Hezbollah Terrorists in Thailand Targeted Israeli Passover Tourists — Iran Aims at Israelis

During this week-long Passover holiday, a large number of Israelis travel abroad.  Thailand is a popular choice.  Terrorists know it, and Thailand has announced the capture of a Hezbollah gang in Bangkok that had intended to kill Israeli tourists.

Israeli sources say Israeli intelligence had a key role in detecting the Hezbollah plot.  Israel informed Thai authorities of the danger, and Thailand made the arrests.

Thai Police Issued Photos of 3 Hezbollah Suspects - Photos from the Mossad?

Thai Police Issued Photos of 3 Hezbollah Suspects – Photos from the Mossad?

While Hezbollah is ostensibly a Lebanese group –Shi’ite Muslims from Lebanon who have sworn to wage war against Israel and Jews — Hezbollah’s financing and orders generally come from Iran.

Here are excerpts from The Bangkok Post on the latest arrests:

“The Israeli embassy has asked the Metropolitan Police Bureau (MPB) to step up safety measures for tourists on Rambutri and Khao San roads until Tuesday after an alleged terrorist plot to attack Israelis [was foiled by the arrest of two foreign men]…

“MPB chief Kamronwit Thoopkrachang said he had received a letter from the embassy asking for extra protection for tourists staying on the popular backpacker roads in Bangkok’s Phra Nakhon district.  … The pair are accused of planning attacks on Israeli tourists on Khao San Road [at six locations], and of having close ties to Hezbollah.

“He said many tourists spend Passover in the backpacker district, where they gather at a synagogue to pray and sing, and visit Jewish restaurants and guest houses.”

This is not the first time that the Mossad — obviously tracking the movements and activities of Shi’ite Muslim terrorists — has discovered and foiled an Iran-backed plot in Thailand.

If Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper is correct in reporting that Thai authorities plan to deport the two Hezbollah men they’ve now captured, Israel will be sorely disappointed.  Here’s what The Daily Star wrote:

“One of the two suspected Hezbollah members held in Thailand confessed to planning an attack against Israeli tourists on April 13 …

“French-Lebanese national Daoud Farhat and Lebanese-Filipino national Youssef Ayad were arrested earlier this week on suspicion of having links to Hezbollah.

“The two arrived in Thailand several days before Passover which also coincided with the Thai festival of Songkran. Although it was Farhat’s first trip to the country, Ayad had visited Thailand 17 times before, the Bangkok Daily Post said.

“The Post quoted Assistant National Police Chief Winai Thongsong as saying that the men were arrested at different locations in Bangkok after Thai police received intelligence from Israel about a planned attack during Passover in Khao San Road, popular among Israeli tourists.

“The paper also quoted an anonymous investigator saying that police were in pursuit of at least nine people suspects of having links to Hezbollah.

“A source close to the investigation told the paper that Ayyad confessed his group entered Thailand to carry out a bomb attack against Israeli tourists and other Israeli groups…  ’We are taking the holder of the Philippines passport to Rayong province to search for more bomb-making material kept there,’ the source added, noting that the arrest of the men foiled the attack.

“Winai said the two men would be deported back to the last countries they traveled from after police finalize their investigation.”

April 20, 2014

Syria’s Giving Up its Chemical Weapons? U.N. Satisfied So Far — and So is Israel!

The international agency that oversees chemical weapons — trying to arrange for countries to give up their stockpiles in an orderly, well observed manner — reports major progress in ridding Syria of its chemical warheads and materials.

Many in the world have been doubting that Syria is truly handing over its chemical weapons — under a deal arranged largely by Russia last year, to prevent a military strike by the United States.  

Symbol of the Netherlands-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons

Symbol of the Netherlands-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons

Quoting the news agency Reuters: “Syria has shipped out or destroyed approximately 80 per cent of its declared chemical weapons material, the head of the international team overseeing the disarmament process said.

“Sigrid Kaag, special coordinator of the joint mission of the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), said if the momentum was sustained, Syria should be able to meet its April 27 deadline to hand over all declared chemical agents.”

A senior Israeli official recently expressed satisfaction that the process of shipping out Syria’s chemical weapons is proceeding in a satisfactory manner.

The official said that, as of ten days ago, Syria had handed over 60 per cent of its chemical weapons and destroyed all of its assembly lines under international supervision.  The Israeli added: “We are not sure if [President Bashar] Assad will try to conceal some capabilities, but if he does we will find out.”

Israeli leaders remain confident in their intelligence.

Of course, the big strategic point is this: With hardly any action taken by the Israelis, they are seeing one of the major threats against them — Syria’s non-conventional weapons — substantially reduced.  The Syrian civil war, raging since early 2011 with the deaths of 160,000 people and displacement of millions of civilians, is a terrible thing.  The instability could lead to new challenges and threats, from an Israeli point of view.  

But all in all, assessed right now, one key result — ridding Syria’s regime of its chemical weapons — is an important net plus that makes Israel safer.

April 20, 2014

New Job for a Mossad Veteran: Deporting African Illegals in Israel — Ironic, When Passover Celebrates Freedom for Israelites

[The following is adapted from an article written by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon -- a newly updated history of the Mossad and Israeli intelligence -- for the website of the 24-hour TV news service broadcasting from Israel: i24news.tv.]

A modern reverse exodus has been taking place in Israel as of late. As the country prepared for Passover, to commemorate the exodus of the ancient Hebrews from Egypt, Israel embarked on a campaign to deport African migrants and asylum seekers who have taken refuge within its borders.

For Africans in Israel: Just a Few Crumbs of Matzoh?

For Africans in Israel: Just a Few Crumbs of Matzoh?

Israel, which is signatory to various international treaties, rightly feels it cannot deport the thousands of Sudanese and Eritrean citizens who have crossed its borders in recent years, as they would likely be persecuted and arrested if sent home. It has thus sought other countries willing to serve as a dumping ground for these persecuted asylum seekers.

To set the ball in motion, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arranged a job for Haggai Hadas, a former senior Mossad official.

Hadas was a good operations man. After he retired from the Mossad some seven years ago, he tried his hand at private business and failed. His most embarrassing failure was chairing a company of swindlers, who claimed to have invented a magical patch capable of diagnosing and preventing heart attacks.

Netanyahu rescued Hadas and brought him back into public service, where, for the past three years he has been involved in a search for countries willing to absorb the Africans whom Israel wants to deport.

With monthly pay to the tune of tens of thousands of shekels plus lavish expenses, Hadas flew around the world, primarily to Africa, and tried to convince various states to absorb the refugees. Nearly every nation refused.

Israel’s attorney general told his country’s supreme court several months ago that an agreement had been signed with two states – without naming them– willing to absorb some of the African refugees. The announcement was delivered during deliberations on a petition submitted by human rights groups seeking to amend the Prevention of Infiltration Law, which allows the state to detain asylum-seekers without trial.

