this claim is not true.

Based on military sources, this writer wrote in October 2013 – nine months before the war – that Hamas had built 20-30 tunnels.

Surely, IDF Military Intelligence and the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) did know that Hamas had dug 30 tunnels leading in the direction of Israel. And, indeed, during the war the IDF found and destroyed all of them.

The problem, however, was that, even though the information was conveyed to the government, neither the IDF’s top generals nor the cabinet ministers fully grasped the full strategic meaning before the war.

Still, the war results, as we analyze them today, are satisfactory.

It was a limited war because the declared goals were limited. Israel didn’t wish to topple Hamas because that would have meant once again conquering Gaza, which is a small territorial enclave with a big but very poor population of 1.8 million inhabitants.

Conquering Gaza – which from a military point of view could have been achieved within days – would have resulted in many casualties to both IDF troops and Palestinians.

And it would have forced Israel to once again be the occupier and daily provider of Gaza. Israel did not want to be in this position.

Bearing in mind that Israel had no serious alternatives other than to end the war the way it did, its achievements were numerous.

A growing wedge was created between Hamas and Egypt, which perceives the Islamist organization as a threat to its own national security and accuses it of supporting and collaborating with the terrorists of Islamic State in Sinai.

The security cooperation between Jerusalem and Cairo has reached unprecedented levels. Both countries are partners in the war against terrorism, which this week in Sinai caused the Egyptian Army heavy casualties by the hands of Islamic State and showed how painful and formidable a task it is.

There is no military solution to Gaza.

The third Gaza war will be judged successful only if the southern border is truly peaceful. This is only possible if a long-term agreement is reached among Israel, Hamas, the Palestinian Authority and Egypt – with financial support from Qatar to rebuild and help Gaza normalize the life of its inhabitants.

Without a deal that will politically and economically regulate and administrate life there, Gaza will never be rehabilitated. Even worse: The situation will deteriorate and Israel will be confronted with Islamic State, a worse and more brutal enemy.

July 4, 2015

Netanyahu Can Breathe a Little — Iran Nuclear Talks Not Ending June 30

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

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can be temporarily satisfied. Due to good intelligence the Iran nuclear talks will probably not be finalized before the deadline on Tuesday.

Netanyahu at UN in New York, September 2012

Netanyahu at UN in New York, September 2012

Every day that passes has to be considered an achievement for Netanyahu and anyone else who opposes an agreement. It is very likely the talks will be extended – although not forever.

The US seems anxious to clinch a deal in a matter of days.

If it is achieved by July 4, Congress will have only 30 days to review the agreement. If there is no agreement by July 9, the congressional review period will be 60 days and, then, anything can happen.

Thus, President Barack Obama wishes to stamp the deal as quickly as possible. But it is not entirely in his hands. The power broker is Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. He calls the shots.

After three extensive meetings with Secretary of State John Kerry, Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif left the talks in Vienna and flew home for consultations with Khamenei.

Zarif and his team feared that their communication lines were intercepted. They don’t even trust their secured and coded phones and computers.

Media and experts publications claimed Israeli intelligence was eavesdropping at the hotels where the various rounds of talks were taking place.

Zarif’s trip is also evidence that he doesn’t have the authority to finalize a deal; a deal that most of its clauses, including the stumbling blocks, have been known for months. Judging from past precedents, it is not sure that Zarif will return to Vienna with his supreme leader’s blessing. In the past, Khamenei authorized his nuclear team to sign an agreement, and then due to domestic pressure from his radicals he backed off. Khamenei’s approach may well be revisited – first let’s sign and then we’ll see.

One has to be completely stupid to dare predicting the chance of a deal being finalized.

The gaps, as stated by the foreign ministers of Germany, France and UK, remain large.

They revolve around all well-known controversial topics: the demand that Iran opens its suspected military sites for international inspection; that it makes its scientists, especially those involved in suspicious military programs in the past available for international questioning; and to accept that sanctions are not lifted until Iran meets its obligations according to the agreement once it is signed.

In short, the chance of clinching a deal remains to be seen.

Yes, logic says an agreement is an Iranian imperative and yes, the US administration is very hot to have it. But once again with Iran’s leader having the final word anything can happen.

Nothing is assured.

June 29, 2015

Israelis Call it a Lynching: Ambulance with Wounded Syrians Attacked by Israeli Druze — One Syrian Killed

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

A notorious name from the past is surprisingly linked, now, with the unexpected violence in northern Israel and the Golan Heights.

Samir Kuntar — the Lebanese Druze terrorist who was incarcerated for 29 years in Israel for murdering in cold blood a baby — and then released in a prisoner swap with Hezbollah in 2008 — is responsible for whipping up violence among Druze on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights. That’s what some Druze community leaders charged on Tuesday.

The comments came less than a day after Golan Druze carried out what Israeli authorities have termed “a lynching” of a wounded Syrian who was being transported by an IDF ambulance across the frontier late Monday. Some Druze activists have charged that the Israel Defense Force is helping the Nusra Front rebels in Syria (a branch of al-Qaeda, according to the United States) — clearly considered enemies of the Druze.

The attack on the ambulance (the second in two days) shocked Israel’s defense and political establishments, who have called for calm while taking pains to remind the Druze of the state’s historic commitment to their well-being. The Druze, a sect that are neither Muslim nor Jewish, neither Arab nor Jew, number around 140,000 in Israel (where their men serve in the Israeli military, often with distinction and making good advantage of their Arabic language) and 700,000 in Syria.

CIA's public map of Israel: see Golan Heights in upper right

CIA’s public map of Israel: see Golan Heights in upper right

“The man who is behind the incident that is fueling the violent events here is Samir Kuntar,” said Jabber Hamud, the head of the Sagur regional council who also serves as the chairman of the Druze and Circassian local councils. “We’ve known this for some time, and I call on the heads of the defense establishment to do all that is necessary.”

After his release from an Israeli prison Kuntar became a senior official in Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shi’ite movement. He was put in charge of the Syrian part of the Golan Heights, with a special emphasis on the Druze community there.

According to Israeli military sources Kuntar commanded in the past months a few terrorist attacks aimed at Israeli soldiers in the area.

Hamud was speaking at a meeting of Druze community leaders in the village of Nabi Shu’ayb, a holy shrine of the Druze community. The meeting was also attended by prominent Druze from the Golan Heights, including the Druze border village of Majdal Shams, where the attack on the Israeli ambulance — the “lynching” — occurred.

The Druze leadership called the meeting to convey the message that  they do not share the view that Israel is aiding Nusra Front jihadists in Syria.

Deputy Minister Ayoob Kara, he of Druze descent, sought to communicate the Netanyahu government’s position that Israel’s treatment of Syrians is a purely humanitarian matter.

