[This is adapted from an analysis written for The Jerusalem Post newspaper by Yossi Melman, co-author of Every Spy a Prince and the current history of the Mossad and Israeli security, Spies Against Armageddon.]
Israeli officials are increasingly concerned about the BDS — the “boycott, divestment, and sanctions” anti-Israel movement in many countries. Now we unveil the role of Israeli’s intelligence community in investigating the BDS campaign — and fighting back.
by YOSSI MELMAN
A senior Israeli military source revealed recently that a special unit inside the Research Division of Military Intelligence has been assigned to monitor the activities of the BDS movement.
The unit was created as a result of lessons learned from the Mavi Marmara incident.
Israel’s Evidence Mavi Marmara Turks Were Violent
In May 2010 a fleet of six boats organized by pro-Palestinian groups sailed from Turkish ports — vowing to lift the siege of Gaza. While the activists (of various nationalities) aboard five of the boats surrendered to the demands of the Israel Navy and stopped their voyage, the Mavi Marmara crew and passengers refused to obey the order.
Israeli navy commandos raided the ship and were surprised by heavy resistance. In the ensuing clashes, nine Turkish activists were killed and 20 wounded; 10 Israeli troops were wounded as well. This incident further poisoned the already deteriorated Israeli-Turkish relations.
The military operation fiasco also exposed an intelligence failure.
The Mossad, Aman (Military Intelligence), and naval intelligence all had no information about the Marmara activists, most of them members of the Turkish Islamist IHH group, or their weapons of choice – knives, bats and chains, which they had prepared for the anticipated battle.
As a result, it has since been decided to build an intelligence unit to follow and monitor radical international groups and individual activists who support the Palestinian cause.
Though the assignment is to track down civilian groups that operate mainly in Western countries, strangely enough the mission was assigned to Military Intelligence and not to the Mossad or, even more reasonably, the Foreign Ministry.
A senior security official explained to me the rationale behind the decision. He argued that the international organizations involved in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and in other activities aimed at delegitimizing the Jewish state are directed by one center – the Palestinian Authority. Thus, since Military Intelligence’s responsibilities include understanding the PA and its political processes, it was natural to assign it the new mission against BDS.
The senior security official also claimed that the smear campaigns to undermine the legitimacy of Israel, including expelling it from international bodies and appealing to the International Court of Justice, must be considered the “new intifada.”
This self-victimization, which began a few years ago, is characteristic of the consecutive of right-wing governments which claim that the entire world is against us.
Even without a formal cabinet decision, this political perception has trickled down to the intelligence community. The Mossad has a special unit that tries to “follow the money.” It is a task force devoted to monitoring financial transactions and movement of money from abroad to finance terrorism in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza as well as what Israeli security officials call “subversive acts” against the state.
The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) has two more units in charge of monitoring financial support for terrorists and preventing entry of what they refer to as “radical left-wingers and anarchists who are trying to come to Israel or the West Bank to spread chaos and havoc.”
The units also conduct research and follow groups identified with BDS and organizations involved in the attempts to delegitimize the Jewish state.
In recent years, there has been a substantial increase in reports of nationals, especially young people – not only of Palestinian or Arab descent – from EU countries and even the U.S. who were denied entry by the order of the Shin Bet.
Some of them tried to enter Israel to participate in Palestinian demonstrations and protest against the security barrier. Others came to express solidarity with nonviolent Palestinian civil rights organizations, and yet their entry was blocked and they were sent back.
On numerous occasions senior State Department officials in Washington and U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro in Tel Aviv have complained and demanded explanation from Israeli authorities for why Americans, of Palestinian or Arab origins, have been denied entry or badly treated at border points. The U.S. officials reminded their Israeli counterparts that the two countries are committed to reciprocity in respecting each other’s citizens.
A few months ago Ram Ben-Barak, a former deputy chief of the Mossad and currently director-general of the Strategic Affairs Ministry, submitted a comprehensive plan detailing how to make the battle against BDS and similar anti-Israeli groups more effective.
Ben-Barak, who aspires to be the next head of the Mossad when Tamir Pardo leaves his post by the end of 2015, suggests combining the efforts of various government agencies dealing with the same issue. Accepting his plan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced recently that the government would allocate for this purpose NIS 100 million (around $25 million).
But typical of Israeli bureaucracy, Ben-Barak’s plan has been subjected to fierce personal and political battles between various government ministries about turfs and responsibilities. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon is involved in political arm-twisting with his Likud rival Gilad Erdan, the public security and strategic affairs minister. Ya’alon and the IDF have refused to transfer the Military Intelligence unit to Erdan’s jurisdiction.
Yossi Cohen, chair of Israel’s National Security Council
In an attempt to close the political gaps and provide a sensible compromise, Netanyahu brought into the picture his national security adviser and head of the National Security Council, Yossi Cohen.
Cohen, a former deputy head of the Mossad and the leading candidate to be the next head of the organization, prepared a report that offers ways to bridge the bureaucratic divisions. Its key recommendation is to establish another small unit inside the Strategic Affairs Ministry which will coordinate between the various intelligence units dealing with the issue.
And still, no one seriously questions why a state that considers itself democratic has assigned its three leading security and intelligence agencies to fight a movement that — though it may well be damaging and bothersome — is overall nonviolent, political, grassroots-fueled, and civilian.
Perhaps the Israeli overreaction is another manifestation of right-wing radicalization and paranoia that unfortunately seem to be increasing their grip on Israeli society.
August 28, 2015
[This post is based on an article written by Yossi Melman — co-author of Spies Against Armageddon — for The Jerusalem Post newspaper.]
An Israeli TV station played audio recordings of Ehud Barak — the former prime minister who served as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s defense minister until March 2013 — in which Barak reminisces about three occasions in which Israel almost dispatched its air force to bomb Iranian nuclear sites.
As for why no attack took place, Barak blames the then-military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, his successor Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, and cabinet ministers Moshe Ya’alon and Yuval Steinitz, all of whom opposed a strike on Iran.
According to Barak associates, he feels betrayed by Ilan Kfir and Danny Dor – the authors of a Hebrew-language biography of the former defense minister. Barak let them record interviews, to help their writing process. But the tapes were never supposed to be played publicly.
Barak’s official photo while prime minister
Prior to the report on Israel’s Channel 2, Barak tried to prevent the airing of the audio clips. He appealed to the Military Censor’s Office, which rejected his request to bar the broadcast. Once Barak revealed information about secret cabinet discussions to journalists, the question of whether he intended to have his position aired publicly is a secondary one – and certainly is not one that concerns the censor.
Even if he did not intend for the information to emerge in audio format, Barak intended to have his opinion known by the public. He is trying to shape the historical narrative by portraying himself as the figure who pushed hardest in favor of a strike on Iran – only to be overruled by the cabinet ministers and military commanders who opposed such a move.
According to Barak, General Ashkenazi told him in 2010 that the IDF simply did not have the operational capacity to execute an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
In 2011, Ashkenazi was succeeded as chief of staff by Gantz, who told Barak that the military did indeed have the operational “maturity” for a strike.
Benny Gantz (courtesy IDF)
While Gantz made it clear that the IDF would carry out any directive issued to it by the civilian leadership, he was convinced that an attack was unnecessary.
Barak also said that he was surprised to see ministers Ya’alon and Steinitz “melt” at the last minute after he was led to believe by Netanyahu that the two men supported an attack plan.
Ya’alon and Steinitz instead chose to side with the opposing cabinet ministers – Dan Meridor and Benny Begin. As a result, Netanyahu and Barak were left without the necessary majority in the inner, security cabinet to back an attack.
A year later, Barak and Netanyahu tried again to convince the cabinet to approve an attack plan. This time, weather considerations limited the possible “windows of opportunity” to attack. There were two possible windows, but one of them coincided with a large-scale military exercise with the U.S. military (May to July 2012). The other was around the time of the U.S. presidential election in November 2012.
Barak’s comments should not be taken as absolute truth. They are just one version of events.
Other versions that have not been aired publicly include that of former Mossad director Meir Dagan, and those of Gantz and Ashkenazi themselves. Dagan and Ashkenazi have hinted that Netanyahu and Barak acted in a manipulative fashion on the Iran issue.
There was one claim, first reported by Ma’ariv, according to which Barak told the cabinet that he was personally informed by then-CIA chief Leon Panetta that the Obama administration had reversed its opposition to an Israeli strike on Iran.
When the Americans were informed of Barak’s claim, they were furious. They sent a special emissary to Israel with the exact transcript of the Panetta-Barak conversation in question.
Barak and Netanyahu allegedly went ahead, however, by instructing the chief of staff to “get the system activated” — in effect, to prepare for war.
That would involve mobilization of military reserves and ordering the air force, intelligence services, and home front authorities to take a number of preemptive measures.
“Activating the system” could take more than a month. It could lead to a “miscalculation.”
The risk is that Iran would notice these preparations and launch preemptive actions that would threaten to drag the entire Middle East, as well as the United States, into a regional war.
Was that what Barak and Netanyahu intended? Such a possibility should not be ruled out.
These conflicting versions of events remind one of the Japanese movie Rashomon, in which a number of characters recall events, each through his own lens. The narratives often contradict.
The truth may only be known 70 years from now, if at all, when official records of the meetings are made public. That is not a sure thing. In the most sensitive, secret discussions, there are those who seem talented at directing the conversations — and composing the transcript of meetings — with an eye to the history books.
Even if we were to believe Barak, it’s difficult to be swayed.
If the prime minister and the defense minister really wanted to win cabinet approval for a decision to attack Iran, they could have overcome ministerial opposition. Never in the history of the State of Israel has a determined, dominant prime minister been prevented from getting government approval for his decisions – especially those relating to existential issues – by opposition from other ministers.
One is left wondering whether Netanyahu and Barak really wanted to attack – or whether it was all bluff. If indeed it were a bluff, it was a successful one. They played a game of “Hold me back” with the Israeli public and – more importantly – with the Americans.
One effect was the pressure felt by President Obama to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis — out of concern that Israel might strike and spark a regional war. The result has apparently been an “unintended consequence,” from Netanyahu’s point of view: a nuclear deal with Iran that he considers dangerous.
August 25, 2015
[This analysis was written for The Jerusalem Report by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon — a history of Israeli intelligence and security.]
In mid-July, IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot met with military reporters and briefed them off the record on the latest local and regional developments. He also presented a new five-year plan “Gideon”, named after the Israelite judge-warrior who was instructed by God to battle the Midianites and destroy their idols.
The Gideon plan has two purposes: First to avoid cuts and, in fact, obtain yet another increase in the defense budget – currently around NIS 60 billion ($15.3 billion), not final and still growing – at the expense of welfare, education, health and all the other national necessities. Gideon is also another effort – the fourth in recent years – to obtain approval from the government to implement long-term planning. So far, due to never-ending dispute and bickering between the ministries of Defense and Finance various long-term plans have either been rejected or not authorized.
Israel’s Top General, Gadi Eizenkot
In mid-August, the Chief of Staff’s briefing turned into an official, but sanitized, 33-page document titled “IDF Strategy”. Though the document does not state it in so many words, what emerges is the fact that the Israel Defense Forces is the strongest military structure in the entire region, which spreads from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea.
The “IDF Strategy” is meant “to serve as a guideline to the IDF and is based on vital national interests and agreed notions of national security and the military thinking and practice.”
Already in 2007, then-minister Dan Meridor wrote a very lengthy and detailed security doctrine defining the “National Goals” for the State of Israel:
- To ensure the existence of the state, defend its territorial integrity and the security of its citizens. [It’s worth noting, however, that Israel has never defined its borders.]
