Islamic State (I.S.) “No More Than a Passing Episode,” MidEast and Western Experts Say — Don’t Build a Mythic I.S. Giant

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

Israel’s former defense minister Ehud Barak (who also served as prime minister for a time) and former chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi have little in common. Given the bad blood between them, to say that they loath each other would be the understatement of the year.

Yet, both share the perception that the threat posed by the Islamic State is being grossly exaggerated by Western media, Middle East experts and, to a certain degree, political leaders.

And Israel is no exception. Barak expressed this view in a recent television interview, and Ashkenazi expressed his views to me in a private meeting. They are not alone.

In a series of meetings and interviews with Israeli, Western European and American intelligence and security experts who asked not to be named, a similar point of view was conveyed to me.

< ISLAMIC STATE “A PASSING EPISODE”, AL-QAEDA JUST “A NUISANCE” >

“With all due respect to IS’s recent military successes in Iraq and Syria, which cannot be written off, from a historical perspective, IS is no more than a passing episode,” one of these analysts told me.

ISIS Arrogance Flies High - May Flop (photo at MEMRI.org)

ISIS (IS) Arrogance Flies High – May Flop (photo at MEMRI.org)

Drawing a comparison to al-Qaeda, the analyst said: “After 9/11, Osama bin-Laden and his group were perceived as the greatest existential threat to human kind. The US invaded Afghanistan, crushed al-Qaeda’s hard core and its scattered activists and sympathizers.

“True, the post invasion ramifications resulted in several bloody terror attacks in Indonesia, Madrid, London, Morocco, Istanbul — while other plots were prevented — but in the last five years the intensity of al-Qaeda operations and the threat posed by the group have dwindled.”

Another expert observed:  “Intelligence communities worldwide have learned the modes of operation of al-Qaeda, managed to recruit agents and infiltrate it. Al-Qaeda is now no more than a nuisance that the world can live with.”

Sooner or later the same is going to happen to IS, said several of the interviewees for this article.

“Let’s not be mistaken or disillusioned. IS is not going to disappear and fade away overnight. It is going to stay with us for a few more years – certainly as long as the civil war in Syria continues. But sometime in the foreseeable future the Islamic State will weaken,” one of them observed.

Another former senior intelligence official described IS “as a trendy fashion and, like any successful fashion, it has succeeded in promoting and marketing its label as a unique product and thus attracted high demand.”

IS “customers” are the organization’s thousands of volunteers – second or third generation Muslim immigrants to the West and tens of thousands of Arab and Muslim zealots. Both are seeking thrills, adventure, a meaningful outlet for their unfulfilled aggression, and easy and free sex with a stamp of religious authorization.

IS has managed to turn into the “talk of the town” as a result of impressive marketing adopted by its leadership: i.e. its cruel, horrific and seemingly uninhibited methods of sowing fear and terror in the West. These include massacres of rivals; death by beheading and stoning; torture; rape; and forced conversions – practically every measure that contradicts basic moral values and norms.

But that on its own is not enough. As veteran Israeli diplomat and cabinet minister Eliyahu Sasson observed some 60 years ago, “If you acted and didn’t report it, you hadn’t act.”

IS’s marketing experts are presumably unfamiliar with Sasson and his  dictum, but they clearly know the art of propaganda and manipulation – they not only act brutally but also make sure that the brutal acts will be heard, seen and disseminated.

By using advanced-digital methodology, they produce short, fast, agile clips and load them onto the Internet to spread messages that appeal to their clientele among alienated, disfranchised young Muslims around the world.

There is no doubt that professionals are behind the frightening and cold-blooded digital campaign. Clearly, some of them, if not all, are Western- educated volunteers with experience, creativity and skill in modern PR.

It already has been reported that IS has a few “media centers” with names such as “Al Hayat” and “Al Itisam al Furqan” operating in secret locations in areas under IS control in Iraq and Syria. They are responsible for the production of the clips and messages and are assisted by a worldwide clandestine network of sympathizers who enhance the spread of the materials over all available platforms from YouTube to Twitter and Facebook.

What distinguishes IS from al-Qaeda are not only religious nuances or perceptions as to who is the enemy that should be targeted, but also the approach to mass media social networks and the ability to spread messages around the globe. In that sense, IS can be compared to a cheetah, fast and agile, and al-Qaeda to a plodding turtle. IS’s agility and ability to adapt have enabled it to repel cyber attacks against its on-line operations by Western intelligence agencies. IS rebuilt networks where they have been damaged.

However, IS’s successful propaganda and fear campaigns could paradoxically be the beginning of its own downfall. It is, in a way, reminiscent of the dialectic of the German philosopher Georg Friedrich Hegel, which states that in every thesis there is a built-in contradiction – the anti-thesis that is unleashed to destroy itself. IS’s advanced propaganda apparatus is generating its own demise.

In the first two years after its emergence, IS performed its despicable acts – beheading, raping, crucifying, and butchering its real or imagined enemies in Iraq and Syria – unnoticed by the West. The Western media and politicians didn’t care as long as Muslims were killing Muslims.

It all changed when IS started beheading Westerners and displaying the beheadings on social media.

“That was their biggest mistake,” one security expert told me. “It seems that they were so carried away by their initial successes in Iraq and Syria that they became very arrogant and self-confident that they could do the same to the West.”

This direct provocation shocked Western media and public opinion and was perceived as a threat that created a chain reaction.

Under public pressure, Western governments, led by US President Barack Obama could no longer sit idly by.

Thus, slowly and reluctantly, the US administration started to react. It created an international coalition to build a legal umbrella for military action and began a campaign of air strikes.

To military experts, certainly Israeli ones, the measured US and coalition air strikes seem somewhat inadequate. So far, over a period of six or so weeks, the air strikes only number a few hundred.

Nevertheless, the experts I talked to agree that despite the flaws and weakness, the airstrikes are causing damage to IS and slowing its advance – its tanks and heavy artillery are being destroyed, and oil production facilities, which are a main source of revenue for the organization, are being bombed, choking off its finances.

The Iraqi Kurds, thanks to the aerial umbrella, have managed to recapture the Mosul dam. Iraqi Shiite militias, supported by Iran, have retaken some towns. IS is far from conquering Baghdad.

In Syria, the Kurdish enclave of Kobani along the border with Turkey is holding on, and IS has failed to enter the city’s center.

But perhaps more important than success on the battlefield against IS is the fact that the world is awakening. For the first time in many years, there are signs that Western nations, Arab countries and even Iran see eye-to-eye and have a common interest in stoppingthe Islamic State.

Still, even if IS is defeated, the region’s problems and challenges are not going to go away.

“The Islamic State is not only a problem, it’s also a symptom of the disintegration of the Middle East as it was designed 100 years ago in the French-British colonial deal [the Sykes-Picot agreement] aimed at dividing the region into spheres of interests and influence,” said one intelligence analyst.