A military source told The Jerusalem Post late Tuesday that the wounded Syrians who were attacked on the Golan Heights were not members of Nusra Front.

“As an Israeli Druze, I am spurred to answer the call to assist our Druze brothers in Syria,” said Salman Amar, the head of the Julis regional council. “We will do everything in our power to help them defend themselves against any attempt to butcher them solely because of their Druze background.”

“Thus far, almost 1,500 Druze have been killed in fighting in Syria, and we here did not say a word about it because the dead were soldiers and officers and fighters,” he said. “But once the community became a target for liquidation solely because of their Druze ethnicity, we cannot sit idly by. We will do what we can to protect them.”

Despite the emotionally charged atmosphere, Amar called on his fellow Druze to obey the law.

“The State of Israel is a country of laws, and everyone who breaks the law must be put on trial,” he said. “I call on the Israel Police not to hesitate in bringing the criminals to justice.

“Whoever attacks an IDF vehicle is a terrorist, and the attack was a terrorist act,” he added. “Whoever raises a hand to an IDF soldier must have that hand cut off, whether it is an extremist Druze, a Jewish fanatic, or a nationalist Arab. I will be a bitter enemy of whoever attacks the IDF, and it doesn’t matter what the excuse is.”

Kara told The Jerusalem Post that those responsible for the violence are “just a tiny minority” of the 15,000 Druze residents of Majdal Shams “who for a while now have been incited by the Assad regime in Syria as well as by Hezbollah, who have been disseminating deceitful propaganda about Israel’s supposed cooperation with Nusra Front.”

The goal of the campaign, according to Kara, is “to drag Israel into the civil war in Syria and to further divide the Druze community.”

Sources well-versed in the subject say that residents of the Syrian Druze town of Khader on the Syrian side of the Golan, 2 kilometers from Majdal Shams, have been told that no harm will come to them so long as they remain neutral in the civil war.

Nonetheless, there remain pockets of Khader that are solidly supportive of the Bashar Assad regime and even serve in its army. It is known that Syrian intelligence officers maintain a presence in the village, and there are quite a number of residents who enjoy either direct or indirect financial support from Damascus. That gives the Druze monetary incentive to back Assad.

The rebels fighting Assad have no desire to occupy the village. Instead, their goal is to gain control over the entire swath of area stretching from Khader to Damascus. In recent weeks, fierce gun battles have been reported on the main highway connecting Khader to Khan Arnabeh.

Israel’s strategy, however, remains the same as it has been manifested in the 50-months-long bloody civil war – to stay out and not intervene as long as peace, calm, and tranquility can be maintained along the Israeli-Syrian border.

June 23, 2015

Longtime #2 in CIA: Warm Intelligence Relations with Israel — Mossad Doesn’t Spin Us

[This article and interview are adapted from an item written for The Jerusalem Post by Yossi Melman, co-author of books including Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars — a history of the Mossad and other security agencies.]

Michael Morell, the CIA veteran who recently retired and wrote his memoirs, understands why Israel’s prime minister rejects President Obama’s strong desire for a deal with Iran. And, having heard that Israel may have some tacit understandings with the al-Qaeda affiliate, Syria, Morell strongly counsels against that path.  

Morell Michael

Michael Morell (on CBS This Morning)

From his vantage point of 33 years as a professional intelligence officer, Morell has strong advice for to Israel. “Don’t make deals with them. Pressure them. Fight them. Turn against them, otherwise they will turn against you.”

The former deputy director of the CIA’s comments were made in response to a question regarding reports in the Arab and international media that – in order to maintain peace and tranquility along its border with Syria — Israel has reached some understandings with the Nusra Front, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda.  Nusra controls most of the Syrian side of the border along the Golan Heights.

“From my experience following al-Qaeda, I think and believe that you must not try to cut deals with them. Pakistan tried to do it with these guys telling them: ‘We won’t attack you if you don’t attack us.’ But it is a dangerous game. Even if you cut a deal with them, they won’t honor it.”

Morell knows the Israeli intelligence community very well. He has visited Israel and met in Washington many times for professional meetings with his Israeli counterparts from the Mossad, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and Aman — the military intelligence agency known in foreign encounters as Israeli Defense Intelligence.

Last week, he granted a special interview to The Jerusalem Post, the first of its kind to an Israeli media outlet. It coincides with the publication of his book, The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism – From al Qaeda to ISIS, which he wrote with Bill Harlow, a former longtime spokesman for the Central Intelligence Agency.

Morell was born in 1958 in a small town in Ohio. He finished his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics from the University of Akron and Georgetown University, respectively, and was recruited to work as an analyst in the CIA.

He spent most of his career in the Directorate of Intelligence of the agency, and in addition to reaching the No. 2 position in the CIA, he also served twice as acting director: once in 2011, after director Leon Panetta became secretary of defense, and a year later, after Gen. David Petraeus stepped down as a result of his extramarital affair.

After Morell’s retirement two years ago, he joined the private sector as a consultant to Global Beacon Strategies and to CBS News.

One of his most exciting and prestigious assignments was to serve as the CIA’s daily briefer for “Customer No. 1” – the agency’s nickname for the President of the United States. In that capacity, after nine months on the job he found himself traveling with President George W. Bush to visit a school in Florida. It was September 11, 2001. At 8 in the morning, Morell walked into the President’s hotel suite.

“Michael, anything of interest this morning?” Bush asked his intelligence briefer.

“On the most important day of President Bush’s tenure,” recalls Morell, “his intelligence briefing was unremarkable, focusing on the most recent developments in the Palestinian uprising against Israel. Contrary to media reports, there was nothing regarding terrorist threats in the briefing.”

With impressive honesty, Morell admits that when he first heard that an airplane had hit one of the twin towers in New York City, “my guess at the time was a small plane had lost its way in bad weather and, by accident, had crashed into the World Trade Center.”

Later, the Secret Service rushed the President and his staff to Air Force One, and they took off to an undisclosed destination. America was under attack.

Morell was aboard, trying to figure out what really was happening.

When the media reported that the Democratic Front for Liberation of Palestine, led by Nayef Hawatmeh, was responsible for the attacks on U.S. soil, Morell told Bush that the DFLP “is a Palestinian rejectionist group with a long history of terrorism against Israel, but they do not possess the capability to do this.”

A little later, while the information was still blurry, Morell was ready to take a risk and speculate, “I would bet every dollar I have that it’s al-Qaeda.”

Nevertheless, he doesn’t conceal his self-criticism that 9/11 exposed the failure of the American intelligence community, led by the CIA, to anticipate and prevent the attacks.

At the same time, he is very proud of the agency’s success in eventually tracking Osama Bin Laden and killing him in 2011 in his Pakistani hideout.

Yet the CIA, according to Morell, can’t rest on its laurels. He thinks al-Qaeda is still a very dangerous organization posing a serious threat to the U.S. and the West.