The two African nations which have agreed to absorb a certain number of Africans are Uganda and, as was revealed earlier this month by Haaretz, Rwanda. In exchange, Israel has reportedly promised to sell them advanced weapons and security equipment.

Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who has made the deportation of the asylum seekers one of his highest priorities, claims they are not being deported — but are rather leaving of their own free will and receiving a grant of $3,500 and flight tickets. But their “consent” is nothing more than the unequal relationship between a horse and its rider.

If Israel and Uganda have, in fact, reached an agreement, be it written or a spoken understanding, then it is nothing short of a shameful trade in humans.

Sabin Hadad, spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Registry, provided the following figures: Some 50,000 “infiltrators” who crossed into Israel from Egypt are currently residing in Israel, most of them from Sudan and Eritrea; 1,575 of them are detained at two detention facilities in the Negev desert.

The fence built along Israel’s border with Egypt has all but eliminated the infiltration into Israel over the past year. Since the beginning of 2014, only 15 people have managed to sneak into the country.

The director-general of the Population and Immigration Registry, Amnon Ben Ami, credited the fence and the amendment to the law for this change. “We’ve put the brakes on the infiltration and the interior minister’s current efforts are now being directed at seeing these infiltrators leave Israel,” he said.

In December 2013, 523 people left Israel. Another 765 left in January, followed by 1,701 in February. About 1,000 more left in March. These departures have cost the state $15 million. Some 3,000 of these refugees leaving Israel are from north Sudan, about 200 are Eritrean and another 150 are from other African countries.

According to Foreign Ministry sources, Uganda has only taken in a few dozen, so far. Assuming that the second unnamed state has also absorbed only a small number, it would seem that the majority were returned to their native lands in north Sudan and Eritrea.

Israel’s discriminatory policy seeking the deportation of all African migrants illegally residing in Israel (as opposed to the tens of thousands of non-black illegal residents who entered Israel with a tourist visa or work permit and stayed after it expired) is also apparent in the following figure: According to the spokeswoman, thousands of requests have been submitted since 2009 (3,500 of these were undergoing checks as of January) by “infiltrators” seeking refugee status, a right that should enable them to work and live in Israel without the constant threat of deportation.

Only 32 of these requests have been approved in the last four years. This figure puts Israel on the bottom of the list of Western nations and sheds a sad light on the merciless attitude toward foreigners and refugees in a state which is home to survivors of the Holocaust.

Israel’s disgraceful silence over Uganda’s legalized persecution of homosexuals – anchored by a new law that imposes life imprisonment for homosexual acts – is also not coincidental. Many Western nations have condemned the Ugandan government over its homophobic policy, but Israel refrained from condemnation. After a few days of silence, the Foreign Ministry finally issued a feeble response, indicating that “Israel supports respect for the rights of minorities everywhere.”

Israel has good economic and security ties with Uganda; President Yoweri Museveni even visited Israel a few years ago. But the main reason the government kept mum on the draconian anti-gay law in Uganda has nothing to do with the ties between the two countries. Israel has a completely different agenda in mind.

Yossi Melman is an Israeli intelligence and security commentator and co-author of “Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.”​

April 14, 2014

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

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

Our Book in Polish

Our Book in Polish

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

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

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

The Polish title


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

April 12, 2014

Such a Tiny Country, but with Big Vision — Israel Adds Another Eye in the Sky for Intel-Gathering

The Mossad, the even larger agency Aman (military intelligence), and other arms of Israeli espionage will all benefit from the latest surveillance satellite launched this week (April 9) by Israel.

Ofek 10 Launched from Israel

Ofek 10 Launched from Israel

Israel is a country of only eight million people, yet it has now launched the 10th in a series of intelligence-gathering satellites called “Ofek” (Hebrew for “Horizon”).  This achievement puts Israel way ahead of all of its neighbors in the Middle East.

Israeli military officials refuse to say precisely why Ofek 10 is the most advanced satellite they’ve ever launched — what it can do, that previous orbiting platforms could not do.

But they hint that it’s a significant step forward in monitoring a wide array of potential threats to Israel.

With the Western nations’ nuclear negotiations with Iran scheduled to resume in May — while last November’s interim deal to limit Iranian nuclear work is officially in force — Israeli intelligence has a huge task: Find out where Iran may be hiding some nuclear capabilities, and if possible collect evidence that Iran is cheating.

Click here to see  Israel’s official video of Ofek-10 satellite .

April 10, 2014

Mossad’s Longtime Assassinations Chief Suddenly Talkative: Mike Harari Spins Legacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harari’s mistake was going with the majority.

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

April 6, 2014

What’s in the New ‘Spies Against Armageddon’? Mossad Options Limited in Iran, Palestinian Talks Near Stalemate, Pressure from Washington, Upheavals in Syria and Egypt — and a Traitor

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

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

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

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

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

"Updated - New Revelations"

“Updated – New Revelations”

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

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

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

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

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

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

–The Israelis and Palestinians are negotiating for a possible end to their historic conflict, and the intelligence community is preparing for a possible outbreak of violence if Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts collapse.

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

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

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

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

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

April 2, 2014

Former Prime Minister Olmert Convicted of Fraud — and that Could Deprive the Pro-Peace ‘Left’ of a Potential Hero

[This analysis was written by Yossi Melman, co-author of Every Spy a Prince and Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel's Secret Wars, for The Jerusalem Post and the website of the non-stop TV news service broadcasting from Israel, i24news.tv.]

What a pity. One of Israel’s best prime ministers ever has just been convicted of accepting a bribe. Ehud Olmert might be the first Israeli prime minister to be sent to jail, following one of the biggest and most severe fraud scandals ever exposed in Israel.

Ehud Olmert, when prime minister

Ehud Olmert, when prime minister

There’s no doubt. Olmert, who served as prime minister for three and a-half years, until July 2009, deserves to be punished and punished severely. Israel, which already has a formerpPresident (Moshe Katsav) serving time for sex crimes, a former finance minister (Avraham Hershson) who did time for fraud, and dozens of Knesset members and public officials who have been suspected and/or convicted of corruption, needs to send a clear and strong message that corruption is intolerable.

Olmert, never a popular figure in his Likud party, was nonetheless recognized as an ambitious and sly politician. As a young guy he was elected to the Knesset – Israel’s parliament — and served for a decade as mayor of Jerusalem and later as Deputy Prime Minister.

When Prime Minister Ariel Sharon fell into a coma in January 2006, from which he never recovered, Olmert took over for a short interim period, after which he was elected prime minister.

He proved himself to be a competent leader, ready to take tough and sometimes risky decisiosn for Israel’s national interests.

It was Olmert who in 2007 had the guts, despite the uncertainties and fears of a major escalation, to order the Israel Air Force to bomb a nuclear reactor being built in Syria, before it became radioactive and operational. And it was Olmert who cleverly formulated the decision to keep silent about the operation, neither confirming nor denying responsibility, thus helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad swallow his pride and not retaliate.

