“When conditions are ripe,” Israel Wouldn’t Oppose Nuclear-Free MidEast — But for Now, Israel Thanks Obama for Blocking the Issue

[The following article was written for The Jerusalem Post by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.]

Five more years.  That is the grace period granted to Israel — again — to avoid discussing Arab and international calls to open talks to create a Middle East Nuclear Free Zone.

That is the practical result after the Review Conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty failed, over the weekend, to reach a consensus and ended without a final statement.

Once again, it was the United States (together with the U.K. and Canada) that came to the rescue of Israel, taking it off the hook.  Israel won’t have to reveal anything that it has — or pretends perhaps not to have — when it comes to nuclear weapons.

But What Does Israel Have? Netanyahu Doesn't Have to Tell

But What Does Israel Have? Netanyahu Doesn’t Have to Tell

The month-long conference convened in New York City with more than 150 countries in attendance. It collapsed after the U.S. rejected an Egyptian draft resolution, backed by the majority of the member states, echoing decades of calls to dismantle any nuclear weapons that Israel may have, which the Jewish state neither confirms nor denies.

The final paper, drafted by Cairo and opposed by the U.S., would have called upon United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to convene a regional conference on banning nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical and biological, by March 2016.

Egypt, however, also insisted that the conference be held with or without Israel’s participation, without prior agreement on an agenda, and with no discussion of regional security issues.

Any reference to establishing a Middle East Nuclear Free Zone (MENFZ) is perceived as directed against Israel, which, according to international and regional perception, is so far the only possessor of such weapons in the region.

U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller announced on Friday that there was “no agreement,” and accused Egypt and other Arab states of demanding “unrealistic and unworkable conditions” in the negotiations. “We have made clear throughout the process that we will not accept the efforts by some to cynically manipulate the [conference] or try to leverage the negotiation to advance their narrow objectives,” she told attendees.

The NPT Review Conference was the fourth since 1995 (they are convened every five years). The purpose of the conferences is to draft a new treaty since the current NPT, which entered into force in 1970, was intended for a limited period of 25 years.

According to the NPT, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, technology, knowhow and equipment that would enable states to build nuclear bombs is universally forbidden, and only the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council – the U.S., Russia, China, U.K. and France – are permitted to have The Bomb.

Some of the existing clauses of the NPT, and particularly the one just cited, are challenged by emerging powers such as India, Brazil and Argentina, which demand full equality — and urge the five major powers to get rid of their nuclear arsenals.

Since decisions at the Review Conference have to be accepted by consensus and approved by all participants, the U.S. rejection of the Egyptian draft led to the conference’s failure.

While there were disagreements on other aspects of the NPT, the Middle East issue was the most divisive.

Israel, which (like India, Pakistan and North Korea) is not a signatory member of the NPT, for the first time this year agreed to attend the Review Conference in the capacity of an “observer.”

Israel noticed (with displeasure) that at the 2010 Review conference, the U.S. did not oppose an Egyptian final draft. That compelled Israel to take part in nonbinding and preliminary talks with states in the region, brokered by a Finnish diplomat, about the terms and conditions of how and when to convene a conference to discuss the creation of MENFZ.

The talks, which in one round included an Iranian diplomat, led nowhere because of unbridgeable differences between the sides and the disintegration in recent years of states in the region such as Syria, Iraq and Libya.

Over the weekend, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu phoned Secretary of State John Kerry and thanked him for the Obama Administration’s position and support.

The official position of Israel is that it doesn’t oppose — in principle — the convening in the future of a conference that will discuss the creation of a Middle East free of nuclear weapons as well as other weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery (missiles), but only when conditions are ripe.

Israel demands that before that happens, all states in the region, including Iran, must recognize the right of Israel to exist, sign peace treaties with it and put in place concrete security arrangements. The next Review Conference will be convened in 2020.

May 25, 2015

Coming Clean: Why Israeli Military Intelligence Set Bombs in Egypt — Still a Blurry Truth

The IDF archives released dozens of previously secret documents, which shed new light on a tragic operation in Egypt in the 1950’s and may solve an enigma.

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

For nearly 61 years, Israel has been plagued by an unsolved intelligence and political mystery: The case of a sabotage and espionage network of agents it operated in Egypt.

The agents were exposed and arrested in July 1954; two of them were sentenced to death by hanging by military tribunal and six of their accomplices were locked up for long prison sentences. On Monday, the IDF archives released dozens of never before published documents, which shed new light on the tragic operation and may solve the enigma.

At the heart of the matter is a central question: Who gave the instructions and was responsible for the operation: then-defense minister Pinhas Lavon or Col. Benjamin Gibli, head of the Military Intelligence?

The purpose of activating the Egyptian agents – young and idealistic members of Jewish Zionist groups – was to use them to plant bombs in British and U.S. cultural centers and theaters in Cairo and Alexandria.

Perhaps Israel's most notorious defense minister, Pinhas Lavon (left) chatting with Gen. Moshe Dayan. Behind them is Shimon Peres, in 1954. (IDF/Government Press Office)

Perhaps Israel’s most notorious defense minister, Pinhas Lavon (left) chatting with Gen. Moshe Dayan. Behind them is Shimon Peres, in 1954. (IDF/Government Press Office)

The logic behind the operation was to try to smear the Egyptian regime of president Abdel Gamal Nasser and to portray it as unreliable and untrustworthy in the eyes of Washington and London. The operation, codenamed Susanna, failed. Israel was sucked into a black hole of mutual accusations, its top echelon trying to deflect the responsibility and placing the blame on each other.

The most dramatic document of the newly released materials is a transcript of a meeting in December 1954, five months after the operation, between Lavon and Gibli. In the conversation, Lavon accused Gibli of ordering the operation to be activated without his approval.

Gibli tried to defend himself by arguing that the defense minister gave the order.

According to the document, the defense minister warned Gibli not to complicate matters.

Gibli: “Maybe I’m already implicated.”

Lavon: “Don’t get further implicated.”

Gibli: “There’s still no sentence by hanging in Israel.”

Later, Gibli tried to convince his superior that he had been given the go-ahead to activate the operation in a meeting prior to its implementation.

Lavon immediately replied: “That meeting took place not before, but after, when you already had knowledge that the affair was over. I did not know. You did.”

At that moment, Gibli muttered six words: “Okay, I will accept this ruling.” This was the closest the mystery has ever come to being resolved.

However, Gibli later denied his responsibility, and in several commissions of inquiry, he repeated that he had acted under Lavon’s order.

The political ricochet of this affair resulted eventually in the resignation of David Ben-Gurion as prime minister, haunted the Israeli public discourse, and left open the tactical questions of what had really happened.

It begged the biggest question on a strategic level – namely the stupidity of Israeli decision-makers (whoever was behind it), to believe that setting of a series of home-made bombs in public spaces would actually change the course of Middle East history.

Nevertheless, history will probably never know for sure who was really responsible for this operation – even Gibli’s supposed confession, as recorded in the newly released transcript, does not reveal the truth. Gibli died, at age 88, in 2008.  Lavon had died, at age 71, in 1976.

May 11, 2015

Where to Buy ‘Spies Against Armageddon’: on the People, Missions and Goals of Mossad and Israeli Security from 1948 to the Headlines of Today

Click here for full details of how (and where) to buy Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, the most complete and balanced history of the Mossad and Israel’s other security and espionage agencies.

The authors are Dan Raviv (of CBS News) and Yossi Melman (the longtime Haaretz expert on intelligence, who now is a defense, strategy, and espionage analyst for the Jerusalem Post and other Israeli media).

This is their fifth book together.  Their best seller (in 1990-91) about Israel’s intelligence community was Every Spy a Prince.  They also wrote a character-filled history of U.S.-Israel relations, Friends In Deed.

To glance at readers’ reviews posted at Amazon.com, please click here.  For example:

Despite the book being over 350 pages, it goes by very quickly (I read it in a weekend). ” –daniel michael  |  17 reviewers made a similar statement
Highly recommended read for those interested in Middle East events. ” –zedillo99  |  15 reviewers made a similar statement
“Raviv and Melman have written a wonderful history of Mossad. It reads like a thriller, but conveys a thorough history of the Israeli intelligence agency.” –Kai Bird, Pulitzer Prize winner

Spies Against Armageddon, israel spy, covert operations, dan raviv, yossi melman

SPIES AGAINST ARMAGEDDON is a powerful, vivid history of Israel’s intelligence community – led by the famous and feared Mossad – from the country’s independence in 1948 right up to the crises of today. Israel’s battle plan, aimed at stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program, may drag the United States into war and soaring oil prices. The plan is based on deception, sabotage, assassination, and intimidation. The book tells the story, never told before, of Kidon – the super-secret unit that is like a Mossad within the Mossad. Kidon carries out special operations, including assassinations and sabotage. Kidon had a daring role in destroying Syria’s nuclear reactor in 2007.

Israel’s methods and motivations can be fully understood only when seeing how they developed over the decades. Bold spies have penetrated enemy capitals, and secret agencies felt a historic responsibility to protect Jews worldwide. The authors chronicle major changes in Israeli intelligence agencies’ priorities – away from Palestinian peace prospects, shifting to Iran as the main focus. The book also exposes some episodes of which Israeli spies are ashamed; scandals they would prefer remain buried. Still, in the age of the internet and spy satellites, Israel is the most innovative nation in the use of espionage as an alternative to war.