Question: More than Islamic State?

“I distinguish between the two only because everyone does. But I think that both groups have the same goals, both believe in the same ideology, both are equally violent and evil. And actually I believe that al-Qaeda poses a greater threat to the U.S. and the West than Islamic State.”

How so?

“Because al-Qaeda has better and greater capabilities. I am worried about the situation in Yemen where al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is located.

In the past, the government there fought against terrorism. But now because of the civil war they stopped. AQAP has very good bomb-makers. The bombs were so sophisticated they were not detected by airport machines. Only due to good intelligence, several of their lethal plans to bomb airplanes were prevented.

I am also concerned about another al-Qaeda entity – Khorasan Group – sent from Pakistan by Ayman al-Zawahiri into Syria. There are indications that the two groups cooperate with each other.”

Al-Qaeda confirmed this week that Nasser al-Wuhayshi, leader of AQAP, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen. What is your answer to the claim that both al-Qaeda and Islamic State were created as a result of U.S. involvement in the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the ’80s and the U.S. toppling of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in Iraq in 2003?

“It is ridiculous. It is an attempt to revise history. There are many reasons for extremism and these terrorist groups would have been created regardless of U.S. politics and actions.”

Morell shared an entertaining anecdote about Saddam in his book, which explains why the deposed Iraqi dictator grew a beard during captivity.

Morell says a clean-shaven Saddam was taken for medical treatment under U.S. custody, and tried to flirt with the nurse, to no avail. When he asked his U.S. debriefer – whom Saddam had become friendly with – why the nurse wasn’t interested, the American escort told the Iraqi dictator (in jest) that it was because American women like men with facial hair.

Saddam walked into the courtroom a few weeks later with a wild beard. Commentators concluded that he was trying to look Islamic to appeal to religious elements in court. “It was a humorous example of Saddam’s misjudging Americans,” wrote Morell.

But this could also be said about the United States – that it doesn’t understand the Middle East and that its actions in the war against the terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria are weak.

“Yes, I know. But I am convinced that the Iraqi government in the end will regain the lands Islamic State has captured from them. It will take a few years, maybe three or four, but it will happen. We can’t fight instead of the Iraqis.”

And what about Syria. It seems the U.S. has no clear strategy?

“Yes, Syria is a big mess. Everyone is fighting everyone. There is a war there between a dictator and his people. A war being fought between emissaries of Iran and Saudi Arabia, between Shi’ites and Sunnis, between secular groups and fanatic Islamist organizations.

I don’t think anyone has an idea or plan of how to resume stability in Syria. To be honest, I must admit that I can’t answer how to solve the problem there. I can only say that efforts must be made to ensure that the mess in Syria doesn’t spread to nearby states, like Jordan or Israel.”

You mentioned Israel. Could you describe the relationship between the CIA and the Mossad?

“I won’t go into details, and I am going to be careful. I can say that the CIA has ties with many intelligence agencies in the world. Some of these relationships are more developed, and others are less developed.

With Israel’s intelligence community – not just the Mossad – the relations are some of the best in the world.”

And the political problems and disagreements between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama don’t disrupt the cultivation of intelligence ties?

“One of the nice things about intelligence cooperation is that it goes under the political radar. Even in times of political crisis, the ties and cooperation continue and sometimes even help reach a solution.”

What do you think of the Israeli intelligence people you have met with?

“I think they are some of the best in the world. Not just professionally, but as people too. I have only praise and admiration for them.”

In the past, American intelligence officials have made remarks indicating that Israel manipulates intelligence information to influence them, is that true?

“I have never experienced anything like that, and I never thought that Israeli intelligence was trying to ‘sell’ us something that we didn’t believe or that we thought was untrue. Nevertheless, certainly, sometimes your political leaders take stances that are not compatible with your intelligence positions.”

Are you referring to the disagreements between Netanyahu and Obama over Iran’s nuclear program?

“Yes, that is true, with regard to Iran, but I won’t go into details. I can only tell you that the argument is not about whether Iran poses a threat, but rather how close and tangible that threat is.”

Does that mean you agree with the assessment that Iran poses a threat?

“Yes, of course. Completely. But keep in mind that the nuclear program has three foundations. One is to achieve fissile material. The second is to build a bomb, and the third is to have delivery means. Most of the world’s deliberations are focused on the first stage. And here, too, a distinction must be made. Everyone is trying to understand what happens at the facilities designated for enriching uranium. But Iran has already declared them, and we know about them.”

You mean the facilities at Natanz and Fordo?

“Yes. But I think we should be much more concerned that maybe Iran has other secret facilities that we don’t know about.

The facility in Fordo was covert, but it was exposed thanks to good intelligence. So why do we think that they built only one and not more facilities that still haven’t been discovered? That is the great danger.”

Explain the problem with the covert uranium enrichment facilities.

“If they don’t have a covert facility, it will take them three or four years from now to build one. If they started building it three or four years ago, then by today they would already have one that we don’t know about. What I learned in intelligence is that I don’t know what I don’t know.”

How far do you think Iran is today from a bomb?

“When I was working, it was two to three years. Since then, they have advanced in shortening time. Without inspection and a deal, Iran would be able to produce its first bomb in two to three months.”

Do you support a nuclear deal with Iran?

“Because I don’t know the details, I can’t say. There are differences between what the U.S. says and what Iran claims. I think the deal the U.S. agreed to is a pretty good deal because of the inspection regime.

As an intelligence officer, I also ask, what is the alternative? There are two alternatives: To go back to where we were, with no negotiations, sanctions continue and are even harder – and they continue to work on their program. What is the implication of that? That the time to a bomb, would be reduced from two to three months to weeks.

Another alternative is a war, which would send a powerful message that we will not allow them to have a bomb. I am worried about such alternatives. There is a debate in Iran about what they should do with their nuclear program. A military strike would strengthen the hard-liners, who would say it wouldn’t have happened had we had nuclear weapons. That would enhance their efforts to get the bomb.”

Still, do you understand the Israeli prime minister’s position? 

“Yes I do. The difference between the President and the prime minister is easy to explain. The President focuses on getting a nuclear deal, which would take us from two or three months to one year from a bomb. The prime minister is focused on the bigger problem of Iran: What to do about their support for terrorist groups like Hezbollah and insurgents in the region, such as in Yemen, and their desire for regional hegemony, and their calls for the destruction of Israel.

The prime minister focuses on all of these in addition to the nuclear program, and he says the sanctions are good, let’s continue – because the Iranian behavior will not change.”

June 19, 2015

This is How Israel Could Be Drawn into Syria’s Civil War: To Save the Druze

[This post is adapted from an article originally written by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon (a history of Israel’s security and espionage agencies), for The Jerusalem Report — and in recent days, Druze citizens of Israel have taken part in demonstrations demanding action by the Israeli military to rescue and protect their Druze brethren in Syria.]