Netanyahu: his, the only game in town

Netanyahu: his, the only game in town

In his memoirs, “Decision Points,” President George W. Bush wrote that Olmert had first asked him for the US to bomb the facility. Olmert ordered the attack only after Bush refused and said he would prefer diplomatic action and sanctions.

The decision to destroy the Syrian reactor was made despite the unforgettable opposition of Olmert’s Defense Minister, Ehud Barak. In retrospect it was one of the most important strategic decisions in Israel’s history, along with the similar daring decision taken in 1981 by Prime Minister Menachem Begin to bomb and destroy Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor near Baghdad.

Four months after the destruction of the Syrian reactor, Olmert approved another daring operation – instructing the Mossad to kill Imad Mughniyeh, Hezbollah’s “defense minister” and one of the most wanted terrorists in the world. Mughniyeh was killed by a cleverly planted bomb in Damascus, Syria. The assassins left no traces.

Even the two controversial wars launched during Olmert’s premiership – one in the summer of 2006 against Hezbollah in Lebanon and the second in December 2008 against Hamas in Gaza — proved in retrospect very effective and helped Israel maintain its deterrence vis-à-vis the two terror groups.

As a member of Sharon’s government, and subsequently as Prime Minister, Olmert’s world view and ideology underwent a dramatic change. He realized that his right-wing, sometimes extreme right-wing opinions, with which he grew up (his father was a right-wing Knesset member), in support of Jewish settlement in the West Bank and rejection of a Palestinian state, were not compatible with reality.

Olmert became deeply involved in negotiations with the Palestinians, forming a personal and professional friendship with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

With the concessions he was willing to make, his ambition and drive, and above all his pragmatic flexibility, if Olmert had remained in power Israel would have achieved an agreement with the Palestinian Authority.

Now, following his conviction, Olmert’s political career is over. There is no chance, not even the slimmest one, that he can stage a comeback. Many Israelis, who are disappointed with Prime Minister’s Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu’s rigid and uncompromising policies, were hoping to see Olmert return.

With Olmert possibly on his way to a prison cell, and no other candidate in sight, the peace camp is left with no serious candidate: no one to mount a viable challenge against Netanyahu.

Israel is left with the notion that there is only one game in town – Bibi’s.

March 31, 2014

Some Perspective on Jonathan Pollard, the American who Spied for Israel — and, 29 Years Later, Might be Released by Obama

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

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

I have been reporting on the Pollard case since the day he was arrested in 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 59 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.

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. Pollard campaign poster 

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.  This was the overly aggressive idea of one particular agency: a Science Liaison Bureau, which collected science and technology secrets all around the world.

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.

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.    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.

There’d be 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 — which has some genuine respect and affection, shared strategic interests, but also a lot of disagreements — would surely survive.

March 31, 2014

Turn the Clock Back 32 Years: Lebanon Was the Battleground — Before Hezbollah’s Rise to Power

[Here is part of Chapter 14, "Northern Exposure," in the history of Israeli espionage and security by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman -- Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel's Secret Wars.]

No one needed the best intelligence in the world to know that Israel
was poised to attack the PLO infrastructure in Lebanon in 1982.

Menachem Begin’s intentions became clear after his reelection
in 1981. With a measure of reluctance and a whirlwind of controversy, Begin
elevated Ariel Sharon to the post of defense minister. The feisty and ambitious
retired general had a reputation as a man of action who believed in using a
glove of iron—rather than velvet—in dealing with Arabs.

Another cabinet minister remarked—only half-jokingly—that if Sharon
got that job, one day tanks would surround the prime minister’s office in a
coup d’état. Yet Sharon, as a hero of the Yom Kippur War against Egypt, had
many admirers and lobbied vigorously for the defense ministry. Begin lavished
praise on Sharon as a modern-day Judah the Maccabee, but also feared Sharon
as a charismatic figure who could cause trouble.

What did occur, and quickly, was that Sharon began planning an invasion
of Lebanon. Military planners codenamed it “Big Pine.” The concept, in
truth, also fit Begin’s strategy. The prime minister was feeling remorse over his
offer of Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza—part of his peace
treaty with Egypt’s President Sadat in 1979. Begin now was concerned that
autonomy would lead to an independent Palestinian state, which he opposed.
The most effective way to derail that would be to smash the organization that
embodied the Palestinians’ aspirations, the PLO.

In public, Begin kept warning that Palestinian terrorists—after being
expelled from Jordan in 1971—had built a state within a state in Lebanon as
a launching pad for attacks southward into Israel. He even dehumanized the
enemy by referring to PLO chairman Yasser Arafat as “this man with hair on
his face,” and to the PLO as “two-legged beasts.”

Even for the large circle of Israelis who were privy to the secret war plans,
it was a surprise to see how trigger-happy Begin and his defense minister were
when news broke in April 1982 that two Israelis had been murdered in the Bois
de Boulogne park in Paris. Sharon called Begin, and suggested that this would
be the opportunity to execute the pre-cooked plan to invade Lebanon.
It turned out that the corpses in Paris were those of Israeli criminals, killed
in an organized crime clash. They were not victims of Palestinian terrorism.
Tranquility reigned for only two months. Late on a Thursday night, June 3rd, the Israeli ambassador in London—Shlomo Argov—was shot in the head while leaving the elegant Dorchester Hotel after a banquet.

The next morning in Jerusalem, Begin’s cabinet convened for an urgent
meeting. Researchers from Aman explained that the three Palestinian attackers,
arrested by efficient British police, belonged to a renegade wing of the
PLO named for its leader: the Abu Nidal organization. The army chief of staff,
General Rafael (Raful) Eitan, immediately jumped up and said: “Abu Nidal,
Abu Shmidal, they all are the same.”

The cabinet approved a limited penetration by Israeli forces into Lebanon,
to smash PLO positions. Begin told parliamentarians in the Knesset—in Biblical
terms—that the IDF operation would bring the Jewish state 40 years of
peace and quiet, in which “the children of Israel will happily go to school and
joyfully return home.”

On Sunday, June 6, the mighty Israeli military invaded Lebanon by land,
sea, and air. Things went well, at first. Palestinian guerrilla fighters were no
match for the fully trained and equipped IDF. Within six days, the Israelis
encircled the sprawling capital city, Beirut.

Along the way, as tanks advanced northward from the border, the Israelis
were welcomed by Druze villagers, Maronite Christians, and even Shi’ite Muslims
who showered the invaders with the traditional greeting of handfuls of
rice. They saw the Israelis as liberators from an oppressive PLO-Sunni Muslim
coalition backed by Syria.

But the honeymoon did not last long.

The promises made by Begin and Sharon, and supported by General Eitan,
for a quick victory turned out to be hollow. The invaders went far beyond the
40 kilometers (25 miles) declared by Begin as the war plan. Sharon had a
grander strategy, intent upon forcing the Palestinians to leave Lebanon and
make their way back to Jordan—the country he wanted to be the permanent
solution for the Palestinian problem.

