“Not an Episode of ‘Homeland’” – Will Take Patience & Imaginative Espionage to Penetrate and Counter ISIS: Raviv to Potomac Institute

Dan on CBS This Morning closeup 071212Dan Raviv, CBS News correspondent (in Washington) and co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars and other books, spoke for 15 minutes about the radical group The Islamic State (ISIS) and how Western nations can develop innovative ways to confront and weaken ISIS.

Don’t expect Israel to have a major role in this, Raviv said, but larger countries can adapt — and enlarge — what Israel has done to penetrate and manipulate terrorist organizations. He pointed out that the hospital in northern Israel where selected Syrian casualties of the civil war are treated “is an intelligence bonanza opportunity.”

He told the audience of mostly diplomats and retired government officials at The Potomac Institute: “Use your imagination,” because excellent intelligence agencies do.
The 15-minute video, thanks to C-Span television, is below. Simply click to watch it.

August 30, 2014

Gaza War Just ‘Finished’, Israel Has a New Crisis Spilling Over from Syria: It’s Not ISIS — Not Yet

[Yossi Melman, co-author of the updated history of Israeli intelligence and security agencies -- Spies Against Armageddon -- wrote this article for the website of the non-stop TV news service based in Israel, i24news.tv.]

Even as Israelis took a deep breath of relief as the cease-fire in the Gaza war continued to hold, they awoke Wednesday morning to realize that a new source of concern had opened on the northern border.

Syrian opposition forces, after fierce battles with the Syrian army, took over the Quneitra border crossing in the Golan Heights.

The border crossing is the only official gate between Syria and Israel, manned by the United Nations Disengagement Observatory Force (UNDOF), in place since the end of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

For a few hours, the news from the northern border increased Israeli concern, due to reports that the Nusra Front – Islamists identified with Al-Qaeda and supported by Saudi Arabia and Qatar – had seized controlled of the area. Hours later, different reports suggested that a secular unit of the Free Syrian Army was in control of the crossing.

Nevertheless, the incidents in Quneitra were a wake-up call for Israel, demonstrating how the changing events in the Middle East — from the advances of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria to turmoil in Libya and the Gaza war — are affecting old Israeli security doctrines and stability.

i24 black logoFor three and a half years, Israel has tried to stay away from the Syrian civil war, having one ultimate interest in mind: maintaining security and stability at the border and preserving the routine tranquility of Israel’s rural communities in the Golan Heights (the land captured from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967 and then formally annexed by Israel).

On occasion, Israel interfered in the war when its intelligence uncovered attempts by President Bashar Assad’s regime to supply weapons – mainly long-range Iranian or Syrian-made missiles – to Hezbollah as a payment for the Shiite Lebanese movement’s support for the Syrian government in the war.

The Israeli Air Force attacked supply convoys six times, but never claimed responsibility for those airstrikes — thus leaving a space of deniability and providing the Syrian government a face-saver to turn a blind eye to the blatant Israeli violations of Syria’s sovereignty.

In other instances, Israel responded with mild artillery shells whenever errant fire or mortars landed on the Israeli side of the border. These were seen as unintentional results of clashes between the opposition forces and the Syrian army.

In this way, Israel believed it was preserving its deterrence vis-à-vis the Syrian government, without humiliating the Assad regime.

But in the last year, the opposition forces – Islamists of the Nusra Front and the Free Syrian Army – took over most of the Syrian army positions close to Israel. Following Wednesday’s events, they now almost entirely control a 100-kilometer strip on the UNDOF-patrolled frontier.


Realizing the changes along its border, Israel secretly began to reach out to the Syrian opposition forces in order to ensure that they would not turn hostile. Israel opened a field hospital on the border and has in the last year treated more than 1,000 wounded combatants and civilians. On the face of it, this is a humanitarian gesture, but it also helps Israel maintain good neighborly relations with the opposition forces in Syria, hoping to ensure that the border will stay relatively calm.

Nevertheless, there are hostile elements such as the Islamic State in the vicinity. The ISIS forces are small and insignificant in this area, but they are a potential threat to the stability of what used to be Israel’s quiet border for many years.

At the same time, these and other regional events in Iraq and Kurdistan also provide an opportunity for new alliances in the region. It was revealed this week that Iran is supplying the Iraqi Kurdish authorities with ammunition and weapons to repel ISIS (also known as IS, and the Obama Administration calls it ISIL).

Israel, a traditional covert ally of the Kurds, is also still assisting them in the security and military field. For the first time since 1979 when Iran overthrew the Shah and became an Islamic Republic, Iran and Israel have found themselves supporting the same side on of the Middle East’s major fronts.

It should also not be ruled out that Israel may now have second thoughts about the events in Syria and would prefer – maybe even passively support — the Assad regime staying in power, despite the fact that Israel’s long-sworn enemies Iran and Hezbollah are on Assad’s side.

August 28, 2014

Israel Won the Gaza War: Hamas Practically Crawled to the Ceasefire Deal

[Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel's Secret Wars, wrote this analysis for Wednesday's Jerusalem Post newspaper.]

If the cease-fire holds, and that is a big if, the results of the 50-day war in Gaza will mark an important and impressive achievement for Israel. 

Hamas was forced to accept Egyptian and Israeli dictates. Hamas crawled to the cease-fire. One should not be impressed by the well-organized victory festivities in Gaza.

Most of Hamas’s demands and preconditions were rejected from the outset. The cease-fire is unlimited in time and Hamas was not promised anything except that which had been offered at the start of the military campaign. 

Full of itself and arrogant, it miscalculated. If Hamas had not rejected the offers, Israel would not have launched a ground incursion. Hamas’s 32 attacking tunnels would not have been destroyed. Its rockets and mortar shells wouldn’t be reduced to a residual arsenal of one-third – from 10,000 to approximately 2,000. And most importantly, parts of Gaza wouldn’t have been destroyed.

{See all our Middle East coverage, focused on Israeli espionage and security but a lot more, by going to IsraelSpy.com and scrolling down for our posts since 2012.  Or, just tap the HOME tab in the upper right of this page. Also, for the latest, follow us on Twitter @SpiesArmageddon.}

Unfortunately, Gaza has been set back decades. More than 5,000 houses were destroyed. Another 1,000 were damaged and on the verge of collapse. Gaza has been suffering water and electricity shortages. 

Three-hundred thousand residents – 15 percent of its population – turned into homeless refugees within the boundaries of the small enclave, which was already mostly one big refugee camp. 

Anger, despair and frustration are ruling the day in Gaza. Surely people will not go to protest in the streets. Hamas has established a reign of fear and terror.

Hamas’s highly publicized executions during the war, and in particular last week, of alleged traitors were not aimed at unveiling and disrupting Israeli intelligence operations. They were aimed at sending a clear message to the Gazans: We are Hamas and we are here to stay. Don’t dare revolt against us. 

But the locals have a long memory. They will remember who brought them the calamity.

In a sense, the Gaza war is reminiscent of what happened during the Second Lebanon War in 2006. Hezbollah was defeated. Its secretary-general admitted it in public. But then he heard Israeli defense commentators who criticized the war’s conduct by then-prime minister Ehud Olmert’s government. That made the Hezbollah leader regain his self-confidence.

Hassan Nasrallah told himself that if stupid Israel thought that it was defeated, so let it be – and he declared his false victory.