- To preserve its values and nature as a Jewish and democratic state and home to the Jewish people.
- To ensure the social and economic strength of the state.
- To strengthen the regional and international status of the state while aspiring to have peace with its neighbors.
Here, it should be noted that while the pursuit of peace is mentioned by the IDF, judging from the actions over the last three years taken by the government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it seems that peace with the Palestinian Authority is no longer a possibility.
“IDF Strategy” accepts and reaffirms these four principles. It also acknowledges that, in a democratic state, the military is subjected to the supremacy of the government. Yet, interestingly enough, the document goes beyond this obvious imperative – it states that the IDF obligation is not only to the elected government and Knesset, but also to society and citizens of the state who elect their representatives and ministers. Since he was appointed Chief of Staff less than a year ago, Eizenkot has stressed, on several occasions, that “the people’s trust” is an important element of the way the IDF works, operates and sets its goals. “We have to be sensible” in our demands and “sensitive to other needs of society.”
According to the document, the security doctrine is based on four pillars. Three are as old as the state and were already defined by the first prime minister David Ben-Gurion: deterrence, early warning and decisive outcome. A fourth pillar – defense – was officially added a decade ago.
All in all, the IDF sees its mission as repelling and neutralizing threats, creating effective deterrence; postponing confrontation, if possible, but also to use both defensive and offensive strategies and utilize force in the most determined and effective way, while respecting international law and the rules of war. The IDF also emphasizes the importance of strategic cooperation with the US and the development of strategic ties with other countries.
In the document and in Eizenkot’s briefing, it is clearly stated that, like other nations in the region, Israel was taken by surprise by the spontaneous events of the “Arab Spring” of 2010-2011. As a result, Military Intelligence has since put a lot of emphasis on trying to understand the “zeitgeist,” creating and beefing up research departments that deal with and monitor the social media in Arab states and Iran.
The Arab Spring is now described by the IDF as an “Arab Shakeup,” which relates to the unexpected twists in its results. “The old order has collapsed,” said Eizenkot. Four countries – Syria, Libya, Yemen and Iraq ‒ are shaped by civil war and the decline of central government.
Egypt barely escaped the same fate due to the determination of its military and the backing of a broad base of civilian society that holds onto a sense of national cohesion.
Egypt, ruled by President Fattah al-Sisi, a former chief of staff and defense minister, which has in the last two years strengthened its military and intelligence ties with Israel, is facing a growing challenge of daring terror attacks in the Sinai Peninsula. The most prominent terror group is Ansar Beit al Maqdis, which less than a year ago pledged its allegiance to the Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed “caliph” of the Islamic State (ISIS). The group now calls itself Sinai district of the Islamic State, in return for financial support. This danger emanating from Sinai has brought Israel and Egypt closer. Indeed, as “IDF Strategy” notes ISIS “is a new and amazing phenomenon that no one anticipated.”
The changes in the Middle East are strongly reflected in the IDF’s strategy document. It contends that the non-conventional weapons threat to Israel has been reduced because of the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria and the dismantling of chemical and nuclear programs in the last two decades in Iraq and Libya.
Instead, Israel is confronted by the rising strength of “non-state actors” such as ISIS and other terror groups like Jabhat al Nusra (Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria) and formations on Israeli borders in the south and on the Golan Heights in the north.
“IDF Strategy” also perceives Hezbollah and Hamas as dangerous enemies in possession of nearly 100,000 missiles and rockets that can be directed at almost any military or strategic site in Israel.
Interestingly, Iran is mentioned only twice in the document, which describes it as a “threat” to Israel mainly because of its support of terror groups in the region.
But there is no reference to Iran’s nuclear program ‒ in sharp contrast to the government and Netanyahu who have made the “Iranian threat” the number one priority of their policy and political agenda.
In private sessions, Eizenkot and his top military commanders have criticized the nuclear deal reached recently between the world powers and Iran, but also acknowledge that it contains positive elements. Above all, the senior military commanders say privately, it is a done deal, at least for the 10-year duration of the agreement — unless Iran is caught red-handed, once again cheating.
Accordingly, the IDF has been trying to adjust itself to the emerging reality. Since 1985, it has reduced the number of tanks by 75 percent and its warplanes (usually old and outdated) by 50 percent.
On the other hand, it has invested more money to extend the submarine fleet (soon to be at six), which according to foreign reports, is capable of launching nuclear missiles, thus creating for Israel a “second nuclear strike capability.”
Also, in the last two decades, it has increased by 400 percent the number of drones in its possession and has improved intelligence and cyber capabilities.
“IDF Strategy” is an important document, but not a revolutionary one. In a way, it states the obvious, reflecting in an honest and accurate manner the challenges, risks and opportunities facing Israel. Its main problem, however, is that in many parts it doesn’t reflect the attitudes, beliefs and practices of the government.
August 23, 2015
by YOSSI MELMAN
(The co-author of the best seller Every Spy a Prince and the current history of Israeli intelligence and security, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.)
This time it’s final. After nearly a decade of delays, suspensions, pressures, and tough international battles, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov and the state-owned manufacturer Almaz-Anety now confirm that the sale of ground-to-air S-300 missile systems to Iran is a done deal.
What is still to be determined is the scope of the deal – whether three or four batteries will be sold.
There is here a great deal of irony. For nearly a decade Israeli prime ministers pushed hard at the gates of the Kremlin and urged Russian President Vladimir Putin not to sell the advanced missile and radar system to Tehran.
Until recently it seemed that the Israeli lobbying — backed by a U.S. tailwind — was paying off. Despite a signed contract and an advance payment, Russia found excuses not to honor the deal with Iran and even announced that it wouldn’t deliver the systems.
But now that the missile deal is under way — in the wake of the deal reached in Vienna to restrict Iran’s nuclear program — the depth of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s failure is exposed.
This story has several layers. The nuclear deal is a major part of it. In his opposition to the emerging agreement with Iran, Netanyahu designed a policy of “all out” on all international fronts. He embarked on a collision course with the President Barack Obama. He tried to appease Putin. He kept pummeling European politicians with stories likening Iran’s hostility to the horrors of Nazi Germany.
Netanyahu acted like a gambler with no exit strategy or fallback position.
But Obama and Putin, in the end, ignored him. Netanyahu’s miscalculations pushed Israel into an undesirable position. It had little influence on the content of the nuclear deal between Iran and the six world powers. It also left Israel with no levers to influence Russia or modify its decision to go ahead with the missile deal.
It didn’t have to be this way. A more cautious and sensible approach by Netanyahu would not have prevented the nuclear deal, but it could have given Israel a chance to influence its outcome and ensure the drafting of tougher clauses regarding the inspection of Iranian nuclear sites.
It was recently revealed that the world powers caved in, by leaving some of the inspection rules up to the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency. The IAEA, according to a secret side deal, will let Iranians provide photos, videos, and environmental samples from the Parchin site — although the IAEA says it will always be supervising and verifying that what it is handed is authentic.
Netanyahu Could’ve Influenced the Iran Deal
Such verification is unlikely to be reliable. Israeli and U.S. intelligence say Iran, in the Parchin military base, conducted unlawful experiments to test nuclear chain reactions — simulating, in effect, nuclear explosions.
Had Netanyahu been more measured and surgical in his public opposition to the nuclear deal, he may have been able to reach a secret understanding with Putin about which arms to sell to Iran and which should not be delivered.
Now it’s too late. The sale of the S-300 batteries is a game-changer.
The batteries belong to a family of missiles and radars that were first developed and manufactured by the Soviet Union in the mid ’70s and deployed by the Red Army in 1979. Since then, new generations and models have been upgraded and turned into one of the best of its kind.
True, what Russia agreed to deliver is not the state of the art in this line of batteries. There are already more advanced versions operated only by the Russian army.
But still, what Russia is selling is disturbingly good — providing sufficient grounds to be highly concerned. The battery’s radar is capable of detecting and spotting hostile warplanes at a distance of hundreds of kilometers — and then lock in and accurately launch guided missiles.
Iran is sure to deploy the batteries to defend its nuclear sites. Their presence will make it much more difficult for any air force – be it Israeli or American – to operate, if one day in the future a decision will be made to attack Iran.
President Obama himself has said that “the military option” is very much alive, if Iran violates the nuclear deal and “breaks out” to produce nuclear bombs.
Yet, despite the importance of the deal, the skies are not going to fall. In the cat and mouse game between an attacker and defender, the attacker almost always has the upper hand.
There is no doubt that the Israeli and American air forces will find a way, with clever technological and operational solutions, to circumvent the S-300 systems.
The Israeli and U.S. militaries, perhaps even working together, will be able to execute a mission — if so ordered by their governments.
The Russian deal also has larger implications. Just as we already witness long queues of international corporations courting Iran for lucrative deals in the civilian sectors, once sanctions are lifted next year, we can expect the same in the military field.
It is reported that China is thinking about selling Iran fighter planes, whichincidentally and ironically are equipped with Israeli-made avionics,including radars. These components were produced by Israel Aircraft Industries (now called Israel Aerospace Industries) 30 or so years ago for the Lavi project, the Israeli self-produced fighter plane. In the mid-’80s, under U.S. pressure, Israel canceled the project and sold some of its technological innovations to the apartheid regime of South Africa and to Communist China. The Chinese built their own J-10 fighter plane, based on the Israeli technology.
But will Iran have one of the most technologically advanced militaries in the region? No.
Despite enhanced Iranian efforts to use the nuclear deal as a launching pad to improve and modernize its armed forces, the ayatollahs will still be lagging behind their rivals and enemies in the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states have much better and more advanced military hardware, and are now negotiating with the U.S. for packages to compensate them for perceived, added dangers from the Iran nuclear deal. And money is not a problem for the Gulf countries.
As for Israel, its defense forces — the IDF — continue to be the strongest military force in the region. Israeli weapons developers are the most innovative on earth. Also, despite political annoyance at Israel’s prime minister, President Obama has pledged to maintain — and even increase — the QME: Israel’s “Qualitative Military Edge” in the Middle East.
Even when Iran gets the S-300 anti-aircraft system and other military acquisitions, it will be no match for Israel.
August 23, 2015
[This post is based on an article written for The Jerusalem Post newspaper by Yossi Melman, co-author of the best seller Every Spy a Prince and the current history of Israeli espionage and security, Spies Against Armageddon.]
Israel and the United States worked together to formulate the Jewish State’s nuclear doctrine, archival documents released Tuesday by the US State Department reveal.
The documents detail the secret discussions that took place on Israel’s nuclear program between officials of the two countries.
“We would decide that we could tolerate Israeli activity short of assembly of a completed nuclear device,” one of the US memos declares.
The documents reveal that — according to American intelligence — Israel planned to have ten Jericho surface-to-surface missiles (based on a French missile) equipped with nuclear warheads.
The publication of the documents comes as part of a routine release of historical information by the Department of State. However, the timing of the revelations — against the background of the disagreement between Israel and the US over the nuclear agreement with Iran — gives them extra resonance.
There are those who would claim that the timing of the release is not a coincidence, and is in fact intended to embarrass Israel, which staunchly opposes the deal with Iran.
Perhaps pointing to Israel’s unacknowledged — by widely known — nuclear arsenal is an attempt to undermine Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who continues in his efforts to persuade Congress to reject President Barack Obama’ cherished deal with Iran. Netanyahu argues that the Islamic Republic, partly because it supports terrorist groups, cannot be allowed to keep a nuclear infrastructure.
According to the American documents now released, which cover events from 1969 to 1972, Israel was asked to provide a written obligation neither to arm its Jericho surface-to-surface missiles with nuclear warheads nor to deploy them.