That was not the way events played out. Very soon, the Israelis were perceived
by most of Lebanon’s factions as an occupying force. The IDF became the
target of attacks by Palestinians and by a new force: Hezbollah, or Party of God,
created by the new Islamic regime in Iran to empower their Shi’ite brethren.
The major breakdown of Sharon’s strategy occurred that September. Just
after being elected president of Lebanon, Bashir Gemayel—whose family had
a long history of secret cooperation with Israeli intelligence—was assassinated
by Syrian agents. Syria felt it had to crush the obvious alliance between Israel
and Maronite Christians, including the Gemayels.

Retaliation followed swiftly, and it was bloody and history-changing.
Either encouraged or malevolently ignored by the Israeli military, Christian
militiamen entered the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps and massacred 800 Palestinian men, women, and children.

Israel sank even deeper into the mud of Lebanese politics: a complex and
fractured mosaic of rival and often violent ethnic groups.
American, French, and Italian forces intervened, intending to stabilize
the failed state of Lebanon, but they themselves became the targets of a new
form of terrorism: suicidal attacks by Hezbollah. The organization glorified the
Shi’ite Muslim tradition of martyrdom: giving your life for a holy cause, wiping
out Islam’s enemies, while guaranteeing yourself a place in Paradise where
72 virgins would await you.

The worst attack of all was the truck bombing that brought down the
United States Marines barracks, killing over 240 servicemen in October 1983.
A simultaneous suicide bombing in Beirut killed 58 French paratroopers.

Israel found small comfort in the mass departure of PLO fighters, led by
Arafat. Ships brought them from Beirut’s harbor to their new headquarters,
far to the west in Tunisia. Israeli snipers had Arafat in the crosshairs of their
gunsights, and a junior intelligence officer felt this could be an opportunity
to get rid of the man viewed by Israel as a terrorist chief. Restraint prevailed,
because of a ceasefire an American envoy had negotiated, so Begin and Sharon
did not approve taking the shot.

The PLO left, but Israel was stuck for another 17 years in its own Vietnam.

March 30, 2014

Israel’s Surrounded by Trouble: Is There Something Big Brewing in the South?

[This is based on a post written by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, for the website of the English-language non-stop news service broadcast from Israel, i24news.tv.]

The Hamas leadership in Gaza has swallowed its pride and turned back into the arms of its former patron, Iran

Bad news for Israel: There are growing signs that the Palestinian Hamas movement is on the verge of reconciliation with Hezbollah and with Iran, its former banker and weapons supplier. Recent weeks have witnessed secret, intensely cooperative encounters among the three sides.

Hamas man Meshaal will wave hello to Iran's top leader

Hamas man Meshaal will wave hello to Iran’s top leader

Western intelligence sources told me that soon – in a matter of just a couple of weeks – the Qatar-based Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal, will visit Tehran, information corroborated by sources in Gaza. The highlight of Meshaal’s visit is expected to be a meeting with Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei.

Ironically, Meshaal was the target of a botched assassination attempt by Israel’s intelligence agency, the Mossad, in Jordan 18 years ago. Since surviving that (because King Hussein intervened after Israeli operatives were arrested, and the Mossad was compelled to hand over the antidote for a poison that had been sprayed into Meshaal’s ear), this radical Palestinian politician has become a major hero to Hamas followers).

The clandestine negotiations among the three parties are being brokered and facilitated by Qatar, which is a supporter of Hamas, and by the leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), Ramadan Shalah.

Shalah, who commutes between Damascus and Tehran, and his small terror group based in Gaza have developed a love-hate relationship with Hamas over the years.

On the one hand, PIJ accepts the predominance of the bigger and stronger Hamas and obeys most of its instructions. But occasionally PIJ defies Hamas’ orders and challenges its authority. For example, the rocket and mortar attack on southern Israel a few weeks ago was initiated by PIJ in defiance of Hamas’ efforts to maintain calm along the border.

Shalah visited Qatar recently to meet with local officials and, more importantly, with Meshaal. He then traveled to Tehran to lay the ground for the reconciliation, which is expected to be announced during Meshaal’s own trip to Iran.

The first milestone in Iranian-Hezbollah-Hamas relations was marked in 2006, when Hamas organized a coup d’état in Gaza, toppling the Palestinian Authority government there. Despite their religious differences – Iran is Shiite and Hamas is Sunni – the organization benefited from the cozy and friendly relations. Iran showered Hamas with financial support to the tune of tens of millions of dollars, provided technical and military assistance – rockets, ammunition and even three small drones – and trained Hamas combatants in warfare techniques. From time to time, Iran asked Hezbollah to ship weapons in small boats from Lebanon to Gaza.

But the idyll ended bitterly some three years ago with the outbreak of the civil war in Syria. Hamas sided with its Sunni brothers and denounced the Assad regime’s butchery of its own people. Hamas later joined the opposition forces and helped them recruit warriors from among Palestinian refugees in Syria.

In retaliation, Hamas’ leaders – including Meshaal – were expelled from Damascus. Iran and Hezbollah followed their Syrian ally, accordingly. The financial and weapons pipelines were blocked, but Hamas was lucky to find a new sponsor. Two years ago, the Muslim Brotherhood movement, which is somewhat of a big brother to Hamas, came to power in Egypt. Its leader Mohammed Morsi became president and Hamas was ecstatic. It enjoyed a steady supply of money, goods from Egypt via Sinai to Gaza, and above all, the fact that Egyptian security forces turned a blind eye and allowed the smuggling of weapons through tunnels into Gaza.

But less than a year ago, Hamas’ roller coaster crashed once more. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were toppled by a quasi-military coup. The new military rulers in Cairo, led by Defense Minister General Abdel Fatah a-Sisi (most likely Egypt’s next president), accused Hamas of collaboration with radical Islamist jihadists operating in Sinai. The Sisi regime increased its security and intelligence cooperation with Israel and Hamas found itself under a double siege (from both Israel and Egypt).

Cornered and isolated, with no patrons, money, and fewer and fewer weapons, Hamas has had to swallow its pride and fall back into Iran’s arms. But Iran and Hezbollah wanted to humiliate Hamas first, and played hard to get; only in the last few weeks has a breakthrough been achieved.

If Hamas indeed turns again to Iran and Hezbollah — entering  the Shiite fold — it will have to pay a price and carry out the orders of its old-new master.

Sooner or later, Hamas will be asked to cooperate with PIJ, to launch rockets into Israel and to begin a process of escalation, which could lead to a new round of war with Israel.

It is becoming clearer that a future conflict with Hamas will force Israel to go all-out, which would lead to a toppling of the Hamas government in Gaza – an idea that has already been voiced by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and senior Israel Defense Forces officials. Such a scenario would raise the question of who will rule Gaza. Will it be handed over to the Palestinian Authority or will Israel reoccupy it? And what will the Egyptians have to say about this.