Eight years later, it is quite clear that “the Second Lebanon War” brought Israel significant gains at the strategic level. Northern Israel has enjoyed peace and tranquility. Hezbollah is deterred and doesn’t dare to initiate violent and aggressive actions against the Jewish state. Nasrallah himself is in hiding, fearing for his life.

As then, some of the veteran commentators in the 2006 war coverage now express the same criticism with the same weeping voices, claiming that Hamas defeated Israel.

Sooner or later it will emerge that as against Hezbollah, Israel will deter Hamas too.

As in the Second Lebanon War, the military campaign in Gaza unmasked some IDF tactical failures and gains for Hamas. The Islamist movement showed determination, and its combatants proved to be capable guerrilla fighters with some daring and innovative operations. Jerusalem Post logo ad

Hamas fighters stood up for 50 days against the mighty Israeli war machine. They paralyzed Israel’s international airport for two days. Israel’s economy took a relative hit. They tried to infiltrate in commando operations from the sea and the tunnels. But in most cases they failed and achieved nothing significant.

The bottom line is that Hamas failed to reach its strategic goals. Israel showed determination and except for some anti-war demonstrations, the Israeli home front was stubborn and did not break down.

Did Netanyahu Achieve His Gaza War Goals?

Did Netanyahu Achieve His Gaza War Goals?

The real index with which to check Israel’s gains is against the war’s declared aims. The leading trio – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz – who have shown reason and self-restraint in order to avoid more casualties, were determined not to surrender to populist voices, including from their cabinet colleagues who pulled out long knives to stab them in the back and demanded to “smash Hamas.” Netanyahu, Ya’alon and Gantz decided neither to occupy Gaza nor to topple the Hamas regime.

Having said all that, much depends on the cease-fire being honored.

Even if it is respected, there is a need to leverage the blows inflicted on Hamas into a brave and breakthrough move to increase the chances of a serious and genuine negotiation with the Palestinian Authority. The aim should be a deal over the West Bank.

Only then will it be possible to talk about the strategic victory of Israel and Zionist history. But such a step is under a heavy cloud of doubt. Can Netanyahu show the same willpower and determination he manifested in war to make peace?

August 27, 2014

‘Newsweek’ Magazine Cites Yossi Melman on Assassinations: Part of Israeli War Strategy?

In its latest issue, Newsweek magazine has an article by New York-based Benny Avni that explores whether targeted assassinations are a part of Israeli war strategy.

An airstrike : IDF photo

An airstrike : IDF photo

It certainly can be argued that in the flurry of events that led to a ceasefire — which seems to represent the end of the Gaza war after more than 7 weeks of bloodshed — highly targeted Israeli airstrikes made the big difference.

Based on precise intelligence, Israel managed to kill at least three — and probably more — senior Hamas military commanders in Gaza. Then, as seen on TV worldwide, Israel’s air force flattened three tall buildings in the heart of Gaza city.

Israel’s intelligence agencies and military (the IDF) seemed to be showing off their capabilities for precision — coupled with more effective early warning that prompted nearly all the residents of the doomed tower blocks to leave before the edifices were destroyed.

In Newsweek, Benny Avni wrote about why Israel decided to take the shots — and kill the Hamas commanders:

“This is not about revenge,” says Yossi Melman, a leading Israeli expert on counterterrorism and espionage. “Yes, revenge may play a role, but the main goal is to disrupt future attacks.

…But does it work? “Assassinations are pyrotechnics,” says Melman, co-author of the book Spies Against Armageddon. “There are no illusions on the Israeli side that it’s a cure-all. At best, it disrupts the enemy temporarily. But that’s the nature of the war on terror: Every victory is temporary.”


August 27, 2014

Iran ‘Shot Down an Israeli Spy Drone’? Probably Just Propaganda and Doesn’t Add Up: Analysis

Israelis who work on their country’s unmanned aircraft programs are shaking their heads at the official Iranian video of a smashed aircraft — said by Iran to be “an Israeli drone, a Hermes model, shot by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).”

The Israelis say: “It doesn’t look like one of ours.”

First, there’s the matter of the maximum flying range for an Israeli-made drone.  Natanz — the nuclear enrichment center south of Tehran — is too far away for a drone operating from Israel, if one adds up the flying distance and the reconnaissance time that would be needed over the target.

It is true, as an official Iranian report on that country’s Press TV is suggesting, that Israel could fly recon missions out of a country much closer to Iran. Israel is reliably reported to have a close intelligence relationship with Azerbaijan.

Official Iranian Photo

Official Iranian Photo

However, David Harari feels that this story doesn’t add up. He is a former head of the drone division at IAI — Israel Aerospace Industries (the former Israel Aircraft Industries, which makes airplanes and more for both civilian and military uses).

Harari headed the drone division from 1977 to 1993 and keeps up with developments.

He says the smashed device seen in the official Iranian video looks like a drone, but a very small one — a “mini drone.” That makes it very unlikely that it’s an Israeli device, he says.

Harari adds that it surely doesn’t look like a Hermes — the model specifically named by the Iranians.

“It’s strange,” he adds, “very strange.”

There are other nations, of course — not only Israel — that would keep an eye on Iran’s nuclear facilities and might want to test the air defenses around them.

August 25, 2014

Israel Hasn’t Won or Lost the Gaza War — But Now Hopes to Kill Top Hamas Leaders: Victory?

After the latest ceasefire broke down — with Hamas and Israel both finding it pointless to keep negotiating in Cairo — Israel is attempting “shock and awe” tactics: first, with an airstrike that flattened an apartment building and aimed to kill Hamas’s military chief. Then came another airstrike, with impressive precision, destroying a house in which three senior military men of Hamas were meeting — and all three were killed.

On Sunday (24 August) word came that an Israeli missile destroyed a car driven by Hamas’s top finance official. But do targeted assassinations help, in the long run?

[Yossi Melman, co-author of the best seller Every Spy a Prince and the new, updated history of Israel's intelligence agencies Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel's Secret Wars, wrote this article for Friday's Jerusalem Post newspaper.]

Dead or alive? Was Muhammad Deif, legendary chief of the Izzedin Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing, eliminated in a targeted killing by Israel – or did he survive the attack?

Israelis and Palestinians have been asking that question since the early hours of Wednesday morning, when reports of an attempted assassination first surfaced. The assumption is that he was killed or gravely wounded, but more than 48 hours later, we remain in the dark.

Hamas’s websites and spokesmen declared Deif alive and kicking. Some of them even made a mockery of what they described as yet another Israeli failure to assassinate him.

Israel's air force: assassination weapons

Israel’s air force: assassination weapons

Indeed, like a cat with nine lives, Deif has survived at least four attempts by Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the military to kill him.

Israeli officials added to the aura of mystery by remaining ambiguous. They hinted he was most probably killed but weren’t sure, and they did not wish to commit themselves to a statement they would regret.

Let’s assume for a moment that Deif was killed in the attack: What would the implications and ramifications of such a hit be?

Already severely disabled due to earlier attacks, Deif had become in recent years more of an “honorary” commander of the military wing . Nevertheless, he was involved in the major strategic military decisions taken by the movement – including transforming Hamas into a semi-military organization with battalions and brigades (with two of its six brigade commanders killed in a joint Shin Bet-Israel Air Force operation this week after Deif was hit). Deif was also involved in the tunnel and rocket programs.

Thus, killing him could be a tactical gain for Israel, a boost to Israel’s morale during the frustrating Gaza war, and a psychological blow for Hamas.