A “Druze State” existed in Syria from 1921 to 1936 located in the Jebel Druze – which means Druze Mountain ‒ region: part of the volcanic heights in southwest Syria, around 40 miles from the Jordanian border and a similar distance from the Israeli 1973 ceasefire line with Syria along the Golan Heights.

Today, as pressure grows from the advancing forces of the Islamic State (ISIS), the Syrian Druze community is preparing to establish and defend its own autonomous zone.

For the first time since Syria’s civil war began over four years ago, it can be said that Israel may be sucked deeply into the bloody Syrian quagmire — because of pressure by Israel’s 130,000 Druze citizens.

The Druze State was an autonomous district during the days when the French ruled Syria and Lebanon between the two world wars. Its capital and central city was and still is As-Suwayda. During the state’s brief period of “independence,” the Druze led by Sultan al-Atrash rebelled in 1925 against the French.

The revolt spread to engulf the whole of Syria, but it was quashed within two years by the French. Still, the revolt did ensure that autonomy lasted until 1936, when the area’s special status was cancelled, and it was incorporated into Syria as part of the Franco-Syrian treaty signed the same year.

The Druze dream of independence vanished.

Yigal Allon, the late Israeli strategist

Yigal Allon, the late Israeli strategist

Thirty years after that autonomy ended, Yigal Allon — an Israeli cabinet minister and former general considered a hero of the 1948 War of Independence, entertained the notion of helping the Druze in Syria reclaim their independence.

Allon revealed that he had maintained contacts with the Atrash family, considered to be the main leaders of the Druze in Syria, and even had made a secret visit to Suwayda.

Allon’s idea was part of a larger geo-strategic concept, known as the Peripheral Alliance, which dominated Israel’s foreign and security policy from the 1950s to the ’70s. It was based on the old dictum of “my enemy’s enemies are my friends.”

Carried out covertly by the Mossad (as a kind of alternative foreign ministry) the Peripheral concept succeeded in forming secret ties with non-Arab states in the Middle East and its periphery – Turkey, Iran and Ethiopia – as well as non-Arab ethnic and religious minorities in the hostile Arab states. The secret relationships included mutually beneficial contacts with the Kurds in Iraq, Christians in Lebanon and Sudan, and the Druse in Syria.

During the Six-Day War in June 1967 ‒ before Israel captured the Golan Heights on the sixth and last day of the war‒ Allon lobbied then-prime minister Levi Eshkol, defense minister Moshe Dayan, his cabinet colleagues, and the chief of staff Yitzhak Rabin for an extended campaign that would intrude more deeply into Syria.

Allon urged an effort to conquer not only the Golan Heights, but also the Suwayda region.

“I dreamed the dream of the Druze republic” Allon recorded in his memoirs, “which would spread in southern Syria including the Golan Heights and would serve as a buffer state between us, Syria and Jordan.”

His proposal was rejected.

Moshe Ya'alon, Israel's Defense Minister

Moshe Ya’alon, Israel’s Defense Minister

Today, the Druze question is again being discussed in closed-door meetings of the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) and senior cabinet ministers and officials. They have all taken note of the fact that the regime of Bashar Assad and his army loses more and more territory, and the forces of the Islamic State advance in the direction of Suwayda and its nearby villages.

Israeli policy has so far been consistent and reiterated on numerous occasions by retired military chief of staff Minister Moshe Ya’alon — who has kept his job as defense minister despite major cabinet changes after Israel’s election this year.

The policy Ya’alon voices is non-intervention, though with clear “red lines” that no party in Syria should ever cross.

The aim is to maintain quiet and tranquility along the 100-kilometer (62-mile) border in the Golan Heights, stretching from Mount Hermon in the North to the Jordanian border in the Southeast — and to defend Israel’s broder security interests, such as not allowing the Lebanon-based Hezbollah (funded and basically commanded by Iran) to acquire advanced weapons such as ground-to-air missiles.

Reports that are not officially confirmed by Israel credit the nation’s air force with bombing — on at least 10 occasions in the past two-and-a-half yars — convoys and storage depots meant to be used to transport Iranian and Syrian missiles to Hezbollah.

To achieve its goals, Israel has even allowed, without any interference, the radical Islamist group Jabhat al-Nusra (the Nusra Front) — which is practically a Syrian branch of al-Qaeda — to take over almost the entire border area from the Syrian army.

According to foreign reports (with full discussion within Israel discouraged by officials including the military censor), Israel has maintained secret ties with the Nusra Front to coordinate the successful execution of this policy. In return, Israel is said to supply some humanitarian aid; and Israel accepts and treats — in a field hospital near the border — wounded civilians and combatants from Syria (reportedly from villages and families associated mostly with the Nusra Front).

The secret ties led also to an understanding that Nusra Front guerrilla fighters would avoid clashing with Druze living in several villages – the biggest being Hader ‒ on the Syrian side of Mount Hermon.

When Hezbollah tried to gain a presence in the area by transferring in 500 militiamen from Lebanon and other parts of Syria, the local Druze communities — with Nusra and Israeli forces looming in the background — expelled Hezbollah from the neighborhood.

Not so incidentally, the militia that tried to take hold was commanded by Samir Kuntar — a Hezbollah terrorist of Druze origin who in 1979 murdered four Israelis (including a 4-year-old girl whose skull he crushed wit a rifle butt) on the beach at Nahariya after landing there with three other members of a Palestinian guerrilla group.

Kuntar was sentenced by an Israeli court to life imprisonment, and he served 29 years in an Israeli prison until he was exchanged in 2008 — with other Arab convicts — for the bodies of Israeli reservist soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser (whose kidnap on the Lebanon border sparked the 2006 war with Hezbollah).

Israel’s reasonable, though perhaps not highly moral policyof cooperation with Islamist groups on the Syrian side of the border, may soon change, however.

Ayub Kara, a Druze member of Israel's cabinet

Ayub Kara, a Druze member of Israel’s cabinet

“The situation of our Druze brothers is rapidly deteriorating,” said Israel’s Deputy Minister for Regional Cooperation Ayub Kara, the only Druze member of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. “I am very worried.”

Kara, who is one of the leaders of the Druze community in Israel and a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, says he is in constant communication with Druze leaders in Syria.

In early June, political and religious leaders of the Israeli Druze community met to discuss the situation.  It is clear that they will not be able to stand still and ignore events on the other side of the border in the event of atrocities against their Syrian brethren.

“I am a bit more relaxed about the situation in the Mount Hermon area, but much more worried about what happens in Jebel Druze,” says Kara.

On the Syrian side of Mount Hermon, there are approximately 25,000 Druze; but in the mountainous Suwayda region there are around 800,000.

