Israel’s politicians, military, and intelligence chiefs are immensely proud of the interception – by Israel’s navy — of a Panama-registered ship that was carrying powerful missiles believed to have originated in Syria, intended for delivery to the Palestinian radicals of Hamas in Gaza.
The M-302 rockets aboard the ship have a potential range of 125 miles, meaning that if they were fired from Gaza they could cause heavy damage to Israel’s large coastal city, Tel Aviv, and even the Dimona nuclear reactor. If Hamas had gotten M-302 rockets, it would have been a game-changer.
Israeli officials, unusually talkative now about an operation that was kept secret for many weeks, say that the Mossad and Aman (the military intelligence agency) had been tracking the shipment for a long time — including the ship’s stop at a port in Iraq where grain was loaded aboard as a kind of cover story.
Israel’s navy stopped the ship — nearly 1,000 miles from Israel’s southernmost port, Eilat — and boarded it without having to fire a shot. The captain was said to be Turkish, but the Israelis say they feel certain that the entire smuggling operation was controlled by Iran.
Prime Minister Netanyahu
The officials say the intelligence operation was “spectacular” and “flawless.” Defense Minister Moshe (Boogie) Ya’alon said the discovery of the missile-smuggling ship unmasks the true nature of the Iranian regime. Echoing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Ya’alon said Iran’s leader may smile and speak in friendly tones, but they haven’t changed a bit in their active support for terrorist groups such as Hamas.
Netanyahu, conveniently, was in the United States — where he had made a point of repeatedly warning Americans not to believe the sweet words of the new Iranian president Hasan Rouhani. Netanyahu returned to saber-rattling, declaring in Washington that Israel will never allow Iran to have even the capability of building a nuclear bomb — vowing he will do whatever is necessary to protect the Jewish state.
[The following blog post by CBS's Dan Raviv -- co-author of Spies Against Armageddon -- appeared at CBSnews.com on March 1.]
WASHINGTON – As Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flies to Washington – due to arrive on Sunday (March 2), to prepare for talks with President Barack Obama at the White House on Monday – it’s clear that there are several points of friction between Israel and the United States.
The two countries are allies, but their leaders often differ on the details of key issues: Israel’s peace talks with the Palestinians, America’s nuclear talks with Iran, how to approach political turmoil in Egypt, what might be done to limit Syria’s horrible civil war, and a broader issue of whether the Middle East sees President Obama as a powerful, influential leader.
“Updated – New Revelations”
Recently, as I sought to update a book I co-wrote about the history of Israel’s intelligence agencies, sources close to them revealed that they felt pressure from the Obama Administration – more than a hint – to stop carrying out assassinations inside Iran.
Although Israel has never acknowledged it, the country’s famed espionage agency – the Mossad – ran an assassination campaign for several years aimed at Iran’s top nuclear scientists. The purpose was to slow the progress made by Iran, which Israel feels certain is aimed at developing nuclear weapons; and to deter trained and educated Iranians from joining their country’s nuclear program.
At least five Iranian scientists were murdered, most of them by bombs planted on their cars as they drove to work in the morning. Remarkably, the Israeli assassins were never caught – obviously having long-established safe houses inside Iran – although several Iranians who may have helped the Mossad were arrested and executed.
In addition to strong signals from the Obama Administration that the U.S. did not want Israel to continue the assassinations, Mossad officials concluded that the campaign had gotten too dangerous. They did not want their best combatants – Israel’s term for its most talented and experienced spies – captured and hanged.
President Obama – much to the discomfort of Israeli officials – is pursuing negotiations with Iran. The United States is one of the P5+1 nations, continuing to talk with the Iranians about rolling back some of their nuclear potential.
Sources told us that Netanyahu has now ordered the Mossad to focus on hunting – inside Iran and elsewhere – for evidence that the Iranians are cheating on the commitments they made in their interim agreement with the P5+1 last November.
Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama will also discuss progress – said by all concerned to be limited, but not non-existent – in Israel’s talks with the Palestinian Authority which began last year. Secretary of State John Kerry has had many frustrations in his chosen role as mediator: not least, the harsh criticism of Kerry voiced by some members of Netanyahu’s coalition government who distrust the peace process and feel that giving up any of the West Bank would be needlessly dangerous for Israel.
Dan Raviv, Washington-based host of radio’s CBS News Weekend Roundup, is co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, which has a new updated edition published on March 2.
Seeing that much has happened in Israel and the Middle East since the original Spies Against Armageddon was published in mid-2012, there’s now an update available as a paperback or e-book.
Here’s a press release issued by Levant Books on March 2, 2014:
Israel’s Mossad Spies:
Assassinations are Over (at least for the time being),
Their Options in Iran are Limited,
While the Rest of the Middle East Spins into Dangerous Volatility
– Updated Edition of Spies Against Armageddon Reveals Tough Times for Mossad –
The authors of a best-selling history of Israel’s intelligence community – who revealed in 2012 that the Mossad had Israeli assassins operating inside Iran – now report that the assassination campaign has stopped.
Mossad chiefs decided that it became too dangerous, as Iran’s counter-intelligence units conducted an intensive manhunt. The Mossad could risk seeing its best combatants – Israel’s term for its most talented and experienced spies – arrested and hanged. Another factor: strong signals to Israel by the Obama Administration that it did not want acts of violence to continue inside Iran when negotiations were starting.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered the Mossad instead to focus – inside Iran – on hunting for evidence that the Iranians are cheating on their nuclear commitments to the West.
A new edition of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars reveals that the Mossad – the lethal, feared and respected intelligence agency of Israel – is going through tough times, even as the Middle East is in turmoil: posing an unprecedented set of challenges to Israel and the United States.
“Updated – New Revelations”
In their updated book the authors – Dan Raviv of CBS News and the Israeli journalist Yossi Melman (whose Every Spy a Prince was a national best seller in 1990) – report that a four-year campaign of assassinations ended after the killings of 5 nuclear scientists in Iran. The Associated Press and The New York Times (July 12, 2012) reported on Raviv and Melman’s original Spies Against Armageddon.
Also related to Iran, according to the updated book, the Mossad suffered unprecedented blows in 2013 when it was revealed that two of its operatives betrayed the organization and caused severe damage to its operations, morale, and omnipotent image. In prison they were known only as X and X2 – their identities kept secret by Israeli censorship and judicial gag orders. X turned out to be an Australian-born Mossad man whose story was unveiled after he hanged himself in his cell. Authorities continue to block release of any details of X2’s action, except to hint that he gravely endangered former teammates.
The new Spies Against Armageddon has fresh information and perspective on huge events that have occurred since the original book came out in 2012:
–The civil war in Syria has become more vicious and complex, with the death toll rising to 130,000 and the list of lethal participants broadening to include al-Qaeda groups and intervention by Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other foreigners. Israeli spies were sent into action (crossing borders), and the air force has bombed Syrian targets – without any public confirmation.
–Egypt has had two changes of leadership: first, the election of a Muslim Brotherhood president, and then the toppling of President Mohamed Morsi by the Egyptian military. Israeli intelligence now secretly cooperates with Egypt against radicals in the Sinai – and potentially against Hamas in Gaza.
–Iran reached an interim agreement with the West, agreeing to scale back nuclear activities for at least six months; and Israeli leaders are frankly alarmed by signs of a rapprochement between Iran and America. The Mossad is scouring for evidence of cheating by Iran.
–The Israelis and Palestinians are negotiating for a possible end to their historic conflict, and the intelligence community is preparing for a possible outbreak of violence if Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts collapse.
–All the significant players in the Middle East seem to agree that leadership by the United States has been lacking, with Egyptians, Syrians, Iranians, Lebanese, Jordanians, and others – including America’s allies in Israel – wondering what President Barack Obama really wants.
The newly updated Spies Against Armageddon reveals that Israel has had to rapidly adjust its response to the tragic civil war that continues in neighboring Syria. Even as Israeli doctors treat wounded civilians, the Mossad takes the opportunity to glean intelligence – and, based on well established patterns, spies take advantage of chaos by crossing in and out of Syria.
Iran has been the Mossad’s top focus since 2002, but the mission has changed. As noted above, the assassination campaign has ended, due to increased dangers and opposition by the United States. Also narrowing Israel’s options: the Obama Administration’s determination to “give the talks a chance.” It’s clear now that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would not dare to bomb Iran. Netanyahu might saber-rattle, but there is no likely military option now
The Iranians, meantime, learned how to defend their nuclear computers and thus minimized damage from cyber-attacks – such as the Stuxnet virus, a joint U.S.-Israel creation.
Spies Against Armageddon is published in paperback and all e-book formats by Levant Books. Over 20,000 copies of Spies Against Armageddon have sold so far in Barnes & Noble outlets, independent bookstores, and on line. In addition to the national best seller Every Spy a Prince, other books co-authored by Raviv and Melman include Friends In Deed: Inside the U.S.-Israel Alliance and Behind the Uprising: Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians. Their blog is IsraelSpy.com .