Dan Raviv

yossi melman, spies against armageddon, iran nuclear

Yossi Melman

Among the burning questions addressed and answered in SPIES AGAINST ARMAGEDDON are these: Who planted a powerful computer worm in Iran’s uranium enrichment centrifuges? Who has been motorcycling boldly through the streets of Tehran, assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists? Are Israeli spies regularly inside Iran and other enemy countries? Did the Mossad make a huge mistake when two dozen of its operatives were seen by hotel security cameras in Dubai, or was it a successful murder mission? Do the assassins, as portrayed in the movie “Munich,” really feel pangs of conscience? Have Israel’s enemies ever managed to plant agents in the Israeli government? Does the United States really trust Israeli intelligence, or is the relationship limited by mutual mistrust? Why do U.S. security agencies believe their close ally is spying on America? Is Israel trying to maneuver the U.S. into attacking Iran?

This book contains new information about the Mossad director from 2002 to 2010, Meir Dagan, and how he put “the dagger back between the teeth” of the spy agency. When he publicly declares that he opposes an Israeli military strike on Iran, what does he favor instead? The authors of this book have spoken with all the major players, and a multitude of minor players as well, to gain a balanced and deep understanding of Israeli actions at times of crisis – and Israel almost always feels it is in a crisis.  Click here for reviews and more information on Spies Against Armageddon.

 

May 1, 2015

Russia Selling Advanced Anti-Aircraft Missiles to Iran — The Lessons

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

Both Israel and the United States were surprised by Russia’s decision, announcedMonday, to unfreeze its sale of the advanced S-300 air defense system to Iran.

The Missile Man: Vladimir Putin

The Missile Man: Vladimir Putin

Amid American pressure and Israeli persuasion, and mainly because of its own interests, Russia decided several years ago to suspend its decision to sell the weapons system to Iran.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government has now announced that, against the backdrop of the emerging Iran nuclear deal, he has decided to cancel the freeze and go through with the transaction.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov emphasized that the S-300 is a defensive system.

The decision points to at least four central conclusions:

1. The sanctions regime is disintegrating.

2. To strike Iran’s nuclear facilities will be more difficult, but not impossible, for the Israeli and US air forces. It will undoubtedly be more difficult for the Israel Air Force, which doesn’t possess stealth bombers.

3. Russia is not ready to lose Iran as its “asset” in the Middle East.

4. Despite Israel’s policy of appeasement toward Russia, the influence of Jerusalem’s foreign policy on Putin is negligible.

One of the biggest achievements of the international community, led by the US, in regard to Iran’s nuclear program was the formation of an international consensus that included Russia and China.

Despite the fact that Russia and China had interests that often differed diametrically from those of the US and the EU, they have agreed since 2006 to join in both Security Council and Western sanctions.

This was accomplished in large part because of the wise approach of Washington, which insisted on an Iran policy carried out by consensus.

Without this approach, the harsh sanctions which Israel requested be levied against Iran and which led Tehran to crawl to the negotiating table to reach a deal (which still has not been put in writing or signed and is therefore solely a framework of principles) would not have been put in place.

However, now it seems that Russia has decided to go back to its independent policy toward Iran.

One of the reasons this decision was made is that Moscow fears that, after a final agreement is reached, there will be a thaw in tense relations between Tehran and Washington. Common interests between the two countries are already beginning to surface, such as on the issue of the war against Islamic State. Russia will do all in its power to retain Iran within its sphere of influence and as a massive trade partner. At play are several major deals involving $20 billion worth of oil, grain and more.

Despite Israel’s efforts – led by Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and which included a number of trips by him and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intended to find the way to Putin’s heart, especially as regards arming Iran – when it comes to things that touch upon Moscow’s essential interests, Russia doesn’t take Israel’s opinion into account.

Instead of bashing the Russian decision, the official Israeli response, as expressed by Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, is to blame the US. As Israel sees it, the negotiations and impending deal on Iran’s nuclear program, which the Obama administration is pushing, are responsible.

An Israeli military option – if it exists at all – will become even more remote, if and when the S-300 is delivered to Iran and deployed to defend its skies.

It is one of the most advanced weapons systems in the world, capable of shooting down planes and missiles of every kind, including cruise missiles, with the help of advanced radar with detection abilities up to 300 kilometers.

Despite this, the Israel Air Force can still carry out an attack.

However, the dangers that such a mission would pose and the price in lives that would be lost and in planes that would be shot down will be higher from now on. Much higher.

The US definitely still has the ability to evade and neutralize the S-300 and to carry out a more effective attack than could Israel.

April 15, 2015

Israel Will Keep Protesting, But Already Prepares for “The Day After” the Iran Nuclear Deal — Including Covert Action

[The “framework” reached with Iran by the U.S. and its partners is “a good deal” — according to President Barack Obama — which, if implemented and obeyed, will make the world (including Israel) safer.  Many Israelis — certainly the reelected leaders — strongly disagree with that.  Perhaps continued pressure by Israel can make the final details — in the deal to be negotiated by June 30 — a bit more acceptable.  In this analysis for The Jerusalem Post, Yossi Melman — co-author of Spies Against Armageddon — considers how Israel may have to prepare for “the day after” the nuclear deal with Iran.] 

Israel continues to ready itself for the stark reality at the end of the Iran nuclear talks.

Netanyahu consults with Ya'alon and others

Netanyahu consults with Ya’alon and others (GPO photo)

Officially, Israel continues to criticize the talks and the pending nuclear agreement between the world powers and Iran. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, each in his own way, keep bashing the negotiations.

It will take nearly three more months to flesh out the full details of a final and comprehensive agreement. President Obama says Iran’s nuclear program will be reduced and rolled back so that it would take one year to “break out” to assemble a bomb. In return the West and the UN’s sanctions will be gradually lifted.

Most Israeli experts, and certainly its leaders, have argued without hesitation that the current deal is dangerous to Israel’s interests.

But is it really? The blatant reality is that even before the deal Iran was already a nuclear threshold state. And if it really wants to, it can run off and produce nuclear weapons.

On the other hand, Israel is the strongest nation in the region. According to foreign reports, the only democracy in the Middle East boasts both a significant nuclear arsenal and submarines that are capable of executing second strikes — the capability to respond to a nuclear attack with powerful nuclear retaliation.

Four Arab states – Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen – are disintegrating. As a result, Israel’s strategic posture has improved, as many of the serious military threats facing Israel have dissipated.

Israel would have preferred that there be no negotiations on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and that sanctions would be in place forever. But that won’t happen.

Without admitting it, Israel is preparing itself for the “day after,” adjusting its position to the reality at the end of the negotiations.

The world will never hear an official admission, but deep in their heart Israeli leaders surely understand they failed to orchestrate an international campaign against the talks and the deal that has emerged.

It was an unnecessary campaign. Israel paid a heavy price in its confrontation with the US administration, and it caused great animosity between Netanyahu and President Barack Obama. Frankly, Israel had very little influence, if at all, on the talks.

The only tangible result was that Netanyahu won reelection last month, after convincing the public that only he knows how to deal with the threat of Iran becoming a nuclear state.

But now, with election season over and the deal with Iran being shaped, Israel has started clandestine diplomatic and intelligence initiatives to reach understandings and define red lines on how to deal with the upcoming reality.

Israeli bodies – the Defense Ministry, the air force, Military Intelligence and the Mossad – are already involved in discreet contacts with their American counterparts, as well as with EU countries, on how to prepare various responses in case Iran violates the deal.

-Iran is Likely to Cheat-

The best-case scenario is that Iran will adhere to the agreement. But anyone who follows Iran’s nuclear history and its relations with international bodies such as the International Atomic Energy Agency knows that it is unlikely to happen.

Most probably Iran will try to dishonor its obligations through deceptions and lies.

Israel, with its counterparts, is trying to define the possible responses needed if and when Iran’s deceptions are exposed. In the past, international media reported that Mossad chiefs met with their Saudi counterparts to coordinate joint efforts to stop Iran from building nuclear bombs. In these reports it said Saudi Arabia agreed that the Israel Air Force would use Saudi airspace for an attack on Iran’s nuclear sites.

This doesn’t mean that Israel is already coordinating a detailed military option with all those who are against the deal. These exchanges are more about reaching a basic understanding, should Iran seriously violate the deal.

Indeed, one should not hastily reach the conclusion that Israel is expediting its preparations to strike Iran. For now, Israel is still relying on the Americans. Ya’alon made it clear this week that Obama had promised that he would not allow Iran to have nuclear weapons.

But it is also clear that Israel will not tolerate a situation where Iran is on the verge of producing nuclear bombs. In such a worst-case scenario, it is most probable that any Israeli prime minister will make the same decision as previous leaders – Menachem Begin in 1981 and Ehud Olmert in 2007, who ordered to destroy Iraqi and Syrian nuclear reactors, respectively. Even though it’s reported that Israel does have nuclear weapons it can’t allow Iran, which advocates the destruction of the Jewish state, to have nuclear bombs.

April 4, 2015

Israel Keeps Warning Iran Nuclear Deal is Bad — But It’s Not a Sword on Israel’s Throat

[Ths is adapted from an analysis by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon and other non-fiction books including the best seller Every Spy a Prince.]

Armed with half a dozen submarines, Israel’s strategic arm – along with the air force, and pending approval from the political echelon – could attack Iran to prevent it from assembling and deploying nuclear weapons. This is what former Mossad chief Meir Dagan meant when he spoke about a military attack as a last resort – “only when the sword is at the throat” — but still a possible option.

The deal unveiled in Switzerland on Friday between Iran and the five world powers plus Germany (P5+1), even if not ideal, certainly does not belong in the category of “sword at the throat.”

The Israeli government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, defined the pending agreement as a “bad deal.”

It’s true – maybe it would have been possible to reach an immeasurably better agreement. Iran has come to these talks, which are aimed at limiting its nuclear program, out of weakness. The heavy sanctions imposed on it over the last years – particularly on its oil exports and banking system – are threatening to crush its economy, and Iran’s leaders are concerned about the future of their regime.