Up until that point, the official policy of Israel — enunciated to the US in the early 1960s by then-deputy defense minister Shimon Peres — was: “We will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons in the region.”
This policy has been defined up until the present day as the hallmark of Israel’s “nuclear ambiguity.”
As a result of the “not be the first” pledge, it was agreed during the administration of President John F. Kennedy that American inspectors would visit — once or twice a year — the nuclear reactor in Dimona where, according to US suspicions, fissile material for a nuclear bomb was being made.
Golda Meir Visits Nixon and Kissinger
However, in 1969, as a result of the Six-Day War and on the background of the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union — as well as efforts to promote negotiations between Israel and the Arab countries — the administration of President Richard Nixon looked to formulate a new approach centered on preventing, or at least limiting, the further development of Israel’s nuclear program.
The Nixon administration asked Israel to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Israel had agreed several years beforehand to join the treaty — first signed by other nations in 1968 and in effect as of 1970. However, Israel employed stalling tactics in order to get out of that obligation.
In secret meetings attended by officials of the Pentagon, the State Department, the CIA, and Nixon’s National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, American officials discussed how the US would react to a potential attack on Israel by the Soviet Union, which was arming the major Arab nations.
The Nixon administration established a special committee to explore the issues. The committee determined that “our goal is to convince Israel to join the NPT by the end of the year. And to ratify the treaty.”
Later, a meeting was set up between administration officials and then-Israeli ambassador to Washington, Yitzhak Rabin. According to the documents, Israel was asked “to provide us with written assurances that it will stop creating and will not deploy Jericho missiles or other strategic missiles with nuclear warheads.”
Israel was developing into a pro-American ally, yet there was an assumption that — on nuclear matters — Israel would cheat. One document expresses American concern that even if Israel joins the NPT, it is liable to continue covertly producing nuclear weapons and missiles.
Kissinger wrote in a memo: “We judge that the introduction of nuclear weapons into the Near East would increase the dangers in an already dangerous situation and therefore not be in our interest. Israel has 12 surface-to-surface missiles delivered from France. It has set up a production line and plans by the end of 1970 to have a total force of 24–30, ten of which are programmed for nuclear warheads.”..
Kissinger also pointed out: “When the Israelis signed the contract buying the Phantom aircraft [from the US] last November, they committed themselves ‘not to be the first to introduce nuclear weapons’ into the Near East. But it was plain from the discussion that they interpreted that to mean they could possess nuclear weapons as long as they did not test, deploy, or make them public.
“In signing the contract, we wrote Rabin saying that we believe mere ‘possession’ constitutes ‘introduction’ and that Israel’s introduction of nuclear weapons by our definition would be cause for us to cancel the contract.”
Kissinger claimed that the vow not to “introduce” was not enough, because Israeli officials took this to mean that they could have nuclear weapons as long as they didn’t carry out tests, deploy or make the issue public.
And so, a Kissinger memo suggested the United States would demand a new Israeli pledge: “Reaffirm to the US in writing the assurance that Israel will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Near East, specifying that ‘introduction’ shall mean possession of nuclear explosive devices. [For our own internal purposes, we would decide that we could tolerate Israeli activity short of assembly of a completed nuclear device.] Give us assurances in writing that it will stop production and will not deploy ‘Jericho’ missiles or any other nuclear-capable strategic missile. [NOTE: I do not believe we can ask Israel not to produce missiles. Israel is sovereign in this decision, and I do not see how we can ask it not to produce a weapon just because we do not see it as an effective weapon without nuclear warheads. We might persuade them not to deploy what they produce on grounds that the rest of the world will believe that the missiles must have nuclear warheads.]”
Re-read that paragraph, written by Henry Kissinger on July 19, 1969, to consider the irony of the current issues with Iran: whether Iranian work on ballistic missiles and other military systems can indeed by prevented — whether as part of a nuclear restriction agreement or otherwise.
Did Israel make the commitment that Kissinger intended to demand in 1969 (six months after Nixon took office as president)? That is not clear from the documents just released.
Yet the fact is — as a result of a visit to the US by then-prime minister Golda Meir and her meeting with Nixon — the US stopped its inspections of the Dimona reactor in 1969.
In later foreign reports, it was claimed that ambassador Rabin and Meir promised that, in exchange for a halt to the inspections, Israel agreed not to be the first to deploy or arm nuclear weapons, and likely vowed not to conduct nuclear bomb tests.
To this day, Israel has yet to join the NPT, and it is believed to be, according to multiple foreign reports, the sixth biggest nuclear power in the world with a stockpile numbering around 100 nuclear warheads.
August 18, 2015
Dan Raviv, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, a history of Israeli intelligence and security agencies, appeared on the CBS News television broadcast “Up To The Minute,” analyzing the nuclear deal with Iran — and why Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu is so vociferous in his opposition.
Also — this coming week, when Defense Secretary Ash Carter visits Israel — will significant U.S. “security compensation” be offered to Israel?
Watch the video from CBS News:
August 11, 2015
Tuesday (July 14) was historic and memorable, to be sure. Israel was not able to persuade the United States and other world powers to walk away from a deal with Iran, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately branded the agreement “a mistake of historic proportions.”
The tradition, in U.S.-Israel relations, is that — when the Israelis feel their security is diminished by something that America is doing — Israel requests and receive new security systems, weapons, intelligence, or even cash as a form of compensation from Washington.
Congress, where Israel has many supporters and sympathizers, will give the Iran nuclear deal a vigorous 60-day review. As Republicans have the majority on both the Senate and the House, a vote to reject the deal may well succeed. But then, as President Obama has already declared publicly, he would cast his veto. Congress almost surely will not vote by two-thirds majorities to override that veto.
Yet the divisions and suspicions will persist. The effort to restrict Iran’s nuclear work peacefully will be an issue in the 2016 presidential campaign. But the deal will almost surely be a reality.
The analysis (below) is based on an article written for The Jerusalem Post by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars and other books including Friends In Deed: Inside the U.S.-Israel Alliance, also co-authored with Dan Raviv. Note, near the beginning of the article, the Israeli minister’s eye-winking reference to Israel’s own nuclear capability.
In 2007 an Israeli cabinet minister told senior military officials that if a country wants nuclear weapons nothing will stop it.
“I know at least one country that did it,” he remarked. He had just heard them agree on a strategy to do everything to keep Iran from getting the bomb.
Instead, he advised them to focus on delaying the nuclear program and to ask the U.S. for significant compensation.
Eight years later, one can say that due to its successful diplomacy, sabotage and assassination operations attributed to Mossad and its demand for sanctions, Israel managed — so far — to prevent Iran from reaching the bomb.
It seems, though, that what Iran really wanted was to be a nuclear-threshold state and not to assemble warheads. Thus one could say that Iran has succeeded in its goal — for now.
Of course, Israel was not alone in these efforts; it was an impressive international group that presented a unified front.
Another Israeli government could have appropriated the nuclear agreement as its victory. It could have said that as a result of wise diplomacy combined with daring covert actions, Iran was brought to its knees and forced it to sit down, negotiate and compromise on its nuclear program. Tehran had refused to do that from 2002 to 2013.
If we accept the calculations of the U.S. and other teams that negotiated the deal in Vienna, it will lengthen the amount of time it would take for Iran to amass fissile materials and produce a bomb to at least one year — for at least the 10-year term of the agreement.
It’s estimated that before Iran agreed to talk and clinch the interim agreement it was just two to three months from the bomb. The number of centrifuges of the old and outdated models at the uranium-enrichment sites in Natanz and Fordow will be reduced to a third of the current inventory: to 6,000 from 19,000.
Iran is forbidden to enrich uranium above 3.6%; its enriched uranium will be dwindled from 10 tons to a mere 300 kg.; and the nuclear reactor in Arak will be redesigned and won’t be able to produce sufficient plutonium as fissile material.
As for international inspection, even if it is not sufficiently intrusive, it still will be tighter than it is now.
If Iran honors the deal, the chance of a nuclear race in the Middle East by countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey will be slimmer.
Netanyahu’s display at the UN in New York (Sept. 2012)
But Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has decided to take a different path. Instead of working hand-in-hand with the international effort to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions and claiming victory, it has preferred to stand alone.
Israel is opposed to the agreement. To any agreement with Iran, a lethal foe that declares it wants the Jewish State wiped off the map.
But Netanyahu tried to create a wedge between the US president and Congress and failed. Israel exaggerated the Iranian threat and portrayed it in monstrous proportions.
Netanyahu was ridiculed, this week, for a tweet in which he declared that Iran not only aspires to impose its hegemony in the region, but to control the entire world.
True, it may have been better for Israel if the world were to keep harsh sanctions on Iran forever — strangling its economy until it surrendered all of its nuclear facilities, if one believes that Iran would ever have done that.
In any event, Israel is not the center of the universe. The big powers have their own interests and sometimes they don’t listen to Israeli warnings — just as Israel, in many instances, is not attentive to requests from other nations, including its allies; for example, on the Palestinian question.
The nuclear deal is far from perfect, but the skies are not going to fall tomorrow.
Israel remains the strongest and most technologically advanced state in the Middle East. And, according to foreign reports that Israel declines to confirm, it has an impressive arsenal of nuclear warheads.
It is also true that lifting the sanctions will help revive the Iranian economy. But, according to estimates by US economists, the recovery will be slow. It is very unlikely that a dramatic shift in Iran’s rush for regional hegemony will be seen. Its ambitions are already high.
The deal will not increase Iran’s grip on Hezbollah, which is already full. Its support for terrorist groups and its subversive attempts to undermine and destabilize countries will not necessarily be enhanced. They are already in full gear.
These efforts, after all, are a double-edged sword. The more Iran intervenes in other countries’ domestic problems, the likelier it will be bleeding itself. Look at what happens to Iran in the Syrian mud, Yemen’s slippery slopes, and Iraq.
It is rather surprising to hear our leaders expressing fears about what will happen upon expiration of the agreement 10 years from now when they cannot say what will occur two or three months down the road on our borders with Gaza, Golan, Sinai or Lebanon.
All in all, it is possible to estimate that at least two tangible results will emerge from the nuclear deal. Israel’s military-security establishment will demand that its budget be expanded; and Israel will ask the US to supply it with a security compensation package. That is basically what the cabinet minister suggested eight years ago in the military briefing.
August 10, 2015
An interesting update, on this Saturday when President Barack Obama is visiting his father’s homeland, Kenya…
His close aides told CBS News that if Jonathan Pollard — the spy for Israel who was sentenced to life in prison — is released this year, it won’t be because the President is freeing him.
It Wouldn’t be Obama Doing it
They say the ordinary parole process will proceed, and in November of this year — 30 years after Pollard’s arrest — he will be eligible for parole. (His lawyers will doubtless plead for his release, in part based on his poor health.)
The White House aides say there is no connection at all with the Iran nuclear deal — and no attempt to sway Israeli opinion by releasing the American who spied for Israel.
They do confirm that the Pollard issue has been an irritant, for years, between Israel and the U.S. (This information was reported by CBS News Chief White House Correspondent, Major Garrett.)
July 25, 2015
[A few thoughts by Dan Raviv, co-author of Every Spy a Prince and the current Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars – on the case of Jonathan Jay Pollard, the American Jew who was a U.S. Navy intelligence analyst and delivered secret documents and photos to Israeli diplomats]:
- Jonathan Jay Pollard, circa 1984
I have been reporting on the Pollard case since the day he was arrested in November 1985 — trying, with his then-wife, to seek shelter in the Israeli Embassy here in Washington. The Israelis turned him away, and the FBI arrested them both. He’s my age — both born in 1954. He was 31 when he was arrested, and (like me) he’s 60 now.