The renewal of the Hamas-Hezbollah-Iran strategic alliance will undoubtedly create a new reality.

March 27, 2014

Obama Administration Feels Insulted by Israel’s Defense Minister — Unprecedented Response

Defense Minister Boogie Ya'alon, former top general, now not Obama's favorite Israeli

Defense Minister Boogie Ya’alon, not Obama’s favorite Israeli

Israel’s defense minister, Moshe “Boogie” Ya’alon, may have hit some raw nerves in Washington.  His sharp criticisms of the Obama Administration, for being “feeble” on the world stage, were totally uncalled for — as officials in Washington see it — and they wonder how Ya’alon could possibly think that such remarks will strengthen Israel’s alliance with the United States.

More relevantly, they wonder how he could think his attitude could possibly help Israel get the defense and intelligence help it needs from the United States.

Ya’alon’s recent remarks — including the notion that Iran has out-negotiated the U.S. in the nuclear talks now resuming in Vienna — are ably summarized by The Jerusalem Post.  And an authorized reaction from a senior American official, who asked not to be named, is blistering:

“We were shocked by Moshe Ya’alon’s comments, which seriously call into question his commitment to Israel’s relationship with the United States.  Moreover, this is part of a disturbing pattern in which the Defense Minister disparages the U.S. Administration, and insults its most senior officials.  Given the unprecedented commitment that this Administration has made to Israel’s security, we are mystified why the Defense Minister seems intent on undermining the relationship.”

Officials close to Ya’alon are now responding that some elements in the Obama Administration are out to get him.  According to these Israelis, Ya’alon has been identified as “a problem” in Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to mediate a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians.  The Ya’alon loyalists also say that he has maintained a very close relationship with the Pentagon, and his strategic view of the world is a separate matter — a set of opinions to which he is entitled.

Still, whether an Israeli defense minister should voice sharp, even rude, criticisms of an American president is another matter.

A clear-eyed view of internal politics in Israel, about Ya’alon?: The retired IDF general is doing his best to position himself as an expert on global strategy — highly skeptical of peace talks, talks with Iran, and anyone who would purport to “help” Israel when it’s only Jewish power that can defend the country.  That is his viewpoint, and his views and style prompt his critics to label him “self-righteous.”

Certainly as defense minister he is pushing hard to stake out a strong position — to the right of Prime Minister Netanyahu — with an eye toward future elections and government coalitions.

There is also an odd revelation about Israel’s defense budget, with a large chunk (around 20%) supposedly devoted to preparing for war with Iran.

As was probably intended by some Israelis, the world is doubtless noticing Ha’aretz report — citing several members of the K’nesset (Israel’s parliament) — revealing nearly $3 billion has been allocated this year to pay for a possible attack by Israel, unilaterally, on Iran’s nuclear facilities.  (This, apparently, would be a Plan B in case diplomatic efforts to reduce or eliminate the Iranian nuclear threat fail.)

This is a return to saber-rattling by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  An open Israeli strike on Iran is highly unlikely; but indeed it’s not impossible.

March 19, 2014

If Malaysia, Like Other Nations, Had Turned to Israel for Aviation Security Expertise — Would the Missing Airliner Have Vanished?

Whatever happened to Malaysia Airlines flight MH 370 — which vanished on March 8 — here’s a fair question: Could it have happened to El Al Israel Airlines?

Are the Israelis more careful?  Could a murderous pilot or co-pilot have been blocked?  Would an Israeli simply disappear from radar screens, never to be heard from again?  Would all passengers have been screened much more rigorously?

Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, wrote this article for the website of the 24-hour TV news channel based in Israel, i24news.tv.  He reveals that while many nations have benefited from Israeli expertise — in the area of aviation security — Malaysia refused to have anything to do with Israel.

- – -

Would It Have Vanished, in an Israel-type System?

Would It Have Vanished, in an Israel-type System?

Anti-Israel rhetoric has not prevented some Arab and Muslim countries from maintaining clandestine ties with the Jewish state, especially in the field of security and intelligence. Not just Arab and Muslim nations which do, or did, have some sort of open and diplomatic relations with Israel, like Jordan, Egypt, Qatar, Morocco or Mauritania. This applies also to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates, and at least two countries in Southeast Asia – Indonesia, which is the biggest Muslim country in the world, and Pakistan. Israel has or had security and intelligence contacts with them, as well as trade relations.

At one time or another, each of these countries overcame its animosity and realized that it could not ignore the enormous body of knowledge, knowhow and technological innovation developed by Israel. They decided that their security interests, including aviation security, would be better served by secretly cooperating with Israel and learning from its experience, accumulated in decades of war and fighting terrorism.

Malaysia, one of the most hostile nations to Israel, is the exception. Its antagonism stands out even among the traditional Israel-bashers of the Arab and Muslim world. By and large, Malaysia has not been accessible to Israeli technology, experts and businessmen. Perhaps, over the years, some indirect deals were made between the two countries. But all in all, Malaysia refused to be “tainted” by contacts with Israel or the Jewish world.

If, as the Malaysian prime minister says, what happened to the missing Malaysian airliner was not an accident, it is natural to wonder whether Malaysia might have benefited from Israeli expertise and the pioneering measures which have improved aviation security on the ground and in the air.

Israel, having learned by trial and error, instituted unique measures that are at once simple and advanced. In 1968, after an El Al airliner was first hijacked, Israel introduced armed sky marshals and thick metal doors to protect the pilots and the cockpits. Israel also was the first to require that passengers be questioned by security personnel before boarding flights.

This measure has raised issues of privacy infringement; and many foreign tourists, as well as Israeli Arabs and Palestinians, complain of being unfairly targeted by what is clearly a “profiling” system. The system is based on experience and intuition about which nationalities, age, gender and travel history are most likely to point to involvement with terrorism. Only a tiny minority of travelers fall under this category in any way, but many are hassled.

There were major changes after three Japanese Red Army terrorists landed in Israel in May 1972, grabbed machine guns from their luggage and opened fire — killing 26 people, most of them Christian pilgrims from Puerto Rico.  Israel instituted luggage searches, body searches of almost all passengers, and the use of X-ray machines on both bags and people.

Israel also became the first country to deploy armed security personnel throughout the airport. Closely guarded areas include the luggage hall for arriving passengers and the check-in desks for departures.

Israel’s meticulous security also includes thorough passport control to detect passengers carrying false documents. The passport control is linked directly with the data base of the security services, enabling a quick background screening of suspicions passengers.

But the aviation security does not end at the gates and the sleeves leading to the aircraft. After Israeli planes take off, Israeli air controllers and radar systems follow them and continue to maintain communication throughout the flight.

If only some of these measures had been introduced by Malaysia, perhaps the mysterious disappearance would not have occurred?

March 18, 2014

A Revised & Updated Book — ‘Spies Against Armageddon’ Now Has Latest on Changed Mossad Mission in Iran, Talks with Palestinians, Syria Civil War, Egypt Upheavals, and Secret Prisoners

Seeing that much has happened in Israel and the Middle East since the original Spies Against Armageddon was published in mid-2012, there’s now an update available as a paperback or e-book.