But even with the concessions apparently being offered by the P5+1, Iran is being forced to capitulate. The centrifuges will not be dismantled, but their numbers will be reduced greatly.  And operations at both Fordow (once a secret site) and Arak will be restricted and subject to international inspections.

Each of these steps will distance Iran from being able to create nuclear weapons by at least a year. At the moment, it is only a few months away from such a capability.

It’s true that the agreement leaves some loopholes that are worrisome and that beg for solutions, such as requiring that Iran reveal its past “weaponization” activities, and how to prevent it from nuclear research and developing advanced models of centrifuges.

The question here is not only if this is a bad agreement – but rather, what is the alternative?

The alternative to foregoing a deal is even worse. With no international agreement and stringent inspections, Iran could already begin galloping toward a bomb.

Don’t forget: Israel is the strongest military and economic power in the Middle East. Its strategic posture amid the dissolution of the governments in the Arab world, has only improved in the last years.  There is no existential threat to the Jewish state. Not even from Iran.

Israel can permit itself to show more self-confidence than its prime minister, who imbues his citizens with fear, permits himself.  In any case, Israel always reserves the right to military action — perhaps even using the strategically invisible submarines — if ever it should feel “the sword at the throat.”

April 2, 2015

Israel Shows Off a Strategic Ace-in-the-Hole: Submarines that Could Carry Nuke Missiles — In MidEast Chaos, Israel’s Strength is Unrivalled

[The following analysis was written for The Jerusalem Post by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars and other books including the best seller Every Spy a Prince.]

As a mere coincidence, while reports were emerging from Lausanne, Switzerland, about a likely agreement over Iran’s nuclear program, Israel’s military reporters were granted a tour of the Israeli naval base in Haifa, to view its newest submarine.

Israel’s German-Made Submarines: ‘Second-Strike’ Strategic Threat?

Bearing the name “Tanin,” this is the fifth submarine that Israel has acquired at a significantly subsidized price from the Germans. Their generosity stems from pangs of bad conscience over the Holocaust.

Tanin in Dry Dock in Haifa (IDF Spokesman photo)

Tanin in Dry Dock in Haifa (IDF Spokesman photo)

Each submarine costs more than half a million dollars – Israel is expecting its sixth submarine to arrive this summer. Israel sees this submarine fleet – which it calls Fleet 7 – as a “strategic arm” of its military force.

Foreign experts and reports explain that Israel, according to their assessments, has eighty nuclear bombs and warheads — with some analysts suggesting the number is even higher. They suggest that Israel’s submarines represent a “second strike” nuclear capability.

This means — in a Doomsday scenario — that if Israel were ever to be bombed in a nuclear attack (if and when Iran achieves that capability, and if Tehran were to carry out such an offensive), Israel would still be able to respond with a “second strike”: firing missiles from its underwater fleet, nearly indiscernible to enemy eye.

Even before such a Doomsday, another scenario is imaginable. Armed with these six submarines, Israel’s strategic arm – along with the air force, and pending approval from the political echelon – could attack Iran to prevent it from assembling and deploying nuclear weapons. This is what former Mossad chief Meir Dagan meant when he spoke about a military attack as the last resort – “only when the sword is at the throat.”

The deal currently being consolidated in Switzerland between Iran and the five world powers plus Germany (P5+1), even if not ideal, certainly does not belong in the category of “sword at the throat.”

The Israeli government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, defines the pending agreement as a “bad deal.”

It’s true – maybe it would have been possible to reach an immeasurably better agreement. Iran has come to these talks, which are aimed at limiting its nuclear program, out of weakness. The heavy sanctions imposed on it over the last years – particularly on its oil exports and banking system – are threatening to crush its economy, and Iran’s leaders are concerned about the future of their regime.

But even with the concessions apparently being offered by the P5+1, Iran is being forced to capitulate. The centrifuges will not be dismantled, but their numbers will be reduced by 40 percent, to 6,000 – reportedly leaving Iran with only older, slower and less efficient models.

Most of its stock of enriched uranium – some eight tons, those too at a level of only up to 5% – will be transferred to Russia. (Early Monday there were reports that Iran was backing away from agreeing on this.)

The nuclear reactor Iran is building in Arak will not be able to produce enough plutonium to create an atomic weapon. International inspection would be intrusive, and it would continue as such for at least 10 more years. The sanctions would be lifted only gradually (although Iran has been asking for instance sanctions relief).

Each of these steps will distance Iran from being able to create nuclear weapons by at least a year. At the moment, it is only a few months away from such a capability.

It’s true that the agreement leaves some loopholes that are worrisome and that beg for solutions, such as requiring that Iran reveal its past “weaponization” activities, and how to prevent it from nuclear research and developing advanced models of centrifuges.

The question here is not just if this is a bad agreement – but rather, what is the alternative?

The alternative to foregoing a deal is even worse. With no international agreement and stringent inspections, Iran could already begin galloping toward a bomb.

Don’t forget, as we just saw on the submarine tour, Israel is the strongest military and economic power in the Middle East. Its strategic posture amid the dissolution of the governments in the Arab world, has only improved in the last years.  There is no existential threat to the Jewish state. Not even from Iran.

Israel can permit itself to show more self-confidence than its prime minister, who imbues his citizens with fear, permits himself.  In any case, Israel always reserves the right to military action — perhaps even using the strategically invisible submarines — if ever it should feel “the sword at the throat.”

March 29, 2015

Saudi Planes Pound Houthis in Yemen, Invasion Force on Standby, Arab Allies Taking Part — Pushing Back on Iran Just Before a Nuclear Deal?

[This analysis is adapted from an article that Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, wrote for The Jerusalem Post newspaper.]

The fall of Yemen’s major cities into the hands of the Houthi rebels — who are Shi’ite rebels and are supported and directed by Iran — is not unrelated to the nuclear talks.

A CIA map of Yemen

A CIA map of Yemen

Saudi Arabia’s decision to start bombing the Houthis in Yemen’s capital Sanaa — with the stunningly impressive participation of Jordan, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, and other Sunni-majority Muslim countries in the air campaign — is certainly a shot at Iran, too, at this significant and sensitive time.

Iran is striving to establish hegemony in the Middle East. It already either partially dominates or fully controls Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and now has made inroads in Yemen on the Red Sea.

In a perfect world — in view of the dramatic events in Yemen and other crises (where Iran’s aggressive hands could easily be exposed) — the United States and its European allies would have suspended the nuclear talks with Iran. At the least, the West’s position in the negotiations could have been toughened.

If this new and most crucial round of nuclear talks in Switzerland results in a framework agreement among the word powers (US, Russia, China, UK, France, and Germany) and Iran, it will further consolidate Iran’s hegemony.

It is no wonder that the Arab world led by Saudi Arabia now shares with Israel a strong fear: that the deal in the making might delay, but eventually could guarantee, that Iran create nuclear weapons.

The shared interests between the Arabs and Israel — even if only hinted at by leaders and not explicitly declared — are stunning and significant.

They claim that the pending deal is “a very bad deal” that will further enhance Iran as a nuclear threshold state and recognize its right to keep enriching uranium, despite its long history of deceptions and violations of its obligations to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The negotiation focuses on reaching — by the end of this month — a framework agreement that would lay out the major principles of the final deal. They include the reduction of Iran’s operational centrifuges for uranium enrichment from 10,000 to roughly 6,000, intrusive inspection of all its nuclear sites for 10 years (or perhaps more), limitations on its enriched uranium stockpiles, and some other important points.

If a deal is reached, this would lead to “technical talks” aimed at concluding with a comprehensive agreement by the end of June.  That would replace the interim agreement reached nearly a year and half ago — a partial deal that left Iran pushing hard to total abolition of sanctions, rather than the partial relief that Iran received.

Reaching an agreement is not a sure thing.  Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, has publicly demanded that economic sanctions be lifted at the moment that a nuclear agreement is signed.  Russia and China probably support that notion, but the Europeans — led by a highly skeptical France — stand against instant relief for Iran

Another hurdle is Iran’s demand to develop, though not to operate, new versions of centrifuges which would spin faster and be more efficient.

Even if these two major obstacles are settled, the agreement will most probably leave loopholes and unresolved issues. These include the demands by the IAEA that Iran show transparency in regard to its past activities in the area of weaponization.

The Agency also wants its inspectors to visit suspected sites such as Parchin, and to interview key nuclear scientists such as Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, considered to be the “father” of Iran’s future nuclear bomb.

Resolving these issues would enable the world to have a better understanding of how advanced Iran is in its efforts to master the knowledge of building a nuclear bomb.

So far Iran has rejected the demands.

The US argues that if a deal is clinched this month and finally sealed in June, Iran will be pushed back up to a year from the ability to assemble a bomb.  That would be the “break-out time,” in case it breaches the agreement and tries to dash to be a nuclear weapons state.

The Obama Administration suggests it — and perhaps Israel — would have time to react, either militarily or by reimposing harsh sanctions.  Many experts argue, however, that effective sanctions could never be clamped back onto Iran’s economy so quickly.

In addition, Israeli and some American experts are concerned that the limits being considered as adequate by the U.S. would actually leave the “break-out time” at only a few months.

With or without a bomb, the dramatic developments in Yemen are yet another example of events that may pave the way for Iran to be an unstoppable regional superpower — especially if U.S. and European responses continue to be insufficient and soft.

March 26, 2015

Iran Nuclear Talks Always Surrounded by Spies — Somebody’s Listening! No, Everybody Is

Julian Borger, based in London with the newspaper The Guardian, quotes Yossi Melman — co-author of Spies Against Armageddon — in Wednesday’s newspaper.