What began as the “Arab Spring” – a genuine drive by the masses for democratization, better and more equal distribution of national resources, and as a campaign against corruption – has turned into a volcanic eruption bringing in its wake disintegrating states (Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen are already dysfunctional entities) and threatening to bring chaos to others.

October 28, 2014

‘Klinghoffer’ Opera Controversy in New York: Remember the Israeli Intelligence Role in Exposing PLO Hijacked the Ship?

New York's Met, Selling Tickets and Not Backing Down

New York’s Met, Selling Tickets and Not Backing Down

The Metropolitan Opera, in New York, is going ahead with the controversial opera by John Adams — “Klinghoffer” — which, according to critics, gives too much credit and dignity to the anti-Jewish and anti-Israel complaints of Arab terrorists.

Leon Klinghoffer, a wheelchair user at age 69, was shot dead by the Palestinian hijackers of a cruise ship, the Achille Lauro, in October 1985.  The innocent man from New York and his wheelchair were dumped overboard.

The opera performers who portray the terrorists sing, in “Klinghoffer,” about why they killed him — out of hatred for Jews and Israel.

A few days after the hijackers left the cruise ship — part of a deal that let them walk free in Egypt — Israel’s director of Military Intelligence (the agency known as Aman) gave reporters transcripts — and a snippet of audio — to “prove” that PLO leader Yasser Arafat had ordered the hijacking of the cruise ship.

The Aman director was a future prime minister, Maj. Gen. Ehud Barak.  His rare revelations were written about in major newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times which noted that Arafat’s role was not absolutely proven — and “one well-informed Israeli source said there were arguments within the military over whether to release the transcript.”

Readers may recall that when a chartered aircraft left Egypt — to fly the hijackers to wherever they wanted to go — President Ronald Reagan ordered U.S. military jets to intercept that Egyptian airliner.  It was forced to land at a NATO base in Italy.

It was Israel’s military intelligence — specifically its eavesdropping experts in Unit 8200 — that gave the United States government full details of the Egyptian plane that was about to take off with the hijackers aboard.

The Israelis were enraged — and the Americans extremely disappointed — when Italy then released the hijackers and their commander, Mohammed Abbas.  Abbas, who had not been on the ship, was heard — in the Israeli recordings — chatting with and giving orders to the hijackers.  Abbas, in subsequent interviews, would claim that he was merely mediating the hijackers’ peaceful surrender to Egypt.

One revelation out of the entire drama was that Israeli intelligence’s Unit 8200 could — and did — listen to virtually any radio communications in the Middle East.  

Telephone calls, especially if they are on mobile (cellular) systems, are also relatively easy to intercept.  As are e-mails.

Similar to what the NSA has said since the 2013 leaks by Edward Snowden, Israeli intelligence people say: “Our enemies know we are listening in on them, but still they have to communicate — and we have the electronic advantage.”

 

October 20, 2014

Kurds Under Siege in Kobani Hint at Mass Suicide, Say Israel and all Nations Have Good Reasons to Help Fight ISIS

This article was written by Yossi Melman (co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars) for The Jerusalem Post and (in Hebrew) for Ma’ariv — after he and another Jerusalem Post contributor, Yasser Okbi, reached a Kurdish leader in the city of Kobani (on Syria’s side of the border with Turkey) now trying to repulse the Islamic State guerrilla army.

“If we receive help, we can push them back,” Anwar Musalem, a Kurdish leader in the besieged Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani, told us by telephone this week.

An attorney by trade, Musalem is one of the leaders of the Kurdish Defense Council. He is also one of the few local council members who have remained in Kobani in order to fend off Islamic State invaders.

In an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post’s sister publication Ma’ariv Hashavua, he told this reporter and Yasser Okbi that “the problem is that Islamic State has heavy weaponry.

“In recent days, we saw T-57 tanks and Hummers on the outskirts of the town,” he added. “We are being shelled with heavy artillery.”

Musalem said that thus far Islamic State fighters are occupying 40 percent of the town, particularly the suburbs, though they have been unsuccessful in gaining control of the city center.

“In the last week, they’ve sent truck bombs into the city center,” he said. “We are up against a superior fighting force that numbers over 10,000 men. Islamic State has also enlisted criminals from nearby regions, promising to give them the best houses in the city center if they join in the fighting. But we have managed to repel them. Hundreds of bodies [of Islamic State fighters] are scattered in the city center.”

Musalem declined to give a number as to how many Kurdish fighters are taking part in the defense of Kobani.

“You have to understand,” he said. “We have no interest in divulging military information to the terrorists.”

Kurdish women are also taking up arms and enlisting in the cause. The commander of the all-female units told Asharq al-Awsat this week that 500 women were fighting “at the head of the pack.”

Even if the number is a bit exaggerated, that doesn’t take away from the fact that there is a strong, impressive female contingent that is fighting for the Kurdish town’s survival. There are even rumors to the effect that Islamic State fighters are fearful of being killed by women since it would deny them the promised award of reaching paradise, where the services of 72 virgins await.

“If we receive military aid, with an emphasis on anti-tank weapons, ammunition and humanitarian aid food, and medicine, the town won’t fall, and ultimately we will prevail,” Musalem said.

“Even though there is a slight change in the Turkish position because of American pressure, we still need to see if this will be translated into serious action,” he said. “It’s hard for us to put stock in Turkish promises.”

Musalem was referring to various media reports – which have been denied – that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is showing more flexibility by agreeing to allow the United States and its NATO allies to use a Turkish military base for its aerial bombardments of Islamic State targets. Erdogan has thus far refused to join the campaign against Islamic State, although Turkey is a member of NATO.

Islamist Websites Suggest what ISIS Would Do to Kurds

Islamist Websites Suggest what ISIS Would Do to Kurds

According to Musalem, the town of Kobani, which lies just one kilometer from the Turkish border, numbers 15,000 Kurds, 700 of whom are elderly who either refuse to flee or are physically incapable of crossing the border. On the Turkish side of the border, there are hundreds of Kurds willing to aid their brethren, but the authorities have refused to allow them to cross over.

This is Turkish hypocrisy at its worst. Throughout the course of the civil war, Turkish authorities, including the military and other security services, knowingly permitted thousands of volunteers from around the world – including 30 Israeli Arabs – to traverse its territory and join rebel and insurgent forces in Syria and Iraq. These volunteers were primarily interested in joining Islamic State.

Kobani is of great strategic importance. It lies at crossroads.

Taking the town would permit the barbarians of Islamic State to use another access point along the Turkish border. It would also extend its control of Syria while giving it a considerable push in its campaign to reach the coast of the Mediterranean.

When asked if the Kurds expect aid from Israel, Musalem didn’t answer in a direct manner.

“We don’t have direct cooperation with Israel,” he said. “I don’t think Israel is involved in the war. But I also believe that every country in the world, every UN member state, is aware of and shares the concern regarding the dangers of terrorism. So it’s clear that it is in Israel’s interest, as well as the interest of every country, to assist us.”

Musalem would not even entertain the thought of what would happen if his Kurdish comrades fail to beat back the Islamic State onslaught.

