Israel’s government is trying to downplay the results of Iran’s presidential election, but the fact is that Hassan Rouhani is immensely different from the departing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
This change — and the unforeseen nature of Rouhani’s victory — represent a political earthquake. A bombshell in domestic and international politics.
Here is a Tweet sent out by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Sunday evening:
PM Netanyahu: The international community must not be tempted to relax the pressure on #Iran to stop its nuclear program. http://dld.bz/cEBK6
Yet it certainly looks like Iranians have elected a reformist. Rouhani was clearly — among the six officially approved candidates — the one least liked by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. And Rouhani promised change.
Although Israeli intelligence devotes huge energy and resources to monitoring Iran — Iran’s secret nuclear project, its military, its politics, and its society — the Israeli espionage agencies did not see Rouhani’s victory on the horizon.
They certainly did not expect that Rouhani could win an outright majority in the first round of voting, with no runoff required.
Mossad (the foreign espionage and operations agency, which our sources say has continued to run assets in and out of Iran) and Aman(the military intelligence agency that considers the capabilities and intentions of Israel’s regional enemies) both assumed that Khamenei would stop at nothing to install one of his reliable loyalists as Ahmadinejad’s successor. The Supreme Leader had many disagreements with Ahmadinejad, partly over the talkative president’s bombastic style and inflated ego, and Khamenei was expected to avoid further headaches. If necessary, it was thought, he would rig the election — just as hard-liners were believed to have done in 2009.
Hello, Hassan Rouhani
A landslide for a candidate who told voters he would work for peace and security? The only candidate who mentioned the sanctions that are adding to the suffering of many Iranians? A Muslim cleric, but one who spoke in favor of press freedoms and negotiating with the West?
Experts don’t understand Iran: This win by Rouhani was wholly unexpected, and it shows that trusted and prestigious Western experts don’t understand Iran — and the complex undercurrents of an ancient culture that’s struggling with a blend of modernity and religious extremism.
Remember Rouhani’s nuclear restraint: In 2003, as an official in “reformist” President Mohammad Khatami’s administration, it was Rouhani who directed the decision to freeze uranium enrichment.
(Israeli and U.S. officials firmly believe that Iran’s Supreme Leader feared that the U.S. might attack Iran at that time, just after the American invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Israel’s defense minister said this week that Iran’s uranium enrichment re-started in 2005 and is getting close to the amounts of enriched uranium needed to “break out” and build nuclear bombs.)
Might Rouhani freeze or reverse Iran’s nuclear work again, as part of a deal with the West to cancel sanctions? Would the Supreme Leader and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) let him do that? They may block any and all “reformist” ideas voiced by Rouhani.
Iran already has the materials, hardware, software, and knowledge necessary to build its first nuclear bomb — though not yet the ability to put one in a warhead atop a missile.
Rouhani’s election win signals a growing possiblity that Iran will decide to slow down its nuclear project. That would be part of a policy of engaging with the United States (as everyone assumes that President Barack Obama would dearly like to avoid waging war against Iran).
So here is another unexpected result: that Israel will be further isolated in its severe concern over Iran’s nuclear capabilities (and continued support for Syria’s regime, for Hezbollah, and for terrorism around the world). The gap between Israel and America, on these issues, may well be further widened.
In Washington on Friday, the Israeli defense minister Moshe (Boogie) Yaalon — a former director of the Aman agency — was asked about an interview, last year, in which he pointed out that Israel’s “red line” toward Iran was different from Obama’s “red line.” Has that changed?
Yaalon: “In the past twelve months, we have clarified the differences between our red lines.” That was merely a hint of disagreement, and below that tip of the iceberg there’s plenty more.
[Note: Yossi Melman is co-author of The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran, which gives a lot more intelligence-based information on and analysis of Iran's nuclear program and the country's politics. For more about the book: http://amzn.to/13Ru4Ou .]
June 16, 2013
When K.T. McFarland, for many years a communications specialist for White House national security advisors and for Secretaries of Defense, visited Israel this month, she made a point of getting fully briefed on the myriad of challenges — and potential crises — in the region: the Syrian civil war, how it might spill over into neighboring countries, the extreme changes in Egypt and Libya, the perpetual threat of instability in Jordan, and the decisions that Iran has to make on the nuclear front.
K.T.’s analytical series on FoxNews.com, called DefCon 3, taped an episode in Jerusalem. Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, joined her on the program — with a detailed analysis of what Iran has accomplished so far, and the chance that Israeli leaders may choose to take military action to stop Iran’s nuclear progress.