Here is an excerpt:

IAEA logoVienna is also a primary focus for the Mossad, especially when foreign officials come to town for IAEA board meetings. The book Spies against Armageddon recounts how Israeli spies broke into the flat of the head of the Syrian Atomic Energy çommission, Ibrahim Othman, in March 2007, and stole details from his laptop of a nuclear reactor under construction at al-Kibar. The site was bombed six months later.

Yossi Melman, one of the book’s authors, said: “IAEA board meetings and the Iran talks are a launching pad for various espionage operations because you can recruit people where you have a concentration of delegations, especially from countries where officials are under heavy monitoring at home. You can recruit and debrief agents and bug and break in to hotel rooms. The Americans, British, French, Israeli, Iranians are all there. Everyone is doing it all the time.”

[courtesy: The Guardian]

Full item: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/24/iranian-nuclear-talks-spies-around-the-table

March 25, 2015

Eavesdropping on Iran Nuclear Talks?  Parsing the Spying Report – and Israel’s Emphatic Denial

[This analysis was written by Dan Raviv, co-author of Spies Against ArmageddonInside Israel’s Secret Wars, for CBSnews.com]

WASHINGTON — Israel is emphatically denying a report in The Wall Street Journal that it spied on the Iran nuclear talks – apparently getting information that the Obama Administration did not want Israel to know – but what’s more credible?:

-That Israel would obey some unwritten code of gentlemanly behavior and not use its espionage capabilities for this?

-Or that Israeli leaders would find it vital – almost a case of national life or death – to find out if the United States and other Western countries intended to let Iran retain much of its nuclear potential?

Netanyahu

Netanyahu

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office in Jerusalem said the WSJ front-page report (headlined “Israel Spied on Iran Talks – Ally’s Snooping Upset White House Because Information was Used to Lobby Congress to Try to Sink a Deal”) is “utterly false.”

The key word in the denial, however, may be the word “against.”

Here is what Netanyahu’s spokesman declared: “The State of Israel does not conduct espionage against the United States or Israel’s other allies.”

In our experience, researching and closely observing Israel’s intelligence agencies for decades, Israeli officials do not consider it a hostile act – “against” the U.S. – to try to determine, by all possible means, what the United States and other nations are doing.

The general theme of Israeli behavior is the belief that the tiny country – population 8 million – is surrounded by enemies in a volatile region.  Israeli soldiers and espionage operatives are frequently lectured that their nation’s back is against the wall.

Israel, in this mentality, often has to do things that other nations might not do.  As with covert operations by the espionage agencies of all countries – the highest concern is generally, “Don’t get caught.”

The Journal report contains a few nuggets that spotlight the twisted moral code of espionage.

The report says the White House was not very upset about discovering that Israel was scooping up secret information – whether by electronic surveillance, human assets in the negotiating teams, or private conversations with French and other participants.

“The White House has largely tolerated Israeli snooping on U.S. policy makers,” the article says, adding that Israel is tolerant about the U.S. doing the same kind of political espionage.

The Journal‘s Adam Entous writes that what upset the Obama team was “Israel’s sharing of inside information with U.S. lawmakers and others to drain support” from the nuclear negotiations.

How did the Americans find out about this “spying operation”?  Of course, it seems, by hearing from members of Congress who were concerned about where the Iran negotiations were heading – and the White House quickly determined that the version Congress was hearing was a detailed Israeli interpretation.

But don’t miss this irony: The U.S. confirmed, supposedly, that Israel was spying – by spying on the Israelis!

As the Journal puts it: “U.S. intelligence agencies monitored Israel’s communications to see if the country knew of the negotiations” – referring to America’s secret talks with Iran, before the start of formal negotiations that brought in Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China.

The article suggests that if Israel used its electronic interception abilities – which are among the best in the world, according to longtime intelligence officers – to monitor the talks with Iran, communications involving the European countries were probably more vulnerable than official U.S. e-mails, “diplomatic cables,” and phone conversations.

Israeli sources told the newspaper that much of the data being sought can be obtained “by targeting Iranians and others in the region who are communicating with countries in the talks.”

Why have these allegations – which basically seem credible – been leaked now?  The Obama Administration seems to be on a verbal warpath against the newly reelected Netanyahu.

Israel’s prime minister tried to walk back his remarks that seemed to reject a two-state solution with the Palestinians – and then he apologized for railing against Israeli Arabs voting “in droves” as a danger – but Administration officials in Washington are practically ignoring the walk-backs.

The Israeli defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon, said – according to Haaretz – there is “no way” Israeli espionage agencies spied on the Americans.

He said someone is leaking this kind of story in order to do damage to the military and intelligence ties with America that continue to be strong.  “It’s a shame,” said Ya’alon, “that such winds are blowing into the clandestine channels in which we conduct this relationship.”

Dan Raviv, a Washington-based CBS News correspondent, is host of radio’s Weekend Roundup and co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.

March 24, 2015

The Sinai: For Israel, Long a Buffer but Now a Battlefield — Israel Firmly on Egypt’s Side

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

EILAT — The Israel Defense Forces’ Division No. 80 is stationed on the steep slopes of the Eilat Mountains, three kilometers west of Israel’s southern port and resort town, on the shores of the Red Sea.

The division, also known as the Edomite Division (named after the ancient tribes who lived in the area in Biblical times), is responsible for overseeing Israel’s longest borders — with Jordan and Egypt — which total a length of nearly 500 kilometers.

Both Arab countries have signed peace treaties with Israel: Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. Since then, they have maintained full diplomatic relations with Israel.

They have kept close through clandestine military, security and intelligence cooperation. This tight coordination is largely due to the fact that Cairo and Amman have identified important areas in which they share crucial common interests with Israel.

= = = = = 

Update: A newsletter based in France, Intelligence On Line, reports that Israeli military intelligence’s electronic intercept Unit 8200 is assisting Egyptian intelligence by eavesdropping on and tracking suspected terrorists now known as SP — the “Sinai Province” of the Islamic State, formerly Ansar Beit al-Maqdas. This group swore allegiance to IS a few months ago.

= = = = =

The shared interests with Egypt and Jordan are especially relevant due to dangers and threats posed by the rise of radical and militant Islamist groups, such as the Islamic State (IS), and the various jihadist factions affiliated with al-Qaeda and Hamas.

Still, there is a big difference between Israel’s perception of these dangers, and the reality facing Jordan to the east and particularly Egypt to the west.

Though the danger of IS — now struggling in its bloody battles in Syria and Iraq and turning its eyes on Jordan — indeed looms on the horizon, so far Israeli security sources see no evidence of its presence in the Hashemite Kingdom.

Thus, as far as Israel is concerned, the Jordanian frontier is indeed a real “peace border.” For the last several years, there have been no terrorist incidents or attempts to infiltrate Israel from Jordan.

Even the criminal activity – mainly drug smuggling – has been very low. The ultimate evidence for this tranquil reality is the fact that there is no fence separating the two countries. If and when the national budget permits it, Israel plans to erect a fence along the Jordanian border – but knowing Israel’s national priorities, especially after this month’s election, when social and economic matters may top the agenda, the notion of constructing a fence between Israel and Jordan is very far away.

The Egyptian border, on the other hand, is much less calm and much more worrying, despite the decades-old peace treaty.

Two years ago, Israel completed the construction of a 200 km-long fence from Eilat to Gaza. The construction costs topped 2 billion Shekels (about $500 million) and posed a serious engineering challenge, to overcome the natural topography of deep canyons and high mountains, set among sharp angles.

A visit to the area shows an impressive piece of work – a fence hundreds of kilometers long and 3-4 meters high, equipped with electronic sensors and cameras.

When the fence was originally planned and designed by the Israeli government under Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership, it was designated to stop the flood of African immigrants and job seekers mainly from Eritrea and Sudan.

Prior to construction of the fence, between 6,000 and upwards of 10,000 people – sometime entire families – were able to easily infiltrate Israel from the Sinai Peninsula. Last year, only 12 infiltrators managed to reach Israel. In that sense, the fence has proved to be justified and effective.

But in the last three years, the fence has become even more important to stop (or at least scale down) the threat of terrorism. In the twilight times between the toppling of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2011 (as part of what was termed the Arab Spring) and the installation of the Muslim Brotherhood regime of Muhammad Morsi (who is now sentenced to death by an Egyptian court), a terrorist group emerged in Sinai. It called itself Ansar Beit al-Maqdas (translated literally to mean Supporters of the Sacred House — generally a reference to the Muslim claim on Jerusalem).

An Islamic State flag (photo at MEMRI.org)

An Islamic State flag (photo at MEMRI.org)

The group renamed itself three months ago to become the Sinai Province (SP) of the Islamic State, after pledging allegiance to IS and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Two motives triggered its transformation: Ideology and a hope for financial infusion.

The Islamic State, which split three years ago from Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, introduced a new notion to radical Islam. Instead of advocating the idea of transcending global Jihad (holy war) – i.e. world terrorism with no borders — IS preached the creation of territorial units which would adhere to the 7th century fundamental ideas that ruled the region with the spread of the Prophet Muhammad’s Islam.

IS not only preached and talked.  In 2014, it began to walk the walk, and embarked on implementing its philosophy in the large areas which it conquered in Iraq and Syria.

The idea of territorial Islamic units had a great appeal for Ansar Beit al-Maqdas, but regardless of its name change, cosmetic alterations and facelift, the group’s aims have remained the same. First and foremost, its operations are focused on fighting the Egyptian government and military, with the goal of destabilizing the central regime, primarily to seize control of Sinai. Its secondary goal is to fight Israel.