“This will not happen,” he said.

A source in the Kurdish leadership told us through an intermediary that “we are also armed with knives in the event that we run out of fighters and we do not receive ammunition.”

“It’s obvious to us that we cannot leave our city,” the source said. “Islamic State will murder us, just like it has done in every other place it has overrun. We have no illusions. There are those among us who will prefer to commit suicide rather than fall captive in the hands of murderous terrorists.”

The Kurdish fighters of Kobani may end up turning into the modern-day version of the Jewish defenders of Masada who killed themselves rather than submit to the Romans.

October 18, 2014

What if U.S. Bombing Doesn’t Stop IS in Kobani? What About the ‘Nusra’ Extremists in Syria?

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

As the fanatics of the Islamic State (IS) advance into the beleaguered Syrian-Kurdish town of Kobani butchering, beheading and raping in what has become an all too familiar ritual of death  the international community sits idly by.

The events of Kobani are an ugly reminder of Srebrenica.

The Srebrenica massacre was an act of genocide by Serbian military units in July 1995 during the Bosnian war. Eight thousand Muslim Bosnians, mostly men, were murdered, and many women were raped and sexually abused, while international forces (led by Dutch troops) deployed to protect them did nothing.

Kobani has now been under siege for weeks by IS jihadist, for whom the capture of the town would be a major strategic accomplishment.

Taking Kobani would give IS control of a major gateway to Turkey; deepen the area under its control in Syria and take it further westward and closer to desired access to the Mediterranean. As these lines are written at the end of the second week of October, IS had captured half the town.

Kobani’s Kurdish militia fighters are outnumbered and running out of ammunition and food. The US Air Force has launched a handful of airstrikes to slow IS’s advance as part of the new strategy adopted by President Barack Obama – but to no effect.

The US president had declared that IS is a threat not only to the Middle East but also to the US and Europe, and, in effect, to the whole of Western civilization.

Therefore, one could have expected that the US – supported by other Western (UK, France, Australia, Canada) and Arab (Jordan, Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia) air forces – would fight this battle with the utmost vigor.

Yet, the US has so far launched no more than a few hundred air strikes against IS in Iraq and a few dozen in Syria. This is not only too little too late, it is an absurdity. Is this all mightiest air force on earth can do? Surely, they can do better.

By comparison, Israel’s Air Force launched, on average, more than 100 aerial strikes daily against Hamas during the recent Gaza war that lasted 50 days.

No less troubling is the behavior of Turkey, a member of NATO. Turkey’s strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan, until recently the country’s prime minister and now its president, put his army on a state of alert. Turkish tanks and troops are deployed at the border just over a kilometer from Kobani where they can see smoke pouring out of the besieged town, yet do nothing – just as the Dutch and other Western forces did in Srebrenica.

Erdogan has his own reasons for not sending in Turkish troops. In his short-sighted policy, he perceives Syrian leader Bashar Assad as a greater threat than IS – ignoring the aspiration expressed publicly by IS leaders to march one day into Istanbul. He hates the Kurds and doesn’t care if they bleed, thus hoping to weaken his own Kurdish minority, which aspires to self-rule.

As for the Kobani Kurds, they expect the worst.

“We were given knives in case bullets run out.” This message was indirectly conveyed to me by some local commanders in Kobani. “We don’t expect to leave alive if the world doesn’t help us to push back IS.”

What IS does to innocent Americans (video still by SITEintelGroup.com)

What IS does to innocent Americans (video still by SITEintelGroup.com)

If this happens, Kobani could turn into a modern-day version of the tragic end of the Jewish zealots in their ill-fated stand against the Romans at Masada.

Turkey might be justified if it prefers not to see only the blood of its sons being spilt in this battle. The US, its NATO allies, the Arab nations and as many UN states as can be mobilized must also deploy their troops. Without boots on the ground, IS will not be defeated – not in Kobani nor in the rest of Syria and in Iraq. And it will not end there.

IS is also present in Lebanon. It has some embryonic cells in various parts of the country, especially in the northern city of Tripoli. But, more dangerously, it is sending battle-hardened combatants from Syria into Lebanon.

There are daily battles along the Lebanese-Syria border between IS on one side and the Shiite Lebanese Hezbollah and the Lebanese Army on the other that already have already cost hundreds of casualties on both sides.

Former Lebanese president Michael Suleiman (Lebanon’s political parties have failed time and again over the last 10 months to elect a new president) said in interviews to the press in early October that IS’s ultimate goal is to conquer Lebanon in order to gain access to the Mediterranean.

At first glance in would appear to be a surprise that in these border clashes IS has been joined by its archrival, the Nusra Front – the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda. But, until two years ago, the two groups were united – or rather they were part of one organization that pledged allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri, who replaced Osama bin-Laden as leader of al-Qeida after the latter was killed by the US.

But during the heyday of the Syrian civil war, al-Zawahiri disapproved of some of the tactics used by IS and in return, IS rebelled against the al-Qaida leader and declared itself an independent group, under Abu Baker al-Baghdadi as caliph.

The main difference between the two groups is that while al-Qaeda is dedicated to first fight the West, IS’s priority is control of territory.

Thus came into being the declaration of establishing the “Caliphate of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” recently changed the grandiose “Islamic State” a clear hint of the group’s desire to conquer all the Arab and Muslim lands in the Middle East (Israel included) and beyond to spread into Europe.

In the last year, ISIS started battling Nusra Front fighters and eventually expelled them from the northeastern parts of Syria, including from Kobani and its surroundings.

Outnumbered by IS, Nusra redeployed its 7,000 combatants to southern Syria. They now control most of the border areas on the Syrian Golan facing Jordan and Israel.

Israeli military sources have told me on a few occasions that they closely monitor Nusra terrorists along the border but that so far it seems they have no intention of turning their guns against Israel.

A senior Israeli intelligence officer who follows the two organizations tells The Jerusalem Report that he was “not surprised” by the tactical alliances and cooperation occasionally seen between IS and Nusra. “The two cooperated in the past and continue to do so when it suits their interests,” he explains. “They share the same goal of fighting the Assad regime and are also ready to join forces against Hezbollah, which supports Assad.”

There were reports after the US commenced air strikes against IS in Syria that Nusra had declared it would ally itself with IS against the US. These reports, however, have been refuted by Israeli intelligence.

The senior source points out that among the targets bombed by the US were two that belonged to the Khorasan unit – a mixed bag of terrorists from various parts of the world including Chechen, Pakistani and Afghani members of al-Qaida who came as volunteers to Syria to fight alongside Nusra.

In response, the Nusra commander, Abu Mohammad al-Julani (his name implies he is a Syrian from the Golan) has denounced the US-led air raids and warned of retaliatory attacks on the “homes” of the Western and Arab countries that have taken part in the bombings.

In an audio message, he called on European and US citizens to denounce Washington’s actions. “Muslims will not watch while their sons are bombed. Your leaders will not be the only ones who would pay the price of the war. You will pay the heaviest price,” he said, warning that the battle would be brought “to the hearts of your homes.”