The Gaza war has become more about public relations, images, and spin than about success in the battlefield. Every side aspires for an Iwo Jima-style “victory photo” – and killing Deif could provide that image for Israel.

There is a downside, however: If Deif managed to survive a fifth Israeli attempt on his life, it will elevate his godlike status not just within Hamas, but among the Palestinian constituency everywhere.

The larger question here is whether Israel’s assassination policy is paying off.

For decades, Israeli intelligence chiefs have debated the wisdom and effectiveness of the policy – a debate that is less of a moral or ethical deliberation, but a more practical one.

David Kimche (1928-2010), photo by WorldJewishCongress.org

David Kimche (1928-2010), photo by WorldJewishCongress.org

The late David Kimche, a senior Mossad operative, told me more than a decade ago that he and his colleagues had discussed many times whether the organization should be involved in assassinations and targeted killings. Some argue against it, claiming that the Mossad is not a Murder, Inc., and killing terrorist leaders is counterproductive.

A quick reminder: Less than two years ago, Israel’s previous campaign in Gaza opened with the killing of Ahmed Jabari, then the operations chief of Hamas’s military wing, as Deif was still recuperating from his Israeli-inflicted wounds. Quickly enough, Hamas recovered from the loss of Jabari and replaced him with a new commander, Marwan Issa, who today is still the military wing’s acting chief.

There are many other examples, the most blatant being the 1992 assassination of Hezbollah secretary-general Abbas Moussawi; he was replaced by a more skillful leader, Hassan Nasrallah.

The long history of Israel’s war against terrorist leaders and military operatives reads like the final chapter of the Passover Seder: one killing leads to a new leader, who is then killed, followed by a new leader, and so forth.

But on the other hand, does a country fighting terrorism have a choice? The nature of asymmetrical struggle between a state and a terror group is that it is an ongoing battle – a kind of war of attrition with no knockout blow possible.

Israel – and for that matter, any other nation in a similar situation – doesn’t have the luxury of projecting an image of weakness and thus has to hit, retaliate, and assassinate the enemy’s operatives.

This is not in order to take revenge, but as a step to disrupt future plots and eliminate the other side’s most capable leaders and commanders.

Israel’s intelligence and security apparatus has for years tried to devise a doctrine detailing when and whom to target, based on how useful the termination would be. There are no textbook answers, only general observations.

Killing a leader of a small group – a nearly one-man show – can paralyze that organization. But when it comes to larger terrorist groups well-rooted in the community, sooner or later a new – sometimes even more talented and daring – chief will turn up.

Regardless of whether Deif is dead or alive, it will not change the reality of the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

Both sides need an exit strategy, a long-term agreement to end the violence. For that to happen, they must swallow their pride and agree to a compromise.

August 24, 2014

Gaza Talks in Cairo May Resume Sometime, but Israeli Leaders Assume Hamas Will Take Over the West Bank: Crises are Certain, Peace is Not

by YOSSI MELMAN in Tel Aviv

[Yossi Melman is co-author of the best seller Every Spy a Prince and the new, updated history of Israeli intelligence and security, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel's Secret Wars. This is adapted from his article in Tuesday's Jerusalem Post newspaper.]

There were five possible outcomes to the Gaza ceasefire talks in Cairo — which abruptly ended, when the violence resumed on Tuesday night (19 August): a long-term agreement, which is not very likely at this point; an Egyptian announcement that the sides had agreed to extend the truce; simultaneous announcements by Israel and Hamas that the truce would be extended;  a “narrow” agreement, which would allow for the truce to be extended while a number of measures are implemented in the field, such as the opening of crossings; or another 24-hour extension of the truce, in an attempt to reach a long-term arrangement.

However, in the background there was always an additional possibility that neither side seemed to desire: the resumption of the war.

Therefore, the IDF and the Israeli defense establishment were not taking any chances and were also prepared for this outcome. The train route from Sderot to Ashkelon, part of which is exposed to fire from Gaza, was shut down on Sunday. At some of the kibbutzim near Gaza, the kindergartens were reinforced with concrete walls (which begs the question: Why was this done at the last minute? The defense establishment had 14 years to do it.)

Most importantly, the IDF vowed to respond to every rocket with especially strong firepower. “One thing is clear. We will not accept a war of attrition,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon emphasized on Monday evening.

Israel’s updated military doctrine, in this Gaza war, is to hit back even harder whenever Hamas fires rockets: at the rocket launchers, of course, but also more broadly against key Hamas facilities and leaders.

Shin Bet — the domestic security agency — meantime clarified the timing of its revelation on Monday that Hamas was trying to create a potent military infrastructure in the West Bank: so as to launch major terrorist attacks against Israel from a new direction, but also to stage a coup d’etat that would remove the more moderate Fatah faction from power in the West Bank.

Shin Bet officials said the revelation — which received wide media coverage as a new claim by Israel — was not meant to affect the Cairo negotiations. It was mere coincidence, they said: connected to the filing of indictments against around 70 suspects in the terror ring.

Shin Bet contends that the release of the information on the terror plot was not meant to serve as propaganda or psychological warfare to drive a wedge between Hamas and the Fatah-led PA (the Palestinian Authority) on the day that the future of the Gaza ceasefire was being determined.

Now it is clear that even if the ceasefire were extended, the chances of reaching a long-term understanding between Israel and Hamas through the Palestinian Authority were (and remain) low.

Prime Minister Netanyahu

Prime Minister Netanyahu

The bitter truth is that the government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, which until now was dismissive of PA President Mahmoud Abbas and did everything it could to fritter away nine months of fruitless negotiations (mediated by America’s John Kerry), is now interested in putting Abbas in power in Gaza. It seems obvious that the Fatah faction would be better than the murderous, racist, implacable Hamas.

On the other hand, Israel’s government doesn’t hide its strong skepticism about Abbas and his ability to rule in the West Bank.

This government’s belief is that Hamas, either through the ballot box or by way of the gun, will eventually take over the West Bank.

Either way, the Israeli government does not truly want  a peace agreement or other understanding that it will obligate it to evacuate settlements and relocate settlers. Some in the government simply believe that the entire West Bank is rightfully Jewish territory — based on both the Bible and the lightning Six-Day victory in 1967. Others mostly stress the dangers that Israel would have to cope with, if Palestinians fully controlled the West Bank, leaving the Jewish state extremely thin and vulnerable.

Therefore, all the Netanyahu government does now is manage crises, like that occurring in Gaza today.  Israel will continue to jump from crisis to crisis.

August 19, 2014

Gaza Ceasefire Ended; No Deal — So Israeli Attack Aims at Hamas Leadership

Even before the scheduled end of the Israel-Hamas ceasefire at midnight, explosions erupted on Tuesday night — and the most significant was a long-distance assassination attempt by Israel.

Muhammad Deif, Hamas military chief

Muhammad Deif, Hamas military chief

Hamas said Mohammed Deif, the commander of its military wing, was the target of an airstrike that destroyed a house in Gaza City. Arab media said Deif’s wife and young child were killed. (It was not immediately clear whether Deif survived.)

A barrage of Hamas missiles — imprecisely aimed at Tel Aviv and at Ben-Gurion International Airport — was considered a retaliation for the assassination attempt. Dozens of rockets failed to kill any Israelis or cause significant damage.

And what of the negotiations in Cairo, where Egyptian mediators (with barely hidden advice from the United States) struggled mightily for a deal between Israel and Hamas?