Here’s a press release issued by Levant Books on March 2, 2014:

Levant Books letterhead

 Israel’s Mossad Spies:

 Assassinations are Over (at least for the time being),

Their Options in Iran are Limited,

     While the Rest of the Middle East Spins into Dangerous Volatility

– Updated Edition of Spies Against Armageddon Reveals Tough Times for Mossad –

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

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

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

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

"Updated - New Revelations"

“Updated – New Revelations”

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Israelis and Palestinians are negotiating for a possible end to their historic conflict, and the intelligence community is preparing for a possible outbreak of violence if Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts collapse.

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

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

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

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

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

Raviv (in Washington) and Melman (in Tel Aviv) are available for interviews, and they are planning a joint tour in the United States in May 2014.  Follow them on Twitter: @SpiesArmageddon.

Contact: LevantBooks@ymail.com


March 18, 2014

Netanyahu Had Talks with Obama, Now Abbas Had His Chance at the White House — So What’s the Chance of a Deal by End of April?

Presidents Obama and Abbas (White House photo)

Presidents Obama and Abbas (White House photo)

A peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority seems almost impossible before the deadline set by Secretary of State John Kerry when he began mediating between them last year.  But will he get them to agree on a “framework” that would lead to more negotiations?

Dan Raviv, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, was interviewed by a very skeptical interviewer, Steve Malzberg, on the Newsmax TV website while Mahmoud Abbas — the Palestinian Authority president — was in Washington (March 17).

Abbas had talks — including lunch — with President Barack Obama.  This was precisely two weeks after Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was Obama’s guest at the White House — with hardly any official information on the contents of the talks emerging afterward.

The ten-minute interview may be viewed here: CLICK HERE.

March 17, 2014

Seen This Movie Before, And It’s Not a Happy One: Another Cycle of Gaza Violence

[This article was written by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, for the website of the 24-hour TV news service broadcast on-line from Israel, i24news.tv.]

Amid the growing tension in Gaza and southern Israel, with Israeli leaders vowing to respond with force to the Palestinian rocket barrages pf the past 24 hours, the fact is that Israel’s options are limited.

The slow and slippery escalation began – as it often does in this region – accidentally, with no desire or intention by any of those involved to instigate a new round of hostilities.

Foreign Minister Lieberman: "There's no choice but to re-conquer Gaza"

Foreign Minister Lieberman: “There’s no choice but to re-conquer Gaza”

It started in early March, with what seemed then as a significant, yet isolated incident 1,500 kilometers away. After months of gathering intelligence and surveillance, the Israeli navy captured a merchant ship in the Red Sea carrying Syrian-made missiles, mortar shells and bullets from Iran bound for Sudan. From there, it appears, the Iranian plan was to smuggle the weaponry to the Gaza Strip.

The shipment was most likely intended for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), which is fully sponsored by Iran. Unlike the much larger Hamas movement, which broke off ties with Iran over Tehran’s support of President Bashar Assad in the bloody civil war in Syria, PIJ has remained loyal to Tehran.

Iran, which recently reached an interim agreement with world powers regarding its nuclear program, and is trying to defuse tensions with the West, denied the Israeli allegation that it was behind the shipment.

Yet, the incident on the high sea could be related to what has been going on between Gaza and Israel this week. One should not rule out that Iran instructed its client, the PIJ, to launch rockets against Israel. Its aims are triple: to retaliate for the seizure of the ship, to stir tensions and to embarrass and punish Hamas – through retaliatory Israeli strikes on Gaza – for its independence and disobedience.

Hamas came to power in a military coup in 2007, defeating the Palestinian Authority government.

Since then, Hamas has been performing a tightrope dance. It was initially sponsored by Iran and Syria, then by Egypt when the Muslim Brotherhood ruled in Cairo. In the last eight months, since the military took over control of Egypt, Hamas has found itself with no patron and a shortage of money.

Hamas’s delicate maneuvering has also included launching rockets and missiles against Israel, then accepting two ceasefires – in 2010 and 2012. But it has also been turning a blind eye to the PIJ”s independent launching of rockets, thus violating the ceasefires with Israel, on the one hand, while trying to restrain PIJ, on the other.

It seems that this time, Hamas failed to foil the PIJ-Iran plan.

The trigger that served as an excuse to embark on the current round of violence was the preparation by PIJ militants to launch rockets against Israel earlier this week. Their effort was foiled by Israeli forces, who killed the three members of the launch unit.

In response, PIJ retaliated by firing more than 100 rockets toward Israel, starting Wednesday afternoon and continuing on Thursday. The Israel Air Force went into action, attacking 29 PIJ and Hamas targets in Gaza on Wednesday and bombing additional targets on Thursday. It was the fiercest battle between Israel and Gaza since the November 2012 Israeli military operation which ended in a ceasefire.

Now, Israeli leaders and military chiefs are debating their strategy. They want to prevent a slide into an unwanted cycle of action and reaction. They want to break this vicious circle and restore the ceasefire. But they also know that their options are limited. Long-term calm can be achieved by one of two ways.

The first, much preferable, way would be signing an agreement with the Palestinian Authority (PA) which US Secretary of State John Kerry us trying to broker. But such an agreement would have to be not only implemented in the PA-ruled West Bank, but would also have to include Gaza. However, the chance of such a comprehensive agreement between the rival Palestinian sides, as well as Israel, is nil. Hamas will not agree to be part of any Israel-PA deal and it certainly will not accept an Israeli demand to disarm. Even the chance of a limited Israel-PA agreement in the West Bank is slim.

So Israel is left with the other, unwanted option: invading Gaza, toppling the Hamas government and disbanding and disarming all the terror groups operating there – Hamas, PIJ and small, renegade al-Qaeda-inspired groups. Such a solution is being advocated by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. But there is neither support, nor enthusiasm, for this option among most of the cabinet members. They know that such a solution means all-out war, with attendant heavy casualties on both sides, and condemnation by the Arab countries which are secretly supporting Israeli efforts to stop a nuclear Iran. Thus, an Israel invasion would play into the hands of Iran.

Therefore, more realistically, we can expect more of the same. A ceasefire, its violation, rocket launches from Gaza and Israel Air Force strikes and another ceasefire.

March 13, 2014

An Achievement: Israeli Intelligence & Navy Intercepted Missiles on Ship — But It’s Bad that Iran Closely Stands with Hamas in Gaza

[This article is written by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon -- with an updated edition published March 1, 2014 -- for The Jerusalem Post website.]

The intercepted weapons shipment from Iran to Gaza could signal a renewal of ties between Tehran and Hamas. If so, Iran is likely to demand that Hamas pay a price for its patronage – the resumption of rocket fire on Israel.