But, as the senior intelligence officer explains, there was nothing in the message that could be interpreted that Nusra will join IS in the battle. “Basically, the coordinated efforts by the two groups directed against Hezbollah are a tactical and temporary move. Nusra and IS remain bitter enemies. They are like water and oil.”

October 15, 2014

No Surprises, but Much to Discuss, for Obama and Netanyahu at the White House

No surprises were expected, and there certainly weren’t any in the public remarks by President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — as they began a closed-door meeting in the Oval Office by posing for photographs.

Here is the text, as issued by the White House Press Office — Wednesday (1 October) around 11:40 a.m. in Washington:

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, it’s good once again to welcome the Prime Minister of Israel, Bibi Netanyahu.  Obviously, he’s no stranger to the White House.  I think I’ve met with Bibi more than any world leader during my tenure as President.

We meet at a challenging time.  Israel is obviously in a very turbulent neighborhood, and this gives us an opportunity once again to reaffirm the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel, and our ironclad commitment to making sure that Israel is secure.

President Obama, in a recent Oval Office chat with Vice President Biden and leaders of Congress (White House photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama, in a recent Oval Office chat with Vice President Biden and leaders of Congress (White House photo by Pete Souza)

Throughout the summer, obviously all of us were deeply concerned about the situation in Gaza.  I think the American people should be very proud of the contributions that we made to the Iron Dome program to protect the lives of Israelis at a time when rockets were pouring into Israel on a regular basis.  I think we also recognize that we have to find ways to change the status quo so that both Israeli citizens are safe in their own homes and schoolchildren in their schools from the possibility of rocket fire, but also that we don’t have the tragedy of Palestinian children being killed as well.

And so we’ll discuss extensively both the situation of rebuilding Gaza but also how can we find a more sustainable peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Our agenda will be broader than that, obviously.  I’ll debrief Bibi on the work that we’re doing to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL, and the broader agenda that I discussed at the United Nations, which is mobilizing a coalition not only for military action, but also to bring about a shift in Arab states and Muslim countries that isolate the cancer of violent extremism that is so pernicious and ultimately has killed more Muslims than anything else.

And we’ll also have an opportunity to discuss the progress that’s being made with respect to dealing with Iran’s nuclear program, which obviously has been a high priority for not only Israel, but also the United States and the world community.

So we have a lot to talk about, and I appreciate very much the Prime Minister coming.  It’s challenging I think for an Israeli Prime Minister to have to work so hard during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but I know that the Prime Minister’s utmost priority is making sure that his country is safe during these difficult times.  And we’re glad that the United States can be a partner in that process.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  Mr. President, first I want to thank you.  I want to thank you for the unflinching support you gave Israel during our difficult days and difficult summer we had — expressed in so many ways, but also in an additional installment of support for Iron Dome, which has saved so many lives, saved many lives across the border.  And I thank you for that, and for the continuous bond of friendship that is so strong between Israel and the United States.

I also want to thank you for this opportunity to meet with you and to discuss the enormous challenges facing the United States and Israel in the Middle East.  There’s definitely a new Middle East.  I think it poses new dangers, but it also presents new opportunities.

As for the dangers, Israel fully supports your effort and your leadership to defeat ISIS.  We think everybody should support this.  And even more critical is our shared goal of preventing Iran from becoming a military nuclear power.

As you know, Mr. President, Iran seeks a deal that would lift the tough sanctions that you’ve worked so hard to put in place, and leave it as a threshold nuclear power.  I fervently hope that under your leadership that would not happen.

Equally, I think that there are opportunities.  And the opportunities, as you just expressed, is something that is changing in the Middle East, because out of the new situation, there emerges a commonality of interests between Israel and leading Arab states.  And I think that we should work very hard together to seize on those common interests and build a positive program to advance a more secure, more prosperous and a more peaceful Middle East.

I remain committed to a vision of peace of two states for two peoples based on mutual recognition and rock solid security arrangements on the ground.  And I believe we should make use of the new opportunities, think outside the box, see how we can recruit the Arab countries to advance this very hopeful agenda.  And I look forward to our discussions on these and many other matters.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you very much, everybody.

October 1, 2014

A Nuclear Deal with Iran? The Palestinian Issue? At the U.N. and with Obama, Netanyahu Tries to Minimize the Damage to Israel

Israel has warned that Iran’s secret project to build nuclear bombs must be stopped. In fact on Monday (29 September), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the United Nations General Assembly that defeating ISIS — while at the same time letting Iran continue with its nuclear weapons program — would be “winning a battle, but losing the war.”

Netanyahu, leaving Tel Aviv on Sunday, said he would also speak about the Palestinian issue at the United Nations in New York – and indeed he countered “all the lies directed at us” during and after the 50-day war with Gaza’s Hamas rulers. He specifically rejected what Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said at the U.N., including a charge that Israel committed “war crimes.”

Are any breakthroughs toward peace with Abbas’s Palestiian Authority expected soon?  To put it simply — no. Netanyahu raised the possibility that moderate Arab countries would see that ISIS and Hamas are basically the same, and those nations could help cement Israeli-Arab peace. Netanyahu did not even mention the principle of a “two-state solution” for Israelis and Palestinians.

This analysis by Yossi Melman (co-author of SPIES AGAINST ARMAGEDDON, an updated history of Israeli espionage and securitywas written for The Jerusalem Post the day before Netanyahu started his visit to the United States.

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by YOSSI MELMAN

As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu departed to address the UN General Assembly in New York, and to meet with US President Barack Obama in Washington, fear in Israel was mounting with regard to the warming ties between Iran and the United States.

UN logoAmid the struggle against Islamic State (ISIS or IS), there were more and more indications that the US and the Western powers were willing to relax their position regarding Iran’s nuclear program. This impression became stronger, following the reports that the US is coordinating with Iran in its aerial assaults on IS in Iraq and Syria. 

Israel is worried that the offers made to Iran in the negotiations over its nuclear program, which Iran has rejected as unsatisfactory, demonstrate the world powers’ willingness to accept the Islamic Republic of Iran as a “threshold nuclear power” — just a screw’s-turn away from possessing a nuclear bomb.

Israel’s anxiety was apparent on Wednesday (24 September) when Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz revealed classified information – with the permission of the military censor’s office that is friendly to the government and more strict toward the media.

Steinitz revealed that Iran has used its Parchin military base as the site for secret tests of technology that could be used only for detonating a nuclear weapon.   

The reason why Steinitz came out with the information was to influence the world powers in the nuclear talks to delay the signing of an agreement with Iran that would leave Iran with significant capabilities to enrich uranium.

The negotiations with the “P5+1″ countries – the US, France, Britain, Russia, Germany and China – are supposed to end with a permanent agreement in around two months. Over the last week, senior officials in the Obama administration leaked some ideas that could form the basis of an agreement with Iran.