I immediately wondered why U.S. prosecutors were so hard on him — demanding and getting a life sentence. After all, he was spying on behalf of an American ally. Other Americans who sold secrets to foreign powers sometimes got lesser sentences.
But, for Pollard, it was bad luck. The federal prosecutors wanted to make an example out of him — so that other Americans who had top-secret clearances in their government jobs would not be temped to give or sell any secrets to anyone.
Part of the Campaign for Pollard’s Freedom
Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger wrote to the judge in the case, reportedly declaring that Pollard had done “incalculable harm” to the U.S. The reasoning was that in the world of espionage, you never know where the secrets might go. Israel might conceivably give some secrets — about U.S. military capabilities — to Communist countries such as Russia.
When I did reporting on the story inside Israel — for the books I’ve co-authored with Yossi Melman about Israeli espionage and security — I found a lot of embarrassment. The Mossad — the famous and successful spy agency — insisted that it would never spy inside the United States. The Pollard caper was the overly aggressive idea of one particular agency: a Science Liaison Bureau (Lakam, in Hebrew), which collected science and technology secrets all around the world.
In our research, it became clear that the Mossad and Aman — the large military intelligence agency — benefited from the huge quantity of secrets that Pollard provided. They must have known there was a spy, working for Israel, inside America’s defense or intelligence establishment.
Because of the embarrassment, Israel was slow to offer any support for Pollard. Finally, in recent years, Israel has repeatedly asked the U.S. to release him. Bill Clinton considered doing it, and so did George W. Bush. But the CIA and Pentagon officials told the Presidents not to do it — not to forgive Pollard in any way, because it would send the wrong signal to other Americans who might be thinking of doing what he did. The FBI and Justice Department officials, too, were clearly against releasing Pollard.
Yossi Melman and I wrote about the Pollard case in our 1990 best-seller
What the American president — in this case, Barack Obama — needs is some kind of excuse: so he can tell the U.S. intelligence community that “for vital reasons of U.S. national interests,” he chose to release Pollard. It has seemed in the past that for the sake of keeping the Middle East peace talks going — to get some concessions from Israel that the Obama White House thinks are vital — Obama might grant clemency to Pollard and release him.
Now, a published report suggested, Obama may free Pollard in order to show some good will toward Israel, hoping that Israeli public opposition — and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s highly vociferous opposition — to the nuclear deal with Iran might soften.
Releasing Pollard would spark celebrations in Israel, where there’s a strong tradition of “doing everything necessary to bring home any soldier who’s caught behind enemy lines.”
But there’d also be a little bit of pain — as the world, and specifically the American people, would be reminded that there’d been an American Jew who was hired by Israel to hand over secrets. Israelis have explained to me that they are always living with their backs against the wall — so sometimes they have to do desperate and daring things that aren’t polite and gentle.
Spy cases are often embarrassing. Yet the U.S.-Israel relationship survived the anger caused by Pollard’s arrest in 1985. The relationship will survive the sharp disagreement over the deal with Iran. But clearing the decks wherever possible — eliminating the Pollard issue by freeing him — would probably help.
July 24, 2015
The U.S. Department of the Treasury insists that critics of the nuclear deal with Iran are wrong when they say one of Iran’s notorious exporters of terrorism, General Qassem Suleimani, will be removed from the list of Iranians who are banned from the world’s banking system. Yet it is true that at least two Iranian nuclear scientists — reliably reported to have been targeted by Israel’s Mossad — will enjoy a lifting of sanctions in just a few years.
This is based on an analysis by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, written for The Jerusalem Post.
The nuclear deal between world powers and Iran aimed at limiting Tehran’s nuclear program is a complicated and hard-to-understand labyrinth. It is 150 pages long, includes five appendices and contains some 30 thousand words.
Two-thirds of it consists of names of companies, corporations, government offices and individuals included on the list of sanctions levied against Iran since 2006 by the UN Security Council, the US and the European Union.
Iran was already a nuclear threshold state three years ago, before the especially painful sanctions were placed on it. Because of the hard blow that the sanctions dealt to Iran’s economy, its leaders understood that it was time to go to the negotiating table, which it had previously refused to approach.
Iran had already achieved its goal of being a nuclear threshold state.
Alongside maintaining the appearance of national pride and its efforts to minimize international inspection of its nuclear facilities, Iran’s main concern in negotiations with the West was to get the smothering sanctions removed. Now Iran is achieving that goal.
A senior Israeli official told journalists that during the 15-year life of the agreement Iran will enjoy – in addition to the unfreezing of around $100 billion of assets in foreign banks – an even greater flow of money from the renewal of oil exports and a renewal of trade with the world.
The blacklist, until now, included the names of some one thousand banks, insurance companies, ships, oil, gas and petrochemical corporations, airlines and aviation companies — as well individuals who are connected directly or indirectly to Iran’s nuclear program, its missile program or its weapons trade.
The assets – both liquid and real estate – of everyone on the blacklist were frozen, and all UN member states were forbidden from allowing them into their territory or engaging in commerce with them.
According to the agreement, the sanctions will be lifted, but in the next five years the conventional arms embargo on Iran will continue, and for eight years Iran will not be allowed to import or export missiles and their parts.
Three names on this list stick out in particular:
Fereydoun Abbasi Davani, a senior nuclear scientist, who served as the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran from 2011 to 2013. In November 2010, shortly before he got that job, he was wounded in an assassination attempt while entering his vehicle. The failed attempt was attributed to the Mossad. Abbasi Davani’s name was removed from the list of people sanctioned for being part of Iran’s nuclear program, but he will continue to be subject to sanctions connected to involvement in the missile program.
The second is Dr. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi, who was, according to foreign reports, responsible for Iran’s military nuclear program, known as “weaponization.” The group, made up of nuclear scientists and engineers, dealt with experiments using highly powerful explosives and computer simulations that checked how to assemble a nuclear weapon and how to miniaturize it and turn it into a warhead on a Shihab missile. If Iran were to assemble a nuclear weapon, Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi could be labeled “the father of the Shi’ite nuclear bomb.”
According to the same reports, he was the Mossad’s number one target for assassination, but he went into hiding.
Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi was put on the blacklist because of his involvement in work on Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, and because of Iran’s refusal to allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to question him. It can be assumed that his name would be taken off the blacklist of those involved in the nuclear program if Iran were to allow IAEA inspectors to question him. As of now, he will remain under sanctions for the next eight years due to his involvement with the Iranian missile program.
The third name, and perhaps the most interesting of them all, is General Qassem Suleimani, the Commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force. He is considered one of the most influential people in the Islamic Republic and a close confidant of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Iran’s Qassem Suleimani (wearing black headdress) visiting Shi’ite Militias in Tikrit, Iraq, fighting ISIS (El Alam News Network)
The fact that there are two people with the last name “Suleimani” on the list shows how tangled up it is. One of them is Gassen and the second is Qassem. Gassen Suleimani will be taken off the list. As for General Qassem Suleimani, the situation is more complicated.
At the age of 22, with the eruption of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Qassem Suleimani joined the Revolutionary Guards, and took part in the bloody war with Iraq, which lasted eight years. In 2000 he was appointed commander of the Quds Force.
“Al-Quds” is the unit formed in 1980 with the goal of “fighting the Zionist occupation.” However, over the years, its authority was widened and it became Iran’s special forces branch tasked with exporting the Islamic Revolution. The force is responsible for training, arming and providing aid to Shi’ite militias in Iraq and Yemen, for Iran’s ties to Hezbollah, Hamas and more.
Suleimani is responsible for managing the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria and for helping the regime of Bashar Assad in Syria.
After many years in which he operated invisibly, General Suleimani has resurfaced. He has attended public functions in Iran, given interviews to the media and been filmed on the battlefield in Iraq. However, despite his high position and great influence, his prestige has taken a hit in the past four years and his image as a superman commander has been damaged.
His setbacks occurred amid the “Arab Spring.” When the demonstrations and rebellions began in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Syria, Suleimani believed, and promised to Khamenei, that the table was set for increasing Iran’s influence in the Middle East. But that did not happen as Iran had hoped. The Muslim Brotherhood was ousted from power in Egypt, while in Iraq and Syria, Suleimani, the Quds Force and the militias they ran, struggled to win the war against ISIS and other rebel groups. Assad’s rule has weakened even more in recent months and his people have lost additional land.
General Suleimani was sanctioned from a number of directions: First, the US named the Al-Quds Force a terrorist group. He was also put on the blacklist for exporting weapons to Shi’ite militias.
The United States in particular has a score to settle with Suleimani because Washington sees him as responsible for the deaths of many American soldiers, caused by his people or their proxy Shi’ite militias in Iraq such as “The Bader Force” and “The Mahdi’s Army,” which were responsible for IED attacks against American soldiers in the previous decade.
The second reason is his involvement in an attempt (uncovered by the FBI in 2011) to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, Adel al-Jubeir, who today serves as the Kingdom’s foreign minister — by blowing up a high-class restaurant.
American officials confirmed that indeed Suleimani’s name will be removed from the sanctions list that appears in the nuclear agreement. But in actuality, only the European Union countries will unblacklist him. In the United States, he will remain on the terrorism black list. Because this is an extra-territorial list, the sanctions will apply to all those who conduct commercial dealings with him, irregardless of where they reside.
At least this is some consolation.
July 21, 2015
[This is an adaptation from Chapter 1, “Stopping Iran,” in the history of Israeli espionage, Spies Against Armageddon by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman. We pick up the story somewhere around early 2008.]
Israeli and American intelligence agencies evaluated the sanctions and determined that they were too soft. The assessment was that only stronger, crippling sanctions might have some effect on Iran’s leadership.
It seemed that the kind of steps required would include a ban on buying Iranian crude oil and its byproducts. China and Russia refused to lend a hand to that effort. Sanctions thus were not hobbling the determination of Iran’s leaders to keep up their nuclear work.
Meir Dagan on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” 2012
The Mossad concluded that more drastic measures were needed. Mossad director Meir Dagan’s battle plan called next for sabotage. That took various shapes. He encouraged joint planning and, eventually, joint operations on the Middle East’s clandestine fields of battle.
A CIA suggestion was to send a physicist, a Russian who had moved to the United States, to Iran to offer his knowledge to the Iranian nuclear program. The caper was ridiculously mishandled when the CIA altered a set of nuclear warhead plans that the physicist was carrying, but neglected to tell him. The Iranians would have received damaging disinformation. Unfortunately for this scheme, the ex-Russian noticed errors and told the Iranians that something was flawed. He simply did not know that the CIA wanted him to keep his mouth shut and pass along the materials.
Despite imperfect penetrations at first, the entire concept of “poisoning” both information and equipment was attractive; and the Mossad, the CIA, and the British kept doing it. These agencies set up front companies that established contact with Iranian purchasing networks. In order to build up trust, they sold Iran some genuine components. But at a later stage, they planted – among the good parts, such as metal tubes and high-speed switches – many bad parts that damaged Iran’s program.
The results of this international sabotage began to show. Iran found itself having trouble keeping control of the equipment that it had bought from overseas.
The peak of these damage operations was a brilliantly innovative computer worm that would become known as Stuxnet. Though its origin was never officially announced, Stuxnet was a joint project by the CIA, the Mossad, and Aman’s technological unit. The malicious software was specifically designed to disrupt a German-made computerized control system that ran the centrifuges in Natanz.
The project required studying, by reverse engineering, precisely how the control panel and computers worked and what effect they had on the centrifuges. For that purpose, Germany’sBND– very friendly to Israel, in part based on a long habit of trying to erase Holocaust memories – arranged the cooperation of Siemens, the German corporation that had sold the system to Iran. The directors of Siemens may have felt pangs of conscience, or were simply reacting to public pressure, as newspapers pointed out that the company was Iran’s largest trading partner in Germany.