The looming question which continues to evade Israeli intelligence regarding the Klos-C remains, for whom were the Iranian weapons intended? Inteligence analysts believe that the ship was destined to unload its cargo in Sudan, where the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force would have transferred the weapons onwards, over land.

Missiles and ammo said to come from Iran, displayed in Eilat (photo by IDF Spokesman)

Missiles and ammo said to come from Iran, displayed in Eilat (photo by IDF Spokesman)

The arms could have been intended for Global Jihad factions, operating in the Sinai Peninsula. The Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps has had contact with these and other al-Qaeda-linked factions for over a decade, using them when necessary to promote Iranian interests.

Yet, more than likely, the 40 powerful rockets and 400,000 bullets were intended for Gaza — perhaps for the Palestinian terror organization Islamic Jihad, which Tehran has sponsored for years. Still the possibility cannot be ruled out that the missiles were intended for Hamas.

In either case, even after all the praise for a successful military operation and the precise intelligence which enabled the successful seizure of the ship on Tuesday, the revelation of such a weapons shipment is a bad omen for Israel.

It indicates a renewal of ties between Gaza and Tehran. Indeed, it appears that the three-year break between the Shiite regime and the Sunni Muslims of Hamas, which began with the civil war in Syria, has been solved.

Until the war in Syria erupted, the senior Hamas leadership sat in Damascus, while Iran supplied weapons (sent in ships to Sudan and then trucked through Egypt and Sinai to Gaza tunnels) and provided military assistance to the organization.

With the outbreak of the civil war in 2011, Hamas condemned attacks by the Syrian regime, led by the Alawite Assad family (an offshoot of the Shi’ite Muslim faction), who ruled over the largely Sunni Syrian population. In response, the Syrian regime cut support for Hamas, ordered it out of the bunkers and safe-houses it had been using, and banned the organization from the city.

Tehran, for it’s part, aligned itself with the Assad regime and ceased its financial and military aid to Hamas. For a short period, Hamas found a sponsor in Mohamed Morsi’s Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood. However, with the military takeover in Cairo following massive protests and violence against the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas was once again isolated.

In recent months, Hamas leaders have been working to renew their old alliance with Iran and sent emissaries to achieve this. Does the capture of the Klos-C and its cargo of Iranian weapons indicate Hamas’s success in healing ties with Iran?

If this is the case, then the thawing of relations will come at a price which Hamas is apparently willing to pay. Secret talks and communications in clandestine circles indicate that Iran demands that Hamas resume the firing of rockets into Israel.

This resumption of hostilities will not occur immediately, and Israeli capabilities to strike back and thwart attacks weigh heavily on Hamas. Hamas knows that in the next war, Israel will push harder than it did in 2009 and 2012: This time Israel will seek to topple the regime. Nevertheless, as the saying goes, when the gun appears in the opening scene, the shot will be heard in the final scene.

The time to revel in the success of Israel’s operation is short-lived. According to several reports, the IDF has been operating in the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean for more than a decade, with vessels (ships and submarines) and aircraft. The navy took control of several ships which carried or were suspected of transporting weapons.

In recent years, reports have spoken of military strikes along Sudan’s coast and on ships and convoys transporting weapons which originated in Iran. These attacks have been attributed to Israel by the Sudanese government and foreign media, along with an attack on a Sudanese warehouse housing missiles.

As it is, we can and should admire the precise intelligence obtained by Israel (with the assistance of the U.S. whose intelligence capabilities in the Red Sea, Indian Ocean and Persian Golf outdo those of Israel). The fact that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu bothered to call and to thank not only the chief of staff, but also the Mossad’s director Tamir Pardo, more than suggests the part which that organization played in obtaining information on the Klos-C.

Indeed Israel’s intelligence certainly used an array of assets such as HUMINT (agents on the ground), SIGINT (communications and signals monitoring) as well as the air-force (with aircraft and satellites).

Israeli intelligence also assumes that some  M-302 missiles with a range of up to 125 miles — and capable of carrying a warhead of more than 220 pounds — are already in Gaza.  Borders are almost always porous, no matter how good Israel’s interception capabilities might seem.  How many might have gotten through in some previous smuggling missions?  Intelligence agencies cannot know what they do not know.

For Israel, such missiles — in the hands of Hamas or Islamic Jihad in Gaza — are a “game-changer.” Such missiles would allow terrorist organizations to launch the next missile campaign against, not only central Israel, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Dimona, but also northern Israel. The truth is, however, that such missiles have already been in the hands of Hezbollah, in Lebanon, for over a decade and were launched from Lebanon toward Haifa and Afula in the Second Lebanon War in 2006.

Military Intelligence chief Maj. General Aviv Kochav, said a few weeks ago that there are about 170,000 missiles and rockets aimed at Israel from all directions: from Lebanon and Syria in the North, Iran in the East, and Gaza and Sinai in the South. The seizure of several dozen missiles, impressive as it is, as well as Israel’s missile defense systems (the American-financed”Iron Dome” and “Arrow” systems, plus the future system “Magic Wand”) do not change the facts: Every military base, every airport, every strategic site, and all civilian communities, whether small or large, in Israel are within range of Israel’s enemies.

March 11, 2014

Israel Immensely Proud of Intelligence Success, Tracking ‘Iranian’ Shipment of Missiles from Syria Bound for Gaza — Ship Seized by Israel

Israel’s politicians, military, and intelligence chiefs are immensely proud of the interception – by Israel’s navy — of a Panama-registered ship that was carrying powerful missiles believed to have originated in Syria, intended for delivery to the Palestinian radicals of Hamas in Gaza.

The M-302 rockets aboard the ship have a potential range of 125 miles, meaning that if they were fired from Gaza they could cause heavy damage to Israel’s large coastal city, Tel Aviv, and even the Dimona nuclear reactor.  If Hamas had gotten M-302 rockets, it would have been a game-changer.

Israeli officials, unusually talkative now about an operation that was kept secret for many weeks, say that the Mossad and Aman (the military intelligence agency) had been tracking the shipment for a long time — including the ship’s stop at a port in Iraq where grain was loaded aboard as a kind of cover story.

Israel’s navy stopped the ship — nearly 1,000 miles from Israel’s southernmost port, Eilat — and boarded it without having to fire a shot.  The captain was said to be Turkish, but the Israelis say they feel certain that the entire smuggling operation was controlled by Iran.

Prime Minister Netanyahu

Prime Minister Netanyahu

The officials say the intelligence operation was “spectacular” and “flawless.”  Defense Minister Moshe (Boogie) Ya’alon said the discovery of the missile-smuggling ship unmasks the true nature of the Iranian regime.  Echoing  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Ya’alon said Iran’s leader may smile and speak in friendly tones, but they haven’t changed a bit in their active support for terrorist groups such as Hamas.

Netanyahu, conveniently, was in the United States — where he had made a point of repeatedly warning Americans not to believe the sweet words of the new Iranian president Hasan Rouhani.  Netanyahu returned to saber-rattling, declaring in Washington that Israel will never allow Iran to have even the capability of building a nuclear bomb — vowing he will do whatever is necessary to protect the Jewish state.