One idea is that Iranian centrifuges will not be dismantled but will rather be disconnected from the system that fuels them and connects them together. Another idea under consideration is to allow Iran to keep some 5000 centrifuges, which would put Tehran in a good position to enrich high level weapons-grade uranium in the future if it chose to do so. These offers that are unsatisfactory to Iran have infuriated Jerusalem.

Israel’s position was that in any agreement Iran would have to dismantle all its centrifuges or only be able to keep around 1000 which would prevent it from enriching uranium to a high level.  The latest developments in the Middle East have hardened Iran’s bargaining positions in the nuclear talks.

Netanyahu's red line in New York (Sept. 2012)

Netanyahu’s red line in New York (Sept. 2012)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and the moderates around him are interested in a permanent agreement on the nuclear issue that will remove the painful sanctions against their economy. 

On the other hand, as the master of “bazaar-style” negotiating, Tehran senses that it can reach a better deal for Iran if it stands firm. Iran feels that the West wants to see it a de facto partner in the coalition that is forming against ISIS. Even the accomplishments of the Shi’ites in Yemen, who currently control large parts of the capital Sana’a, encourage the Iranians and give them hope that regional events and time are in their favor. 

And because for Prime Minister Netanyhu  relations between Iran and Israel are a zero sum game, any Iranian achievement and any Western concession to Iran is a loss for Israel.

In Netanyahu’s speech at the General Assembly on Monday and in his meeting with Obama, the prime minister will try to minimize the negative fallout for Israel. It is doubtful that he will succeed. The world knows that the military threats that Israel wielded successfully from 2011-2013 are no longer realistic.

September 29, 2014

Unprecedented: A Recruiting Video on Mossad’s Website — “Your Imagination is My Reality”

Perhaps inspired by the increasing presence of Israeli spies in popular TV — fictional (and not always attractive) characters on Covert Affairs, Homeland,  The Americans, The Honourable Woman, NCIS and other series — the real-life Mossad is now having its say. On video.

For the first time, the Mossad’s website features a video aimed at making the secret agency’s work look exciting, significant, and satisfying.

It’s in Hebrew, but here are some highlights for the non-Hebrew speaker:

The male and the female (who may be Mossad personnel or may be actors) are portrayed as family people. That has been a constant theme, when Israeli intelligence operatives and veterans have spoken about their careers — and why they decided to engage in work that they cannot tell anyone about: To strengthen their country and protect their families.

The woman in the video declares: “I learned about myself, things that i didn’t know.” Later, the man says the same thing — and he also says: “My friends think I work in marketing.”

Together they say: “I always know there’s someone by my side I can depend on.”

The woman has a provocative line: “Your imagination — is my reality.”

Making the job seem attractive they both say: “I know I’m in the right place.”

And as they head home to their families (including a kid who flies a small drone aircraft?), she has the final word: “This is my mission. And maybe it’s yours.”

September 22, 2014

Mossad’s Longtime Assassinations Chief Has Died: Mike Harari Recently was Talkative

Mike Harari, the longtime head of operations for the Mossad — and founder of the ultra-secretive and effective Kidon unit that specialized in innovative assassinations — has died at age 87 in Israel.

Below please read what we posted about him, this past April 6:

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.

September 22, 2014

A New Mossad Website: “Do the Impossible” — Glitzier Drive to Recruit Spies Worldwide

The Mossad — the foreign intelligence and “special tasks” agency that used to reveal nothing about itself — has launched the most open attempt ever to recruit analysts and spies.

A new graphic says "One doesn't write history, one MAKES history," citing David Ben-Gurion

A new graphic says “One doesn’t write history, one MAKES history,” citing David Ben-Gurion

Take a look at Mossad.gov.il — in the upper right click “EN” to see the site’s pages in English.

In Hebrew there is a surprisingly revelatory list of jobs that the spy agency needs to have filled: including translators, especially to translate from Hebrew to key languages it identifies as English, French, Spanish, and Italian.

Spanish and Italian?  Fertile imaginations will guess that undercover Israelis do a significant amount of work in countries — or with businesses — that use Spanish and Italian.

Part of the new mossad.il.gov

Part of the new mossad.il.gov

As for highly proficient translators to Hebrew — for Israeli consumers of intelligence — the key languages are named as Persian, Russian, and Arabic.

The Mossad website also says the agency is seeking to hire foreign-language instructors to teach adults, especially for these languages: Persian, Arabic, Spanish and “English for business.”

September 21, 2014

What’s in the New ‘Spies Against Armageddon’? Mossad Options Limited in Iran, Palestinian Peace Hopes Stymied, Pressure from America, 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.  (The new edition was published in the Spring of 2014.)

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 tried negotiating for a possible end to their historic conflict, and the intelligence community prepared for a possible outbreak of violence as Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts collapsed. A 51-day war between Israel and Gaza ensued within months.

–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 adjust rapidly 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 .

September 21, 2014

After the Scandal Dust Clears, Unit 8200 Will Probably Return to Israel’s Usual Eavesdropping

Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, wrote an analysis of the latest spy scandal in Israel: the protest by reservists in Unit 8200 (specializing in electronic or signals intelligence) who say they can no longer stand eavesdropping on Palestinians — because, they claim, a lot of the information they glean from phone calls and other conversations is unfairly used against innocent Palestinians.

The entire analysis by Melman appears on the website of the weekly newspaper Forward, whicih is published in New York.

Here is an excerpt:

Yossi Melman

Yossi Melman

In their letter, the mutineers stated that they would not carry out their assigned duties because doing so involves, among other things, listening in on the phone calls of Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, including many who are uninvolved in violence, to gather information on their health, infidelities, sexual orientations, financial problems, sex habits and other private matters. As the mutineers noted, those nuggets of intelligence are then used to pressure and blackmail the targets, to force them to act as agents and collaborators for the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security service.

The forty-three letter signers also complain that information gleaned from Sigint, or signals intelligence, that they provide sometimes results in the killing of innocent Palestinians during military strikes based on that information.

Their protest shocked Israeli society and generated condemnation from across the Jewish political spectrum, including the mainstream dovish opposition.

“I’m not saying that there are no mistakes. It is certainly possible that there were,” Israeli Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog wrote on his official Facebook page. “But there are ways to complain and to ensure that such claims are examined and discussed.” Herzog is himself a former major in Unit 8200.

But even angrier were thousands of reservists and veterans of the intelligence unit. …

[Yet] despite the current storm, after the dust settles down Unit 8200 will continue with its traditional duties as Israel’s intelligence shield and a hotbed of technology.

[For the full article, CLICK HERE] : Forward.com .

September 17, 2014

Death of an Israeli Spymaster: Former Mossad Director Yitzhak Hofi was 87

A former chief of the Israeli foreign espionage agency, the Mossad, has died.   Yitzhak Hofi, a retired general, was 87 and had varied health problems.

YItzhak Hofi, mossad, spies against armageddon

Yitzhak Hofi, as an officer in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces)

Hofi was head of the Mossad from 1974 to 1982, a period between two major wars: the 1973 Yom Kippur War (which took Israel by surprise, although General Hofi had been one of the few who warned that war could be coming) and the Lebanon war of 1982 (which ensnared the Mossad and all of Israel in a long military occupation and complex secret connections with Arab factions).