For a better understanding of Iran’s enrichment process, old centrifuges – which Israel had obtained many years before – were set up in one of the buildings at Dimona, Israel’s not-so-secret nuclear facility in the southern Negev desert. They were nearly identical to the centrifuges that were enriching uranium in Natanz.
The Israelis closely watched what the computer worm could do to an industrial process. The tests, reportedly conducted also at a U.S. government lab in Idaho, took two years.
Virtual weapons of destruction such as Stuxnet can conceivably be e-mailed to the target computer network, or they can be installed in person by plugging in a flash drive. Whether hidden in an electronic message or plugged in by an agent for the Mossad, the virus did get into the Natanz facility’s control system sometime in 2009. Stuxnet was in the system for more than a year before it was detected by Iranian cyber-warfare experts. By then, it was giving the centrifuges confusing instructions, which disrupted their precise synchronization. They were no longer spinning in concert, and as the equipment sped up and slowed repeatedly, the rotors that did the spinning were severely damaged.
The true beauty of this computer worm was that the operators of the system had no idea that anything was going wrong. Everything at first seemed normal, and when they noticed the problem it was too late. Nearly 1,000 centrifuges – about one-fifth of those operating at Natanz – were knocked out of commission.
Iranian intelligence and computer experts were shocked. The nuclear program was slowing down, barely advancing, and falling way behind schedule. Stuxnet, more than anything else, made the Iranians realize they were under attack in a shadow war, with hardly any capability to respond.
In late 2011, they announced two more cyber-attacks. One virus, which computer analysts called Duqu, showed signs of being created by the same high-level, sophisticated hackers who authored Stuxnet: U.S.and Israeli intelligence.
If that were not enough, like the Ten Plagues that befell ancient Egypt, the Iranians were hit by yet another blow – this time, a lethal one. Between 2007 and 2011, five Iranian scientists were assassinated by a variety of methods. One supposedly was felled by carbon monoxide from a heater in his home. Three others were killed by bombs, and one by gunfire: four attacks by men on motorcycles. That was a method perfected by the Mossad’s Kidon unit.
It was noteworthy that the United States flatly denied any involvement. American officials even went so far as to publicly criticize the unknown killers for spoiling diplomatic hopes, because the chances of negotiations with Iran became slimmer after every attack. The Americans, in private, said that they were chiding Israel.
July 13, 2015
[This is adapted from an article by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, for The Jerusalem Post.]
Let’s consider Massimo Aparo. He is the international bureaucrat who is to be on the watch to make sure that, in case of an agreement, Iran doesn’t violate it. And, in the absence of a deal, he would aim to be able to tell the world if Iran is rushing to produce its first nuclear bomb.
Massimo Aparo (center) : photo by IAEA
In other words, Aparo is the gatekeeper and has to act as the international community’s bad cop in its dealing with the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions.
Aparo, an Italian, heads an elite unit of the International Atomic Energy Agency known as Iran Task Force. It was created three years ago by IAEA’s director-general, Japanese diplomat Yukiya Amano.
The Iran Task Force is part of IAEA’s Department of Safeguards and Verification, which is in charge of making sure that all its state members properly use nuclear technology and knowhow for the declared civilian and peaceful purposes: scientific research, medicine, agriculture and industry – and not for illegally producing nuclear weapons.
The only country that is a member of IAEA and is under a unique and particular watch with a specially assigned unit to monitor it is Iran. And rightly so.
Iran has a bad and dubious track record of 12 years of cheating, cover- ups, lies and concealment of the true nature of its nuclear program with its 18 sites, including two uranium- enrichment facilities, reactors, laboratories, waste plants and more.
It established secret purchasing networks operating worldwide to illegally buy equipment and technology for its program by circumventing the sanctions.
It has worked indefatigably to advance its plans to be a nuclear- threshold country, and in doing so it has been in breach of many IAEA and UN Security Council resolutions.
Here enters Aparo. The mere fact that Amano ordered the establishment of the Iran Task Force is evidence of the huge mistrust that even a politically biased UN agency such as the IAEA and certainly the international community feel facing Iran and its leaders.
When the task force was established, its main focus was to collect data and analyze what was happening in the Parchin military base. According to information collected by Western and Israeli intelligence services and forwarded to the IAEA, the base served as a testing laboratory for “weaponization.”
There, Iranian nuclear scientists and engineers were conducting tests with highly sophisticated explosives and simulations to learn the process of a chain reaction to trigger a nuclear explosion.
When asked by Amano to allow Aparo and his task force to visit Parchin, Iran flatly rejected the request. Since then, according to images obtained from commercial satellites, Iran was involved in extensive cleanup works by removing huge chunks of soil, flooding some parts of the base with water and destroying several buildings – all to cover up what really happened in Parchin and to make sure that if task force inspectors were ever to visit the place and take samples, no traces of illegal nuclear activity would be found.
Aparo’s task force has 50 or so inspectors of different nationalities. They are nuclear engineers, physicists, chemists, computer and communication experts and intelligence data analysts.
Iran insisted that neither Americans nor Brits be included in the force. To the Iranian mind, they are spies. Actually, in the Iranian perception, the entire Iran Task Force is an extension of the CIA, Mossad, MI6, you name it. Eventually, Iran had to agree to the inclusion of one American member and one British member.
In the past, Iranian intelligence officers tried to recruit agents among the IAEA inspectors. As Olli Heinonen, a former deputy director-general of the IAEA and head of the Department of Safeguards and Verification told me, he himself faced many Iranian efforts to recruit him by offering him bribes and gifts.
It can be assumed that Iran will continue to disrupt, preempt and gain advance knowledge and understanding of task force plans.
Aparo’s problems are twofold. First are the rigid regulations of IAEA which require that a country be notified in advance – days, sometimes weeks in advance – about the inspection visits.
It gives the host country sufficient time to conceal and cover up whatever it doesn’t want the inspectors to see.
Iran has mastered the measures it has taken in its concealment and stalling tactics. Heinonen recalls that Iran even came up with the excuse “We lost the key” when it was requested to let him and his team into a particular site.
Second, IAEA monitoring equipment is old and outdated. It includes mechanical seals and cameras which are attached to the centrifuges enriching uranium and the cylinders and barrels where the uranium and other nuclear-related materials are stored.
To enhance the inspection, what Aparo needs are provisions that will permit him and his crew to have snap visits, on the spot, with advance notification of only a matter of hours. He also has to be allowed to use much more advanced monitoring equipment, including online cameras and seals, as well as lasers and sensors directly linked to IAEA control rooms in Vienna.
Aparo, in his late 50s, is an expert in nuclear machinery and instruments.
He graduated from Sapienza University of Rome, worked for an Italian agency advancing new technologies, and was employed by the European Space Agency. Around 20 years ago he was recruited by the IAEA.
I was told by former IAEA inspectors that he is a serious and solid nuclear expert but lacks leadership qualities.
Leadership skills are needed not only to lead a complex international force with members of different backgrounds and perhaps different agendas but to be tough and determined in dealing with his Iranian counterparts and hosts, who will do everything possible to sabotage his mission by endlessly arguing about every minor step and detail.
But above all, Aparo – with or without a deal, even with new monitoring equipment and intrusive inspections – will have to rely at the end on outside assistance.
As in the past, the Mossad and Israeli Military Intelligence – along with the CIA, MI6, German BND, French intelligence and others – will have to enhance their efforts and improve intelligence collection on Iran’s nuclear program in order to detect ahead of time whether the Islamic Republic is breaking out to the bomb.
July 12, 2015
Click here for full details of how (and where) to buy Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, the most complete and balanced history of the Mossad and Israel’s other security and espionage agencies.
The authors are Dan Raviv (of CBS News) and Yossi Melman (the longtime Haaretz expert on intelligence, who now is a defense, strategy, and espionage analyst for the Jerusalem Post and other Israeli media).
This is their fifth book together. Their best seller (in 1990-91) about Israel’s intelligence community was Every Spy a Prince. They also wrote a character-filled history of U.S.-Israel relations, Friends In Deed.
To glance at readers’ reviews posted at Amazon.com, please click here. For example:
“Despite the book being over 350 pages, it goes by very quickly (I read it in a weekend). ” –daniel michael | 17 reviewers made a similar statement
“Highly recommended read for those interested in Middle East events. ” –zedillo99 | 15 reviewers made a similar statement
“Raviv and Melman have written a wonderful history of Mossad. It reads like a thriller, but conveys a thorough history of the Israeli intelligence agency.” –Kai Bird, Pulitzer Prize winner
SPIES AGAINST ARMAGEDDON is a powerful, vivid history of Israel’s intelligence community – led by the famous and feared Mossad – from the country’s independence in 1948 right up to the crises of today. Israel’s battle plan, aimed at stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program, may drag the United States into war and soaring oil prices. The plan is based on deception, sabotage, assassination, and intimidation. The book tells the story, never told before, of Kidon – the super-secret unit that is like a Mossad within the Mossad. Kidon carries out special operations, including assassinations and sabotage. Kidon had a daring role in destroying Syria’s nuclear reactor in 2007.
Israel’s methods and motivations can be fully understood only when seeing how they developed over the decades. Bold spies have penetrated enemy capitals, and secret agencies felt a historic responsibility to protect Jews worldwide. The authors chronicle major changes in Israeli intelligence agencies’ priorities – away from Palestinian peace prospects, shifting to Iran as the main focus. The book also exposes some episodes of which Israeli spies are ashamed; scandals they would prefer remain buried. Still, in the age of the internet and spy satellites, Israel is the most innovative nation in the use of espionage as an alternative to war.
Among the burning questions addressed and answered in SPIES AGAINST ARMAGEDDON are these: Who planted a powerful computer worm in Iran’s uranium enrichment centrifuges? Who has been motorcycling boldly through the streets of Tehran, assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists? Are Israeli spies regularly inside Iran and other enemy countries? Did the Mossad make a huge mistake when two dozen of its operatives were seen by hotel security cameras in Dubai, or was it a successful murder mission? Do the assassins, as portrayed in the movie “Munich,” really feel pangs of conscience? Have Israel’s enemies ever managed to plant agents in the Israeli government? Does the United States really trust Israeli intelligence, or is the relationship limited by mutual mistrust? Why do U.S. security agencies believe their close ally is spying on America? Is Israel trying to maneuver the U.S. into attacking Iran?
This book contains new information about the Mossad director from 2002 to 2010, Meir Dagan, and how he put “the dagger back between the teeth” of the spy agency. When he publicly declares that he opposes an Israeli military strike on Iran, what does he favor instead? The authors of this book have spoken with all the major players, and a multitude of minor players as well, to gain a balanced and deep understanding of Israeli actions at times of crisis – and Israel almost always feels it is in a crisis. Click here for reviews and more information on Spies Against Armageddon.
July 11, 2015
[Yossi Melman wrote this analysis for The Jerusalem Post.]
Once again, Israel’s security establishment proved how it disregards the right of the public to know. But the scandalous efforts to prevent the publication of the case of Avera Mengistu, the young Israeli of Ethiopian origins who went into Gaza — on his own — by climbing over the border fence, is nothing compared to the way the government treated his family and the entire Israeli Ethiopian community.
The family claims they were threatened by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and police officers not to talk to the media about the fate of their son. It turned out that they were rarely briefed by the authorities who were handling the case and that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bothered only Wednesday to call them.
The strong feeling is that if the skin color of the missing Israelis would have been paler or had he come from a different socioeconomic class, the security apparatus would have treated the case with less indifference. We would have seen more care and consideration.