The Sinai Peninsula is a huge arid desert of 60,000 square kilometers (more than twice the collective size of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank), which for centuries has served as a crossroads between Africa, Asia and Europe, carrying the weight of strategic importance and historical significance. It spreads between the Red Sea, the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea, bordering Israel and mainland Egypt, in close proximity to Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

(courtesy iris.org.il)

(courtesy iris.org.il)

Today the Sinai is home to 360,000 inhabitants, mostly nomads (Bedouin), of which 80,000 are Palestinians and foreigners to the peninsula. These inhabitants live below the poverty line, in conditions substandard even to the deteriorating Egyptian economy. The locals live basically in tribal societies, earning meager livings working for the declining tourist industry and from the smuggling of goods, drugs and weapons, as well as human trafficking.

The SP is considered to be a small group, consisting of fewer than 1,000 warriors, assistants and sympathizers. It draws its support from the local Bedouin tribes, the two largest being the Tarabin and the Azazma, which have branched family ties in the Israeli Negev desert. Its main presence is in the northern parts of Sinai around the district city of El Arish, with small cells in the central peninsula.

Despite its efforts, the group has no influence in the southern part of Sinai or in the Red Sea strip leading to Eilat, which is home to the bulk of Sinai’s tourism industry and is one of the most important sources of revenue generation for the Egyptian economy. As such, the Egyptian government tries its best to co-opt the local tribesmen by offering them jobs in order minimize the temptation of aiding SP. So far the policy has been successful.

Before pledging allegiance to IS, the SP supported its terror ventures by robbing ATM machines and banks, auto theft, trading in stolen goods, and drug smuggling. Western sources monitoring SP say that so far, there is no evidence that its merger with IS has showered it with the expected bonanza. For the short term, at least, it seems it has been forced to rely on its old and familiar sources of income.

Small though it is, the Sinai Province has turned out to be a lethal battleground.

Over the course of 2014, its militants killed 350 Egyptian soldiers, policemen, security servicemen and government officials. The group’s tactics have shown a constant improvement from small-size ambushes and casual rifle shootings to car bombings and relatively well-coordinated large-scale attacks against Egyptian military bases and police stations. Some of these raids were intended not only to kill, but also to capture weapons.

A milestone attack by SP occurred in January 2015, against the local headquarters of the Egyptian army in El Arish. It was a well-executed and coordinated operation, which included exploding car bombs and firing mortar shells.

Egypt's President Sisi, in his military days

Egypt’s President Sisi, in his military days

The incident ended in the deaths of 44 Egyptian soldiers and officers, and the looting of army weapons and armored vehicles. The attack shocked President Abdulfatah al Sisi, who openly declared war against SP, promising towipe out the group and restore law and order to the area.

Egyptian officials claim that SP is supported by foreign jihadists that entered Sinai from Yemen and Somalia. But Western intelligence sources have told me that there is no evidence of foreign presence. “Basically SP is a local organization,” said one.

The Egyptian government under Sisi has also accused Hamas of supporting SP. This accusation is understandable, judging from the war the president has raged against the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is a Gaza extension. But the Western intelligence sources say that although such ties between Hamas and SP existed in the past, they have all but ceased at the present. If at all, SP might maintain contact with some renegade radical Gaza Islamists – those which, incidentally, Hamas has been trying to eliminate.

In the last two months, there have been indications that the Egyptian army has intensified its campaign and managed to inflict heavy casualties to SP.

The success of the Egyptian offensive was clearly helped by Israel’s readiness to make some major concessions.

It was President Sisi himself who earlier this month revealed to the Washington Post that Israel had agreed to let his army deploy more troops and helicopters in Sinai, particularly in the northern part — well beyond the limits set by the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.  Sisi added that he regularly consults with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

This Israeli concession is no wonder. It is an essential Israeli interest that Sinai remain a quiet arena with no terrorism. But with all the upgraded security cooperation and coordination between the two countries along the border and at the military headquarters and government levels.

Israel cannot rely on Egyptian determination and capabilities to defeat SP.

The fence is just one measure Israel has implemented to secure its border. It has also built fortified posts along the border, manned by IDF troops, who day and night patrol the area and lay ambushes to prevent Sinai-based terrorists from attacking southern Israel.

Over the last few years, armed groups — be they Palestinian militants, the local organization now known as SP, or drug smugglers — have attacked IDF positions and patrols, killing soldiers and civilians. Last year alone, 10 rockets were launched from Sinai in the direction of Eilat.

In 2007, before the fence was erected, a Palestinian terrorist carrying a bomb easily crossed the border and blew himself up in an Israeli bakery, killing three civilians.

“Our worst nightmare,” a senior IDF officer told reporters during a visit along the border fence, “is that SP will try to repeat its deadly attack from last January, but this time against our troops or against Eilat. Our mission is to prevent that. We are vigilant all year long, but especially now, before the Passover holiday [which begins April 3rd], when hundreds of thousands of Israeli and foreign tourists will visit Eilat.”

This mission is made all the more challenging by the fact that both Israeli and Egyptian intelligence admit that they know very little about SP, its structure, members and levels of command. They also admit that it is not easy to penetrate the group and collect information, considering the close-knit environment in which it exists.

March 20, 2015

Israel and the U.S. May Also Differ on This: Is Syria’s Assad a Problem, or Part of the Solution?

[This article was written for The Jerusalem Post by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars and other books.]

Bashar al-Assad

Bashar al-Assad

A revolution has taken place. The US has signaled that it is changing its policy toward Syrian President Bashar Assad.

It began with the Director of the CIA, John Brennan, who said that the collapse of the Assad regime could cause a more serious problem in Syria because it would pave the way for jihadist groups like ISIS to enter the power vacuum that would be created in Damascus.

The sign of the changing policy continued on Sunday when US Secretary of State John Kerry said that he was prepared to include Assad in negotiations aimed at ending the war in Syria. This is the same Kerry who just at the beginning of the month said Assad must be removed from power even if military pressure was required for the purpose. Now it seems that for the administration of US President Barack Obama, Assad is no longer the problem, he is part of the solution.  

After the Kerry remarks, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said he was not specifically referring to Assad. She said Washington would never negotiate with the Syrian leader.

But the comments had already caused ripples among countries opposed to Assad. Commentators close to Gulf Arab governments opposed to his rule voiced alarm and dismay.

France, a major US ally, said its position was unchanged and that Assad could not be part of a negotiated solution in Syria. 

The Kerry comments may demonstrate more than anything else the failure of the United States’ Syria policy. A change in the US approach to Assad now would be a victory for the Syrian leader and for its ally Iran who proved that the uncompromising military fight that they waged using all available military means, including chemical weapons, paid off.

It didn’t have to be this way. At the beginning of the Syrian tragedy in 2011 Obama should have been firmer and more aggressive. If he would have threatened Assad with military force then, in the first months of the popular uprising against the regime, and imposed a no fly zone over the country and provided more serious military support to the opposition, then composed mainly of secular forces, Assad may have fallen.   

Instead of taking this approach, Obama preferred to sit back and do almost nothing. When he woke and threatened Assad militarily after he used chemical weapons against civilians, Obama retreated at the last minute opting to support the Russian engineered diplomatic compromise. This compromise indeed led to the removal of Assad’s chemical weapons capability – no small achievement, and an important one for Israel- but it kept the Syrian president in power.  

The Obama administration is not only deserving of criticism for its wavering policy. It should be praised for having the wisdom to realize that there is a greater threat to the stability of the Middle East and to the West: The Islamic State.

Brennan and Kerry’s remarks are expressions of a new reality that is unfolding in the Middle East. Old understandings are dissolving and new alliances are forming. This is a complex reality. Enemies like Iran and the US are finding themselves on the same side of the fence even if indirectly in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. 

The Israeli View

Israel for its part, the United States’ veteran ally in the region, finds itself in turns clashing in the Syrian theater with Assad’s forces, Hezbollah and Iran. Also, according to foreign media reports, Israel is cooperating with jihadist organizations such as the Nusra Front, al-Qaida’s Syrian arm. 

Israel’s aim is certainly appropriate. The Israeli interest is to maintain neighborly relations with anyone who is present on its borders, whether it is Assad’s army or Nusra Front. In any event, the reality is mind boggling.

March 18, 2015

Netanyahu Won Big — But Angered Obama’s White House — So What’s Next?

Kerry and Netanyahu in more trusting times

Kerry and Netanyahu in more trusting times

Secretary of State John Kerry — ironically while in Switzerland, negotiating with the Iranians for the nuclear deal that Benjamin Netanyahu publicly condemns — got the job of phoning Netanyahu to congratulate him on winning the Israeli election.

The White House confirmed that President Obama did not make the call.  A spokesman, sensing there would be journalists writing about “a snub,” pointed out that even in the past American presidents telephoned Israeli election winners only when they completed the process of forming a governing coalition.

Everyone expects that the call, when made, will be cold.

Yet they have to find a way of living with each other — even cooperating — for the remaining 22 months of Barack Obama’s term in office.  That’s the theme of this 4-minute discussion on Washington’s WTOP Newsradio, which questioned Spies Against Armageddon co-author Dan Raviv — a CBS News correspondent.  Click below.

March 18, 2015

Ex-Spy Chief in Israel, Meir Dagan Lashing Out Bitterly at Netanyahu

Four years after retiring as director of the Mossad, the former spy chief Meir Dagan has thrust himself into the limelight during the Israeli election campaign.

Meir Dagan on CBS's "60 Minutes," 2012

Meir Dagan on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” 2012

Israelis will vote on March 17. Dagan is not running for office, but he delivered a detailed denunciation of Benjamin Netanyahu — and especially the prime minister’s speech to Congress in Washington — during an Israeli TV interview on Friday night.

Then on Saturday night, as tens of thousands of Israelis gathered for a rally in Tel Aviv — under banners that said, “Israel wants change!” — the featured speaker was Meir Dagan: the formerly secretive, apparently nonpolitical grand master of deception, sabotage, and assassination.