As head of the Mossad, he scored several notable achievements.  Obituaries are praising him for his role in rescuing hijacked airline passengers from far-off Entebbe, Uganda, in July 1976 — because the daring mission by army commandoes was preceded by Israeli spies surveilling the area and gathering all possible information about the Entebbe airport, the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin and his soldiers, and the German and Palestinian hijackers who held more than a hundred hostages.

In addition (as chronicled in our books, Every Spy a Prince (1990) and Spies Against Armageddon (2014)):

1. As Mossad chief, Hofi led a covert sabotage campaign against the nuclear ambitions of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. Israeli operatives killed scientists and damaged equipment that was about to be shipped from Europe to Iraq.

2. Hofi conducted secret peace talks with Egypt, which led to the historic visit to Israel by Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat in 1977 and then an American-mediated peace treaty in 1979.

Official photo of the retired Yitzhak "Haka" Hofi (Mossad chief 1974-1982)

Official photo of the retired Yitzhak “Haka” Hofi (Mossad chief 1974-1982)

3. Hofi arranged a dramatic rescue: the complex airlift of Ethiopian Jews, many of whom struggled to walk long distances to air strips in a neighboring country in complete secrecy. America’s CIA helped at several junctures.

4. Hofi’s Mossad had an important role in continuing a struggle against Palestinian terrorism, although the frustration of the PLO’s Yasser Arafat commanding a large force in neighboring Lebanon was eventually deemed by the Israelis to be intolerant — and the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 was the result.  That involvement, with many tragic mistakes and attempts to manipulate alliances with Lebanese factions, continued for eighteen years until Israeli forces withdrew.

Before he was appointed as Israel’s spymaster, General Hofi earned high praise — as Commander of the Northern Front — for being one of the few Israelis who took seriously the possibility that Syria might invade the Golan Heights (captured by Israel in 1967) and northern Israel. His instincts and observations led him to see that a war in 1973 could be near.

Israel’s Military Intelligence agency (Aman) emphatically rejected the possibility that Egypt or Syria might invade.

September 15, 2014

Unit 8200 Eavesdroppers Don’t Want to Do their Duty? “I Would Court-Martial Them”

Reacting to the protest letter by 43 sergeants and officers in Unit 8200 — the part of Military Intelligence that intercepts telephone conversations and “signals” of all kinds — here is what a former commander of the unit told Yossi Melman:

“If I was still the unit’s commander, I would terminate their [the protesters'] service, court-martialed them, and ask for severe punishment,” Brigadier General Hanan Gefen told Melman [co-author of Spies Against Armageddon].

“They used confidential information [in their protest letter shown to journalists], which they are privy to during their service, to promote their political agenda.”

The IDF Spokesman had this comment — as the official Army response:  “Unit 8200 has been working since its establishment on gathering intelligence that enables the army and the security services to fulfill their missions and helps defend Israel’s citizens on a daily basis.”

September 12, 2014

Rebellion in the Ranks in Israel’s Unit 8200 (Similar to NSA): A Refusal to Furnish Blackmail Material to Security Agencies

Dozens of officers in Unit 8200 — the part of Israel’s Military Intelligence agency (Aman) that specializes in intercepting communications — say they’re refusing to serve, because of how some of the data they obtain is used.

A joint letter from 43 mid-rank officers and sergeants (though including one Major) in the Army reserves states that they will not carry out their assigned duties, because some of the information Unit 8200 harvests — largely by listening in on the phone calls of Palestinians — has to do with their health or their sexual orientation; and those nuggets of intelligence are then handed over to Shin Bet.

Reading between the lines, it seems that Unit 8200 — equivalent to America’s NSA — collects information which enables Shin Bet (domestic security) recruiters to put pressure on individual Palestinians. 

Emblem of Aman (Israeli Military Intelligence)

Emblem of Aman (Israeli Military Intelligence)

Blackmail is commonly one way to “persuade” someone in the enemy camp to become your spy.

The letter was addressed to the Director of Military Intelligence, the Minister of Defense, and even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Shin Bet (the initials for “The Security Services,” usually known to Israelis by the Hebrew acronym Shabak) is similar to America’s FBI or Britain’s MI5 — a combination of domestic intelligence and law enforcement. Shin Bet has most of the responsibility for monitoring Palestinian radical organizations and activities.

Unit 8200 — formally known to its English-language foreign partners as ISNU (Israeli Sigint National Unit) — is equivalent to America’s NSA (the National Security Agency) and Britain’s GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters).

The 43 protesters — some of whom have shown their letter to Israeli and foreign journalists — also complain that information gleaned from Unit 8200 signals intelligence (sigint) is used to designate targets for attack; and they say some innocent Palestinians have been killed in those strikes.

September 11, 2014

A New Israeli Submarine — Part of Strategic Deterrent and More (Think Nuclear)

[This analysis was written by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, for the website of the independent TV news service broadcasting from Israel, i24news.tv.  The original is at:  http://www.i24news.tv/en/opinion/43241-140910-analysis-israel-s-visionary-sub-fleet.]

A few days ago the submarine INS Tanin (Israeli Navy Ship ‘Crocodile’) began its 5,000-mile voyage from Germany’s North Sea port of Kiel, where it was built, to its future home in Israel’s Mediterranean harbor Haifa.

Tanin is the Israeli Navy’s fourth submarine, joining three previous models of the Dolphin class vessels. Two additional submarines will enter into service within four years, making the Israeli submarine fleet one of the biggest and most powerful in a region from the Indian Ocean, via the Persian (Arab) Gulf, to Europe.

An Israeli Dolphin-class Submarine (photo courtesy shlomiliss)

An Israeli Dolphin-class Submarine (photo courtesy shlomiliss)

Israel began expanding its aging, outdated submarine fleet in the early 1990s, when it only had two British-made vessels. It was partly a strategic decision and partly exploitation of circumstances.

In 1991, during the first Gulf war and Iraq’s Scud missile attacks on Israel, then-German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher visited Israel in a gesture of solidarity. He was confronted with revelations that German companies had sold equipment, materials and technology to Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons program. Apparently feeling guilt at the German firms’ involvement in a program that could have threatened to gas the Jewish state, Genscher agreed to Israel’s request to finance its navy’s first two modern-day submarines. The total cost of the six subs is estimated at 2.5 billion euro.

Strategically, this was a visionary approach. Realizing that Iraq already had nuclear aspirations, and anticipating that other nations such as Iran would follow suit, Israeli leaders concluded that their country – which had always tried to maintain a strategic edge over its enemies – needed to have second-strike nuclear capability, according to foreign media reports.

Though Israel’s nuclear policy is defined as ambiguous – neither denying nor confirming reports that it possesses such weapons – it is widely assumed to have a nuclear arsenal.

Such a powerful fleet of submarines will upgrade Israeli military capabilities in two areas.