Raviv (in Washington) and Melman (in Tel Aviv) are available for interviews, and they are planning a joint tour in the United States in May 2014. Follow them on Twitter: @SpiesArmageddon.
A Mossad man who was convicted by an Israeli court and has been secretly imprisoned for about ten years – with Israeli authoritiespreventing any details from being published – was accused of treason, because it was charged that he transmitted secrets to a “foreign power”.
Referred to by security-agency insiders as “Prisoner X2,” the man was an importantoperative in the Israeli espionage agency that specializes in secretive and dangerous foreign missions. Authorities felt certain that his actions endangered his Mossad colleagues.
The man, who cannot be named due to the official information blackout on the case, has been imprisoned for approximately a decade. While the precise prison sentence is still a secret, it is suggested that the term could be reduced by one-third because of the inmate’s “good behavior” in captivity.
Prisoner X (Zygier) – We cannot show you X2
Hundreds of people were questioned during the investigation of X2’s alleged treason. The investigator who was assigned to the case considered it the toughest investigation of his career. The traitor’s motive, to the extent that authorities understand it, remains a secret: Money? Anger at his Mossad commanders? A personal problem with other secret agents? A desire to damage his homeland, Israel? Severe depression?
The mere existence of X2 became known when journalists started asking questions about another Mossad man who was being held in secret.
Known to some of his jailers only as “Prisoner X,” he hanged himself in a high-security isolation cell in Israel’s Ayalon Prison (near the city of Ramle) in December 2010. He turned out to be Ben Zygier, a Melbourne-born Jew who moved to Israel, became an Israeli citizen, and was recruited into the Mossad. Zygier, according to sources, was part of an Israeli espionage team that was based in Europe, from where it penetrated Iran.
Security officials say it was a mistake to hire Zygier, because the Australian did not have the stability and discretion needed to be a spy.
An Australian radio journalist, Raphael Epstein, has written a book about the case, Prisoner X, and reports that Zygier, while working for the Mossad, gave secrets about the agency to an Iranian businessman, probably working for his country’s security services. Zygier and the Iranian were both studying at Monash University in Melbourne in 2009.
The phrase “Prisoner X” has been used for decades in Israel, mainly to refer to employees of security agencies (including the Mossad) who broke the rules and were arrested and imprisoned. Publicizing those cases was banned, with officials claiming that censors and court-issued gag orders were protecting secrets that might damage Israel. Critics say that banning publication in a free country is really aimed at protecting the reputations of government and security-agency officials.
As revealed and discussed in our books – the best-seller Every Spy a Prince and the current and updated Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars – previous men imprisoned in the 1950s and ‘60s and identified only as “X” included Mordecai Kedar, who murdered his Jewish supporting contact in Argentina, and Avri El-Ad, who betrayed his colleagues in an Israeli-run spy ring in Egypt.
In the 1980s, a Soviet spy – Professor Marcus Klingberg, who had been deputy director of Israel’s secretive biological weapons research lab – was tried and imprisoned in complete secrecy.
Held under false identities, these prisoners were permitted to have visits from family members and defense attorneys, but nothing could be said in public about the men and their crimes.
Israeli officials did not intend to reveal the existence of Prisoner X2 and still are not permitting his name to be verified or published. A mistake in coordinating between court officials and Malmab – the Defense Ministry unit that deals with internal security – led to a failure to erase a reference to a second inmate held in secret from a report on Zygier’s death written by an investigating judge.
The official view that was revealed is that X2 was “a traitor who endangered the lives of his clandestine-operations colleagues.”
As our updated and revised Spies Against Armageddon says, at the end of Chapter 22 entitled “Assassins”: “Activists who press for greater openness wondered if hushing up Zygier’s case – and the more serious one – was aimed at guarding Israel’s security, or the Mossad’s image?”
[This article was written by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon -- a fresh history of Israeli intelligence from 1948 to the present day -- for the website of the 24-hour TV news service that's broadcast from Israel: i24news.TV.]
Recent new appointments at the top echelon of the Mossad have coincided with Tamir Pardo’s third anniversary at the helm of Israel’s foreign espionage agency. The names and identities of those who were promoted cannot be published because of security considerations, government policy and censorship.
The appointments are rather routine and certainly don’t signal any major shift in the Mossad’s policy. But three years in office means that Pardo has completed half his term. Now is the right time for a midterm report of his successes and failures.
Pardo, a 61-year-old chain smoker, walks more or less in the footsteps of his predecessor — Meir Dagan. If there is a difference between the two, it’s a matter of style and personality. Unlike the charismatic, smiling and controversial Dagan,Pardo is more, much more, reserved. He looks like a gray bureaucrat who has a businesslike attitude. He is not a man of small talk. But his looks are misleading
He is a professional intelligence officer and skillful operative who served nearly 30 years in the operational departments of the Mossad.
The Mossad – the lethal, feared, respected, almost mythological intelligence agency – is going through tough times, trying to cope with an unprecedented set of challenges for Israel at a time when the Mideast is in turmoil.
The year 2013 was not brilliant for the Mossad. It suffered an unprecedented blow when it was revealed that for the first time in its history, an operative had betrayed the organization and caused severe damage to its operations, morale, and omnipotent image.
The alleged traitor was Ben Zygier, an Australian-born Jew who immigrated to Israel and was recruited by the Mossad in 2005 to work, according to foreign reports, in operations against Iran. After being arrested in 2010, he was known in prison only as Prisoner X, his identity kept secret by Israeli censorship and judicial gag orders. Zygier’s story was unveiled only after he hanged himself in his cell.
Pardo’s unsuccessful damage control showed poor judgment and a misunderstanding of 21st century media. Follwoing the Prisoner X revelations, reports came out that another prisoner, nicknamed X2, was being held behind bars in secret, and his case was described as having “similar characteristics.” No details have ever come out about the second X.
The most important development for Pardo’s Mossad’s agenda was Iran. The Islamic Republic, with its Hezbollah proxy in Lebanon and Syria, remained at the top the Mossad’s action options. Yet these options were sharply reduced in 2013. Hezbollah amassed a threatening arsenal of 100,000 rockets and missiles, able to target every strategic site as well Israel’s urban centers.
Perhaps above all, 2013 witnessed the end of the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists — a 4-year campaign attributed (in our book) to the Mossad. The four-year campaign of assassinations ended in 2012 after the killings of five nuclear scientists in Iran. Four were assassinated during Dagan’s tenure and one under Pardo.
It became too dangerous. Iran’s counter-intelligence units were conducting an intensive manhunt, and the Mossad could not risk seeing its best combatants — Israel’s term for its most talented and experienced spies and assassins — arrested and executed. In addition, the Obama Administration signaled to Israel that it did not want acts of violence to continue inside Iran when negotiations with world powers were starting on the Iranian nuclear program.
For the time being, the “Pardo boys” (and some females, of course) are turning their intel gathering and operational capabilities to detecting whether — and how — Iran is cheating on its agreements with the United States and other Western countries Israel intends to learn what Iran is really up to and could be expected to expose Iranian nuclear work.
The Israeli aim is to show that Iran, now ruled by the seemingly moderate President Hasan Rouhani, is — in the words of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — “a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” tirelessly trying to deceive the international community about the true nature of its nuclear program.
If need be, Pardo will not hesitate to resort to the old, violent ways. Like his predecessors, he is a true gatekeeper of Israel’s national interests.
By all accounts, Turkey and Israel have come very close to restoring diplomatic relations — as well as business ties, strategic discussions, and perhaps even joint projects of the kind that were potent but never publicized — but Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan doesn’t feel like doing it. Not yet.
Israeli officials this week had thought it would be sufficient for them to permit the food and other supplies — originally on the Mavi Marmara — to be delivered by truck to Gaza.
That was the Turkish ship — part of a protest flotilla — stopped by Israeli commandos in May of 2010: a botched raid that resulted in the deaths of 9 of the protesters (eight Turkish men and one U.S. citizen).
JTA (the former Jewish Telegraphic Agency) had reported on Monday: “Turkey and Israel are close to normalizing bilateral relations for the first time since the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, Turkey’s foreign minister said.”‘ In the view of Turkish officials, Israel had apologized for the raid on the ship and was offering to pay millions of dollars to the familiesof the dead men.
But what really matters is what Erdogan feels like doing. He is still exploring all ways of being a hero in the Muslim world. His efforts in Egypt were rebuffed last year, when his supposed friend President Mohamed Morsi was overthrown by the Egyptian military. Erdogan is still a fairly regular visitor, and an apparently friendly one, to Iran.
In Syria — sandwiched between Turkey and Israel — chaos and bloodshed continue. Israel is far from clear as to the outcome it prefers in Syria, and it seems that Erdogan has not firmly chosen sides either. He has the extra problem of Syrian refugees who are crowding camps on the Turkish side of the border.