It is true that the government and the military establishment have set an important goal to deprive Hamas of having “assets” and “bargaining chips” — in order to reduce the price Israel would have to pay for the release of Mengistu and another Israeli of Arab origins who also infiltrated into Gaza and is missing.
The government wants to prevent the repetition of past prisoner swaps such as the 1985 Jibril swap, the 2004 swap for Colonel (res) Elchanan Tenenboim, who was lured to a drug deal and kidnapped by Hezbollah, and more recently the Gilad Schalit case with Hamas. On all these occasions, and others, the government found itself pressured by the public, families and lubricated PR campaigns, eventually caving in to both the domestic pressure and to the other side.
This conduct by the security establishment is rooted in a new obsession that began in the last Gaza war.
It is the desire to prevent the kidnapping of Israeli civilians or soldiers at all costs.
When it comes to soldiers in the battlefield, the IDF used an illegal and unethical method coded “Hannibal,” in which it employs unrestricted fire power to prevent attempts to kidnap soldiers, even though it could kill the soldier and many innocent civilians.
Indeed, Professor Asa Kasher, who wrote the ethical code of the IDF, claimed Tuesday that at least one soldier who was targeted for kidnapping by Hamas fighters was killed by Israeli fire. And indeed many Palestinians were killed by IDF fire under such circumstances.
And now we witness the cases of Menigistu and the other Israeli who went into Hamas-ruled Gaza. They are civilians, and not soldiers, and the methods used to hurt them are different: not friendly fire, but court gag orders and heavy censorship.
The overriding goal remains the same – not to surrender to Hamas.
But no matter how important that aim is, the use of dubious measures cannot be justified. If the government wishes to be tough and determined and not to cave in this time, it can do it by showing its will power in negotiations – and there are already secret negotiations underway via Egyptian and German intelligence officials – and not by ignoring the family and making a mockery of basic values in a democratic society.
July 9, 2015
[This article is adapted from an article by Yossi Melman — co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars — in The Jerusalem Post newspaper on Friday, July 3.]
A year ago this week, Israel launched its invasion of Gaza — the third war with the Hamas-ruled Palestinian strip in less than seven years.
Israeli security officials speak of another round of warfare as almost inevitable — insisting there is solid intelligence showing weapons being smuggled into Gaza, Hamas and other factions building more rockets to be aimed at Israel, and tunnels being dug (and even Hamas claiming that it has again progressed underground beneath Israeli territory).
After investigating last year’s war — which killed 2,251 Palestinians (including 551 children, according to the United Nations) and 73 Israelis — a U.N. team documented what it judged to be possible war crimes by both Israel’s army (the IDF) and the Palestinians of Hamas.
UN Human Rights Council
On Friday, the U.N.’s Human Rights Council voted to condemn only Israel.
It was noteworthy that the United States — despite a recent spotlight on tensions between President Barack Obama and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — was the only nation voting “no” on the anti-Israel resolution.
The vote was 41 to 1. (Israeli diplomats took some comfort from the fact that India — a huge and important nation Netanyahu has been cultivating with friendship — abstained on the resolution.)
The first Gaza war — following Hamas’s violent ouster of the al-Fatah faction — was in December 2008, and the second was in November 2012. Simple calculation shows that the time elapsed between the first and second campaigns was nearly four years.
While the cease-fire between the second and third wars lasted just 19 months, on average it can be calculated that every 22 months Israel has found itself facing the same problem in Gaza.
So, with the same calculation, Israel can expect another round in Gaza in the spring of 2016.
But Middle Eastern realities are not mere products of statistics.
They don’t necessarily adhere to the scripts written by the planners. Sometimes the military battles generate surprising twists in the drama.
The last war, codenamed by IDF computers “Protective Edge,” could be one of these unexpected events. It has the potential for a long-term tacit or formal arrangement between Israel and Hamas, one that could put an end to the rocket launching, sporadic or systematic, from Gaza and could bring quiet and tranquility for the residents of southern Israel.
In that sense, the last Gaza war could turn out to be a mirror image of the Second Lebanon War in 2006. That war exposed many tactical weaknesses of the Israel Defense Forces but, on the strategic level, empowered Israeli deterrence. The inhabitants of northern Israel have for nine years since enjoyed and benefited from a peaceful border as Hezbollah is deterred from attacking Israel.
Something similar can emerge in the South. The situation Israel has witnessed in the last 12 months on the Gaza front is complex; alongside hopes, it contains risks and danger that another war is on the horizon.
What were the war’s flaws and weakness? It lasted 50 days and was not only the longest of all three Gazan campaigns, but also the second- longest war in the history of the State of Israel after the 1948 War of Independence.
During Protective Edge, Israel was bombarded with nearly 5,000 rockets, more than in any other of its military clashes, including the two previous Gaza wars and the Second Lebanon War.
For its critics, the war was also too long. But there was a reason for it. The political echelon led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, as well as the IDF leadership, were concerned about reducing Israeli casualties, which due to the urban and densely populated terrain could have been higher than the 67 soldiers who died in battle.
It was also said that Israeli intelligence failed to have accurate information about the number, size and spread of the tunnels Hamas had dug to be used as a surprise weapon.
But this claim is not true.
Based on military sources, this writer wrote in October 2013 – nine months before the war – that Hamas had built 20-30 tunnels.
Surely, IDF Military Intelligence and the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) did know that Hamas had dug 30 tunnels leading in the direction of Israel. And, indeed, during the war the IDF found and destroyed all of them.
The problem, however, was that, even though the information was conveyed to the government, neither the IDF’s top generals nor the cabinet ministers fully grasped the full strategic meaning before the war.
Still, the war results, as we analyze them today, are satisfactory.
It was a limited war because the declared goals were limited. Israel didn’t wish to topple Hamas because that would have meant once again conquering Gaza, which is a small territorial enclave with a big but very poor population of 1.8 million inhabitants.
Conquering Gaza – which from a military point of view could have been achieved within days – would have resulted in many casualties to both IDF troops and Palestinians.
And it would have forced Israel to once again be the occupier and daily provider of Gaza. Israel did not want to be in this position.
Bearing in mind that Israel had no serious alternatives other than to end the war the way it did, its achievements were numerous.
A growing wedge was created between Hamas and Egypt, which perceives the Islamist organization as a threat to its own national security and accuses it of supporting and collaborating with the terrorists of Islamic State in Sinai.
The security cooperation between Jerusalem and Cairo has reached unprecedented levels. Both countries are partners in the war against terrorism, which this week in Sinai caused the Egyptian Army heavy casualties by the hands of Islamic State and showed how painful and formidable a task it is.
There is no military solution to Gaza.
The third Gaza war will be judged successful only if the southern border is truly peaceful. This is only possible if a long-term agreement is reached among Israel, Hamas, the Palestinian Authority and Egypt – with financial support from Qatar to rebuild and help Gaza normalize the life of its inhabitants.
Without a deal that will politically and economically regulate and administrate life there, Gaza will never be rehabilitated. Even worse: The situation will deteriorate and Israel will be confronted with Islamic State, a worse and more brutal enemy.
July 4, 2015
[The following article was written by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, for The Jerusalem Post.]
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can be temporarily satisfied. Due to good intelligence the Iran nuclear talks will probably not be finalized before the deadline on Tuesday.
Netanyahu at UN in New York, September 2012
Every day that passes has to be considered an achievement for Netanyahu and anyone else who opposes an agreement. It is very likely the talks will be extended – although not forever.
The US seems anxious to clinch a deal in a matter of days.
If it is achieved by July 4, Congress will have only 30 days to review the agreement. If there is no agreement by July 9, the congressional review period will be 60 days and, then, anything can happen.
Thus, President Barack Obama wishes to stamp the deal as quickly as possible. But it is not entirely in his hands. The power broker is Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. He calls the shots.
After three extensive meetings with Secretary of State John Kerry, Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif left the talks in Vienna and flew home for consultations with Khamenei.
Zarif and his team feared that their communication lines were intercepted. They don’t even trust their secured and coded phones and computers.
Media and experts publications claimed Israeli intelligence was eavesdropping at the hotels where the various rounds of talks were taking place.
Zarif’s trip is also evidence that he doesn’t have the authority to finalize a deal; a deal that most of its clauses, including the stumbling blocks, have been known for months. Judging from past precedents, it is not sure that Zarif will return to Vienna with his supreme leader’s blessing. In the past, Khamenei authorized his nuclear team to sign an agreement, and then due to domestic pressure from his radicals he backed off. Khamenei’s approach may well be revisited – first let’s sign and then we’ll see.
One has to be completely stupid to dare predicting the chance of a deal being finalized.
The gaps, as stated by the foreign ministers of Germany, France and UK, remain large.
They revolve around all well-known controversial topics: the demand that Iran opens its suspected military sites for international inspection; that it makes its scientists, especially those involved in suspicious military programs in the past available for international questioning; and to accept that sanctions are not lifted until Iran meets its obligations according to the agreement once it is signed.
In short, the chance of clinching a deal remains to be seen.
Yes, logic says an agreement is an Iranian imperative and yes, the US administration is very hot to have it. But once again with Iran’s leader having the final word anything can happen.
Nothing is assured.
June 29, 2015
[This report was written by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, for The Jerusalem Post.]
A notorious name from the past is surprisingly linked, now, with the unexpected violence in northern Israel and the Golan Heights.
Samir Kuntar — the Lebanese Druze terrorist who was incarcerated for 29 years in Israel for murdering in cold blood a baby — and then released in a prisoner swap with Hezbollah in 2008 — is responsible for whipping up violence among Druze on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights. That’s what some Druze community leaders charged on Tuesday.
The comments came less than a day after Golan Druze carried out what Israeli authorities have termed “a lynching” of a wounded Syrian who was being transported by an IDF ambulance across the frontier late Monday. Some Druze activists have charged that the Israel Defense Force is helping the Nusra Front rebels in Syria (a branch of al-Qaeda, according to the United States) — clearly considered enemies of the Druze.
The attack on the ambulance (the second in two days) shocked Israel’s defense and political establishments, who have called for calm while taking pains to remind the Druze of the state’s historic commitment to their well-being. The Druze, a sect that are neither Muslim nor Jewish, neither Arab nor Jew, number around 140,000 in Israel (where their men serve in the Israeli military, often with distinction and making good advantage of their Arabic language) and 700,000 in Syria.
CIA’s public map of Israel: see Golan Heights in upper right
“The man who is behind the incident that is fueling the violent events here is Samir Kuntar,” said Jabber Hamud, the head of the Sagur regional council who also serves as the chairman of the Druze and Circassian local councils. “We’ve known this for some time, and I call on the heads of the defense establishment to do all that is necessary.”
After his release from an Israeli prison Kuntar became a senior official in Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shi’ite movement. He was put in charge of the Syrian part of the Golan Heights, with a special emphasis on the Druze community there.
According to Israeli military sources Kuntar commanded in the past months a few terrorist attacks aimed at Israeli soldiers in the area.
Hamud was speaking at a meeting of Druze community leaders in the village of Nabi Shu’ayb, a holy shrine of the Druze community. The meeting was also attended by prominent Druze from the Golan Heights, including the Druze border village of Majdal Shams, where the attack on the Israeli ambulance — the “lynching” — occurred.
The Druze leadership called the meeting to convey the message that they do not share the view that Israel is aiding Nusra Front jihadists in Syria.
Deputy Minister Ayoob Kara, he of Druze descent, sought to communicate the Netanyahu government’s position that Israel’s treatment of Syrians is a purely humanitarian matter.
A military source told The Jerusalem Post late Tuesday that the wounded Syrians who were attacked on the Golan Heights were not members of Nusra Front.