Firstly, improving its intelligence gathering efforts: a submarine is a launching pad that sails undetected near enemy coasts, listening to communications or landing naval commandos.

Even more importantly, however, as stealth vehicles the submarines can store and fire missiles, either conventional or nuclear, even if the country’s alleged land-based nuclear arsenal is destroyed by an enemy’s first strike.

The arrival of the fourth Tanin submarine has brought back into the public discourse an old reality. Despite the recent Gaza war — and the current panic over the emergence of the Islamic State (IS) as an additional terror threat to Israel, its pro-Western neighbors, Europe and America — the Israeli leadership under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is still mainly concerned that Iran will eventually have nuclear weapons.

This possibility is even more acute because of IS advances in Iraq and Syria. IS military successes would serve Shi’ite Iran as further justification that Iran actually requires a strategic and deterring weapon against its enemies – not necessarily Israel, but the Sunni Islamist barbarians.

In the last decade, when it became evident that Iran was rushing toward a nuclear threshold, there were voices both in Israel and outside advocating for an Israeli rethinking of its own nuclear possibilities. Scholars – but also some within the defense establishment – wondered about the causality of events, suggesting that Iran’s nuclear ambitions were a reaction to Israel’s alleged nuclear monopoly. Some even suggested that Israel promote a Middle East nuclear-free zone, and thus eventually agree to dismantle its nuclear arsenal.

Fortunately, this advice was rejected by Israeli decision-makers. With the changes and uncertainties in the Middle East, a region which today seems to be in the process of redefining its boundaries and national entities, it is clear once again the extent to which Israel’s founding fathers displayed vision when they decided that the only way to survive in this rough and hostile neighborhood was to have strategic state-of-the-art tools.

The ambiguous nuclear policy must remain in place. It will provide Israel not only with the ultimate insurance policy for its existence and also will give the leadership – though probably not the current government – the self-confidence necessary to take risks in peace negotiations, regional security arrangements and territorial concessions.

September 10, 2014

Middle East Surprise: Israel and Iran Share Interests — De Facto Allies in Pushing Back ISIS

If — as an old saying goes — politics makes strange bedfellows, then in Middle East politics we surely find the strangest.

Flag of Israel CIAThe latest undeclared and unintentional alliance is that of Israel and Iran. Both are strongly opposed to ISIS, and both are active supporters of the Kurds. The support is focused, in recent years, in the Kurdish autonomous region that is part of Iraq.

Yossi Melman, co-author of books including Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, wrote the following article for The Jerusalem Report, which is published in English in Israel.Flag of Iran

- o – o – o -

On August 26, twelve hours before a ceasefire ended the 51-day Israel-Gaza war, a no less significant event took place a thousand kilometers away from Tel Aviv. This event, like the Gaza war, signifies the rapidly changing new reality in the Middle East – a reality that is replete with severe dangers for Israel but also opens windows of opportunity for a radically different regional lineup.

In Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met with the Kurdish President Masoud Barzani. In a joint press conference, the two revealed that Iran had agreed to supply weapons and ammunition to the Kurdish army, which is battling the extremist Islamic State (IS or ISIS).

The Kurds are fighting alongside the Iraqi army with the backing of the U.S. Air Force.

According to foreign reports, Israel in the past has supplied weapons and military advice and know-how to the Kurds. During the 1960s and 1970s, Iran (then a monarchy under the Shah) and Israel were strategic allies working together to assist the Kurds led by Mustafa Barzani (father of Masoud) in their battle for self-rule against Saddam Hussein’s government in Baghdad.

Thirty-five years after the creation of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which has demonized Israel as the “small Satan,” the two sworn enemies find themselves on the same side of a Middle Eastern front and sharing at least one national interest – to stop the advance of the bloodthirsty ISIS forces.

Even in Syria, where a civil war has raged since early 2011 (with the United Nations now estimated almost 200,000 deaths), Israel and Iran share a surprising set of interests.

They both want to stop the growing influence, beheadings, mass shootings, military victories, and territorial advances of ISIS.

Iran and its Lebanese Shiite proxy, Hezbollah, are deeply involved in the battle to keep President Bashar al-Assad in power. That has involved battling ISIS.

Israel is hoping — and preparing, if necessary, to take action — to prevent ISIS from taking control of the Syrian side of the 100-kilometer long stretch of border on the Golan Heights. The area had been mostly quiet for 40 years.

However, quiet on the Golan seems to be becoming more elusive by the day. Two days after the fighting in Gaza came to an end, several incidents took place near the Israeli border that bode ill for Israel.

It began with extremist rebel forces, not including ISIS, fighting the Damascus regime and its Hezbollah and Iranian allies, taking over the Syrian side of the Quneitra border crossing with Israel. Three-hundred rebels stormed the compound, and the small Syrian army force on site fled.

On August 28, rebels from Jabhat al-Nusra (the Nusra Front) took captive dozens of UN peacekeepers from Fiji stationed in the demilitarized zone near the border. The captured Fijians are part of UNDOF – the UN Disengagement Observer Force – a mechanism that was put in place at the end of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

The UNDOF mandate, renewed every few years, was to ensure that Israel and Syria maintain the cease-fire and separation of forces. A demilitarized (buffer) zone was established on both sides of the border – banning the entrance of armor and overflights.

Jabhat al-Nusra is considered to be a branch of al-Qaeda operating in Syria and Lebanon. Nusra, numbering some 7,000 mostly Syrian fighters spread out across the country, reached the Golan about two years ago. The numbers in that area have grown over the last few months as ISIS forces took control of northeast Syria – of late overtaking the Syrian air base at Tabqa and declaring the city of Raqqa as their capital of a self-declared caliphate – thus pushing the Nusra fighters southward.

With the exception of a few isolated positions, the entire 100-kilometer border strip is controlled by rebel forces, much of it by Nusra units. Their hatred for Israel is strong. Like ISIS, they wave a black flag, aim to carve out a caliphate, and they also abduct foreigners.

Despite all of this, Israel has managed over the past year to develop reasonably neighborly ties with the various factions, including Nusra.

One factor that has helped to advance this relationship: more than 1,000 casualties from the civil war who have been brought into Israel for treatment at the Sieff Hospital in Safed, the Rambam Hospital in Haifa, and an IDF field hospital set up near the border.

The situation is reminiscent (if on a small-scale) of the “good fence” policy Israel had on the Lebanese border in the 1970s. The establishment of a hospital and transfer of humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees in camps in Jordan and Turkey — done by Israeli private donors and non-governmental organizations on the coattails of the government and the IDF — are part of a very clear approach to make every effort to preserve quiet along the border.

On the other hand, armed conflict and chaotic conditions have always presented opportunities for the other side to glean intelligence. Amid the uncertainties, where it is difficult to distinguish between friend and foe, it is easier to recruit agents from among a confused and desperate population, or to send in reconnaissance missions.

ISIS has no hold on the Golan Heights, but it does have a small force of fighters in a few of the villages near the border. This presence is not a strong source of concern for Israel, but the defense establishment is keeping a very close watch on developments.