But if Erdogan wants to be a populist hero, which side should he take? Which Syrian factions might he back? For now, it seems, he does not see any value in reconciling with Israel — at least not publicly.
Like all good spy novels, Spies Against Armageddon is gripping, riveting, a real nail biter—only the story it tells is true. There is no make believe and no fiction in Spies Against Armageddon. This book contains the real life material on which spy novels are based.
Yossi Melman is a feature writer and columnist [in Israel]. Dan Raviv, now a CBS radio news correspondent stationed in Washington, DC, reported for over two decades from the Middle East and other places.
This collaborative effort shows just how Israel’s clandestine services, including the fabled Mossad, work. The book reads like a movie and readers are given front row seats to view secret operation after secret operation and learn how Israeli operatives went the world over to complete their missions. Some of the material is published here for the first time.
Stories are told about missions undertaken in the Arab capitals of Cairo and Damascus. The real story behind Munich 1972 and the teams that went out in search of the Palestinian terrorists who murdered the Israeli Olympic team and its coaches is related in detail. And the authors explain how the January 2010 assassination of Mahmoud Al Mabhouh in Dubai was carried out by a complex array of people and set of arrangements from around the world.
Raviv and Melman extend the world of spying to include an explanation of the Stuxnet, the computer virus that attacked the Iranian nuclear program. The authors draw a timeline and include a map detailing how Stuxnet made its way to Iran and paralyzed the country.
This book is not simply a gripping story of past triumphs and tragedies. It is an attempt to piece together recent operations and to even offer speculation about what may happen in future clandestine operations.
And then it gets even better. The most fascinating component of Spies Against Armageddon has to do with the operations of Kidon. Kidon is a unit in the Mossad—but it is really the Mossad’s Mossad. The ultra secret task of Kidon is to assassinate and to sabotage. Kidon operatives are sent around the world and there is nowhere, nothing, and nobody they cannot get to.
Spies Against Armageddon is a fun and exciting read. It is a book for anyone who wants to learn about Israel’s special weapons, the Israeli intelligence services.
The first negotiating round between the Syrian government and opposition groups ended last week, as expected, without results. A second round of talks is due later this month. The Syria civil war, nearing its third anniversary, has claimed the lives of 130,000 people, left 500,000 wounded and displaced seven million from their homes.
Israeli officials revealed recently that the disintegrated and dysfunctional Syria is hosting 30,000 Islamist warriors and terrorists from four corners of the world, who are fighting both the government and the secular opposition.
The fact the there is no sign that the war will end in the foreseeable future – even President Basher Assad, said last month in an interview that the war would continue – does not prevent Russia and big corporations to act, literarily, as though the situation is “business as usual”.
In December 2013, as the world celebrated Christmas and Syrians continued to die in their country’s killing fields, Soyuzneftegas, a Russian state-owned company, signed a huge deal with the Assad regime. Under the agreement, the Russian oil and gas giant was granted a 25-year concession to explore and develop a segment of Syria’s territorial water opposite the port of Tartus, known as “Bloc 2.”
Natural Gas Fields, pictured at Gundembugun.blogspot.com
The Russian-Syrian agreement is not merely a business venture. It also has significant strategic importance for the region and Israel. Bloc 2, spread over 2,00O square kilometers, is estimated to be the largest gas and oil reservoir in the Eastern Mediterranean basin.
For more than a decade, Russian foreign policy has been characterized by efforts to promote business opportunities, especially in the energy sector. Russian gas and oil corporations, amongst the biggest in the world, are enhancing Russia on five continents as a superpower.
As part of this policy, leading Russian companies (Rosneft and Lukoil) are seeking to gain gas concessions from Lebanon in maritime zones bordering on Israel.
Russian firms also hope to be involved in the marketing of the Israeli gas (Tamar and Livyatan fields) discovered a few years ago in the Mediterranean.
It might well be a coincidence, but its importance cannot be ignored. In Lebanon, some of the Russian companies formed joint ventures with the American energy conglomerate Exxon-Mobile, while in Israel, Texas-based Nobel Energy, is the owner (together with the Israeli Delek company) of the two fields and might team up in the future with a Russian counterpart.
All these developments show that Russia is deeply committed to ensuring the survival of the Assad regime and that its American oil and gas partners will play a role in influencing the Obama administration’s approach to the civil war.
Russia’s energy involvement in the eastern Mediterranean basin may also have an important effect on Israel’s concerns and its security doctrine.
Last week, top Israeli security chiefs – including the head of military intelligence, Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi – revealed that Israel is under threat from 170,000 rocket and missiles directed at cities and strategic installations – 60% of them from Lebanon’s Hezbollah organization and another 30% from Syria.
In the past year, according to foreign reports, the Israeli Air Force attacked Syria’s weapons depots and convoys carrying sophisticated missiles on their way to Hezbollah – at least six times. Israel is especially concerned that Russian-made Yakhont land-sea missiles will reach the Lebanese Shiite movement, enabling it in a future conflict to hit Israeli gas rigs in the Mediterranean.
However, the development of gas fields by Israel, Syria and Lebanon is paving the way for a new reality in the region. This reality might be called an “energy-terror balance” or “mutually assured economic- strategic interests”.
Thus, Russian energy interests in regional gas and oil projects may have a moderating effect and reduce the motives of Hezbollah and Syria to act against Israel . Knowing that their gas rigs will be damaged in revenge, Hezbollah and Lebanon will think twice before making a decision to attack Israel’s gas installations.
The Russian (and American) energy companies’ involvement and business interests may also help shorten the Syrian civil war. Already, there are signs that Washington, the EU, Turkey, Jordan and Israel are undergoing a change of heart. All of them are having second thoughts about whether, in face of the growing radical Islamist threat, it is wise to demand the removal of Bashar Assad from power.
This is a clear sign that Israel achieved a huge strategic gain in 2013, without lifting a finger. Syria’s dictator Bashar al-Assad stupidly used chemical weapons against civilians, killing far more than a thousand people in a display of brutality confirmed by international inspectors. President Barack Obama threatened that U.S. warplanes would attack Syria’s military; instead, Russia brokered a deal under which Assad is giving up all his chemical weapons.
Israel’s Not Giving Them Out — Not Right Now
That’s a huge net gain for Israel. It’s part of the story of why the cabinet in Jerusalem decided, Sunday, to halt distribution of gas masks. The risk of chemical warheads raining down on Israel is reduced markedly.
The factor that Israeli officials are reluctant to discuss is Iran: the fact that plans for Israeli air strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities have been shelved.
Israeli strategists explain that they never wanted to start a war with Iran, but if Iran were on the verge of assembling its first nuclear weapon, Israeli leaders might choose to attack Iran.
That is still true. They might. But in the present situation, with the start (today, January 20) of implementation of a six-month deal to slow uranium enrichment — and to open facilities to inspectors that had never been inspected — the likelihood that Israel’s military will bomb Iran is near zero.
Therefore, the assessment suggests, the possibility of a massive Iranian retaliation involving missiles (from Iran, Syria, or Lebanon) that could have chemical or biological warheads is so low — that Israeli citizens don’t need gas masks right now.
This, in the Middle East, adds up to relative relaxation.
Dan Raviv, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon and a CBS News correspondent, was a guest on Friday’s “America In the Morning” — on Westwood One radio.
The Syria peace talks in Geneva: What’s the most that might be accomplished? Negotiators have apparently agreed to be in the same room as the U.N. mediator — and that’s something. Local ceasefires, that might permit the entry of humanitarian aid, might be arranged.
Could an agreement be reached to remove President Bashar al-Assad? We don’t see that on the immediate horizon.
Jim also asks Dan about Israel-U.S. relations: Is Benjamin Netanyahu waiting hopefully for 3 years from now, when Barack Obama will be out of office?
Forget about the notion of Israel’s air force striking nuclear facilities in Iran. That is off the table.
Sure, officials in Israel — similar to the verbiage of the Obama Administration — still say that “all options are on the table.”
But when balancing all the rapid developments in the Middle East recently — most notably the six months of negotiations the U.S. and its partners plan with Iran on the nuclear issue — there seems to be almost no chance that Israel will attack Iran.
That subject — and a lot more, concerning the Syria talks that are starting in Geneva, Switzerland — can be heard in the interview with Dan Raviv, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, Thursday night on the Jim Bohannon Show on national Westwood One radio.
Click, please, to hear a 15-minute excerpt of the fast-paced, fact-based interview: Dan Raviv, questioned by Jim Bohannon.
[This analysis was written by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, for the website of the commercial multilingual TV news service based in Israel, i24news.tv]
There is a sense of déjà vu on the Israeli-Gaza border. Fourteen months after the second Israeli military invasion of Hamas controlled Gaza (codenamed Pillar of Defense) there is a feeling in the air that another – third round is just around the corner.