“Until recently,” the deputy minister stressed, “ISIS didn’t dare to approach the Druze concentration in the Suwayda district, but now they are advancing with tanks and armored cars and are threatening our community.”

According to reports that have reached Israel, Islamic State terrorists in early June were still 30-40 kilometers away from Suwayda, but they already started to activate their brutal tactics. Dozens of Druze men and women were ambushed and abducted ‒ most of them burned alive or beheaded.

Suwayda prepared for battle: declaring a nighttime curfew, accumulating food, and organizing a militia to hold key defensive positions.  The Assad government showed no willingness to send its army to defend the Druze.

Druze, wherever they live, usually do rely on local governments for safety and prosperity. This has been evident in Israel, where they serve in the IDF and police, and also in Lebanon and Syria (in normal times). In return the Druze show their loyalty to the government protects them.

However, this reality is changing in Syria. The Assad army legitimately feels overstretched and perhaps cannot do much to protect the Druze. But the other reason is political: The Assad regime recently demanded that the Druze community send 27,000 young men to serve in its army — as though to replace the dead, the wounded, and those who have deserted.

The Druze have refused to comply with the demand.

Feeling less secure than ever, the Druze are using Syrian army veterans in their community to organize a determined militia.

“But they lack proper equipment and expertise,” says Kara the Israeli politician, “and they are eager to receive support from anyone.”

Gen. Amir Eshel, commander of Israel's air force

Gen. Amir Eshel, commander of Israel’s air force

Including from Israel, he was asked?

“I am in a very sensitive position to answer that question, because I am a member of the Israeli government and whatever I say will be echoed and repeated. So I have to be cautious. However, I can say that they need help from any source.

“I can also add that we are their brothers and cannot be complacent and stand aside when their fate is at stake. We will work hard with all measures available to us to help our brothers if their lives are in peril. We will not let them be annihilated.”

Kara points to a declaration last September by the commander of the Israel Air Force, Gen. Amir Eshel. While meeting the spiritual leader of the Israeli Druze, Sheik Muafaq Tarif, Gen. Eshel assured him: “Our alliance with the Druze doesn’t end at the border.”

One can assume that if worse comes to worst and indeed the Syrian Druze community finds itself facing an existential threat, Israel will have to act in its defense — probably using its air force. And if it hesitates to do so, Israeli Druze will force the government to do so and fulfill Eshel’s promise.

June 16, 2015

Claim of a Mossad Break-In to Grab a Shoe — Believe It? It’s Big On #Twitter

From Toe to Heel, This Claim is Ridiculous — But Mossad’s Often Named in Fables

Asghar Bukhari, a Muslim activist in Great Britain, claims — on Facebook — that “Zionists” broke into his home.  To intimidate him, he suggests, they stole just one thing: one of his shoes.  One shoe.

Bukhari warns other anti-Israel activists that they should be on the lookout for similar antics, which he interprets as a message from the Mossad that they know where you live and can attack you anytime they feel like it.

The Mossad has had no response, of course.  But many pro-Israel commentators have had a wonderful time making fun of Bukhari’s claim.  In fact, a Twitter hash tag — #MossadStoleMyShoe — achieved instant popularity.

From @GeneralBoles on Twitter

From @GeneralBoles on Twitter

A newspaper article in Haaretz has some good examples.  How about the tweet that purports to show Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordering Israeli agents to go out, grab their target (a black shoe), and don’t return until they have it.

Would the Mossad really risk some of its operatives on an illegal break-in in a foreign country, for the sake of taking a shoe and thus sending a well-heeled message?  No.

But ridiculous inventions and conspiracy theories are nothing new, when it comes to the Mossad.

An Egyptian newspaper once wrote that the Mossad had trained sharks and was using them to spy on various facilities and people.

When it comes to Israeli intelligence’s prime target — Iran — an official of that country claimed 8 years ago that the Mossad employed squirrels to spy on Iran. In fact, over a dozen squirrels were taken into custody — but it isn’t known if they cracked under interrogation and talked.

June 14, 2015

Who’ll be Israel’s Next Spymaster? — Four Candidates for Mossad Director

[This article was originally written for The Jerusalem Post by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.  Note some details of Mossad personnel’s careers are limited by censorship requirements in Israel.]

The hush-hush conversations in the hallways of the Mossad headquarters in Glilot, a few kilometers north of Tel Aviv, over the last few weeks have danced around the question: Who will replace the agency’s director, Tamir Pardo?

Curiosity surrounding his would-be replacement intensified when Pardo replaced his incumbent deputy – whom the censor has asked only be identified as N. – by a new person now known as A.

These deputies came from the two most prominent Mossad operational units. N., like Pardo, originated in and later commanded the unit known as Keshet, which directs surveillance and break-ins into “static objects” – offices and equipment belonging to adversaries, where bugs and cameras are installed and computers infiltrated.

A. comes from perhaps an arguably more critical unit, Caesarea, which is in charge of sending agents on operations in enemy lands. Since a decade ago when the Mossad was restructured, the deputy head has also overseen the Operations Directorate, which houses all of the organization’s operational units.

Pardo is no stranger to hasty in-house shuffling. In his four-and-a-half years in office, he has had four deputies. In this sense, he has continued the atmosphere of restlessness that permeated the tenure of his predecessor, Meir Dagan, who whimsically replaced his deputies like a new pair of socks.

Tamir Pardo, the Mossad director - Who's next?

Tamir Pardo, the Mossad director – Who’s next?

Nevertheless, the answer to the question of who will replace Pardo depends on another issue: Will Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu extend Pardo’s term, which is due to expire at the end of 2015?

Unlike Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), where the head is legally limited to a five-year term with the option for the cabinet to extend it for another year, there is no Mossad law on the books. The Mossad, the Prime Minister’s Office, and the Justice Ministry have been struggling for the last seven years to draft such a law.

Witness the results: The almost-mythological Isser Harel held the office for 11 years until 1963; his successor, Meir Amit, lasted just five years. Yitzhak Hofi served in the post in the ’70s for eight; as did Dagan, who served from 2002 to 2010.

The media adviser in the Prime Minister’s Office declined to answer The Jerusalem Post’s questions on this matter. But insiders and officials familiar with the Mossad estimate that it is very unlikely Netanyahu will extend Pardo’s term beyond five years in December.

This is not to say that Pardo was a bad manager or failed in leading the Mossad in its new challenges and frontiers. While Pardo might lack some of Dagan’s charm and charisma, he has continued in the footsteps of his predecessor.

According to foreign media reports, the Mossad under Pardo was less involved in assassinations. Only one Iranian nuclear scientist was killed in 2011, in comparison to five when Dagan was in office.

But this does not indicate that Pardo is more hesitant and less daring than Dagan. It is more likely that those who were in charge of the assassination campaign – which was only one measure in a broader campaign to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons – reached the conclusion that the method was outdated and had exhausted itself as a useful tool.