Declaring from the rostrum that Netanyahu is a single-minded politicians whose only goal is to win and retain power, Dagan summarized that while Israel is surrounded by enemies, “I am not frightened of our enemies. I am frightened of our leadership.”

The anti-Netanyahu rally in Tel Aviv (photo from IBA.org.il Israeli TV)

The anti-Netanyahu rally in Tel Aviv (photo from IBA.org.il Israeli TV)

Dagan said Netanyahu’s actions have damaged efforts to stop or restrict Iran’s nuclear program. And he said the prime minister’s terrible leadership seems to be leading toward “a bi-national state.” Dagan said he wants his children and grandchildren to live in a Jewish state. (He was indicating that he wants to see the Palestinian Arabs living in their own Palestinian state and used the word “apartheid” as a situation that must be avoided.)

Dagan said the stand taken by Netanyahu in his Washington speech — urging rejection of the deal he believes is being negotiated by the United States with Iran — offers no reasonable alternative. According to Dagan, Netanyahu seemed to be threatening a military strike by Israel.

As he said since first speaking with a group of reporters — while still in his post at the Mossad in the final month of 2010 — Dagan hinted that sabotage and subversion could continue to delay Iran’s nuclear work. “There are other ways,” Dagan told Israel’s Channel 2 television.

While not taking responsibility for the assassination of nuclear scientists in Iran, he did say that when employees of the nuclear program are killed, that sends a huge deterrent signal to other Iranians — not to work for their country’s nuclear enterprise.

March 8, 2015

Watch: Dan Raviv Considers Ups and Downs of Netanyahu in Congress

On CBS-TV’s “Up To The Minute” news broadcast, Dan Raviv — co-author of Spies Against Armageddon — was interviewed about the visit to Washington by Benjamin Netanyahu.  Was it worth annoying President Obama?  What may happen now in the nuclear talks with Iran?

It’s a 7-minute video item. Please watch:

 

March 4, 2015

Netanyahu’s Daring Venture: Angering Obama, But Aimed at Winning Israel’s Election

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu obviously felt that his trip to Washington was worth it: to address the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC on Monday — no particular controversy there; and then to deliver an eloquent speech to a joint meeting of Congress on Tuesday.

Netanyahu Welcomed by House Speaker John Boehner (screen grab from CBSN.cbsnews.com)

Netanyahu Welcomed by House Speaker John Boehner (screen grab from CBSN.cbsnews.com)

Because that had been arranged by Republicans, with little or no consultation with the White House, the Obama Administration was clearly angered — and it remains to be seen if the U.S.-Israel relationship, such as military aid and intelligence cooperation, will be impacted.

Republicans in the Senate and the House loved the speech, and major campaign donor Sheldon Adelson and his wife looked down approvingly from the front row of the public gallery.  A few dozen Democrats refused to attend.  And others — such as Nancy Pelosi — said they were dismayed to see Netanyahu “condescend” to America.

Another key question was whether the prime minister’s message on the dangers of a nuclear deal with Iran — even as negotiations between the U.S. and Iran continue in Switzerland — changed anyone’s mind.

Clickable below is a 6-minute analysis of the visit by Dan Raviv — co-author of Spies Against Armageddon and a CBS News correspondent — speaking in the Washington studio of the national radio show hosted by Jim Bohannon:

 

March 4, 2015

Spy Agency Documents Leaked: But the Israel-Nuclear Story is a Fizzle

As historians and journalists who write about espionage, we find leaked documents fascinating — and the latest South African intelligence dossiers leaked to Al-Jazeera (and widely distributed by The Guardian) make for some interesting reading.  

But hunting for a headline — by claiming there’s new proof that the Mossad disagreed with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s public claims about Iran’s nuclear program?  There’s not much there, there.  

This analysis is based on an article in The Jerusalem Post by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.

After promising a bombshell, Al Jazeera’s publication of documents on Monday fell short of that mark.

Al Jazeera did not obtain an original and authentic document from the Mossad, Israel’s foreign espionage agency.

What they published was a South Africa State Security Agency (SSA) document that is based on a briefing given to them by the Mossad. The document from 2013 contains no secrets.

In fact — any reader, or follower of public reports on Iran’s nuclear program, is familiar with the facts written in that document.

Netanyahu's display at the UN in New York (Sept. 2012)

Netanyahu’s display at the UN in New York (Sept. 2012)

The Mossad provided details in its briefing, such as the quantities of Iran’s enriched uranium at its two levels – 3.5 percent and 20% – about the development of Iran’s nuclear reactor at Arak, and its statement that Iran is “not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons.”

That assessment was correct – it isn’t possible to utilize fissile material for a bomb only with 20% enriched uranium – an enrichment of 93% is required – and Iran did not have it at the time of the document’s writing.  According to intelligence and International Atomic Energy Agency information, Iran still doesn’t have it now.

Certainly the South African document doesn’t present evidence of a wedge between the Mossad and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with regard to Iran’s nuclear program.

The Mossad has liaison relations with many spy and security agencies. These contacts are run by its Cosmos (Tevel in Hebrew) department. Some of the meetings and exchanges are very intensive and intimate.

Both sides often feel comfortable in each other’s company to share ideas and insights in a very candid and frank manner — even sharing very sensitive information. In rare cases, such meetings result in joint operations.

One case in point was the recent revelations that the CIA participated – though from the sidelines – in the assassination of Hezbollah military chief Imad Mughniyeh seven years ago in Damascus.

Another example came to light this week from one of Edward Snowden’s documents, exposing a trilateral coordination among the signals intelligence (SIGINT) and eavesdropping agencies of Britain (GCHQ), America (NSA) and Israel (the military’s Unit 8200), to listen to Iranian leaders three years ago.

The Mossad-SSA relations are of a different nature. Thirty years ago in the heyday of the all-white Apartheid regime, relations between Pretoria and Jerusalem were excellent. The two countries cooperated in the military and nuclear fields, and Israeli security products were sold to South Africa.

After the collapse of Apartheid and the release of popular hero Nelson Mandela from prison, Israel reached out with a gesture of goodwill by giving an armored car to President Mandela — as a gesture of goodwill.

Since then relations have deteriorated.  Mandela, who always felt fraternal warmth with the Palestine Liberation Organization, put his government on the PLO’s side in its conflict with Israel.

Today the intelligence ties between the Mossad and SSA are cordial and ordinary, but not close. It is somewhat surprising that representatives of the spy agencies met at all.

It is unlikely, therefore, that the Mossad either confided in the SSA or gave, during the encounters, dramatic and sensitive information or estimates about Iran’s nuclear program.

Yet there certainly are differences between the Mossad and Netanyahu. We don’t need a South African document to know that.

The spy agency’s analysts and the prime minister don’t differ about facts and details, but about the interpretations and ramifications. It is no secret that the Mossad and Aman (the Military Intelligence agency), both in the past and in the present, don’t share the warnings expressed by the prime minister.

Meir Dagan, when he was head of the Mossad and after the end of his tenure, said in numerous public statements that even with all its nastiness and hostility and secret nuclear plans, Iran did not pose an existential threat to Israel.

Tamir Pardo, the Mossad director

Tamir Pardo, the Mossad director

Dagan’s successor Tamir Pardo said in a private meeting, which was leaked, that the main troubling issue for Israel is the Palestinian problem. These were blatant contradictions of Netanyahu’s position.

Israeli intelligence estimates are that Iran is working to be a nuclear power – a few months away from the ability to assemble the bomb – but not capable of building it now. Iran has not made the decision to “break out” and create a nuclear weapon.

More than anything, Iran wants the United States and the rest of the international community to lift the economic sanctions.

Israeli intelligence researchers know that Iran is already on the verge of becoming a nuclear threshold state. It has the know-how, technology and materials to construct the bomb in a matter of a few months or perhaps a year, if and when the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gives the order.

February 24, 2015

An Assassination by CIA and Mossad Together — A Tussle Over Taking Credit

A few weeks after The Washington Post and Newsweek scored scoops by revealing that the CIA worked jointly with Israel’s Mossad to assassinate Imad Mughniyeh – the notorious Lebanese Hezbollah military commander blown to bits by a bomb in Damascus, this week 7 years ago – there’s now a second phase of revelations. Israelis who are close to the intelligence community apparently were concerned that the American side was taking too much credit. This report (summarized first at CBSnews.com) is based on the version the Israelis are telling to Western officials and diplomats.

By DAN RAVIV (CBS News correspondent and co-author of Spies Against Armageddon)

 

Pe’al!” ordered the senior Mossad commander in charge of this extraordinary mission. Translated from Hebrew, this meant Go. Act. Push the button. The expert sitting beside the commander obeyed the order. He pushed the button.  One hundred and thirty-five miles (215 km.) away in Syria’s capital, Damascus, an explosion tore a notorious terrorist to bits.

Imad Mughniyeh had been one of the most wanted terrorists on earth, second only to Osama Bin Laden at the time. Mughniyeh was the military and operations chief of Hezbollah: in effect the number-2 man in the Lebanese Shi’ite Muslim faction that is heavily armed and financed by Iran.

Mughniyeh HezbollahThe violent man’s life met its violent end, late at night on Tuesday, February 12, 2008: seven years ago this month.

A manhunt lasting a quarter of a century had come to an end. At Mossad headquarters at the Glilot Junction north of Tel Aviv there was great relief and even celebration.

In a most unusual example of operational cooperation, a CIA liaison officer was also in the Mossad HQ – part of the logistics and decision-making process for the assassination.  The Israelis understood that officials at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, were also very pleased.

The leaks published in America last month – in one case, reportedly delayed for a year or more at the request of the CIA – highlighted the CIA’s leading role.