In the past three weeks 17 rockets were launched from Gaza targeting Israeli cities and rural communities. Luckily the attacks caused neither human lives nor damage to property. Some of the rockets did not reach their targets, others exploded in open space and some were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.
The rockets were fired by the Iranian supported and financed Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and by some small, al-Qaida inspired renegade splinter groups.
But for Israel there is one culprit, meaning one address for heavy pressure — the Hamas government.
Israeli intelligence experts monitoring developments in Gaza are puzzled. They are trying to decipher the reasoning and motives behind the attacks.
There are some explanations and estimates. One is attributed to the weakening of Hamas. Since the civil war in Syria three years ago in which Hamas turned its back on the Bashar Assad regime and its Iranian ally, the Palestinian movement lost two major sponsors.
For a while, Hamas hung its hopes on Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood government. But soon Morsi was toppled. His government was replaced by a military regime led by Defense Minister Abdel Fatah al Sisi.
General Sisi, de facto ruler of Egypt
General Sisi and his military increased their secret security cooperation and intelligence coordination with Israel. Both countries intensified their pressure on Hamas.
Sensing the weakening of Hamas government and its grip on power in Gaza, PIJ and the radical Islamist militant splinters feel they have more room to maneuver, that they can be disobedient and get away with it.
Another explanation for launching the rockets is the ongoing peace negotiation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority — brokered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
It is assumed that the negotiations are reaching a crucial moment; and though mild and vague, some sort of an interim agreement is possible.
The Palestinian militants, who oppose peace, have increased their operations to signal that agreements are not determined around tables but in the battle field.
One should not rule out, however, that the rocket fire is secretly sanctioned by Hamas in its efforts to please Iran and once again be taken under the Islamic Republic’s wings. Isolated Hamas leaders recently initiated contacts with Iran, according to intelligence sources, and Hamas is asking to regain political and financial support as well as arms shipments. In return, Iranian leaders asked Hamas to show their readiness to renew the hostilities against Israel by launching rockets.
Whatever the reasons are, for Israeli leaders and military commanders the rocket attacks are intolerable. They are erasing the reative peace produced by the last Israeli military campaign against Gaza.
Over this past weekend Israel conveyed a strong message via Egyptian intelligence. Hamas was told that if the rocket launches continue, it’s just a matter of time before the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) once again invade Gaza.
And this time, unlike in the previous military campaigns of 2009 and 2013, the ultimate aim might be the toppling of the Hamas regime.
This item, reprinted from the website of a synagogue in Ontario (Canada), may resonate with viewers of the Hebrew-language TV series from Israel, “Prisoners of War” (Hatufim) — the original basis for the Showtime hit series “Homeland.”
Slight spoiler alert: One Israeli spy has planted himself in an Arab family in an enemy country and seems, for a long time, to be an anti-Israel terrorist. What do his family and neighbors do, once they find out?
That’s TV…now the mention of a surprising long-term operation by Israeli intelligence:
Jewish Spies and Arab Wives
In movies and TV, intelligence operations are often portrayed as glamorously dangerous human chess matches with a series of sexual entanglements and ingenious double crosses. The operatives are master manipulators, forming intimate relationships they must cast off at mission’s end.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised to discover just how closely these storylines reflect reality.
A new book by Yossi Melman and Dan Raviv, Spies Against Armaggedon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, tells the history of Israel’s intelligence establishment, whose main (known) arms are the Shin Bet (domestic intelligence), the Mossad (foreign intelligence), and Aman (military intelligence).
One of the book’s most vividly described operations launched in 1952. A Shin Bet unit of Iraqi Jews infiltrated Arab villages to monitor the population as a potential “fifth column” that might join with Israel’s enemies in case of war. The spies lived in these villages and most of them married local women and had children. As time passed, the intelligence provided by the men “proved to be almost worthless,” according to Melman and Raviv, but the emotional toll suffered by agents and their families was profound.
The unit was disbanded in 1959, and the spies’ wives, who faced particular hardship, were given the choice of being relocated to an Arab country or resettling with their husbands in Jewish communities in Israel. Almost all chose to stay with their husbands. Decades later, the project’s commander is still haunted by the social and psychological trauma the operation had on the children of these marriages.
The Secrets of Arab Men
Sayed Kashua has made a career out of being an anomaly: A Hebrew-speaking Muslim Israeli Arab. As a writer, he pens a weekly column for Ha’aretz, a major Israeli newspaper, and he writes the hilarious sitcom Arab Labor for Israeli TV.
His new novel, Second Person Singular, is about being Arab in a majority-Jewish country, and it’s also about being a man, and a husband, and a father. In the set-up, an Arab lawyer from Jerusalem–we never learn his name–finds a love letter inside a secondhand book, written in his wife’s handwriting. It’s addressed to someone named Yonatan–a Jewish name. Consumed with jealousy, the lawyer attempts to track down the letter’s original recipient, a quest which takes him across the country–ending in a poor Arab village, just like the one where he grew up.
Most of the book takes place inside the lawyer’s head, but it’s about very real conflicts–with the lawyer’s wife, who was the first woman he ever dated (and whom he still doesn’t know very well), and with Israeli Jews, whose upward mobility he identifies with, but whose social and sexual mores threaten him.
Second Person Singular is a startling novel about a culture in Israel that’s all but invisible. As the lawyer becomes consumed by tracking down Yonatan, the pressure builds to a crescendo in his head–showing us the very real insanity caused by clashes of both relationships and cultures.
On Sunday (January 12), Iran, the United States, and the European Union announced agreement on a deal to implement the major, perhaps historic, deal to slow the Iranian nuclear program.
It cannot be a terrific sign that it took six weeks to agree on ways to do what the negotiators agreed to do — but the test truly begins now. Within six months, a wider and more binding agreement needs to be reached — or the entire structure of “negotiations over nukes” may fall apart.
Israel’s government remains deeply skeptical of Iran’s willingness to freeze or reverse its nuclear ambitions. (It’s not only a cynic who would point to historical precedents — some of them revealed in our book, Spies Against Armageddon – in which Israel lied, even to the United States, about Israel’s nuclear weapons project.)
So what will the Israelis do now? Step up the espionage.
The Mossad and other arms of Israeli espionage will be focused on Iran. Israel, even without being a direct party to the P5+1 deal with Iran, is more highly motivated than anyone else to find proof that Iran is cheating.
A unit with the shadowy reputation of being masters of assassination — Kidon (Hebrew for “Bayonet”) — is also masterful at infiltrating enemy countries for dangerous reconnaissance. Kidon operatives will likely be tasked again with missions inside Iran. Here is our portrait of the Kidon unit.
[Adapted from Chapter 22, "Assassins," in Spies Against Armageddon by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman]
Whether it is a mini-Mossad within the agency, or even a planet of its own, the fact is that operatives in Kidon (Hebrew for “Bayonet”) are obscured by strict secrecy and further protected by military censorship of the Israeli media. Yet, an accurate window into the structure of Kidon, its modes of operation, and the moods and psyches of its members can be found in the pages of a novel.
The author is Mishka Ben-David, and a thorough dossier describing the Kidon unit is nestled in a seemingly innocent book of fiction he wrote, Duet in Beirut, published in Hebrew in 2002. Ben-David, though, is not just a novelist. He was an intelligence officer. He was in the Mossad. And if that is not real enough, then consider that he was the chief intelligence officer of Caesarea, the agency’s operations department that runs combatants – Jewish and non-Jewish – who penetrate such enemy countries as Syria, Egypt, and Iran.
Mossad’s official logo
Caesarea also has, at its service for special occasions, Kidon. This “Bayonet” unit is kept small but sharp, and it recruits men and women who already have proven themselves in their military service or in other intelligence work. They are judged, through a process that includes copious psychological profiling, to have excellent self-discipline. Even more importantly, they have the skills needed for operations that are on the edge. Many of them come from special forces units, such as Sayeret Matkal and Flotilla 13.
They are trained by highly motivated instructors and work in small teams of two or four – each of them known as a khuliya (a Hebrew word for “team” or “connected link”). Although Kidon’s overall size has never been published, there are several dozen khuliyot, and the entire secretive organization is referred to as “The Team.”
They are so compartmentalized that their office is not inside the Mossad headquarters at the Glilot junction north of Tel Aviv. They hardly ever go there, and even with the very few Mossad operatives with whom they interact, they use assumed names – so as to be anonymous even to them.
In the field, they use a third name, and sometimes even fourth and fifth identities.
Their training includes almost anything one might imagine is needed for a thorough intelligence operation: surveillance, shaking off surveillance, and how to study an object – things, buildings, or even people – and memorize everything about it.
They become proficient at remembering codes and securely communicating during missions without raising suspicion. On top of conventional communication gear, this can include an agent touching her nose or pulling her earlobe, or some other form of sanitized signal to colleagues.