Israeli officials say the head of the political wing of Hamas — Khaled Meshaal, who does his work from a hotel suite in far-off Qatar — intentionally sabotaged the negotiations, because he wants a united Arab stand to make much tougher demands. To show that Hamas gained something from this Gaza war, the radical Palestinian movement insists that a seaport and an airport should be opened quickly — while Israel and Egypt end the “siege” which strictly controls border entries and exits.

Khaled Meshaal

Khaled Meshaal

The core of the Meshaal obstacle, however, was his ego.  He appeared to be fighting for his honor, more than fighting for Hamas or the wider Palestinian people.

As the negotiations limped toward their latest deadline — after several extensions that were difficult for Egypt to arrange — Israel’s government honestly did not know what the outcome would be.

If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Defense Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon knew, then they were not sharing that knowledge with the public — and not even with the rest of the cabinet. Ministers felt left out, and that was never going to increase Netanyahu’s chance of getting the cabinet’s backing for any deals that might be complicated or concession-filled.

It turns out that the basic Egyptian concept was — and is — to have an indefinite extension of the ceasefire, with the Israelis and Palestinians promising to hold serious, comprehensive negotiations in a month’s time. Israel and Egypt, though clearly not feeling that Gaza has become moderate or stable enough to have full shipping and flight rights, agreed not to veto the seaport and airport concept.

August 19, 2014

Major Claim by Israel’s Shin Bet — Hamas Launched Serious Plot in West Bank to Overthrow Fatah’s Palestinian Authority

by YOSSI MELMAN in Tel Aviv

Israel’s domestic security agency, Shin Bet, claims that it uncovered a serious plot by Hamas – including unprecedented military preparations – to start an uprising in the West Bank: not only against Israel, but against the Palestinian Authority.

According to Shin Bet, Hamas’s goals in the West Bank included – at some stage – “a military coup” to topple the P.A., which is led by the late Yasser Arafat’s al-Fatah faction.  In the Gaza Strip in 2007, after winning an election there, Hamas fighters soundly defeated al-Fatah men – killing many and forcing the survivors to leave.

Shin Bet officials, in issuing details today, insist that this is all true – and not an Israeli invention aimed at jamming a huge wedge between Hamas and the P.A.  The officials deny any connection with the fact that all day Monday, there was high tension over not knowing if a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas would be extended to allow for more negotiations in Cairo.

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

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

Hamas is branded a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States, and many other governments. The Fatah faction, which as the P.A. has engaged in negotiations with Israel on-and-off for 21 years, is considered to be relatively moderate. (Rightwing Israelis argue that Fatah also backs terrorism and does not truly want to live in peace alongside a Jewish state of Israel.)

Shin Bet says its information about “military” organizing by Hamas in the West Bank is based on interrogations of recently arrested suspects. Information is being released at this time, because it is in legal documents that formalize charges against around 70 Hamas members.

The officials tell of 93 arrests in the current investigation, including a man who allegedly was recruited in Malaysia where he studied computer sciences. Hamas had him trained for code-breaking and cyberwarfare. 

According to information cleared by Israeli authorities for publication, the Hamas military organizing began in May – unrelated to the kidnap and murder of three young Israeli men in the West Bank a month later.

Over the weekend, the Israeli army destroyed the family homes of two Palestinians who are the prime suspects in the murder of the three Israelis. Human rights organizations complained that this was “collective punishment,” without any court indictments, trials, or convictions.

As for the “military” plot including a coup to take over the P.A., Shin Bet officials say the plan was hatched by Hamas activists in Turkey – with others in Jordan involved in the planning.

The plan included severe terrorist attacks inside Israel, launched from the West Bank, that would trigger harsh responses by Israel.  That, in turn, would lead – Hamas allegedly hoped – to the eruption of a widespread uprising by West Bank Palestinians: a third Intifada.

It seems that Israeli intelligence received some of its information on this plot from Jordan’s security agencies, which is believed to have spies inside various Palestinian factions – and Jordan is reputed to engage in harsh interrogations to extract information about alleged plots.

As part of the Israeli investigation in the West Bank, according to Shin Bet officials, dozens of weapons and hidden storage facilities were found.  Guns, valued at around half a million dollars, are believed to have been smuggled in from Jordan.

Shin Bet believes it broke up this plot before attacks on Israelis – or on the P.A. – could be carried out.  But one Shin Bet official said the information obtained proves that Hamas – and certainly its leadership outside the Palestinian territories – are deadly serious in their objective to take over the entire Palestinian movement.

August 18, 2014

‘Spies Against Armageddon’ Now Published in Czech and Polish — Retired General Gets The Message: “Never Say Sorry. Never Say Never”

The international translations of Spies Against Armageddon have begun – and the book has now been published in Poland and in the Czech Republic.

At our Twitter account @SpiesArmageddon, we mentioned the new Czech edition:

We r proud our book just published in Czech: = Spies Against Armageddon: Secret Wars of Mossad.
Our Book in Polish

Our Book in Polish

The Polish title, as can be seen, also includes the word “Mossad.”  That is, indeed, the famous name of Israel’s foreign intelligence agency — as famous as the CIA and the (now buried) KGB.  Our book does point out, from the very start, that Israel’s intelligence/security/espionage community includes a lot more than just the Mossad.

Whether in English, Polish, or the other languages in which our book will appear, do please explore the history of how Israel has innovatively protected itself since the state’s founding in 1948.

At the top of the book cover as published in Poland, that country’s former head of military special forces — Gen. Gromoslaw Czempinski — offers this endorsement: “These are the real chronicles of Israel’s intelligence operations, projecting the motto: ‘Never say sorry. Never regret. Never say never. And nothing’s impossible.’”

The Polish title


literally means … “Spies of the Mossad and Israel’s Secret Wars.”

August 15, 2014

How to Detect ‘Terror Tunnels’? Israel’s Tech & Military Industries Hurry Up — Mexico, Korea Visited & Russian Technology was Tried

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) insist that the military has been aware, for some time, of the severe danger that Hamas tunnels from Gaza might pose.

IDF briefers have just revealed — without revealing when this occurred – that Israeli experts were dispatched on unannounced trips to countries that had experience with tunnels: Mexico, where smugglers of drugs and illegal immigrants used tunnels leading into the United States; and Korea, where the South’s military had discovered many intricate and solid tunnels built by the Communist North to prepare for a possible invasion in the future — threatening South Korea’s capital, Seoul.

The IDF even obtained and “test drove” a Russian-made radar system which is aimed down, into the ground, so that underground caves, tunnels, movements and sounds can be detected.  But it seemed to work only to a depth of 3 or 4 meters (about ten feet), so that wasn’t good enough.

Israeli Troops Near Tunnel They Discovered (:IDF Spokesman)

Israeli Troops Near Tunnel They Discovered (:IDF Spokesman)

Israel’s reconnaissance satellites also attempted to detect piles of soil, or changes in topography that might indicate tunnels.  But that did not work.

Israeli military and electronics manufacturers are now working quickly to develop appropriate technologies.

One approach would depend on acoustics — a form of radar that’s familiar to pregnant couples who see an “ultrasound picture” of their unborn child in the womb.  The other method would involve seismic detection – receiving an alert from vibrations below the Earth’s surface.

A critic, a retired colonel who is a geologist (Yossi Langotzki), says there is no need to re-invent the wheel, because seismic detection would be an approach ready to use right now. He says the existing seismic technology (used in the oil and mining industries) could be quite useful. Why waste time and money, Langotzki wonders, developing radar-based products that probably could not be ready for use for another two years or so?