Yet Israelis close to their country’s intelligence agencies are telling Western officials something different: that the operation was almost entirely “blue and white” – referring to the colors of Israel’s flag – with hardly any “red, white, and blue.”

Some Israelis, it seems, object to seeing the Americans taking too much credit.

What follows is based on what knowledgeable Israelis have been telling Western officials and diplomats.  They say the U.S. participated in the deliberations, the intelligence gathering, the surveillance, and some logistics of the assassination – but they call the assassination itself an Israeli operation: lock, stock, and barrel.

Imad Mughniyeh was born in 1962 in the Lebanese Shi’ite village of Tayr Dibba to a poor family of olive and lemon harvesters. He moved to Beirut as a child and despite his religious affiliation, he became active in the predominantly Sunni Palestinian al-Fatah movement.

In Lebanese Palestinian reports, Mughniyeh was even described as participating in the unit of bodyguards protecting then-PLO chief Yasser Arafat. But after the PLO chairman and his fighters were forced to leave Lebanon following the Israeli invasion in 1982 – just three years after the Islamic Revolution in Iran – Mughniyeh returned to his own religious cohort and joined Hezbollah, “The Party of God,” a heavily armed Lebanese faction established and nurtured by Iran.

He quickly involved himself in some of the most outrageous Hezbollah attacks, proving his loyalty and his skills. He was trained by the chillingly skilled Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

In a bloody two-year period – between November 1982 and September 1984 – he was a key player in several car bombing attacks against Israeli, American, and French targets in Lebanon. Among his trademarks: videotapes made by the suicide bombers and their accomplices nearby. The terrifying impact was thus magnified.

The attacks of those years included two assaults on Israeli military headquarters in the southern city of Tyre, which killed 150 Israelis and Lebanese.

He orchestrated the suicide bombings of the U.S. Marines barracks and a French military building in Beirut, killing 241 American servicemen, 58 French paratroopers, and six Lebanese civilians.

He was also a major actor in the bombing of the 1984 U.S. Embassy in Beirut, which killed 63 people. And this was just the beginning. His career would mushroom over the next two and a half decades.

In 1985, Mughniyeh personally participated in the hijacking of a TWA airliner. After it was forced to land in Beirut, a U.S. Navy diver among the passengers – Robert Stethem – was tortured and killed.

The first image of Mughniyeh, then just 22 years old, was first seen in the pages of the Western press when photographed waving his pistol near the TWA pilot’s head in the cockpit. That photo was the key evidence used by U.S. law enforcement officials to indict Mughniyeh for murder in that incident. But for Israel, it would take another seven years to realize his significance.

The Hezbollah man was the architect of the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which killed 29 people – including seven Israelis, among them one Mossad agent. This was Mughniyeh’s revenge for the Israeli helicopter attack that had killed Hezbollah’s top leader, Abbas Moussawi.

The Buenos Aires attack led Israel to acknowledge two important facts: One, that Mughniyeh would avenge every Israeli attack on his organization; and two, that Mughniyeh had to be wiped out

These realizations were further strengthened by an attack two years later, when along with his Iranian patrons, Mughniyeh masterminded the bombing of the Jewish community center in the Argentinian capital, which devastated the building and left 85 people dead.

From that point on, Israel used every opportunity it could to try to get rid of Mughniyeh. Numerous tentative plans were drawn up, but only three came into fruition.

In 1994, the Mossad conspired a devious plan to obliterate Mughniyeh:  Lebanese agents working for the Mossad planted a car bomb aimed at Mughniyeh’s brother Fuad. Anticipating that Mughniyeh would attend his brother’s funeral, Israel planned to carry out their assassination of the Hezbollah military chief then: But Imad Mughniyeh, probably paranoid about possible attempts on his life, did not show up at the funeral.

A few months after Fuad’s death, Israeli intelligence managed to obtain precise information that Imad Mughniyeh was scheduled to board a flight from Damascus to Tehran using a false name.

The Mossad informed the CIA of Mughniyeh’s whereabouts, and the Americans orchestrated a redirection of the flight to Kuwait and dispatched a military plane from Saudi Arabia to bring Mughniyeh to justice in the U.S. courts.

But the CIA made a cardinal error: It disclosed to the Kuwaitis the identity of the wanted terrorist. Fearing retribution from Hezbollah should they accede to the U.S. demand, the Kuwaitis declined to order the passengers of the plane to disembark. Kuwait permitted the flight to take off to Tehran.

The next missed opportunity was completely the Israelis’ fault. After the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, the senior echelon of Hezbollah – known as the top five – paraded along the Israeli border on a victorious patrol tour. Mughniyeh was among them.

Israeli reconnaissance photographed the five and transmitted the images to Aman (military intelligence) headquarters in Tel Aviv. They were identified; and an attack plan was put into motion. Drone aircraft that could fire missiles were launched.

Western intelligence sources say they were told by Israelis later that this was a “rare opportunity to disrupt Hezbollah’s leadership.”  But the order to kill never came. Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who was proud of ordering the Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon after 18 years of occupation, feared that the relative calm would be disrupted if he had Hebzollah’s top leaders eliminated.

Senior officers in the Mossad were furious. Years of painstaking information-gathering efforts were wasted. But they had no choice but to accept their political leader’s decision and to wait for the next opportunity.

Mughniyeh, as the years went by, became more cautious. Israeli intelligence learned that he went to a plastic surgeon in Beirut to alter his appearance.

He also moved to the safe haven of Tehran, where he enhanced his professional and personal ties with the Revolutionary Guards commanders – particularly with the charismatic General Qassem Soleimani, who was head of the elite Al-Quds force.

After returning to his Beirut headquarters, Mughniyeh continued to travel frequently among the triangle of the capitals of Lebanon, Syria and Iran.

The Mossad hunters, experts in human weaknesses and knowing that nobody is immune to error, waited patiently – but desperately.

Mughniyeh did indeed make mistakes, basically feeling too safe in the Syrian capital.  He went to Damascus for both business and pleasure.

For his bloody business, he would meet with his master and friend, Iranian General Soleimani, to coordinate and plot strategy. Often joining them was General Muhammad Suleiman, top security adviser to Syrian President Bashar Assad and the man in charge of the regime’s nuclear reactor and its special military ties with Iran and Hezbollah.

After working hours, Mughniyeh would enjoy the pleasures that Damascus had to offer: good food, alcohol and women – most of which he would not risk indulging in back home in the religious Shi’ite neighborhoods of Beirut.

Mughniyeh had an apartment in the posh neighborhood of Kafr Sousa, home to Syria’s most wealthy businessmen and the military and intelligence cronies of the Assad regime.  Feeling safe and secure due to his altered appearance and years of evading assassination attempts, Mughniyeh would travel in his SUV from Beirut to Damascus without bodyguards, often with his personal driver but sometimes alone.

Mughniyeh’s ease and confidence in the Syrian capital turned out to be hubris.  The experts and spies in the Mossad and Israel’s military intelligence agency (Aman) slowly closed in on him.

The Israelis were surprised to learn, during strategic talks with their counterparts in Washington, that the Americans were just as eager to get rid of him.

Since 1975, the CIA had been forbidden by Congress to carry out assassinations – even of America’s worst enemies. But that policy changed after 9/11, when President George W. Bush ordered targeted killings using drone aircraft.

Nevertheless, in the eyes of the Bush administration – though not always understood by the Israelis – there was a huge difference between sending assassins and killing targets from the sky.

At a certain point during consultations with the Americans, then-Mossad director Meir Dagan proposed to his CIA counterpart, Gen. Michael Hayden, a joint operation to eliminate Mughniyeh.

Gen. Michael Hayden (as CIA director under President George W. Bush)

Gen. Michael Hayden (as CIA director under President George W. Bush)

Hayden agreed, but he set two conditions: First, that no innocent people would be hurt: The Americans were very concerned by the proximity of Mughniyeh’s apartment to a girls’ school; second, that only Mughniyeh would be targeted – and that none of his Syrian or Iranian acquaintances could be touched. The United States was reluctant to stir up violent conflicts with sovereign states.

At least according to what Israelis have been telling Western officials, the Mossad did not need the CIA for active management of the operation. They had already gleaned all the details necessary about Mughniyeh’s daily routine and his hideout in Damascus.

The CIA was there, as they put it, to fill in any missing intelligence information and provide extra eyes in Damascus.

The Mossad certainly had its own excellent expertise, in its Kidon (Bayonet) special operations unit, when it came to killing terrorists. Still, the Israelis felt more comfortable having the CIA take part – even if the American role was seen as minor.

Ex-Mossad chief Meir Dagan (Dagan on CBS' "60 Minutes," 2012)

Ex-Mossad chief Meir Dagan (Dagan on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” 2012)

As agreed by Dagan and Hayden, a senior CIA official from its operations directorate was assigned to the Mossad team working on the project. The command center was in Tel Aviv.

Kidon operatives, along with Aman signals intelligence Unit 8200, monitored Mughniyeh almost around the clock, zooming in on his safe-house and the parking lot nearby. Based on previous operations, it can be assumed that the team had some physical presence in the area. It was decided that the weapon of choice would be a bomb planted in or on a car parked near Mughniyeh’s apartment.

The CIA-Mossad relations hit a bump, for a while, when the Americans got cold feet and pulled out of the operation. The CIA began to reiterate its fears of the collateral damage that such an assassination would cause – concerned, despite Israel’s assurances, about the girls’ school nearby.

The Mossad was sorry to see the CIA pull out, but the preparations continued. Nevertheless, then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ordered the Mossad to make sure that the “killing zone” of the bomb be very narrow, so that only Mughniyeh would be touched.