One of the skills is to remain cool as a cucumber in all circumstances, and not to be shaken by any unexpected interruption, question, or approach by people – never hinting that you are involved in anything unusual.
In Ben-David’s adventure novel, a female Kidon combatant and the senior man who trained her are sent to penetrate a factory in a foreign country that manufactures parts for Iran’s nonconventional weapons. They are interrupted when another Kidon team, serving as their perimeter guard, informs them with urgency that unexpected guests are arriving. The guards disperse, according to plan, and the duo know precisely where to go to meet a car that is waiting there for such an eventuality. Everyone keeps their cool. Panic is not in their lexicon.
Kidon personnel excel at the manual skills that are often required in the field: picking or breaking a lock, surreptitiously taking photographs, and planting electronic devices. They also learn to master a variety of vehicles: not only cars and vans, but also motorcycles, which have become Kidon’s vehicle of choice – almost a trademark of a team that leaves few traces.
The Team’s members are constantly practicing the use of weapons, and as wide a variety of weapons as has ever been invented. They are very good at firing pistols, often with silencers, whether while standing, running, driving, or riding a motorcycle. They know how to shape, plant, and detonate explosives, including innovatively designed bombs. They are well practiced at stabbing enemies with knives, injecting them with hypodermic needles, or administering poison by way of newly minted delivery methods. In addition, well trained in martial arts, Kidon operatives are adept at using their own hands and feet as weapons.
[It was a team headed by Kidon that murdered a Hamas senior man in a hotel in Dubai in January 2010. That time, many of them were seen by video security cameras. Some senior Mossad executives admit that was a damaging error, but others pointed out to us that none of the Israelis has been caught or identified -- and in the modern hi-tech world, they added, cameras can rarely be avoided entirely.]
The description of their skills may seem torn from a James Bond novel or movie, but they are not figments of a writer’s imagination. Kidon men and women are authentic intelligence officers who are taught a wide range of crafts. It is a barely concealed fact, within the Mossad, that they are Israel’s assassins. Moreover, they are considered to be supreme intelligence officers for all seasons – not simply a death squad.
Ariel Sharon has died. This article on the life and times of Israel’s former prime minister — whose career was abruptly cut short, to the shock of all concerned, by a stroke eight years ago — was written by Yossi Melman for the website of the Israel-based private television news service in English, French, and Arabic: i24News.
Meir Har-Zion, a member of the famous 101 commando unit formed by Ariel Sharon, was said to be the greatest soldier ever to fight for Israel. Ehud Barak is reputed to be the most decorated soldier of the Israeli army. Moshe Dayan is considered, especially abroad, to be the most renowned soldier.
In Sharon, all these essentials were rolled into one. He was a bold warrior and a cunning officer, a sophisticated commander and an intelligent leader. During his long military career he showed flashes of strategic genius occasionally marred by tactical failures and a tendency for adventurism and negligence – as happened in the 1982 First Lebanon War, which resulted in many casualties.
His soldiers adored him, but David Ben-Gurion (Israel’s first prime minister) called him “a liar.” Dayan saw him as disobedient. Prime Minister Menachem Begin saw in him the great commander of ancient Israel, Judah Maccabee.
In 1945, at the age of 17, Ariel Scheinermann joined the Haganah and in the War of Independence he served as a platoon commander. In the famous battle for Latrun on the road to Jerusalem he was wounded in the stomach and was abandoned, bleeding on the ground. His life was saved by Yitzhak Moda’i – in later years Sharon’s colleague in the Likud and a finance minister – who dragged him to safety.
The battle greatly influenced Sharon’s perception of the military and political world. “I swore at the time that I would never permit IDF soldiers to be abandoned wounded on the battlefield or in captivity,” he told me when he was prime minister in 2004.
In the summer of 1953 Sharon was asked to set up a special unit that would be able to penetrate deep into enemy territory. The decision came against the backdrop of infiltrations of “fedayeen” Arab guerrillas from Jordan and the Gaza Strip into Israel.
Thus came into being Unit 101 – the first Israeli commando unit. Unit 101 made many violent cross-border incursions into Jordanian territory, laid ambushes and carried out reprisal operations following the murder of Jews.
The unit operated for only five months. Even at the height of its activities, it had no more than 50 soldiers and commanders. Nonetheless, its impact on the army was enormous. Thanks to the reprisal raids carried out by Unit 101, myths evolved around the unit that still shape the values of fighting spirit and dedication to mission that are credited to Sharon.
The famous (or infamous) operation for which it is best known, and which accelerated the decision to dismantle the unit, took place in October 1953. Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ben-Gurion ordered the army to exact harsh and painful retribution against the village of Qibya in the West Bank, in response to the murder of an Israeli mother and her two children by residents of the village.
The goal was to blow up and destroy 45 houses in the village. But the operation, under the command of Sharon, got out of control: the explosions killed between 42 to 69 men, women and children. The indiscriminate killings shocked the world. The United Nations and many countries condemned Israel, and Ben-Gurion had to lie when he claimed that the operation was not carried out by the military but by angry civilians who had taken matters into their own hands.
The Qibya incident, as well as other reprisals, sparked a heated debate in Israel on morality and military and political wisdom. The operation also earned Sharon the image of a relentless and ruthless warrior. Investigators of the affair found that he did not know that residents were hiding in the houses that were blown up, but many in the top brass did not believe his account.
In January 1954, Unit 101 was dissolved and merged with the 890 paratroopers battalion. Sharon was appointed commander of the new regiment, and retaliations in Jordan and Gaza continued.
During the Sinai Campaign in 1956, the brigade was dropped near Mitla Pass in the Sinai. Its orders were to dig in there, but Sharon wanted to send a patrol into the depths of the pass. Eventually approval was given. The Israeli force was ambushed by Egyptians, and 42 of Sharon’s soldiers were killed.
For years the army nurtured a legacy of presenting the battle as heroic. And indeed, paratroopers demonstrated immense courage under heavy fire. Yet years later Dayan accused Sharon of overstepping his authority and hinted that he violated an order.
In 2000, Israeli historian Professor Motti Golani wrote that the controversy surrounding the battle resulted from a disruption of contact between the chief of staff and the commanders in the field.
The battle and its harsh results dealt a harsh blow to Sharon’s image. In 1957, he went to study at the British Army Staff College in Camberley. At the time Ben-Gurion wrote about Sharon in his diary: “A brilliant and original thinker. Were he to overcome his addiction to lying in his reports, he could make a great military leader.”
Ben-Gurion continued to be interested in Sharon as a major talent and told then deputy chief of staff Yitzhak Rabin to “watch Arik.” Indeed, Rabin watched. Having been appointed military chief of staff in 1964, he took Sharon out of the freezer, promoted him, and in February 1967, gave him the rank of major general.
The two developed a friendship and appreciation for each other. During his first term as prime minister (1974-77′), Rabin appointed Sharon his adviser on terrorism, but ideological controversy would later strain their friendship.
During Rabin’s second term as prime minister, Sharon attacked him furiously for the Oslo agreements he signed with the Palestinians and for negotiating with PLO chief Yasser Arafat. Sharon (along with Benjamin Netanyahu and other leaders) was even present at a famous rally of the right-wing in Jerusalem where posters portrayed Rabin in a Nazi SS uniform. This was shortly before a rightwing Jewish Israeli murdered Prime Minister Rabin, in 2005.
In the weeks preceding the 1967 Six Day War, Sharon showed dissatisfaction with the indecision of the political leadership of Prime Minister and Defense Minister Levi Eshkol and Chief of Staff Rabin, who did not order the IDF to attack the Arab armies massed along Israel’s borders. Along with other senior officers, he attended various meetings which were later called the “revolt of the generals” –where participants demanded that the government order the IDF to go into battle.
When the order was eventually given, Sharon led his division to conquer Egyptian military outposts. His innovative tactics were later taught not only to senior IDF commanders, but also at military schools overseas.
Two years later he was appointed head of the Southern Command. His primary task, with which he continued to be identified, was the fight against Palestinian terrorism in the Gaza Strip.
He turned the Shaked reconnaissance unit, also known as Unit 424, into a commando unit. Low-intensity guerrilla tactics, combined with brutality, did the job.
In 1972, Palestinian terror organizations suffered a severe blow and terrorism was nearly completely eliminated. About 200 people were killed in clashes with the IDF and another 2,000 were arrested in joint operations with the Shin Bet security agency. Palestinian civilians paid a heavy price. Houses of terrorists and their associates were destroyed. Under Sharon’s orders, 1,600 families (over 10,000 people) were exiled from the Gaza Strip to Al Arish in the Sinai.
Sharon’s actions reinforced his image as goal-driven and uninhibited, earning him the description of a “bulldozer,” which stuck to him throughout his political career.