As for how Hamas’s tunnels are destroyed after they are discovered by Israel – so far, 32 tunnels — the military is preventing full disclosure of its method for making them unuseable.  It may be said with certainty, however, that they are not simply “blown up” with explosives — not all the tunnels.  There are various ways of filling or blocking them.

The New York Times reported in February 2013 that Egypt was making tunnels from Gaza impassable — or too disgusting to use — by flooding them with raw sewage which could be piped-in or trucked-in from elsewhere.

August 10, 2014

The Gaza War — Featuring an Israeli Intelligence Failure? Who Knew About Hamas Tunnels?

When the Gaza war that Israel calls “Operation Protective Edge” (in Hebrew the name is Tzuk Eitan, מִבְצָע צוּק אֵיתָן, which means Operation Robust Cliff) began over a month ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the key goal was to find and destroy the rockets and launchers that Hamas was using in Gaza — so as to bring calm to southern Israel, which has been targeted on-and-off for nearly 10 years.

IDF photo of a Gaza tunnel's opening

IDF photo of a Gaza tunnel’s opening

After 10 days of failing to stop the Hamas rocket barrage, Netanyahu sent in ground forces. Now the declared key goal became subterranean: locating and destroying a huge network of tunnels — some of which went under the border and had exit points near Israeli residential neighborhoods.

Didn’t the highly respected — almost mythical — Israeli intelligence know about the Hamas tunnels, now nicknamed “Underground Gaza”? Were the Palestinians able to spend millions of dollars worth of materials, and countless man-hours digging and reinforcing tunnels, without Israel noticing?

Senior Israeli military briefers now say: We knew about the tunnels.

Other officials said that moving against Underground Gaza — before the current conflict broke out in July — would have triggered a war. Israel would have been blamed. Even the Israeli public might not have been supportive of a preemptive invasion.

The briefers reveal that Israel even sent experts to Mexico and to South Korea — to see how smugglers’ and attack tunnels were built there.

Many Israelis are starting to ask, “Didn’t Israeli intelligence detect the tunnels as they were being dug?” Presaging what’s likely to be parliamentary investigation, members of the public are asking, “Did intelligence analysts speak to military commanders, and did they both clearly warn government officials and political leaders?”

Were the dots connected?  One senior briefer (who insists on not being named) was asked about claims by some cabinet ministers that the IDF (the military) and intelligence chiefs did not tell them “loud and clear” about the tunnels as a strategic threat from Gaza.

Hamas could have chosen to attack Israeli civilians or soldiers at any time. Many now are believing reports of a master plan by Hamas to send a large number of terrorists into Israel on the important New Year holiday, Rosh HaShana, this coming September.

The senior briefer responded to reporters — with a touch of sarcasm — that top military officers might speak in complex sentences, containing comprehensive information in just a few phrases, but it was apparent that Israel’s top civilian officials understood what the military was telling them.

August 10, 2014

Trying Yet Again: A Monday Ceasefire with Hamas, and Israeli Troops Stay Outside Gaza — a Surprise Flourish Tried to End the Mini-War

On Sunday evening (10 August) in the Middle East, Israel and the Palestinians agreed to start another ceasefire in Gaza. The Israelis had refused to send a team to the indirect talks in Cairo — brokered by Egypt (with, it is believed, strong American guidance) — as Israel declared it would not “negotiate under fire.”

Now, if this ceasefire starting Monday morning (at midnight) holds, Israel is expected to send negotiators to Cairo. But will Israel agree to open Gaza’s borders (“lift the siege,” as the Palestinians put it)? Israel and Egypt, citing security concerns, both reject the Hamas demand that Gaza have an independently run seaport and airport.

Some European governments, offering to help, have suggested they might oversee a “sea bridge” that would have supply vessels sailing between Cyprus and Gaza. This, in the European view, would relieve the “prison-like” situation that Gaza has been in since Hamas’s takeover in 2007 (two years after Israeli troops and settlers ended a 38-year occupation of the Gaza Strip).

Israel’s political and military leaders had sprung a surprise on Tuesday morning (5 August): announcing that by 8 a.m. local time, all Israeli troops would be pulled out of Gaza.  “They will take up positions on our side of the border,” a senior IDF source told a limited number of reporters that morning.  “The soldiers have a good feeling about the campaign.  We destroyed all 32 tunnels that we discovered.  And we acted according to international norms.  There’s plenty of proof of that.”

Netanyahu: Trying to End the Mini-War (photo from BBC April 2013)

Netanyahu: Trying to End the Mini-War (photo from BBC April 2013)

“It’s easy to start a war, but it’s not easy to end one.”  Israeli leaders heard pundits issue that kind of warning, in mid-July, when they sent the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) into Gaza — and now they’ve decided to pull them all out.  This is, practically, a “Mission Accomplished” announcement by Israel.

On Monday night (4 August), Israel and Hamas — though never directly in touch with each other — agreed to accept the latest proposal by Egypt’s government for a 72-hour ceasefire starting at 8 a.m. Tuesday. Negotiations in Cairo took place, but with a lack of progress Hamas ended the ceasefire on Friday morning by firing rockets into Israel. Israel’s air force and artillery pounded back.

The previous Friday (1 August) a similar arrangement was attempted — but that ceasefire was shattered within 90 minutes when team of Hamas attackers popped out of one of their secretly dug tunnels and ambushed Israeli troops.  Two soldiers were killed immediately, and a third — at first described as a kidnap victim — was later declared dead by the IDF’s chief rabbi (and an investigation panel).

Israel then pounded Palestinian positions and neighborhoods — killing, according to Arab media, several hundred people as apparent revenge for the attack that ruined the August 1st ceasefire.

There still is a definite possibility that the newest ceasefire will break down, and the violence could return. Much will depend on the outcome of the indirect talks in Cairo.

August 10, 2014

Why Was the Missing Israeli Lieutenant Declared “Dead”? And Does the Army Have a Secret Plan to Kill Kidnapped Soldiers, to Avoid Crisis?

Israel was feeling the overwhelming national emotion of having a “missing soldier — kidnapped by terrorists,” but late on Saturday night (2 August) the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) decided to declare that Hadar Golding, a 23-year-old 2nd lieutenant, was dead.  Officials did not want to reveal publicly what they had found at the scene of a suicide bomb explosion on Friday morning — the one that shattered the ceasefire that had just begun in Gaza. Body parts? Pieces of Golding’s clothing? Or just the logical, almost certain conclusion that Golding — though his body was dragged away by Palestinian attackers — could not have survived, as he had been standing with the two soldiers whose corpses were found?

In Israeli society, why is the kidnapping of a soldier considered worse news than the death of IDF soldiers?  Because the army adheres to its commitment, to bring every fighter back home from captivity. Thus a kidnap leads inevitably to a lopsided prisoner exchange. In 2011 Israel released more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners — including convicted murderers — in exchange for Gilad Shalit, an IDF soldier who had been held by Hamas in Gaza for five years.

Lt. Hadar Goldin, declared dead by IDF

Lt. Hadar Goldin, declared dead by IDF

[The folowing analysis -- which dismisses the notion of a secret IDF plan to kill Israeli soldiers when they have been captured -- was written by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, for the website of the private TV news service broadcast from Israel, i24news.tv.]