Yet Pardo continued to see Iran as the Mossad’s number-one target — for gathering information, as well as other possible operations — with Hezbollah as the second.

Although the Mossad basically remained a human intelligence (humint) organization – recruiting and running agents as sources for information were its bread and butter under Pardo – it expanded its sigint (intelligence derived from electronic and communication messages used by the targets) and cyber capabilities; and it improved relations with its worldwide counterparts, especially America’s Central Intelligence Agency.

Indeed, last week CIA director John Brennan visited Israel and met with Pardo and other senior intelligence chiefs, exchanging estimates about Iran’s nuclear program and the likely impacts of the P5+1 negotiations – which are reaching a crucial point, as talks are set to conclude at the end of the month.

Another important development in the Mossad in the last five years is the enlargement and upgrade of its research and analysis department, to the degree that it is now almost equal to its big brother – the research department of IDF Military Intelligence, which is still charged with providing the cabinet with a national intelligence estimate.

It's entirely up to Netanyahu

It’s entirely up to Netanyahu

Yet Pardo will probably be replaced in six months, mainly because he didn’t get along well with Netanyahu. A well-noted incident occurred two years ago when Pardo, in a closed-door meeting with business executives, asserted that the Palestinian issue trumps Tehran as Israel’s biggest national security problem.

Saying that directly contradicted his boss, who time and again has beaten the Iranian drum, calling it an existential threat for the Jewish state.

In the corridors of the Mossad and the Prime Minister’s Office as well as in the media, four names are mentioned as potential successors to Pardo.

One is an outsider, Maj.-Gen. Amir Eshel, commander of the Israel Air Force, and the other three are from within the Mossad.

It’s more probable that the next head of Mossad will come from within the organization’s ranks – and the remaining three candidates served in the Mossad’s operational units. One such candidate is the above-mentioned N., who until recently was Pardo’s deputy.

Another is Ram Ben-Barak, also a product of the Keshet department. As a young operative, he was arrested together with three team members by police officers near a building in a European city under suspicious circumstances.

The incident didn’t stain his career, and he reached the top echelon to serve as a deputy to Dagan; he then went on sabbatical and worked for the Brookings Institution in Washington, and most recently was director-general of the Strategic Affairs Ministry.

But the leading candidate is Yossi Cohen, who specialized as a case officer in recruiting and running agents from Arab countries, was head of the department charged with these tasks and served as Pardo’s deputy until two years ago. He was then chosen by Netanyahu to be his national security adviser and lead the National Security Council. Cohen, who managed to develop friendly – even warm – relations with Netanyahu’s family, is the favorite for the Mossad top job.

In an interesting twist, if he is nominated at the end of 2015, two out of three Israeli intelligence agencies will be led by persons by the name of Cohen – with the prospective Mossad head joining Yoram Cohen of the Shin Bet. [In Jewish tradition, the Cohens — or Kohanim — were the high priests: in this case, the high priests, perhaps, of espionage.]

June 13, 2015

Penetrating the Iran Nuclear Talks: Israel — And Others — Use Malware for Cyber-Espionage


The Russian internet security company Kaspersky Lab – which is often first to identify hacking efforts and cyber-crises around the world – says someone used an innovative computer virus to spy on the Iran nuclear talks.

Kaspersky and the American anti-virus company Symantec both say the virus resembles Duqu – malware that’s been called a “stepchild” of Stuxnet, the program that’s known to have been created as a joint project of U.S. and Israeli government agencies.

We don’t have to let the Russian software experts knock us off our chairs with surprise.  Founded and still led by Eugene Kaspersky, a product of former KGB technical training schools, the Lab publishes its findings on viruses and computer worms around the world.

The Lab has a financial motive.  Every burst of publicity brings it new, paying clients – especially in Western nations.

Kaspersky logoThe revelations from Kaspersky always point to Western governments (including Israel) or corporations as the villains.  He would not dare point a finger of blame at Vladimir Putin’s government in Russia.  Everyone knows what usually happens to open critics and foes of Putin.

Thus the motivations are not only financial – but also political-ideological.  With a dash of self-preservation.

We also shouldn’t be very surprised that The Wall Street Journal cites officials as saying that the malware that’s spying on nuclear negotiators – dubbed “Duqu 2” – originated with an Israeli intelligence agency.

Eugene Kaspersky is quoted as giving huge praise to Duqu 2 as “a generation ahead of anything we’d seen earlier” – and it’s reported that whoever invented it used it to penetrate Kaspersky Lab’s own systems.

It has become crystal clear that cyber-war is the war of the future: penetrations of government or corporate computer systems by using “Trojan horses” or other sophisticated software, viruses, or worms.  Who is able to do it?  Governments, corporations, terrorist groups, and individual hackers.

The future is now.

The almost mythically powerful malware might be named Stuxnet, and then a similar one is called Flame, and now we hear of two versions of Duqu.  The goal is the same: to intrude into the computers of a rival or enemy: to infect the databases with an overload of nonsense, to pluck out any valuable data, to eavesdrop on conversations whether written or oral, to record and transmit every word typed into the computers, and even to photograph the target facilities.

As the now fabled Stuxnet story shows, the malware can also make industrial control systems go haywire – damaging equipment such as the centrifuges that Iran used to enrich uranium.

Cyber-war is certainly the next big thing in espionage. The leaders in the field are the United States, China, Russia, Great Britain, and Israel, with Iran showing significant leaps in capability.

In a way, this is old wine in new bottles.  It is still espionage.  Field agents used to find a way to get into a target facility; they secretly took photographs and used bugging devices to record conversations.

For years now, it’s been reported – and assumed – that every international conference is a target for collecting intelligence information.  Espionage agencies gather whatever they can about participants, especially the ones who travel from country to country, as they can be monitored or recruited as spies.

Meetings that involve traveling Iranians are certainly of high interest – and not only to Israel – especially if the subjects include Iran’s nuclear program.

The U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China, and the local security agency in whatever country is hosting the conference are likely to be just as interested as Israel’s Mossad might be.

Now there’s no need physically to break into a hotel room, embassy, or office.  Electronic penetrations can be aimed at the laptop computer systems, networks set up for temporary offices, or the computer and wi-fi facilities of hotels.  It does not seem to be very hard for an intelligence agency to insert viruses and worms.

The published American report says a “Duqu” virus was injected into computers in three different hotels where the Iran nuclear talks have taken place in recent years: the talks that face a deadline for success on June 30.

There is a double problem. The targets of offensive cyber-warfare – in this case Iran – know about the possibility and use every countermeasure they can.  Thus the developers of malware find they have to raise their game even more: inventing what are, in effect, poisonous software creations.