Sharon hoped to become chief of staff, and when he didn’t receive the appointment in August 1973, he retired. His successor in the Southern Command was Shmuel “Gorodish” Gonen. After the Yom Kippur War, when Gorodish was found responsible for the failures in the war — poor preparation for battle command and lack of equipment and emergency supplies — some asked whether it was not the fault of Sharon, who had resigned just three months earlier.
With the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War in October, Sharon received an emergency appointment as commander of an armored division. From the second day of the bloody battles, Sharon favored a nocturnal counterattack to choke the Egyptian army that had crossed the canal to Sinai. Instead it was decided to attack during the day under the command of General Avraham Adan. The attack, which also included Sharon’s division, failed.
Still, the general had a group of avid fans — confidants and journalists — who hung out in his command post and shared Sharon’s hedonistic tastes for good food and juicy gossip.
Sharon’s greatest achievement, the one with which he is still identified, was crossing the Suez Canal during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The operation, achieved with heavy casualties, allowed the IDF to establish a bridgehead into Egypt and push back the enemy. Public admiration for him intensified, earning him another moniker -= “Arik, King of Israel.”
The fact that he walked around for days with a white bandage on his forehead, the result of a slight injury, also contributed to his popularity. All the while, though, he was thinking ahead to a political career. The joke that went around in those days portrayed Sharon telling his soldiers, “Don’t salute me – Vote for me.”
And indeed, after the war he went into politics and in 1976 founded his own party, Shlomtzion.
Sharon ran in the 1977 elections, failed and rushed to join forces with the Likud, which won a majority of seats in the Knesset. Likud leader Menachem Begin founded the first right-wing government in Israel, and Sharon was appointed Minister of Agriculture. He used his position to establish more settlements in Gaza.
After the elections in 1981 he was able to fulfill an old dream: He who had failed to become the IDF’s chief of staff was appointed defense minister.
Initiated by Sharon, along with Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan and Mossad officials, and with the approval of Prime Minister Begin, Israel conceived a plan to invade Lebanon in order to push back the PLO from Israel’s border by 40 kilometers. But instead of a limited war, Israel rolled all the way to Beirut. For the first time the IDF conquered an Arab capital, thus creating a provocation in order to draw the Syrian army into battle.
Following the massacre in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila by Lebanon’s Christian Phalangists, who entered the camps despite the fact that they were surrounded by Israeli troops, an investigative commission found Sharon responsible for ignoring warnings not to rely on the Phalangists. The commission also determined that Sharon was not fit to serve as defense minister. Under pressure from public protests initiated by the Israeli Left, he was forced to resign. Sharon accused Begin of betraying him.
Later journalists, researchers, and associates of Begin argued that Sharon had deceived the prime minister about his plans — intending all along to launch a sweeping operation and not just a limited one — and had led Israel into a Lebanese quagmire.
The entanglement lasted 18 years and resulted in the deaths of 1,000 soldiers. Sharon defended his reputation at every opportunity, including filing a libel suit against Time magazine, a court case in which he argued that his actions had been sanctioned by Begin’s government.
When he was forced to resign from the defense ministry in early 1983, his close associate and journalist Uri Dan coined the famous saying that “those who did not want Sharon as chief of staff, got him as defense minister. Those who did not want him as defense minister, will get him as prime minister.”
The Jerusalem Post, Israel’s leading English-language newspaper, reviewed the latest history of Israel’s espionage and security services – Spies Against Armageddon — on September 21, 2012. Here is an excerpt of the review, by Benjamin Weinthal of the Post:
With their new book, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, Israeli intelligence journalist Yossi Melman and American CBS national political correspondent Dan Raviv travel deep into the weeds of Israel’s intelligence agencies and the people-intensive work of the men and women responsible for Israel’s security.
Melman and Raviv meticulously document “the Mossad’s reliance on human intelligence expertise – humint” over the span of the birth of Israel’s espionage work in the late 1940s to the reported Mossadengineered targeted killings of Iranian scientists working on the clerical regime’s illicit nuclear weapons program. It should be noted that the authors stress the plural over the singular when writing about Israel’s intelligence apparatus and its diverse divisions.
The book has garnered intense attention in the Islamic Republic of Iran and in the United States for its chapter entitled “Assassins” … A July New York Times article headlined “Tehran Abuzz as Book Says Israel Killed 5 Scientists” explored the reception in Iran.
Melman – widely considered to be the gold standard of Israeli news gathering and analysis on the opaque world of Israeli intelligence – and his co-author, Raviv, demystify the preconceived notions about the all-consuming mastery of the Jewish state’s espionage work. The blunders associated with the Lavon affair – an Inspector Jacques Clouseau-like operation – resulted in the capture of Egyptian Jews aiding Israel in 1954 within its most populous Arab neighbor, Egypt. As a result of the severe incompetence of the Israeli mission, the authorities hanged two Egyptian Jewish students and meted out long incarceration sentences to others.
Despite the setback of what Israelis would later call “esek bish” (a rotten affair) in Egypt, Israel’s intelligence services scored a series of impressive achievements in the decades ahead, catapulting its reputation into espionage stardom.
Melman and and Raviv bring to the fore the agents behind the capture in Argentina of Adolf Eichmann – the Nazi official largely responsible for overseeing the elimination of the vast majority of European Jewry. The joint Mossad-Shin Bet operation sent 67 agents to apprehend Eichmann and transport him back to Jerusalem for a trial. Israel’s judiciary sentenced Eichmann to death in 1962. The role of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) in the capture of Eichmann is part and parcel of the book’s analytical breakdown of special operations. There is no shortage of descriptions of colorful and lively intelligence agents and agency heads in the book. and anecdotes of their escapades abound.
What sets Spies Against Armageddon apart, however, is the attention to ordinary Israeli intelligence personnel who employ a revolutionary discipline to preserve their “country’s existence in a hostile world.”
The goal of Israeli covert action and intelligence gathering is, after all, to avoid military conflicts, to punish the murderers of Israelis and blunt Islamic-animated terrorism for its tiny population.
Take the example of Yehudit Nessyahu, the top female agent on the Eichmann team, who did not seek fame with a book about the mission. She was born in 1925 in the Netherlands, mastered several languages and, “as a religious woman… prepared only kosher food during the Argentina mission – even for the notorious Nazi.”
The peculiarity of Israel’s nascent intelligence services was underscored in the famous “revolt of the spies,” in which personnel from the Foreign Ministry engaged in labor defiance in the formative stage of reorganization, refusing to be transferred to the freshly minted Mossad division operated by Reuven Shiloah. Only in Israel could a group of covert agents exercise their right to strike! Israel’s interplay with American intelligence officers provides a window onto the court of US-Israeli intelligence cooperation and a relationship that would transform both countries into long-term allies. The authors excel at showing the ebb and flow of the US-Israel covert relationship.
John Hadden, the CIA’s station chief in Tel Aviv, neatly summed up the mix of admiration for Israel’s top leader coupled with his professional job to extract information.
In 1965, while visiting his wife, who happened to share a semi-private hospital room with David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, Hadden described his chats with “the old man” Ben-Gurion.
“Imagine two weeks with Churchill,” he exclaimed. Hadden, however, did not secure any information from Ben-Gurion on Israel’s developing nuclear program.
James Jesus Angleton, a top CIA official who served as director of counterintelligence from 1954 to 1975, arguably made the greatest contribution to solidifying ties between US and Israeli intelligence. His bond with Amos Manor, then head of counterespionage within the Shin Bet and later its director, paved the way for the staying power of Israeli-American intelligence cooperation during the rocky period of US president Dwight Eisenhower’s administration. After Angleton’s death in 1987, Israel built a memorial honoring Angleton.
Spies Against Armageddon is packed full of information on key phases of Israeli covert operations, from the destruction of Syria’s nuclear reactor in 2007 to the reported assassination of Hamas weapons smuggler Mahmoud Abdel Rauf al-Mabhouh in a Dubai hotel room in 2010 to the Stuxnet computer worm that infected Iran’s nuclear computer technology the same year.
Though Markus Wolf did not dismiss the use of technology to enhance human intelligence, he consistently relegated sophisticated gadgets to an inferior status in the gathering of foreign intelligence information. Melman and Raviv write in their concluding chapter, “Into the Future,” that “The one thing that the opponents cannot match – at least, not so far – are Israel’s humint assets.”
In short, the world of Israeli covert operations is not governed by a situation like chess grandmaster Gary Kasparov’s defeat in 1997 to the computer Deep Blue. Israel’s intelligence services will have to both develop the Deep Blue technology of the future and at the same time have operatives in place in their neighbor’s back yards in order to stop new dangers.
Book buyers who’ve read Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars — the new history of Israeli intelligence and security agencies from 1948 ’til the present time — have posted positive reviews at Amazon.com .
Spies Against Armageddon has just gotten its 100th review on the Amazon website. Here are the three most recent reviews by buyers:
5.0 out of 5 stars Nov. 27, 2013
Well written – No BS short history of the Israeli secret services: Mossad, Aman and Shin-Bet Toren (USA) -
Well researched and well written. A real page turner, generous with the details of both the successes and the failures of the famous Israeli “Institute”, Military Intelligence and Internal Security services.