Before the death of the Israeli army’s Second Lieutenant Hadar Golding was publicly declared, based on ‘findings in the field,’ Israeli intelligence did not have precise information to determine the fate of Goldin, who had been dragged away by Hamas fighters on Friday morning — approximately 90 minutes after the start of a ceasefire that was thus immediately shattered.

While the house-to-house search continued in the Rafah area (where the incident took place) to find out what exactly happened to him, a senior IDF officer said on Saturday morning that several scenarios were possible and under consideration. Initially, four scenarios were discussed. He could have been taken alive. He could have been taken alive and wounded. He could have been killed in the heat of the battle. He could have been killed later at the hands of his captors.

It is clear now that Hamas leaders were highly embarrassed by the incident. Some of their officials issued contradictory statements and details.

Musa Abu Marzuk, Hamas’s deputy chairman of the Political Bureau, said in Cairo a few hours after the incident that an Israeli soldier was in Hamas’s hands and gave his name. Friday night, Hamas’s military wing – Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades — posted an official statement on their website saying that they lost contact with their unit involved in the operation and that they assume that their combatants — together with the captured soldier — were killed by Israeli bombs.

Then came another statement by another senior Hamas official who said in Qatar that “honestly,” the organization doesn’t have any information. Hard to believe. Hamas is a highly hierarchical and disciplined organization and despite wartime difficulties, the chain of command and information from top to bottom and vice versa might be rusty — but it works.

So what really happened on Friday morning in Rafah? What went wrong? Israeli troops were involved in a mission to search for tunnels. This was allowed in the ceasefire terms announced by the United Nations and America’s Secretary of State John Kerry, and they said that Israel and all the Palestinian factions were on board.

One possibility, which is ruled out by most experts, is that Hamas leaders or the military wing commanders cynically played a double game, seemingly accepting the cease fire but deciding covertly to sabotage it.

A more plausible explanation is that it was an act of a local low-level commander or even of a unit which was hiding in a bunker for a mission — featuring one suicide bomber and other fighters to follow-up — and did not know that a ceasefire was declared.

Now, Hamas — and Palestinian civilians in Gaza — will pay a high price for the mistake. The Israeli security cabinet decided Friday night that negotiations with Hamas for another ceasefire are pointless.  Israel lost any faith it had in Hamas as a partner in a deal.

Instead, Israel will make a unilateral decision in regard to the continuation of its military operation in Gaza.

Although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon announced on Saturday night that Israel will continue to pound Hamas terrorists, Israel is highly likely to end its Gaza operations soon.

The IDF can credibly declare that most of its stated goals – the destruction of the tunnel network and the rocket arsenals – are accomplished. Israel, from now on, will rely on deterrence.  That’s in the belief that Hamas was so badly hit in this war that it is losing its appetite to renew the hostilities.

Peace and quiet — at least for a couple of years — may have been bought again, at the price of Palestinian and Israeli blood.

Practically, Israel returns to its simple strategy: Calm will be met by calm, and fire will be matched by more fire.  The Israelis are not ashamed, in any way, of the fact that they have a lot more firepower than does Hamas.

Following the 2011 deal that released Gilad Shalit — in exchange for over 1,000 Palestinians — Israel’s top military and political echelons have reached a tacit understanding: They will not agree again to release a high number of terrorists, to win the freedom of one or a few Israelis. And they do not intend to free large groups of prisoners in return for Israeli corpses held by the enemy.

This realization ignited many discussions – mostly based on rumors – regarding a supposed order known as “the Hannibal Directive.” Hannibal was a military code word used in the 1980s to report when a soldier was kidnapped.

Since the ’80s there were many serious theoretical debates on how to deal with incidents in which Israeli soldiers are kidnapped. Some proposed that it was better that the enemy would have a corpse rather a live soldier.

But although this proposal had never actually formed into any procedure, many in Israel and outside it – especially fans of conspiracy theories – spread the belief that the Hannibal Directive instructs the army to kill its own soldiers, rather than let them be captured.

In 2011 the Chief of Staff, General Benny Gantz, made it absolutely clear that there is no such procedure or directive. Hannibal is a figment of the imagination. The army doesn’t kill its own troops intentionally. But it’s very hard to stop a scandalous rumor.

August 3, 2014

Netanyahu Tried to Assassinate Hamas’s Meshaal — Flashback to 1997

Khaled Meshaal, the head of the political wing of Hamas, told Charlie Rose (of CBS and PBS) — in an interview in July at Meshaal’s home “in exile” in Doha, Qatar: “The Palestinian people have been dying slowly. So now they do not fear dying instantly.”  

And what about Meshaal himself?  In 1997, he was walking on a street in Jordan’s capital when Mossad combatants sprayed a powerful poison in his ear. He was near death, saved only after King Hussein forced Israel to hand over an antidote.  Why would Israel’s prime minister — who happened to be none other than Benjamin Netanyahu — do that?  Because the Mossad assassins had been arrested, and an angry King Hussein was going to release them only in exchange for the antidote.]

This excerpt from Spies Against Armageddon (the history of Israeli intelligence and security agencies, updated this year by authors Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman) starts with a new Mossad director in 1997, Danny Yatom, reacting to a wave of Hamas suicide attacks inside Israel. It was an ugly time, marked by blood and fear.


SPY-HALF_version2CAt Mossad headquarters, Yatom instructed [the operations department] Caesarea and the research department to find him someone to strike.

The pool of possibilities, known in the Mossad as the “bank of targets,” was limited and poor at the time. There were
no suitable and operationally reachable targets available immediately among Hamas leaders.

Netanyahu was impatient and kept pressing Yatom. The Mossad director, in turn, impatiently pressed his underlings. It took a while, but they came up with a few minor targets. These were considered, but dismissed. One man was too unimportant. Another lived in a European country, and that was ruled out. A third, in the United Arab Emirates, would be very difficult to reach.

The process resembled the person who loses a valuable piece of jewelry, then searches only in places around him that are well lit. It is a lazy, but common, approach. In the Mossad’s search process, the easy solution they alighted upon was Khaled Meshaal, and the location would be Jordan’s capital, Amman.

There were two problems with this choice: Meshaal was not truly important in Hamas and certainly had no role in the group’s terrorism campaign. More significantly, Jordan was Israel’s strategic asset in the region. King Hussein had met secretly with Israelis—including dozens of times with Mossad chiefs—long before signing a peace treaty in 1994. He provided information and coordinated his political stands with Israel.

Jordanian intelligence was one of the Mossad’s best allies, to the point that they acted together against their common enemy: the Palestinians.

The Jordanians were tipping off the Mossad about terrorists, handing them over to Israel on occasion, and letting Israelis observe interrogations of radical Palestinians. Jordanian intelligence even showed a readiness to assassinate Hamas and Hezbollah militants.

Neither Netanyahu nor Yatom gave enough thought to the grave risk of jeopardizing that relationship. An assassination in Jordan, even if successful, could backfire, yet no one in the Mossad’s upper ranks seemed to recognize the danger. Everyone seemed to buy into the group-think of being yes men.

The operation was initiated hastily, and that was further hastened by another Hamas attack in early September. This time, the group sent three suicide bombers to the main pedestrian mall in Jerusalem. Five Israelis were killed, and 180 people were wounded.

[The rest of the story, a botched assassination attempt in Amman, is told on pages 291-295 of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel's Secret Wars -- the latest history of the Mossad and other Israeli security agencies, by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman.]