The “toy factory” of the Mossad and the Aman agency – their technological units – began designing, assembling and testing the bomb. It was a laborious procedure, requiring dozens of tests, until the results were satisfactory and matched the guidelines stipulated by Olmert. The process was filmed, time and again, for analysis and dissection.

Ehud Olmert, when prime minister

Ehud Olmert, when prime minister

Contrary to the recent reports in the American media, the process of developing the bomb  was carried out in Israel.  Not in the U.S.

Once Olmert was confident that the bomb would be highly accurate, officials say they have learned from Israel that Olmert brought the video clips to Washington. He showed them to President Bush and asked him to bring the CIA back into the operation. The video clearly showed that the diameter of the “killing zone” was no more than 10 meters. Bush was impressed.

The next day, while he was still in the U.S., Olmert received a call from Dagan informing him that the CIA was back in.

The bomb was smuggled to Syria via Jordan, whose intelligence ties with the CIA and the Mossad had been tight and intimate for decades. The involvement of the CIA gave the Jordanians a sense of security in cooperating, in case of Hezbollah retribution.

There were two main obstacles to executing the operation. Mughniyeh’s visits to his Damascus apartment were random and could not be predetermined by the surveillance teams. Secondly, it was difficult for the teams to ensure that they would be able to secure a spot for their rigged car to be parked near Mughniyeh or his vehicle.

Eventually, the conspirators found an undisclosed operational solution which would give them enough warning time ahead of Mughniyeh’s arrival to prepare the trap.

The day of the assassination arrived: On the evening of February 12, Mughniyeh’s car was spotted pulling into the parking lot. The Mossad planners breathed a sigh of relief. The school nearby was closed for the night. Even if the bomb was unexpectedly flawed, the innocent school girls were not at risk.

But to the agony of the project managers, when the car doors opened, Mughniyeh was not alone:  Iranian commander Soleimani and the Syrian nuclear coordinator Suleiman exited the vehicle with him. At the command center in Tel Aviv, the order was given: Hold.

The three buddies went up to the apartment. In Tel Aviv, the Mossad project managers and their CIA liaison waited, nervously biting their nails, on the verge of losing hope. A few hours later, the information arrived that Soleimani and Suleiman had left the apartment and been picked up by a car. The planners could now only pray that Mughniyeh would not remain in the apartment overnight.

About half an hour later, the surveillance team reported that Mughniyeh had entered the parking lot and approached his car.

In Tel Aviv, the order rang out: “Pe’al!”

The master terrorist, the Hezbollah commander whose trademark was car bombing, fell victim to his own craft in a blast of poetic justice.

Neither the United States nor America claimed responsibility for the attack, but Hezbollah guessed who was behind it and vowed revenge on Israeli and Jewish targets.

Mughniyeh’s successor, Mustafa Badr Adin, ordered attacks on Israeli embassies and tried to assassinate Olmert and senior Israeli military officers and officials.

But Badr Adin repeatedly failed. His only success was in 2012 at Burgas airport in Bulgaria, when a Hezbollah suicide bomber killed five Israeli tourists and their Bulgarian driver.

Olmert, who is now facing additional corruption charges after being indicted in an Israeli court, is loathed by the majority of Israelis. But analysts who watch the country’s security and defense policies believe that in those areas he was far-sighted, showed determination, and was willing to take risks.

In September 2007, just five months before ordering the assassination of Mughniyeh, Olmert unleashed Israel’s covert operatives and then the air force to destroy the Syrian nuclear reactor that North Korea had helped build in a remote area.

One can only imagine what the world would look like had the reactor been built and operated in an area now controlled by the brutal Islamic State (ISIS).

Six months after Mughniyeh’s assassination, Olmert approved a covert operation in which Israeli long-range snipers – apparently firing from a ship – assassinated Syria’s nuclear coordinator, Gen. Suleiman, while he dined with guests on the balcony of his villa overlooking the Mediterranean.

Days after Mughniyeh was killed, then Vice President Dick Cheney called Olmert and they exchanged congratulations for the successful operation. President Bush, too, held Olmert in high respect – reportedly telling someone he liked the Israeli leaders because “he has balls.”

Hezbollah has still not fully recovered from the loss of Mughniyeh. He played vital roles for the Shi’ite movement. He was Hezbollah’s military chief, mastermind of its most vicious terror attacks, liaison to its patron Iran for its “special operations” abroad, and responsible for the protection of his boss, Hassan Nasrallah. In short, for both Hezbollah and Iran, Mughniyeh was priceless.

Ironically, his son Jihad was killed by an Israeli airstrike on a Hezbollah convoy in January 2015. The Israelis, who have not officially acknowledged the attack in Syrian territory near the Golan Heights, were apparently not aiming specifically at young Mughniyeh – nor at the senior Iranian officer, Abu Ali al-Tabtabai, who was also killed.

Diplomatic sources said Israel was able to tell Iran, through channels, that it did not intend to kill Iranian soldiers in that strike.  In addition, when Hezbollah fired rockets into Israel as retaliation for the death of Jihad Mughniyeh, Israel did respond emphatically.

The Israeli message was that – at this time, at least – war on the northern border was best to be avoided.

Some Israelis close to senior political and intelligence circles were not, however, willing to let the Washington Post and Newsweek versions of the assassination in 2008 stand uncorrected.

February 15, 2015

Israel “Didn’t Know” It Was Hitting an Iranian General and a Famous Hezbollah Man — in Pinpoint Strike in Syria? That’s One Claim

An unnamed Israeli source told the Reuters news agency that Israel did not intend to kill high-level Iranians or Lebanese Hezbollah, when an Israeli airstrike destroyed a convoy on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.

But that doesn’t ring true.  Keep in mind that disinformation is a major part of the shadow wars — the spy-versus-spy, bomber-versus-bomber, assassin-versus-assassin battles that have gone on for years.

Gen. Allahdadi

Gen. Allahdadi

Iran’s official media have confirmed — with the man’s picture — that a general in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was killed in the Israeli airstrike in Syria.

A news agency run by IRGC said Gen. Mohammad Ali Allahdadi was in Syria advising that country’s government on how to combat Sunni Muslim rebels; adding that Allahdadi died “defending the people and holy sites of Syria.”

The IRGC’s role isn’t even being hidden anymore.  Lebanese reports said in addition to the general, several Iranian IRGC soldiers were killed by the Israeli airstrike.

Also killed were half a dozen Hezbollah fighters — including the 25-year-old son of Imad Mughniyeh, the notorious military chief of the Lebanese Shi’ite terrorist movement who was blown up by an Israeli Mossad car bomb in Syria’s capital in 2008.

Why would Israel’s military now hint — through a leak — that killing those senior men was just a coincidence?

First, Israel’s intelligence agencies don’t want their enemies to know precisely how much Israel knows.  Do the Israelis listen in to practically all cellphone conversations and intercept text messages?

Does it make sense that Israel — using a rocket-firing helicopter, according to the first leak, but now U.N. observers say they saw Israeli drone aircraft cross into Syrian airspace before the strike — would strike two jeeps, just because they were within a few miles of the Golan Heights armistice line?

Emblem of Aman (Israeli Military Intelligence)

Emblem of Aman (Israeli Military Intelligence)

We think it is more likely that Israel struck the convoy, because of information that senior Hezbollah men were in it.

The presence of the Iranians may not have been known, but it was always a real possibility.

The leak to Reuters is probably aimed at making a tense situation a lot less volatile — to soothe some of the anger. The suggestion is made of an intelligence mistake by the Israelis, hinting that they did not intend to kill a senior Iranian — and therefore Iran shouldn’t overreact.

A former Israeli military intelligence chief, retired General Amos Yadlin (who this week became the official pick for Defense Minister by the Labor Party-led coalition called “The Zionist List”), was asked if he would order the airstrike in the knowledge there was an Iranian general in the vehicles.

“We don’t check the identity cards or passports of people who are engaged in terrorism attacks on Israel,” Yadlin replied.

But a smart espionage community like Israel’s does, in fact, try to be entirely aware of whom it is striking — and what the consequences could be.

A lingering question is whether the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, may have ordered the airstrike in the belief that it would boost his reelection campaign.  Israelis will be voting in mid-March.

The Israeli government strongly denies that; and there is the reality that the blowback — retaliation by Hezbollah, Iran, or both — could be so disruptive and damaging that Israeli voters will not be happy about the airstrike.

Yadlin predicts that Hezbollah (probably with Iranian assistance) will hit back at Israeli facilities or citizens — but “far away from Israel and Lebanon.”

Indeed there are many indications that Hezbollah and Iran don’t want a hot shooting war with Israel at this time.

Still — just in case — the Israeli military is reinforcing the Northern front: along the frontier with Lebanon and on the Golan Heights.  The Israelis permitted publication of the fact that an Iron Dome anti-missile system was moved to the North to protect Israelis.  Hezbollah could, after all, rain down with tens of thousands of missiles.

(first published here at IsraelSpy.com on Jan. 20, 2015)

February 14, 2015

Here’s a New Detail About 2008 Assassination in Damascus by CIA and Mossad: Cheney Phoned Israel Afterward to Share Congratulations

Another new detail has emerged about the assassination of Hezbollah military chief Imad Mughniyeh — in Damascus, Syria, in 2008.

After the bomb blast that killed Mughniyeh — a “most wanted” terrorist from a U.S. point of view and an active enemy from Israel’s perspective — Vice President Dick Cheney telephoned Israel’s then-prime minister Ehud Olmert to say, in effect, “job well done.”

This was a rare, extremely high-level joint mission.  It wasn’t aimed at gathering intelligence (as other joint missions have been) but at liquidating a joint enemy.

Cheney phoned Olmert to thank him for the cooperation.  Leaders in both the U.S. and Israel were satisfied.

The intention, at the time, was to remain eternally silent about the mission.

January 31, 2015


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