Somewhat similar to traditional, physical warfare, there is collateral damage.  Computer systems that were not intentionally targeted are also being affected, and that has often led the anti-virus experts such as Kaspersky to find the malware.  E-mail and programs are constantly on the move, so it is hard for cyber-attackers to limit the impact of what they have created.

That is apparently why Kaspersky Lab found the latest poisonous program in its own computers.  It is even possible, however, that Israeli intelligence was trying to penetrate Kaspersky to find out what that company knows.

[Yossi Melman is co-author of the best seller Every Spy a Prince and other books including the new history of Israel’s intelligence and security agencies: Spies Against Armageddon.]

June 10, 2015

Israel is Safer — With a Vicious Civil War in Syria So Close? Officially, Yes

[The original version of this article was written by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, for The Jerusalem Post.]

Deputy IDF Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan said Monday that Israel’s security situation on the northern border has improved as a result of the Syrian civil war, which has served to drain the blood of Hezbollah.

This notion was strengthened, afterward, by a very senior security official. Both spoke about the situations in Syria and Lebanon. Regarding Lebanon, despite inflammatory remarks made recently by Hassan Nasrallah warning Israel that if another war broke out it would suffer a major blow, the Israeli intelligence estimate is that Hezbollah has weakened and would not dare initiating hostilities with Israel.

On the surface, these appear to be trivial remarks, which have been repeated by military experts and analysts over the past several years. But to hear them from such senior military authorities is refreshingly new.

As far as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon are concerned, these comments verge on heresy. If our security situation has improved, does the IDF really need additions to its budget? And what about the approach taken by Netanyahu, who continues to warn, on every possible occasion, of the threat of Iran, Hezbollah and Islamic State?

In fact, Israel’s strategic situation has never been better.

Arab states that were once armed to the teeth, such as Libya and Iraq, have fallen apart. Egypt is a military and intelligence ally of Israel in its fight against Hamas, the Sinai terrorist threat.

Syria, prior to the civil war’s start in early 2011, was the greatest threat to Israel (although, to those who knew the truth, the Assad regime was not that much of a serious threat).

Today, Syria no longer actually exists as one sovereign, political entity, but rather is broken up into territories.

CIA map of Syria: Everyone's Against Everyone

CIA map of Syria: Everyone’s Against Everyone

A small region in the Northeast is the Kurdish enclave.

Half of the country’s land, most of which is desert, mainly in the East, is controlled by Islamic State (known as ISIS, ISIL, or Da’esh).

In northern Syria and in the South on the border with Israel, on the Golan Heights, control is largely in the hands of the Nusra Front (the al-Qaeda affiliate that has been made more moderate by funding from Qatar).

The rest — which includes Damascus, the center of Aleppo, Homs and the coastal strip with the ports of Latakia and Tartus, in which President Bashar Assad’s Alawite minority resides — remains in the control of the regime. Soon, a new Druze enclave is also likely to be formed in the area of Jabal al-Druze in southeast Syria, near the approach to the Jordan border.

The Syrian Army is crumbling.

Iran is providing reinforcements to save what remains of the Assad regime, with the understanding that there is a limit to how many Lebanon-based Hezbollah fighters can serve as cannon fodder in a war to save Assad.

The situation in Syria has fallen into chaos. The US Embassy in Syria [which continues to be active, in effect in exile, with the building in Damascus closed for security reasons] tweeted on its official account  Tuesday that the Syrian Air Force was striking rebel positions in the Aleppo area, helping Islamic State.  ISIS is also fighting against the regime, but is mainly focusing its efforts against its adversaries among the opposition to Assad.

It is difficult to explain logically what is happening in Syria, and who is against whom. There is a feeling that everyone is against everyone.

With this being the case, any speculative report or rumor spreads its wings and takes flight with immediate headlines. That is why it was reported Tuesday in the Lebanese media that the Israeli Air Force again struck targets in Lebanon.

The Hezbollah-affiliated al-Manar television station was quick to deny the reports, and Israel, as is its custom, neither confirmed nor denied them.

Anything is possible. It could be an Israeli attack or a false report.

June 6, 2015

History Revealed: Politicians Hesitated, Generals Pushed Action on Eve of June 1967 Six-Day War

[This article was written by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, for The Jerusalem Post.]

One of Israel’s most worrisome concerns in the days preceding the 1967 Six Day War was that the Egyptian Air Force would attack the nuclear reactor in Dimona. This was revealed in the newly released and declassified secret documents of the IDF Archives, to mark the 48th anniversary of that war, which began June 5.

The war broke out with the Israel Air Force’s surprise preemptive strike, which within three hours destroyed the entire Egyptian Air Force, sitting like ducks on the tarmacs of its airfields.

On June 2, the government’s security cabinet convened for a tense and dramatic meeting with the IDF General Staff. It was the first session to include Moshe Dayan as the new defense minister, appointed only a day before.  Prime Minister Levi Eshkol had held the defense portfolio, but had just been forced due to public pressure to relinquish it.

Eshkol’s decision to step down as defense minister was a result of a confusing speech that he delivered during a live radio broadcast in which he stuttered. The impression on the Israeli public, already under tremendous fear of another Holocaust, was overwhelming.

The times were of extreme emotions and tension, referred to as the “waiting period.”

Roughly two weeks earlier the Egyptian Army broke the international agreement with Israel, signed a decade earlier after the 1956 Sinai Campaign, and entered the demilitarized Sinai Peninsula. A few days later, the Egyptians expelled the UN peacekeeping force and closed the Straits of Tiran, blocking Israeli and international ships from reaching the port of Eilat. Israel, naturally, saw that as an act of war.

Moshe Dayan: Knew It Would Take 6 Days

Moshe Dayan: Knew It Would Take 6 Days

Israel mobilized its military reserves, partially paralyzing its economy. The meeting of the cabinet ministers and the military echelon would later become known as the “generals’ putsch,” as some of these senior officers demanded of Eshkol and the cabinet to make an immediate decision to launch a preemptive strike.

As can be seen in the minutes that are public for the first time, the meeting opened with a briefing by then Military Intelligence chief Maj.- Gen. Aharon Yariv, who said that one of the battle scenarios was that the Egyptian air force would launch “a strike to destroy Dimona and airfields.”

Construction of the Dimona nuclear reactor began in 1958 and was completed in 1961. According to foreign analysts in the decades to follow, Israel — by the eve of the Six-Day War — had already managed to assemble one nuclear weapon.

Israel Air Force commander Maj.- Gen. Mordechai Hod revealed that Egyptian military planes had managed to infiltrate Israel’s air space on reconnaissance missions at least four times, photographing the port of Eilat on the Red Sea and another site – that was censored.

It can be assumed that their target was to take images of the nuclear reactor at Dimona.

Later, Yariv explained that efforts that the US or an international force would compel the Egyptians to lift their blockade had failed.