August 3, 2014

New Assessment: Militarily, Hamas is Defeated

Yossi Melman‘s “interim assessment” is that Hamas has been defeated.  In his Twitter stream @Yossi_Melman the journalist/historian (co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars and other books) says:

  1. My interim estimate; #Hamas was defeated. Tunnel project destroyed & so 70% of rockets. It crawled begging for a ceasefire (CF). It will take it years to recover.

    Israel seems to be moving toward a stand that critics globally may call a renewed occupation of Gaza: declaring the total right to take military action, as and when necessary, to stamp out threats.  But not to advance further or continue shelling and bombing targets.  That could and should reduce the civilian casualties among Palestinians.
    Yossi Melman also sees signs of more coordination beween Israel and Egypt’s government — led by the longtime army general, now, president, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi.
  2. #Israel designed a new policy of taking unilateral steps in war & peace to be coordinated with Egypt & gave up the chance of a deal with Hamas.

August 2, 2014

Who in Hamas Decides to Make — or Break — a Ceasefire? How Can Anyone Arrange an End to the Gaza War?

[This article was written by Yossi Melman, co-author of the best seller Every Spy a Prince -- and the newly updated Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel's Secret Wars -- for the Jerusalem Post newspaper.]

Israeli intelligence chiefs, cabinet ministers and media commentators are puzzled about one of the most important questions of the Gaza war: Who calls the shots in Hamas? An answer to this question is vital to understand when and how a cease-fire and a long term agreement will be put in place.

Listening to some commentators and to official briefings, the impression is that they don’t have a clue.

On one occasion, we receive an elaborate and seemingly educated explanation that the ultimate decision maker within the organization is the military wing – the Izzadin Qassam Brigades and its top commanders.

On another, a senior media commentator or ex-IDF general or a past senior Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) official claims the opposite – that the political leadership makes the strategic decisions.

“The fact of the matter is that nothing substantial has changed in the decision making process of Hamas,” I was told by a former senior Shin Bet official who asked not to be named. “Hamas was and is an organization in which decisions are seriously deliberated and taken by consent, and therefore the process can be tiresome and long” –especially during times of war when the communication between the leaders in Gaza and abroad (as well as within Gaza itself) is difficult.

The Hamas Banner (according to Hope-of-Israel.org)

The Hamas Banner (according to Hope-of-Israel.org)

Hamas was co-founded in 1987 in Gaza by the crippled Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, a disciple of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood movement. He was assassinated by an Israel Air Force (IAF) strike in 2004 during the second intifada.

Yet despite being created by a religious scholar and the religious nature of its covenant, Hamas is by and large a sociopolitical organization that is rooted in Palestinian national politics.

Hamas has three major governing bodies. One is the Majlis al-Shura (“consultative council”) – a religious body that is supposed to make the ultimate strategic decisions and to be responsible for supervising all Hamas activities. Benedetta Berti, a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies who studied Hamas, observes that the Shura members are not named publicly in fear that they would be assassinated by Israel.

Subordinated to the Shura Council is the Political Bureau that is currently headed by its chairman Khaled Meshaal, who lives “in exile” in Qatar. One of his deputies, Ismail Haniyeh, is known as the “Hamas prime minister” in Gaza. This geographical reality has created the impression that within Hamas there are two wings: Hamas inside and outside of Gaza.

Under the Shura and the Political Bureau is the military wing. The chief and undisputed commander of the military wing is Muhammad Deif who escaped a few Israeli assassination attempts. On July 12, 2006, Israeli aircraft bombed a house in which high-level Hamas leaders were meeting. Deif survived the blast, but suffered severe spinal injuries. After this event, he relegated his responsibilities to Ahmed Jabari who became the acting commander of the military wing. In the meantime, Deif was recuperating and gradually he returned to active duty.

Unlike the current war, the November 2012 Gaza-Israel conflict known (to Israel’s military) as Operation Cast Lead began with a shock-and-awe blow. Precise intelligence enabled the IAF to assassinate Jabari.

After that war, Deif returned to lead the military wing. But because of his health problems he is assisted by a few military chiefs such as Marwan Issa. But still Deif is considered to be first among equals.

All the military leaders, as well as some political chieftains, know that they are wanted by Israel — so in the current conflict they went into hiding underground.

On Tuesday (29 July), Deif made a rare taped TV appearance in which he reiterated Hamas’s conditions – previously stated by Meshaal – to end the war by lifting “the siege” imposed on Gaza by Israel and Egypt.

“Since 2007,” added Berti, “we can detect some divisions between senior Hamas officials that are expressed publicly in regard to the attitude to Israel. This is interesting, if we compare Hamas to other religious groups such as Hezbollah. Hezbollah would never launder its dirty laundry in public.”

But despite the debates and arguments, serious experts — including within Israeli intelligence — admit that when it comes to strategic decisions Hamas speaks in one voice.

In other words, those who argue that Deif is calling the shots or that Mashaal is the voice of the organization are wrong.

They are also wrong, added the former senior Shin Bet official, if they think that Hamas makes spontaneous emotional or/and capricious decisions.

“No way. It is a very hierarchal, disciplined, and calculating organization. It does not shoot from the hip.”

Indeed the decision to launch the rockets against Israel was a calculated risk that the organization took, knowing that provoking Israel could lead to a war.

Hamas political and military leaders — both in Gaza and abroad — unanimously decided that their isolation and economic bankruptcy left them no choice but to launch the war.  Things had been going badly for Hamas in recent years.

“They felt that they had nothing to lose,” said the former Shin Bet official.

It’s true that because Israeli intelligence is (almost certainly) bugging their phone lines and computers, Hamas leaders may feel it is difficult to communicate and deliberate in an organized matter. But still, Hamas manages to evaluate the situation and to make rational decisions.

If there are cracks and miscommunications in the organization, it’s among the rank-and-file mid-level commanders and the top echelon. There is a growing sense by them that their leaders have abandoned them. For example, a Hamas combatant arrested by the IDF during the current operation told a Shin Bet investigator that he stayed for three weeks in a tunnel living on water and dates without being instructed or visited by his commander.

“We sense some cracks in the determination and steadfastness of the leadership,” a senior Israeli military source told me, adding, “the fighting will has weakened due to the devastation we inflicted on their military structures such as tunnels and rocket caches and [by] killing hundreds of their combatants.”

Because of it being a sociopolitical movement, it does care to a certain degree about the people’s feelings and moods. The leaders are not totally blind to the suffering and misery of the people in Gaza, but probably so far the situation is manageable for Hamas.

Yet if Hamas decides to agree to a cease-fire and respect it next time, it will be a collective decision with no single leader or wing having the upper hand. And because of this, it will likely be a time-consuming process until a final decision — one way or another — is made.

August 1, 2014

A Weekend Ceasefire: Gives Talks on Gaza a Chance — Israel Still Gets to Destroy Tunnels

The surprise announcement by the United Nations, jointly with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, of a 72-hour ceasefire to begin on Friday morning gives an entire weekend for diplomacy to do what it can.  The talks will take place in Cairo.

Hamas is expected to be part of a single, multi-party Palestinian delegation.

Israel sent officials to Egypt’s capital, too, to engage in the talks.  The Israelis appear to have scored one victory by gaining the right to keep troops in Gaza — and they intend to keep searching for and destroying Hamas’s tunnels.