The volatile situation in Syria in general and in the battles on the border in particular can change at any moment. The danger that the continued advance of ISIS in Syria will whet its appetite and lead them toward the Israeli border cannot be ignored.

To add to the chaos, while the UN hostage crisis remained unresolved, an Israeli anti-aircraft battery firing a Patriot missile shot down a hostile drone violating its air space near Quneitra.

Israeli sources could not determine whether the unmanned aerial vehicle belonged to Syria, Hezbollah, or Iran, but its purpose was the same. It was on a reconnaissance mission – not necessarily against Israel, but probably to assess and photograph the rebel positions on the Syrian side of the Golan.

This illustrates the irony surrounding the Syrian-Israeli border crisis: Israel doesn’t want the Islamists to control the border area, and Israel prefers Assad’s army as the devil it already knows. However, holding the regime officially responsible for violations of the disengagement agreement, the IDF shoots back at the Syrian army — regardless of who truly fired into Israel.

Israel’s policy of non-intervention in Syria’s civil war has not changed. Yet Israel has taken action more than half-a-dozen times: with air force attacks on convoys or weapons depots of the Syrian army to stop the transport of advanced missiles  and radar to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Israel never claimed responsibility for these attacks, which has allowed both sides to preserve deniability and keep Assad’s regime from feeling humiliated and forced into attacking in response.

Despite Israel’s non-intervention policies, there are voices within the defense establishment and intelligence communities who have second thoughts about whether it is better for Israel that Assad stays in power.

At the outset of the Syrian war, the prevailing idea in the Israeli decision-making echelon was that it was in the national interest to see Assad go. It was then-defense minister Ehud Barak who declared that Assad’s days were numbered, giving him three weeks before being toppled. This attitude was based on the fact that Hezbollah and Iran – Israel’s most hated rivals – were on Assad’s side.

So the old dictum of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” prevailed.

Now, however, the same concept is pushing Israeli leaders to realize that Assad, Iran and Hezbollah – having such a dangerous enemy as ISIS – could, at least on one front, find themselves with an alliance of interests with Israel.

As such, in Syria – like in Iraq, with the Kurds – Israel might find itself on the same side as Iran.

The events in Iraq and Syria demonstrate the phenomenal changes the Middle East has undergone in recent years. Old alliances are disintegrating. Old interests are becoming unimportant. The ties between the various forces are changing, and new players are emerging onto the scene.

[The original article: http://www.jpost.com/Jerusalem-Report/A-web-of-alliances-374231]

September 3, 2014

Who’s on the Syrian Side Near Israel? Nusra, FSA, and Brotherhood — Not ISIS, Not for Now

Here’s the latest from a senior Israeli military source who’s very well informed about the situation along the Syrian border — or, as some would put it, along the October 1973 armistice line on the Golan Heights.

The main headline is that Syria’s government does not control its side of the line. After more than 3 and a half years of civil war in Syria, President Bashar al-Assad’s army has been driven away from the frontier with Israel.

Anti-Assad rebels are now massed along the fences meant to separate Syria from Israeli forces, settlements, and vineyards.

GOOD NEWS: IT’S NOT ISIS

Considering the terror spread worldwide by the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL), here’s some good news for Israel:ISIS doesn’t seem to be up close at the Golan Heights fence. The Islamic State is instead near the Iraqi border — and has poured a large number of fighting men into Iraq. (It should be noted that ISIS propaganda does promise that the eventual “caliphate” the group hopes to establish would include replacing the Jewish state of Israel with an Arab Muslim state of Palestine.)

So who are the rebels at the fence?

The Israeli military source made it clear Israel is closely watching what he refers to as “a 100-kilometer border strip.” Aman — the military intelligence agency — counts between 1,000 and 1,500 anti-Assad fighters on the Syrian side.

Roughly one-third are part of An-Nusra Front (which seems to identify strongly with the late Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda). One-third are labeled as Muslim Brotherhood — the organization smashed by Assad’s father, the late dictator Hafez al-Assad, when his army carried out the huge massacre in Hama in 1982.

The remaining one-third — as many as 500 fighters — along the frontier are part of the Free Syrian Army. Commanders of the FSA include many who have met with American and other Western envoys — and even with Senator John McCain last year, on both sides of Turkey’s border with Syria.

As the FSA continues to maneuver, cajole, and pray for arms and training from the U.S., that group is not believed to be strongly hostile to Israel.

The Muslim Brotherhood fighters are considered to be entirely busy with their own Syrian concerns, and cynically could be said to be “happy they’re alive.” Attacking or pestering Israel is unlikely to be high on their agenda.

The Nusra Front, however, could be a different story. Its fighters kidnapped several dozen United Nations peacekeepers from Fiji — and then fought a gunbattle with UNDOF troops from the Philippines who refused to be taken prisoner. (UNDOF is the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force which has patrolled the Golan Heights since late 1973.)

To try to prove themselves to be pan-national Islamic heroes, the Nusra Front fighters could conceivably lob some shells at Israel — or even try to infiltrate the Israeli side to stage a headline-grabbing attack. But that is not considered likely.

public CIA map of Syria

public CIA map of Syria

The Israeli source notes that Syria’s air force has bombed the rebel positions. Also, because both the rebels and Syria’s army have used tanks in the area, the Syrians are violating the disengagement accords (which UNDOF is meant to police).

Israel does not, however, feel itself to be in danger from that front — so it does nothing except file occasional complaints with the U.N.   Israel’s military is, however, preparing for the possibility of armed conflict on the Golan in the future.

Israel formally annexed the Golan Heights in 1981, eight years after capturing the territory from Syria. Occasional negotiations that might have returned most of the land to Syria, in exchange for a reliable peace treaty, led to nought. For the foreseeable future, Israel would prefer that UNDOF remain to help keep matters calm.

Israeli intelligence, meantime, is monitoring all the factions in Syria. Anyone who is familiar with intelligence techniques can see that even an admirable humanitarian gesture — such as providing hospital treatment in northern Israel to selected Syrians who are wounded in the civil war — affords Israeli intelligence many opportunities to become intimately acquainted with what is occurring inside Syria.

September 3, 2014

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

photo (7)Dan Raviv, CBS News correspondent (in Washington) and co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars and other books, spoke for 15 minutes about the radical group The Islamic State (ISIS) and how Western nations can develop innovative ways to confront and weaken ISIS.

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

He told the audience of mostly diplomats and retired government officials at The Potomac Institute: “Use your imagination,” because excellent intelligence agencies do.
The 15-minute video, thanks to C-Span television, is below. Simply click to watch it.
http://www.c-span.org/video/?c4507318/potomacinstraviv28aug2014

August 30, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-WHY ISRAEL SET UP A HOSPITAL TO TREAT WOUNDED SYRIANS-

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

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

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

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

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

August 28, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did Netanyahu Achieve His Gaza War Goals?

Did Netanyahu Achieve His Gaza War Goals?

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

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

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

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

August 27, 2014


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