“As an Israeli Druze, I am spurred to answer the call to assist our Druze brothers in Syria,” said Salman Amar, the head of the Julis regional council. “We will do everything in our power to help them defend themselves against any attempt to butcher them solely because of their Druze background.”
“Thus far, almost 1,500 Druze have been killed in fighting in Syria, and we here did not say a word about it because the dead were soldiers and officers and fighters,” he said. “But once the community became a target for liquidation solely because of their Druze ethnicity, we cannot sit idly by. We will do what we can to protect them.”
Despite the emotionally charged atmosphere, Amar called on his fellow Druze to obey the law.
“The State of Israel is a country of laws, and everyone who breaks the law must be put on trial,” he said. “I call on the Israel Police not to hesitate in bringing the criminals to justice.
“Whoever attacks an IDF vehicle is a terrorist, and the attack was a terrorist act,” he added. “Whoever raises a hand to an IDF soldier must have that hand cut off, whether it is an extremist Druze, a Jewish fanatic, or a nationalist Arab. I will be a bitter enemy of whoever attacks the IDF, and it doesn’t matter what the excuse is.”
Kara told The Jerusalem Post that those responsible for the violence are “just a tiny minority” of the 15,000 Druze residents of Majdal Shams “who for a while now have been incited by the Assad regime in Syria as well as by Hezbollah, who have been disseminating deceitful propaganda about Israel’s supposed cooperation with Nusra Front.”
The goal of the campaign, according to Kara, is “to drag Israel into the civil war in Syria and to further divide the Druze community.”
Sources well-versed in the subject say that residents of the Syrian Druze town of Khader on the Syrian side of the Golan, 2 kilometers from Majdal Shams, have been told that no harm will come to them so long as they remain neutral in the civil war.
Nonetheless, there remain pockets of Khader that are solidly supportive of the Bashar Assad regime and even serve in its army. It is known that Syrian intelligence officers maintain a presence in the village, and there are quite a number of residents who enjoy either direct or indirect financial support from Damascus. That gives the Druze monetary incentive to back Assad.
The rebels fighting Assad have no desire to occupy the village. Instead, their goal is to gain control over the entire swath of area stretching from Khader to Damascus. In recent weeks, fierce gun battles have been reported on the main highway connecting Khader to Khan Arnabeh.
Israel’s strategy, however, remains the same as it has been manifested in the 50-months-long bloody civil war – to stay out and not intervene as long as peace, calm, and tranquility can be maintained along the Israeli-Syrian border.
June 23, 2015
[This article and interview are adapted from an item written for The Jerusalem Post by Yossi Melman, co-author of books including Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars — a history of the Mossad and other security agencies.]
Michael Morell, the CIA veteran who recently retired and wrote his memoirs, understands why Israel’s prime minister rejects President Obama’s strong desire for a deal with Iran. And, having heard that Israel may have some tacit understandings with the al-Qaeda affiliate, Syria, Morell strongly counsels against that path.
Michael Morell (on CBS This Morning)
From his vantage point of 33 years as a professional intelligence officer, Morell has strong advice for to Israel. “Don’t make deals with them. Pressure them. Fight them. Turn against them, otherwise they will turn against you.”
The former deputy director of the CIA’s comments were made in response to a question regarding reports in the Arab and international media that – in order to maintain peace and tranquility along its border with Syria — Israel has reached some understandings with the Nusra Front, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda. Nusra controls most of the Syrian side of the border along the Golan Heights.
“From my experience following al-Qaeda, I think and believe that you must not try to cut deals with them. Pakistan tried to do it with these guys telling them: ‘We won’t attack you if you don’t attack us.’ But it is a dangerous game. Even if you cut a deal with them, they won’t honor it.”
Morell knows the Israeli intelligence community very well. He has visited Israel and met in Washington many times for professional meetings with his Israeli counterparts from the Mossad, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and Aman — the military intelligence agency known in foreign encounters as Israeli Defense Intelligence.
Last week, he granted a special interview to The Jerusalem Post, the first of its kind to an Israeli media outlet. It coincides with the publication of his book, The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism – From al Qaeda to ISIS, which he wrote with Bill Harlow, a former longtime spokesman for the Central Intelligence Agency.
Morell was born in 1958 in a small town in Ohio. He finished his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics from the University of Akron and Georgetown University, respectively, and was recruited to work as an analyst in the CIA.
He spent most of his career in the Directorate of Intelligence of the agency, and in addition to reaching the No. 2 position in the CIA, he also served twice as acting director: once in 2011, after director Leon Panetta became secretary of defense, and a year later, after Gen. David Petraeus stepped down as a result of his extramarital affair.
After Morell’s retirement two years ago, he joined the private sector as a consultant to Global Beacon Strategies and to CBS News.
One of his most exciting and prestigious assignments was to serve as the CIA’s daily briefer for “Customer No. 1” – the agency’s nickname for the President of the United States. In that capacity, after nine months on the job he found himself traveling with President George W. Bush to visit a school in Florida. It was September 11, 2001. At 8 in the morning, Morell walked into the President’s hotel suite.
“Michael, anything of interest this morning?” Bush asked his intelligence briefer.
“On the most important day of President Bush’s tenure,” recalls Morell, “his intelligence briefing was unremarkable, focusing on the most recent developments in the Palestinian uprising against Israel. Contrary to media reports, there was nothing regarding terrorist threats in the briefing.”
With impressive honesty, Morell admits that when he first heard that an airplane had hit one of the twin towers in New York City, “my guess at the time was a small plane had lost its way in bad weather and, by accident, had crashed into the World Trade Center.”
Later, the Secret Service rushed the President and his staff to Air Force One, and they took off to an undisclosed destination. America was under attack.
Morell was aboard, trying to figure out what really was happening.
When the media reported that the Democratic Front for Liberation of Palestine, led by Nayef Hawatmeh, was responsible for the attacks on U.S. soil, Morell told Bush that the DFLP “is a Palestinian rejectionist group with a long history of terrorism against Israel, but they do not possess the capability to do this.”
A little later, while the information was still blurry, Morell was ready to take a risk and speculate, “I would bet every dollar I have that it’s al-Qaeda.”
Nevertheless, he doesn’t conceal his self-criticism that 9/11 exposed the failure of the American intelligence community, led by the CIA, to anticipate and prevent the attacks.
At the same time, he is very proud of the agency’s success in eventually tracking Osama Bin Laden and killing him in 2011 in his Pakistani hideout.
Yet the CIA, according to Morell, can’t rest on its laurels. He thinks al-Qaeda is still a very dangerous organization posing a serious threat to the U.S. and the West.
Question: More than Islamic State?
“I distinguish between the two only because everyone does. But I think that both groups have the same goals, both believe in the same ideology, both are equally violent and evil. And actually I believe that al-Qaeda poses a greater threat to the U.S. and the West than Islamic State.”
“Because al-Qaeda has better and greater capabilities. I am worried about the situation in Yemen where al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is located.
In the past, the government there fought against terrorism. But now because of the civil war they stopped. AQAP has very good bomb-makers. The bombs were so sophisticated they were not detected by airport machines. Only due to good intelligence, several of their lethal plans to bomb airplanes were prevented.
I am also concerned about another al-Qaeda entity – Khorasan Group – sent from Pakistan by Ayman al-Zawahiri into Syria. There are indications that the two groups cooperate with each other.”
Al-Qaeda confirmed this week that Nasser al-Wuhayshi, leader of AQAP, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen. What is your answer to the claim that both al-Qaeda and Islamic State were created as a result of U.S. involvement in the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the ’80s and the U.S. toppling of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in Iraq in 2003?
“It is ridiculous. It is an attempt to revise history. There are many reasons for extremism and these terrorist groups would have been created regardless of U.S. politics and actions.”
Morell shared an entertaining anecdote about Saddam in his book, which explains why the deposed Iraqi dictator grew a beard during captivity.
Morell says a clean-shaven Saddam was taken for medical treatment under U.S. custody, and tried to flirt with the nurse, to no avail. When he asked his U.S. debriefer – whom Saddam had become friendly with – why the nurse wasn’t interested, the American escort told the Iraqi dictator (in jest) that it was because American women like men with facial hair.
Saddam walked into the courtroom a few weeks later with a wild beard. Commentators concluded that he was trying to look Islamic to appeal to religious elements in court. “It was a humorous example of Saddam’s misjudging Americans,” wrote Morell.
But this could also be said about the United States – that it doesn’t understand the Middle East and that its actions in the war against the terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria are weak.
“Yes, I know. But I am convinced that the Iraqi government in the end will regain the lands Islamic State has captured from them. It will take a few years, maybe three or four, but it will happen. We can’t fight instead of the Iraqis.”
And what about Syria. It seems the U.S. has no clear strategy?
“Yes, Syria is a big mess. Everyone is fighting everyone. There is a war there between a dictator and his people. A war being fought between emissaries of Iran and Saudi Arabia, between Shi’ites and Sunnis, between secular groups and fanatic Islamist organizations.
I don’t think anyone has an idea or plan of how to resume stability in Syria. To be honest, I must admit that I can’t answer how to solve the problem there. I can only say that efforts must be made to ensure that the mess in Syria doesn’t spread to nearby states, like Jordan or Israel.”
You mentioned Israel. Could you describe the relationship between the CIA and the Mossad?
“I won’t go into details, and I am going to be careful. I can say that the CIA has ties with many intelligence agencies in the world. Some of these relationships are more developed, and others are less developed.
With Israel’s intelligence community – not just the Mossad – the relations are some of the best in the world.”
And the political problems and disagreements between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama don’t disrupt the cultivation of intelligence ties?
“One of the nice things about intelligence cooperation is that it goes under the political radar. Even in times of political crisis, the ties and cooperation continue and sometimes even help reach a solution.”
What do you think of the Israeli intelligence people you have met with?
“I think they are some of the best in the world. Not just professionally, but as people too. I have only praise and admiration for them.”
In the past, American intelligence officials have made remarks indicating that Israel manipulates intelligence information to influence them, is that true?
“I have never experienced anything like that, and I never thought that Israeli intelligence was trying to ‘sell’ us something that we didn’t believe or that we thought was untrue. Nevertheless, certainly, sometimes your political leaders take stances that are not compatible with your intelligence positions.”
Are you referring to the disagreements between Netanyahu and Obama over Iran’s nuclear program?
“Yes, that is true, with regard to Iran, but I won’t go into details. I can only tell you that the argument is not about whether Iran poses a threat, but rather how close and tangible that threat is.”
Does that mean you agree with the assessment that Iran poses a threat?
“Yes, of course. Completely. But keep in mind that the nuclear program has three foundations. One is to achieve fissile material. The second is to build a bomb, and the third is to have delivery means. Most of the world’s deliberations are focused on the first stage. And here, too, a distinction must be made. Everyone is trying to understand what happens at the facilities designated for enriching uranium. But Iran has already declared them, and we know about them.”
You mean the facilities at Natanz and Fordo?
“Yes. But I think we should be much more concerned that maybe Iran has other secret facilities that we don’t know about.
The facility in Fordo was covert, but it was exposed thanks to good intelligence. So why do we think that they built only one and not more facilities that still haven’t been discovered? That is the great danger.”
Explain the problem with the covert uranium enrichment facilities.
“If they don’t have a covert facility, it will take them three or four years from now to build one. If they started building it three or four years ago, then by today they would already have one that we don’t know about. What I learned in intelligence is that I don’t know what I don’t know.”
How far do you think Iran is today from a bomb?
“When I was working, it was two to three years. Since then, they have advanced in shortening time. Without inspection and a deal, Iran would be able to produce its first bomb in two to three months.”
Do you support a nuclear deal with Iran?