But even with a more relaxed censorship in Israel lately, some of the most exciting operations of these 3 agencies: Mossad, Aman and Shabak/Shin-Bet- the details are still veiled in secrecy.
Most Israelis are quite familiar with the short vignettes in the book – but if you don’t know much about Israel spying agencies – this book will bring you up to speed without any BS or melodrama, which unfortunately are part of so many other books dedicated to the subject.
4.0 out of 5 stars Nov. 24, 2013
intriguing, comprehensive look at Israeli intelligence agencies and operations
I read this book after reading “Gideon’s Spies” by Gordon Thomas and though I was often reading about the same incidents I was able to enjoy this book as well. The writers have a factual, explanatory approach and do a good job in connecting and uncovering many otherwise mysterious world events. If you want to know more about the Mossad and other intelligence agencies, this is the book for you!
This review is of: Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars (Paperback)
Here in Brazil, I read this amazing book. Oh, this book is even better than I thought, when I bought it!
The main great things of this excellent book are these:
1- This book isn’t just about Mossad, but also about Aman (Israeli military Inteligency) and Shin Bet( Israeli Interior Security Service).
2- This book was writen by persons that really know its subject.
3- This book is 100% unbiased. Mossad, Aman and Shin Bet mistakes are in it. The huge conquests of Mossad are in this book too.
4- This book doesn’t lost time with especulations, fakes or urban legends.
5- This book is writen in a style that you can read it like a great novel.
6- This book has a linear narration.
7- This book is 100% well organized.
8- This book clearly shows that to be linked to reality, not useless dreams, is the main commandment of any inteligence service.
9- This book shows that democracy produces better inteligence services than tyrannies. Compare Mossad with KGB or Stasi and you will see that Mossad is far better than Stasi or KGB ever were.
[Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars and of the national best seller Every Spy a Prince, wrote the following for The Jerusalem Report, a magazine published in English in Israel.]
Nothing in the official biography of Professor Eitan Rubinstein suggests he had volunteered to be a Mossad spy and a Nazi hunter. But that is part of his secret resume; and his target was none other thanDr. Josef Mengele, the notorious, sadistic Nazi physician from Auschwitz. Known as “the angel of death,” Mengele was responsible for conducting medical experiments on human beings and sending some 400,000 Jews to the gas chambers.
In a phone conversation and subsequent exchange of e-mails from his office in the snow-covered prairies of Winnipeg. Canada, Rubinstein reveals one of the most adventurous, brazen and, at the same time, bizarre operations to capture Mengele and bring him to justice in Jerusalem – a story that has never been told before.
“Unfortunately we failed,” says the professor, who heads the Infectious Diseases Unit at the Department of Internal Medicine of the University of Manitoba. “Our intelligence was flawed,” he tells The Jerusalem Report.
Twenty-nine years ago, Rubinstein was a member of a team consisting of former Mossad agents, a former special forces soldier, former Israel Air Force pilots and a Dutch journalist. “It was an unauthorized operation. But I believe that if we would have succeeded, the government of Israel would have claimed responsibility for it,” he relates.
Rubinstein emphasized that he and the others had agreed to take part in the operation not for financial reward. “All of us were volunteers who did it out of a historic sense for justice,” he says, adding – and certainly with a smile on his face at the other end of the line, “I also liked the thrill, the adventure and could not say no to Zvi Malkin.”
Peter Zvi Malkin was a legendary Mossad operative who died in 2005 in New York. He gained worldwide fame as a member of the Mossad team that captured Adolf Eichmann in Argentina in 1960 and brought him to Israel to stand trial. Eichmann –the former SS officer who was in charge of the Nazi “Final Solution” – attempting to exterminate all the Jews of Europe – was convicted and hanged in Israel.
It was Malkin who had pounced on Eichmann and – paraphrasing the title of one of his books — laid hands on the notorious Nazi
Many parts of Malkin’s private life are blurred, probably in a deliberate attempt to elevate the mystique surrounding him. According to his son, Omer, Malkin was born in Poland in 1927 and moved with his parents to Palestine at the age of nine. But on his website, Malkin himself claimed he was born in Palestine.
“With him, it depends on what passport you’re looking at,” Omer told The New York Times after his father’s death.
Zvi Malkin’s sister, Fruma, and her three children remained behind in Poland. All died in the Holocaust, along with many of their other relatives.
As a teenager, Malkin joined the Hagana, the pre-state Jewish underground in Palestine during the final years of British rule (which ended in 1948).
In the early 1950s, after the establishment of the State of Israel, he was recruited by the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) and was assigned to its Operations Unit, which, at the time, worked also for the Mossad. In the 1960s, Malkin set up for the Mossad a unit that specialized in break-ins into Arab embassies in Europe, Africa and South America. The unit was codenamed Keshet and still serves today as an important part of the Mossad’s operational directorate.
“He was really a master in this field,” Malkin’s long-time friend and team member, Yair Racheli, tells The Report. “There was no lock he could not unlock, no door or window or safe he could not open.” Under Malkin’s leadership, the unit significantly increased its operations and collected invaluable intelligence from the break-ins.
Malkin retired from the intelligence community in 1976, moved to New York, and commuted between Israel and the United States. He devoted most of his time to his hobbies – painting and writing books. But being restless and missing the action, he also served as a private consultant on counter-terrorism and assisted Robert M. Morgenthau, the Manhattan district attorney, on several cases.
The work, however, was not sufficiently fulfilling; he missed the thrill and excitement of secret operations. Fortune struck in 1984.
At the time, a France-based Dutch journalist was working on a story in Paraguay, where he had befriended a local, influential lawyer being identified (for now) only as Carlos. Apparently, the lawyer, who claimed to be close to the country’s dictator, Alfredo Stroessner, had told the journalist an incredible story: “Dr. Mengele is alive and sheltered by our state leader.”
Carlos had hinted that he would be ready to assist any investigation into the matter — if he was paid handsomely.
Upon completing his assignment and assuming that the Jewish State was still interested in hunting down Nazi war criminals, the journalist flew to Israel, where he tried to make contact with the Mossad – but to no avail. Mengele, who was hiding out in South America, was indeed an important Mossad target in the 1960s, but attempts to locate him had failed time and again. Eventually, the manhunt was aborted.
Failing to reach the Mossad, the Dutch journalist found the New York-based Malkin, who was clearly taken with the story.
More than two decades after the success of the combined Mossad-Shin Bet mission to find Eichmann, Malkin proposed his daring, innovative mission to snatch Mengele. The head of the Mossad, Nahum Admoni, consulted with then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres and with the foreign minister, (ex-Mossad senior operative) Yitzhak Shamir. The result was a decision that the State of Israel would not be involved.
In response to a question from The Report on the matter, Admoni responds, “I don’t remember this incident, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.”
Malkin, however, did not give up on the idea of locating and capturing the Nazi war criminal. He flew to the United States and met with his friend, Robert Morgenthau, whose office was involved then in a number of Nazi war-crimes cases. Morgenthau liked the notion. He introduced Malkin to a wealthy Jewish businessman from Panama, an owner of an aviation firm. This Jewish contact agreed to fund the operation to the tune of $10 million, including lending Malkin one of his Boeing airplanes.
Malkin decided to lead a private operation of his own. He designed the plan as would a professional intelligence officer. First, he approached retired colonel Ze’ev Liron, a former Israel Air Force pilot and Mossad station chief in Europe. Now, a successful businessman in the field of security exports, mainly to Chile, Liron gladly accepted.
In addition to Liron, Malkin recruited a decorated combat soldier from Sayeret Matkal, the IDF elite commando unit – a man we shall identify only as Doron.
Next to be recruited was Eitan Rubenstein (the present-day Canadian professor and official), then a specialist in the field of infectious diseases at Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv. Malkin assigned Rubinstein the task of drugging Mengele following his capture – a traditional role, often for an anesthesiologist, in Mossad kidnapping operations.
Also enlisted was Amnon Linvi, who in 1976 had participated in the daring hostage-rescue operation in Entebbe, Uganda. He was given the task of flying the Boeing plane that would extract Mengele after his capture.
Rafi Eitan, a friend of Malkin and a former senior Mossad operative, also had a role to play. He had been involved in the Eichmann capture in 1960, and in 1984-5 he was serving as the prime minister’s adviser on counter-terrorism. Eitan was tasked as the “treasurer” of the operation, supervising the funds.
Malkin, Doron and the Dutch journalist headed out to Paraguay, gathered information, and made contact with Carlos. During these meetings, most of which were held in Europe and Brazil, Carlos provided them with information pertaining to Mengele’s daily routine and his security procedures. In exchange, Malkin gave him a large amount of money from the slush fund. Carlos also received a car and was promised an additional bonus of $100,000.