“We believe that the US doesn’t consider taking a strong and serious action to lift the naval blockade and solve the crisis,” he said, adding, “We believe that the US understands that we have to act.” Also, Yariv told the generals and cabinet members, “American experts estimate that Israel can win the battle.”

He stressed that “there are people in important places in the US who see an Israeli action as an easy solution for the US to get out of this entanglement.”

This remark by the chief of Military Intelligence can be interpreted as an Israeli understanding that the US administration was signaling Israel to launch the war.

Then IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Yitzhak Rabin – who had just returned to work after a nervous breakdown, which was hidden from the public and explained as “nicotine poisoning” – warned: “As time passes and Israel doesn’t act, Arab confidence is growing and our mission will be harder.”

Soldiers Prepare for the War, 48 Years Ago, that Changed History (IDF Archives)

Soldiers Prepare for the War, 48 Years Ago, that Changed History (IDF Archives)

Rabin added, “I feel that the military and diplomatic ring to strangle us is tightening.”

Nevertheless, he assured the meeting that “We can do it [win the war – YM], especially if the initiative is in our hands.”

Yet most ministers were not convinced.

They expressed concern that the Soviet Union might intervene if Israel launched a military campaign and asked questions about the defense capabilities of the IDF, especially the air force, to protect cities from Egyptian air raids and bombs.

Eshkol remained hesitant, which drove then Maj.-Gen. Ariel Sharon to use harsh words bordering on contempt for the government – a style that characterized him in years to come.

“Because of hesitations and our time wasting, we lost our main deterring factor – this is the Arab states’ fear of our army. We destroy it day by day. The loss of our deterrence is the most important factor,” Sharon said.

Moshe Dayan then had the floor for the first time. He said that, although there was no guarantee, the IDF could defeat the Egyptian Army in six days – exactly the same time it took to do it in the Sinai Campaign in 1956, when Dayan was chief of staff.

He added that extra days would perhaps be required to complete the task and conquer Sharm e-Sheikh, which overlooks the Straits.

“What are we waiting for?” Dayan asked, and his words were echoed by Maj.-Gen. Mattityahu Peled, who after the war became one of the first promoters of the notion of giving the Palestinian Arabs the West Bank and Gaza to be a state of their own.

Eshkol tried his best to calm the hot-blooded attitude of Dayan and the generals. He turned to Sharon and said, “I was disgusted by what you said.”

The prime minister continued to express concern that, despite the comforting words of Rabin that the Soviet Union most likely would not interfere in the war, it was still not known how the Soviets would react.

Eshkol explained that the waiting period was still important, because it helped to “engrave in [US president Lyndon] Johnson’s ears that we didn’t cheat him.

”I truly hope that we will not need him in the middle of the war.” Eshkol concluded.

The meeting dispersed after two and a half hours with no decision. Two days later, Eshkol and the cabinet gave the IDF the order to launch Red Sheet, the code word for the preemptive strike against Egypt and a war that changed the course of Israel’s history.

June 5, 2015

“When conditions are ripe,” Israel Wouldn’t Oppose Nuclear-Free MidEast — But for Now, Israel Thanks Obama for Blocking the Issue

[The following article was written for The Jerusalem Post by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.]

Five more years.  That is the grace period granted to Israel — again — to avoid discussing Arab and international calls to open talks to create a Middle East Nuclear Free Zone.

That is the practical result after the Review Conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty failed, over the weekend, to reach a consensus and ended without a final statement.

Once again, it was the United States (together with the U.K. and Canada) that came to the rescue of Israel, taking it off the hook.  Israel won’t have to reveal anything that it has — or pretends perhaps not to have — when it comes to nuclear weapons.

But What Does Israel Have? Netanyahu Doesn't Have to Tell

But What Does Israel Have? Netanyahu Doesn’t Have to Tell

The month-long conference convened in New York City with more than 150 countries in attendance. It collapsed after the U.S. rejected an Egyptian draft resolution, backed by the majority of the member states, echoing decades of calls to dismantle any nuclear weapons that Israel may have, which the Jewish state neither confirms nor denies.

The final paper, drafted by Cairo and opposed by the U.S., would have called upon United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to convene a regional conference on banning nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical and biological, by March 2016.

Egypt, however, also insisted that the conference be held with or without Israel’s participation, without prior agreement on an agenda, and with no discussion of regional security issues.

Any reference to establishing a Middle East Nuclear Free Zone (MENFZ) is perceived as directed against Israel, which, according to international and regional perception, is so far the only possessor of such weapons in the region.

U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller announced on Friday that there was “no agreement,” and accused Egypt and other Arab states of demanding “unrealistic and unworkable conditions” in the negotiations. “We have made clear throughout the process that we will not accept the efforts by some to cynically manipulate the [conference] or try to leverage the negotiation to advance their narrow objectives,” she told attendees.

The NPT Review Conference was the fourth since 1995 (they are convened every five years). The purpose of the conferences is to draft a new treaty since the current NPT, which entered into force in 1970, was intended for a limited period of 25 years.

According to the NPT, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, technology, knowhow and equipment that would enable states to build nuclear bombs is universally forbidden, and only the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council – the U.S., Russia, China, U.K. and France – are permitted to have The Bomb.

Some of the existing clauses of the NPT, and particularly the one just cited, are challenged by emerging powers such as India, Brazil and Argentina, which demand full equality — and urge the five major powers to get rid of their nuclear arsenals.

Since decisions at the Review Conference have to be accepted by consensus and approved by all participants, the U.S. rejection of the Egyptian draft led to the conference’s failure.

While there were disagreements on other aspects of the NPT, the Middle East issue was the most divisive.

Israel, which (like India, Pakistan and North Korea) is not a signatory member of the NPT, for the first time this year agreed to attend the Review Conference in the capacity of an “observer.”

Israel noticed (with displeasure) that at the 2010 Review conference, the U.S. did not oppose an Egyptian final draft. That compelled Israel to take part in nonbinding and preliminary talks with states in the region, brokered by a Finnish diplomat, about the terms and conditions of how and when to convene a conference to discuss the creation of MENFZ.

The talks, which in one round included an Iranian diplomat, led nowhere because of unbridgeable differences between the sides and the disintegration in recent years of states in the region such as Syria, Iraq and Libya.

Over the weekend, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu phoned Secretary of State John Kerry and thanked him for the Obama Administration’s position and support.

The official position of Israel is that it doesn’t oppose — in principle — the convening in the future of a conference that will discuss the creation of a Middle East free of nuclear weapons as well as other weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery (missiles), but only when conditions are ripe.

Israel demands that before that happens, all states in the region, including Iran, must recognize the right of Israel to exist, sign peace treaties with it and put in place concrete security arrangements. The next Review Conference will be convened in 2020.

May 25, 2015

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