“Because I don’t know the details, I can’t say. There are differences between what the U.S. says and what Iran claims. I think the deal the U.S. agreed to is a pretty good deal because of the inspection regime.
As an intelligence officer, I also ask, what is the alternative? There are two alternatives: To go back to where we were, with no negotiations, sanctions continue and are even harder – and they continue to work on their program. What is the implication of that? That the time to a bomb, would be reduced from two to three months to weeks.
Another alternative is a war, which would send a powerful message that we will not allow them to have a bomb. I am worried about such alternatives. There is a debate in Iran about what they should do with their nuclear program. A military strike would strengthen the hard-liners, who would say it wouldn’t have happened had we had nuclear weapons. That would enhance their efforts to get the bomb.”
Still, do you understand the Israeli prime minister’s position?
“Yes I do. The difference between the President and the prime minister is easy to explain. The President focuses on getting a nuclear deal, which would take us from two or three months to one year from a bomb. The prime minister is focused on the bigger problem of Iran: What to do about their support for terrorist groups like Hezbollah and insurgents in the region, such as in Yemen, and their desire for regional hegemony, and their calls for the destruction of Israel.
The prime minister focuses on all of these in addition to the nuclear program, and he says the sanctions are good, let’s continue – because the Iranian behavior will not change.”
June 19, 2015
[This post is adapted from an article originally written by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon (a history of Israel’s security and espionage agencies), for The Jerusalem Report — and in recent days, Druze citizens of Israel have taken part in demonstrations demanding action by the Israeli military to rescue and protect their Druze brethren in Syria.]
A “Druze State” existed in Syria from 1921 to 1936 located in the Jebel Druze – which means Druze Mountain ‒ region: part of the volcanic heights in southwest Syria, around 40 miles from the Jordanian border and a similar distance from the Israeli 1973 ceasefire line with Syria along the Golan Heights.
Today, as pressure grows from the advancing forces of the Islamic State (ISIS), the Syrian Druze community is preparing to establish and defend its own autonomous zone.
For the first time since Syria’s civil war began over four years ago, it can be said that Israel may be sucked deeply into the bloody Syrian quagmire — because of pressure by Israel’s 130,000 Druze citizens.
The Druze State was an autonomous district during the days when the French ruled Syria and Lebanon between the two world wars. Its capital and central city was and still is As-Suwayda. During the state’s brief period of “independence,” the Druze led by Sultan al-Atrash rebelled in 1925 against the French.
The revolt spread to engulf the whole of Syria, but it was quashed within two years by the French. Still, the revolt did ensure that autonomy lasted until 1936, when the area’s special status was cancelled, and it was incorporated into Syria as part of the Franco-Syrian treaty signed the same year.
The Druze dream of independence vanished.
Yigal Allon, the late Israeli strategist
Thirty years after that autonomy ended, Yigal Allon — an Israeli cabinet minister and former general considered a hero of the 1948 War of Independence, entertained the notion of helping the Druze in Syria reclaim their independence.
Allon revealed that he had maintained contacts with the Atrash family, considered to be the main leaders of the Druze in Syria, and even had made a secret visit to Suwayda.
Allon’s idea was part of a larger geo-strategic concept, known as the Peripheral Alliance, which dominated Israel’s foreign and security policy from the 1950s to the ’70s. It was based on the old dictum of “my enemy’s enemies are my friends.”
Carried out covertly by the Mossad (as a kind of alternative foreign ministry) the Peripheral concept succeeded in forming secret ties with non-Arab states in the Middle East and its periphery – Turkey, Iran and Ethiopia – as well as non-Arab ethnic and religious minorities in the hostile Arab states. The secret relationships included mutually beneficial contacts with the Kurds in Iraq, Christians in Lebanon and Sudan, and the Druse in Syria.
During the Six-Day War in June 1967 ‒ before Israel captured the Golan Heights on the sixth and last day of the war‒ Allon lobbied then-prime minister Levi Eshkol, defense minister Moshe Dayan, his cabinet colleagues, and the chief of staff Yitzhak Rabin for an extended campaign that would intrude more deeply into Syria.
Allon urged an effort to conquer not only the Golan Heights, but also the Suwayda region.
“I dreamed the dream of the Druze republic” Allon recorded in his memoirs, “which would spread in southern Syria including the Golan Heights and would serve as a buffer state between us, Syria and Jordan.”
His proposal was rejected.
Moshe Ya’alon, Israel’s Defense Minister
Today, the Druze question is again being discussed in closed-door meetings of the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) and senior cabinet ministers and officials. They have all taken note of the fact that the regime of Bashar Assad and his army loses more and more territory, and the forces of the Islamic State advance in the direction of Suwayda and its nearby villages.
Israeli policy has so far been consistent and reiterated on numerous occasions by retired military chief of staff Minister Moshe Ya’alon — who has kept his job as defense minister despite major cabinet changes after Israel’s election this year.
The policy Ya’alon voices is non-intervention, though with clear “red lines” that no party in Syria should ever cross.
The aim is to maintain quiet and tranquility along the 100-kilometer (62-mile) border in the Golan Heights, stretching from Mount Hermon in the North to the Jordanian border in the Southeast — and to defend Israel’s broder security interests, such as not allowing the Lebanon-based Hezbollah (funded and basically commanded by Iran) to acquire advanced weapons such as ground-to-air missiles.
Reports that are not officially confirmed by Israel credit the nation’s air force with bombing — on at least 10 occasions in the past two-and-a-half yars — convoys and storage depots meant to be used to transport Iranian and Syrian missiles to Hezbollah.
To achieve its goals, Israel has even allowed, without any interference, the radical Islamist group Jabhat al-Nusra (the Nusra Front) — which is practically a Syrian branch of al-Qaeda — to take over almost the entire border area from the Syrian army.
According to foreign reports (with full discussion within Israel discouraged by officials including the military censor), Israel has maintained secret ties with the Nusra Front to coordinate the successful execution of this policy. In return, Israel is said to supply some humanitarian aid; and Israel accepts and treats — in a field hospital near the border — wounded civilians and combatants from Syria (reportedly from villages and families associated mostly with the Nusra Front).
The secret ties led also to an understanding that Nusra Front guerrilla fighters would avoid clashing with Druze living in several villages – the biggest being Hader ‒ on the Syrian side of Mount Hermon.
When Hezbollah tried to gain a presence in the area by transferring in 500 militiamen from Lebanon and other parts of Syria, the local Druze communities — with Nusra and Israeli forces looming in the background — expelled Hezbollah from the neighborhood.
Not so incidentally, the militia that tried to take hold was commanded by Samir Kuntar — a Hezbollah terrorist of Druze origin who in 1979 murdered four Israelis (including a 4-year-old girl whose skull he crushed wit a rifle butt) on the beach at Nahariya after landing there with three other members of a Palestinian guerrilla group.
Kuntar was sentenced by an Israeli court to life imprisonment, and he served 29 years in an Israeli prison until he was exchanged in 2008 — with other Arab convicts — for the bodies of Israeli reservist soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser (whose kidnap on the Lebanon border sparked the 2006 war with Hezbollah).
Israel’s reasonable, though perhaps not highly moral policyof cooperation with Islamist groups on the Syrian side of the border, may soon change, however.
Ayub Kara, a Druze member of Israel’s cabinet
“The situation of our Druze brothers is rapidly deteriorating,” said Israel’s Deputy Minister for Regional Cooperation Ayub Kara, the only Druze member of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. “I am very worried.”
Kara, who is one of the leaders of the Druze community in Israel and a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, says he is in constant communication with Druze leaders in Syria.
In early June, political and religious leaders of the Israeli Druze community met to discuss the situation. It is clear that they will not be able to stand still and ignore events on the other side of the border in the event of atrocities against their Syrian brethren.
“I am a bit more relaxed about the situation in the Mount Hermon area, but much more worried about what happens in Jebel Druze,” says Kara.
On the Syrian side of Mount Hermon, there are approximately 25,000 Druze; but in the mountainous Suwayda region there are around 800,000.
“Until recently,” the deputy minister stressed, “ISIS didn’t dare to approach the Druze concentration in the Suwayda district, but now they are advancing with tanks and armored cars and are threatening our community.”
According to reports that have reached Israel, Islamic State terrorists in early June were still 30-40 kilometers away from Suwayda, but they already started to activate their brutal tactics. Dozens of Druze men and women were ambushed and abducted ‒ most of them burned alive or beheaded.
Suwayda prepared for battle: declaring a nighttime curfew, accumulating food, and organizing a militia to hold key defensive positions. The Assad government showed no willingness to send its army to defend the Druze.
Druze, wherever they live, usually do rely on local governments for safety and prosperity. This has been evident in Israel, where they serve in the IDF and police, and also in Lebanon and Syria (in normal times). In return the Druze show their loyalty to the government protects them.
However, this reality is changing in Syria. The Assad army legitimately feels overstretched and perhaps cannot do much to protect the Druze. But the other reason is political: The Assad regime recently demanded that the Druze community send 27,000 young men to serve in its army — as though to replace the dead, the wounded, and those who have deserted.
The Druze have refused to comply with the demand.
Feeling less secure than ever, the Druze are using Syrian army veterans in their community to organize a determined militia.
“But they lack proper equipment and expertise,” says Kara the Israeli politician, “and they are eager to receive support from anyone.”
Gen. Amir Eshel, commander of Israel’s air force
Including from Israel, he was asked?
“I am in a very sensitive position to answer that question, because I am a member of the Israeli government and whatever I say will be echoed and repeated. So I have to be cautious. However, I can say that they need help from any source.
“I can also add that we are their brothers and cannot be complacent and stand aside when their fate is at stake. We will work hard with all measures available to us to help our brothers if their lives are in peril. We will not let them be annihilated.”
Kara points to a declaration last September by the commander of the Israel Air Force, Gen. Amir Eshel. While meeting the spiritual leader of the Israeli Druze, Sheik Muafaq Tarif, Gen. Eshel assured him: “Our alliance with the Druze doesn’t end at the border.”
One can assume that if worse comes to worst and indeed the Syrian Druze community finds itself facing an existential threat, Israel will have to act in its defense — probably using its air force. And if it hesitates to do so, Israeli Druze will force the government to do so and fulfill Eshel’s promise.
June 16, 2015
From Toe to Heel, This Claim is Ridiculous — But Mossad’s Often Named in Fables
Asghar Bukhari, a Muslim activist in Great Britain, claims — on Facebook — that “Zionists” broke into his home. To intimidate him, he suggests, they stole just one thing: one of his shoes. One shoe.
Bukhari warns other anti-Israel activists that they should be on the lookout for similar antics, which he interprets as a message from the Mossad that they know where you live and can attack you anytime they feel like it.
The Mossad has had no response, of course. But many pro-Israel commentators have had a wonderful time making fun of Bukhari’s claim. In fact, a Twitter hash tag — #MossadStoleMyShoe — achieved instant popularity.
From @GeneralBoles on Twitter
A newspaper article in Haaretz has some good examples. How about the tweet that purports to show Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordering Israeli agents to go out, grab their target (a black shoe), and don’t return until they have it.
Would the Mossad really risk some of its operatives on an illegal break-in in a foreign country, for the sake of taking a shoe and thus sending a well-heeled message? No.
But ridiculous inventions and conspiracy theories are nothing new, when it comes to the Mossad.
An Egyptian newspaper once wrote that the Mossad had trained sharks and was using them to spy on various facilities and people.
When it comes to Israeli intelligence’s prime target — Iran — an official of that country claimed 8 years ago that the Mossad employed squirrels to spy on Iran. In fact, over a dozen squirrels were taken into custody — but it isn’t known if they cracked under interrogation and talked.
June 14, 2015