March 6, 2014

Mossad Stopped Assassinations of Nuclear Scientists in Iran — In Part, After Strong Signals from Washington to Stop

[The following blog post by CBS's Dan Raviv -- co-author of Spies Against Armageddon -- appeared at CBSnews.com on March 1.]

WASHINGTON – As Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flies to Washington – due to arrive on Sunday (March 2), to prepare for talks with President Barack Obama at the White House on Monday – it’s clear that there are several points of friction between Israel and the United States.

The two countries are allies, but their leaders often differ on the details of key issues: Israel’s peace talks with the Palestinians, America’s nuclear talks with Iran, how to approach political turmoil in Egypt, what might be done to limit Syria’s horrible civil war, and a broader issue of whether the Middle East sees President Obama as a powerful, influential leader.

"Updated - New Revelations"

“Updated – New Revelations”

Recently, as I sought to update a book I co-wrote about the history of Israel’s intelligence agencies, sources close to them revealed that they felt pressure from the Obama Administration – more than a hint – to stop carrying out assassinations inside Iran.

Although Israel has never acknowledged it, the country’s famed espionage agency – the Mossad – ran an assassination campaign for several years aimed at Iran’s top nuclear scientists. The purpose was to slow the progress made by Iran, which Israel feels certain is aimed at developing nuclear weapons; and to deter trained and educated Iranians from joining their country’s nuclear program.

At least five Iranian scientists were murdered, most of them by bombs planted on their cars as they drove to work in the morning. Remarkably, the Israeli assassins were never caught – obviously having long-established safe houses inside Iran – although several Iranians who may have helped the Mossad were arrested and executed.

In addition to strong signals from the Obama Administration that the U.S. did not want Israel to continue the assassinations, Mossad officials concluded that the campaign had gotten too dangerous. They did not want their best combatants – Israel’s term for its most talented and experienced spies – captured and hanged.

President Obama – much to the discomfort of Israeli officials – is pursuing negotiations with Iran. The United States is one of the P5+1 nations, continuing to talk with the Iranians about rolling back some of their nuclear potential.

Sources told us that Netanyahu has now ordered the Mossad to focus on hunting – inside Iran and elsewhere – for evidence that the Iranians are cheating on the commitments they made in their interim agreement with the P5+1 last November.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama will also discuss progress – said by all concerned to be limited, but not non-existent – in Israel’s talks with the Palestinian Authority which began last year. Secretary of State John Kerry has had many frustrations in his chosen role as mediator: not least, the harsh criticism of Kerry voiced by some members of Netanyahu’s coalition government who distrust the peace process and feel that giving up any of the West Bank would be needlessly dangerous for Israel.

Dan Raviv, Washington-based host of radio’s CBS News Weekend Roundup, is co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, which has a new updated edition published on March 2.

March 3, 2014

At Least 2 Mossad Spies were Held in Israeli Prisons: One Committed Suicide, and Now Some Details on the Second Man — a World Exclusive

A Mossad man who was convicted by an Israeli court and has been secretly imprisoned for about ten years – with Israeli authoritiespreventing any details from being published – was accused of treason, because it was charged that he transmitted secrets to a “foreign power”.

Referred to by security-agency insiders as “Prisoner X2,” the man was an importantoperative in the Israeli espionage agency that specializes in secretive and dangerous foreign missions.   Authorities felt certain that his actions endangered his Mossad colleagues.

The man, who cannot be named due to the official information blackout on the case, has been imprisoned for approximately a decade.  While the precise prison sentence is still a secret, it is  suggested that the term could be reduced by one-third because of the inmate’s “good behavior” in captivity.

Prisoner X (Zygier) - We cannot show you X2

Prisoner X (Zygier) – We cannot show you X2

Hundreds of people were questioned during the investigation of X2’s alleged treason.  The investigator who was assigned to the case considered it the toughest investigation of his career.  The traitor’s motive, to the extent that authorities understand it, remains a secret: Money? Anger at his Mossad commanders? A personal problem with other secret agents?  A desire to damage his homeland, Israel? Severe depression?

The mere existence of X2 became known when journalists started asking questions about another Mossad man who was being held in secret.

Known to some of his jailers only as “Prisoner X,” he hanged himself in a high-security isolation cell in Israel’s Ayalon Prison (near the city of Ramle) in December 2010.  He turned out to be Ben Zygier, a Melbourne-born Jew who moved to Israel, became an Israeli citizen, and was recruited into the Mossad.  Zygier, according to sources, was part of an Israeli espionage team that was based in Europe, from where it penetrated Iran.

Security officials say it was a mistake to hire Zygier, because the Australian did not have the stability and discretion needed to be a spy.

An Australian radio journalist, Raphael Epstein, has written a book about the case, Prisoner X, and reports that Zygier, while working for the Mossad, gave secrets about the agency to an Iranian businessman, probably working for his country’s security services.  Zygier and the Iranian were both studying at Monash University in Melbourne in 2009.

The phrase “Prisoner X” has been used for decades in Israel, mainly to refer to employees of security agencies (including the Mossad) who broke the rules and were arrested and imprisoned.  Publicizing those cases was banned, with officials claiming that censors and court-issued gag orders were protecting secrets that might damage Israel.  Critics say that banning publication in a free country is really aimed at protecting the reputations of government and security-agency officials.

As revealed and discussed in our books – the best-seller Every Spy a Prince and the current and updated Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars – previous men imprisoned in the 1950s and ‘60s and identified only as “X” included Mordecai Kedar, who murdered his Jewish supporting contact in Argentina, and Avri El-Ad, who betrayed his colleagues in an Israeli-run spy ring in Egypt.

In the 1980s, a Soviet spy – Professor Marcus Klingberg, who had been deputy director of Israel’s secretive biological weapons research lab – was tried and imprisoned in complete secrecy.

Held under false identities, these prisoners were permitted to have visits from family members and defense attorneys, but nothing could be said in public about the men and their crimes.

Israeli officials did not intend to reveal the existence of Prisoner X2 and still are not permitting his name to be verified or published.  A mistake in coordinating between court officials and Malmab – the Defense Ministry unit that deals with internal security – led to a failure to erase a reference to a second inmate held in secret from a report on Zygier’s death written by an investigating judge.

The official view that was revealed is that X2 was “a traitor who endangered the lives of his clandestine-operations colleagues.”

As our updated and revised Spies Against Armageddon says, at the end of Chapter 22 entitled “Assassins”: “Activists who press for greater openness wondered if hushing up Zygier’s case – and the more serious one – was aimed at guarding Israel’s security, or the Mossad’s image?”


A revised edition of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman’s history of the Mossad and the other Israeli security agencies – updated for events in Israel, Iran, Egypt, Syria and elsewhere since 2012 – is published March 2, 2014.

February 27, 2014

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