Below, click for analysis by Spies Against Armageddon co-author Dan Raviv, who is based at CBS News in Washington. These remarks were made on CBS TV, a full day before the ceasefire began.


August 1, 2014

In the Air, Not Only in Tunnels: Hamas Planned to Attack Israel by Paraglider

[Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, wrote this article for the website of the private TV news service broadcasting from Israel, i24news.tv.]

Israel’s Shin Bet discovered the existence of a Hamas air commando unit. In 2010, ten Hamas commandos were sent to Malaysia to participate in paragliding training, with the end goal being to use it to carry out terror attacks on Israel.

[Malaysia on Thursday (31 July) denied training Hamas terrorists, but it's worth pointing out that paragliding could be taught at a private club in Malaysia.  It is, in general, a civilian sport.]

This information came to light during the investigation of a Hamas fighter arrested by the IDF a few days ago and investigated by the Shin Bet. According to the Shin Bet, overnight on July 20th, the IDF arrested a Hamas military man apparently in charge of a terror cell in the area of Karara in Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip.

from AmericanParagliding.com

from AmericanParagliding.com

During the investigation of this man, his involvement in the paragliding training came to light as well as the intention of Hamas to use this training to kidnap Israeli soldiers. In addition, the suspect revealed preparatory plans for an anti-tank ambush and revealed a sniper position on the tenth floor of the Palestinian Red Crescent building in Khan Yunis.

The suspect joined Hamas in 2007 and was assigned to its Qassam military wing. He went through a short training course on how to use a Kalashnikov, including putting together, dismantling, and cleaning the weapon, and training with live fire while kneeling, lying flat, and standing.

The suspect spent time in guard training, where he spent one shift a week between the hours of midnight and 4 a.m., marching with a Kalashnikov.

After a few months, the suspect went on to another training course, this time for shooting a Kalashnikov, training on and shooting a PKG machine gun, and the use of hand grenades. This additional training took place over five months.

In 2012, the suspect was placed in a reserve unit whose mission was to carry out special tasks if there was a bombing or war. In 2013, he went into another unit where he received his own Kalashnikov and gun magazines.

In the middle of June 2014, he went through refresher course that included training on other weapons, among them rifles, Kalashnikovs, m-16 PKCs, RPGs, and the use of explosive material. He also learned different methods for kidnapping soldiers and how to stay in tunnels for long periods of time. The suspect was set to finish the course by the end of Ramadan — just about now.

In 2010, the suspect joined a special force that was sent to Malaysia to train in paragliding with the goal of carrying out terror attacks in Israel. Ten additional fighters were sent on the course with him from various Hamas units.

When the suspect got back to Gaza, he was instructed, along with the ten other training participants, to practice the terror attack while shooting their Kalashnikov rifles. The participants were warned to keep the mission secret, in particular the part about the parachuting.

In 2014, the suspect went through one last training in paragliding. The training, which took place in the Gaza Strip, had all 10 of the trainees practice paragliding in a group. The suspect said they did not know when they would be asked to carry out the terror attack against Israel.

In addition to finding out about the paragliding training, Shin Bet also learned from the prisoner about Hamas’s investment in the building of commando fighters. In addition, in preparation for a land confrontation with Israel, Hamas had built a network of tunnels that were supposed to be used to kidnap Israeli soldiers.

The final detail that came to light during the investigation was that Hamas was striving to carry out a “quality” terror attack that would be singular in nature and important: hence the plan to use paragliders.

July 31, 2014

Exactly 100 Years Since World War 1 Began — Why Israel Should Quickly End the Gaza War

[The following article was written by Yossi Melman, Tel Aviv-based co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel's Secret Wars, for the website of the private TV news service broadcasting from Israel, i24news.tv.]

One hundred years ago today (Monday) the First World War broke out. “The Great War,” as it was then called, was the first total war which did not differentiate between front lines and the home front. It started in a euphoric mood. Masses wrapped in patriotism and national fever went happily to the army. They talked about “victory,” “conquest” and “revenge” — even “the war to end all wars” — but soon their enthusiasm evaporated.

Yossi Melman

Yossi Melman

When the war was over 51 months later, “the lost generation” – bombed, shellshocked and traumatized – emerged from the battlefields and trenches. After mourning for their fallen comrades they became cynical and disenchanted with silly old generals and war-mongering politicians who sent them to die for undeserving causes.

In Israel, too, most wars – the Suez Campaign of 1956, the June 1967 Six Day War, the first Lebanon war in 1982 and the Second Lebanon War in 2006 – began with great enthusiasm. People talked about “smashing the enemy,” “victory,” “deterrence,” and other appealing phrases. In that sense, the Third Gaza War is no different. There is almost a national consensus that it is a justified war.

But what really characterized the First World War and engraved it in historic memory was its military nature. It was a static war, conducted in trenches that became death traps, and it turned into a war of attrition.

This is also the growing danger of the current Gaza War. The death toll — on both sides — is mounting to highly painful levels.

And already this war is entering the record books as one of the longest wars in Israeli history. The second Lebanon War lasted 33 days. The 1973 Yom Kippur war 22 days and Israel’s 2009 Operation Cast Lead in Gaza – 21 days. We are entering the 21st day of the war with a humanitarian truce but no visible long term ceasefire agreement.

The Israeli cabinet will soon have to make a tough decision. Militarily speaking the war in its current phase has exhausted itself. The Israel Air Force has fewer and fewer meaningful targets to bomb.

The stated goal of the ground incursion was to eliminate the threat of the “attack” tunnels leading to Israel. This goal, it could be convincingly argued, has been achieved. The IDF uncovered 32 tunnels and all have been destroyed or will be soon.

There may be more, but the problem with intelligence is that you don’t know what you don’t know and, in any case, even several additional tunnels are not sufficient reason to continue the bloodshed.

As of Monday night, Israel already lost 43 officers and soldiers, as well as three civilians. More than 300 soldiers are wounded, some very seriously.

The Palestinian suffering is, of course, much greater: over 1,000 dead and more than 6,000 wounded. According to the IDF, among the dead are between 250 to 500 Hamas militants. These include some of the organization’s best commanders and combatants from its naval commando and rocket launching units. Half of Hamas’ rocket arsenal (around 5,000) was either destroyed or used in some 2,500 launchings.

Israel conquered a strip of between one and three kilometers in width and turned it into a “security belt.” This area can be used as a bargaining chip in negotiations on a lasting agreement. Israel can offer a withdrawal in return for additional Hamas concessions

The risk is that the more Israel stays in Gaza in static lines, the greater the risk of Hamas hit-and-run operations and Israeli fatalities. Israel could find itself dragged deeper and deeper into the Gaza sands.

One must remember the Lebanese lesson from 1982. Israel launched a limited campaign supposed to last 72 hours and penetrating only 40 kilometers. It took Israel 18 years and 1,000 dead to get out.

This is the right time to think, quickly, about an exit strategy. An indirect but comprehensive agreement with Hamas is preferable. But Israel would have to recognize that Hamas needs a face-saving gain, minimal as it might be. This is the nature of a compromise.

If an agreement is not viable, Israel should withdraw without one. It can adopt the idea put forth by US Senator George Aiken in 1966 regarding a way to end the Vietnam War: Let’s declare victory and get our troops home, the Vermont senator suggested.

The Israeli cabinet can tell the public and the world that most of its goals have been accomplished and hope that the tremendous damage to Hamas will deter the organization from resuming hostilities for at least a few years.

July 28, 2014

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