The plan was to abduct Mengele, who routinely bathed in a spring in the heart of the jungle. The abductors would overcome his guards – and if necessary, kill them – and bring the wanted Nazi by jeep to a small airport in Paraguay. From there, they would fly to Rio de Janeiro, where the Boeing was waiting.
With the help of a contact at the airport, they planned to strap the unconscious Mengele inside the plane, in a secret compartment built especially for the mission. Rubenstein was tasked with staying by his side to administer drugs in case the hostage was to awaken.
In March 1985, when Malkin, Doron, Liron, Rubenstein, Livni the pilot, and the journalist were busy preparing for the fateful night, Malkin received an anonymous phone call from a source who warned him that they were about to walk into an ambush. Malkin and his colleagues found an excuse to lead Carlos to a nearby coffee house. Malkin then broke into Carlos’ hotel room and found documents proving that the lawyer was a fraud. He had betrayed them and set them up for a trap.
The group quickly disbanded and returned to Israel.
Malkin, who maintained contact with Carlos, told the South American that orders had been received to halt the operation. Two months later, he invited Carlos to meet him in Paris. This was the last time Carlos was seen; his body has yet to be found.
“Malkin gave us the impression that Carlos’ betrayal was avenged,” Rubinstein reveals from Canada.
In retrospect, it turned out that the operation was completely superfluous. Mengele had died five years earlier, in 1979, apparently after suffering a stroke while swimming with friends in Brazil.
In the mid-1980s, the United States Embassy in Israel made an unusual request which immediately aroused the suspicion of Israel’s domestic security service, Shin Bet (known to most Israelis as Shabak). Citing “shortage of space” in its main building on the Tel Aviv beachfront, the embassy asked to rent additional offices on the top floors of the Mandarin residential hotel on the Mediterranean, 3 miles north of Tel Aviv.
The only problem with that application was that the Mandarin is located less than a mile from the headquarters of the Mossad (the foreign intelligence agency of Israel) and the HQ of the military intelligence unit 8200.
It was pretty clear to Shin Bet’s field security officers that the request was a pretext for an intelligence operation by the National Security Agency (NSA) to get closer to its targets. Unit 8200 – equivalent to the NSA – is the most important tool of Israel’s intelligence community in its efforts to collect information on its enemies in the region and beyond.
Shin Bet managed to persuade the landlord to reject the American request, disrupting the NSA’s plans.
Given this incident and other precedents, the latest chapter in the Edward Snowden saga did not surprise Israeli leaders. They have known for decades that the U.S. has been spying in Israel and on Israeli targets.
Snowden’s revelations, backed by the 1.7 million secret digital documents he stole from his NSA and CIA contract employers, have exposed the systematic extent of U.S. espionage around the world. They show that almost no one is immune from the reach of America’s technological capabilities: neither foes like China and Russia, nor friends like Germany and Israel.
Snowden’s revelations show that the NSA – with its close British ally, GCHQ (“Government Communications Headquarters”) – monitored e-mails, phones and faxes of many world leaders, including those of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
In the newest chapter, Snowden’s leaked documents have exposed the fact that in 2008-09 the NSA intercepted the e-mails of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
There is a great deal of hypocrisy on all fronts in the world’s reaction to U.S. global espionage. For years it has been known that states spy on each other by recruiting agents and bugging communications of enemies, rivals and friends. The Americans are not alone. The Russian are doing it. So are the Chinese and the French and many other states.
Israel, too, has been in this game for decades. Israeli agents were caught red-handed on numerous occasions spying on U.S. soil – procuring uranium and designs of military hardware, among other things. The best known case is that of the recruitment and running of Jonathan Pollard, a US naval analyst who sold Israel many secrets collected by the U.S. intelligence community about Arab and Muslim countries.
It could be argued that the only difference between Israel and the U.S. is the scope of the espionage operations. These depend only on the technological capabilities of the respective nations. The U.S. has, so it seems, the most advanced systems.
There is one other distinction. A superpower like the U.S. can get away with such activities without showing remorse and being only slightly embarrassed in the eyes of world public opinion.
After all, what are friendly states like Israel going to do about it? Break off diplomatic relations with Washington? Of course not. With annual military aid of $3 billion, political support and strategic cooperation – including in the intelligence field (yes, some of that secret cooperation was also revealed in the vast NSA archive leaked by Snowden) – there is very little Israel can do. Unfortunately, it cannot even express its anger publicly.
The cruel reality emerging from the Snowden affair – which most probably will continue to provide the world with sensations – is very simple. What the big guys are allowed to do, the little ones are not.
It is regrettable that President Shimon Peres could not make it to Nelson Mandela’s huge memorial in the Soweto soccer stadium (December 10th). It is noteworthy that Peres and Mandela were both recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Mandela Did Visit Peres in Israel in 1999
Attending the impressive ceremony, alongside hundreds of world leaders and other dignitaries, could have served for Israel and particularly for Peres as poetic justice, providing him with the opportunity to atone for past sins.
It was Peres more than any other Israeli politician who was responsible for the “unholy” alliance between the white-ruled apartheid regime of South Africa and the Jewish state.
Peres, who in 1974 served as defense minister in the Labor-led government of Yitzhak Rabin, secretly visited Pretoria and a year later signed a comprehensive agreement for security and nuclear cooperation between the two governments.
Over the next two decades, until the downfall of the apartheid system, Israel sold South Africa weapons, know-how and production licenses valued at $4 billion that included missile boats, fighter planes, missiles, artillery guns and assorted intelligence equipment.
The clandestine collaboration also deepened into the sensitive nuclear field. Israel purchased uranium from South Africa for its nuclear reactor in Dimona and in return shared its know-how and sold materials essential for making nuclear bombs such as tritium. The cooperation reached a peak in 1979, when, according to international experts, the two countries jointly tested a nuclear bomb in the Indian Ocean.
It was an immoral and shameful alliance, but Israel was not alone in supplying weapons and thus strengthening apartheid. France, the UK, Saudi Arabia and many other nations did the same. But one would have expected Israel to be more sensitive and act differently.
The apartheid regime was based on race division and a belief in the white man’s supremacy. Many of its leaders sympathized during the Second World War with the Nazis of Germany.
So how could Israel ignore its past and historic obligation as a homeland of the Jewish people, many of whom were Holocaust survivors and victims of the Nazi race doctrine? Can a need to enhance its national security and economic interests justify cooperation with a racist regime?
Though the South African-Israeli connection was unique in its scope, the pattern in which Israeli cooperated with morally repugnant regimes was, unfortunatley, not exceptional. Since the 1967 Six Day War, Israel embarked on a policy in which it lost its moral brakes and worshiped a supreme deity: selling Israeli “battle proven” military equipment to almost any customer, no matter its intended use.
The policy was designed, dictated and led by the Ministry of Defense, which to a certain degree even nowadays functions as a “state within a state.” The Defense Ministry with its near-sighted vision had the upper hand over the Foreign Ministry, the Justice Ministry and all other public bodies, in almost every battle in which moral values stood in the way of security, economic and political considerations.
Thus, Israel sold weapons in the early 80′s to Iran, while U.S. diplomats were held as hostage by the newly established Islamic Republic. Israel sold weapons, technologies and expertise to the worst dictators in Africa and in South and Central America, who used the knowledge and equipment to abuse human rights.
Three examples are sufficient to illustrate this policy: the military junta in Argentina in the 70′s, General Augusto Pinochet of Chile in the 70′s and 80′s, and General Efrain Rioss Montt of Guatemala in the early 80′s.
Israel has been trapped for the last four decades in a vicious cycle. The embattled young state built a military-industrial complex in order to support and supply its armed forces and to be self-reliant — especially in preparation for the “rainy day” when foreign powers might embargo the sales of weapons to Israel.
Such embargoes took place from time to time: once,in 1967, when France refused to hand over fighter planes and boats which Israel had already paid for; and on a smaller scale, when various U.S. administrations decide to punish Israel for its policies by suspending arms deliveries.
But like a monster which has to be fed, Israeli defense contractors needed to export their products in order to support their economic growth, expand manpower and generate bigger revenues.
The urge to expand and find new markets — at almost any cost — pushed aside even the slightest notion that foreign policy must also consider moral, ethical and historical considerations.
Nevertheless in the last decade, perhaps to remedy Israel’s tarnished image, the policy has been revisited. The Foreign Ministry managed to have a bigger say in the decision-making process regarding arms sales. Defense Ministry officials have also become more attentive and ready to take into account wider considerations, including moral aspects, in their effort to market Israeli security and military equipment.
Above all, in its desire to be part of the civilized world, Israel is more ready than ever to adhere to international norms and United Nations decisions — especially when it comes to arms embargoes and sanctions on rogue regimes.
What’s needed is closer oversight of arms deals, to make sure that our country’s prized innovations no longer end up in the hands of the world’s most ruthless regimes.