Click here to watch the video: http://video.foxnews.com/v/2474823111001/defcon-3-live-from-jerusalem/?playlist_id=931078471001#
June 15, 2013
Now that the Obama Administration has publicly pointed the finger of blame at the Assad regime in Damascus — saying its use of the nerve gas sarin killed over 100 people, and the U.S. intends to respond with new steps to help the rebels — here’s some food for thought for those who follow Israel’s covert defense: Will Israel be able to continue attacking weapons sites in Syria, and convoys believed to be heading toward the Hezbollah in Lebanon?
Below, please find what we published here on May 11:
Though the Israeli government has mostly maintained official silence – neither confirming nor denying – there are sufficient hints to conclude that three aerial attacks this year, on sensitive military facilities and on Hezbollah and Iranian assets in Syria, were carried out by the Israeli Air Force.
The first, in January, destroyed a convoy loaded with Russian made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The targets struck in early May included depots of medium-range surface-to-surface missiles also prepared for transfer to the Iranian-backed Hezbollah. Another target was Jamraya, Syria’s most secretive military R&D center. It is situated in northwest Damascus, the Syrian capital. Israeli intelligence sources tell us that the facility housed sensitive Syrian research on chemical weapons as well as long-range guided missiles.
All three attacks illustrate a pattern. They certainly suggest that Israel has excellent, precise intelligence. It must have been gathered over months and even years of painstaking work from agents on the ground, communications intercepts, aerial reconnaissance, and satellite imagery.
CNN video showed smoke and fire from apparent Israeli Air Force strikes inside Syria (used in TheTower.org coverage)
Politically and diplomatically, the attacks also highlight the determination of the Israeli government not to repeat past mistakes. Since 1996, Israel ignored the systematic, ongoing transfer of Iranian-made missiles to Hezbollah via Syria.
As a result of this choice – and even after a U.N. Security Council resolution demanded the disarmament of Hezbollah and an end to the smuggling of weapons into Lebanon – Assad’s terrorist allies amassed more than 40,000 rockets and missiles of all types and ranges. Their arsenal included long-range missiles capable of hitting almost every target in Israel: cities, military bases, power stations, and perhaps even the nuclear reactor in Dimona.
The previous government, still in power during the January air strike, and the new coalition (still headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) decided that enough is enough.
Israel is determined to stop shipments of weaponry systems it calls “game changing.” They include Russian made anti-aircraft missiles, Russian made surface-to-sea missiles, and the Iranian made Fateh-110 (Victory) and M-600 surface missiles. Those can carry both conventional and chemical warheads.
Israel’s decision to carry out air strikes, albeit without making a public announcement, is based on a calculated risk. It assumes that the Assad regime is too weak to respond, and that neither Iran nor Hezbollah has the desire to escalate the situation.
There is the risk that repeatedly hitting a weakened President Bashar al-Assad will goad him to retaliate for the sake of his personal honor and national pride. But if he fires rockets into Israel or gives the “green light” to Palestinian proxies or Hezbollah terrorists to strike Israelis, Assad and his backers in Tehran know that Israel would respond forcefully.
There is much talk, lately, of “red lines” in the Syria crisis. Israel, in effect, must guess what are Assad’s limits of tolerance. Israeli officials are adamant that their country is not aiming at destabilizing the Syrian regime. But Israeli Defense Minister Moshe (Boogie) Ya’alon has hinted that further actions remain possible.
While it is unclear if the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis understands that years of impunity regarding arms shipments have come to an end, there are also lessons from the Israeli Air Force attacks that can affect Israel’s relations with the United States.
The region assumes that raids by the IAF were coordinated with the Obama Administration — in part to dispel criticism that President Obama has done nothing to punish Assad, even though the Obama “red line” was violated when chemical weapons were used against rebels and civilians in Syria.
Still, the gambit is highly risky. Israel’s successful air operations, after all, undermine Administration arguments regarding the sophistication of Syrian air defenses. U.S. officials repeatedly say, “Syria wouldn’t be as easy as Libya was,” hinting at their concern that U.S. or NATO planes trying to carry out missions in Syrian air space might be shot down.
If Israel’s pilots could penetrate into Syria, surely the United States Air Force or NATO would be capable of enforcing a non-fly zone. Grounding Assad’s warplanes and helicopters would, at least, reduce the bloodshed inside his suffering country.
June 13, 2013
The Mossad isn’t officially confirming a story leaked by someone in Turkey, but it seems that Tamir Pardo — head of Israel’s foreign espionage and special operations agency — made a secret visit to Turkey this past Monday.
The Mossad chief was bringing information that could help Prime Minister Erdogan. So says the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet. Of course, the files Pardo reportedly carried would also feed into Israel’s interests in the region.
For many months now, and certainly since President Obama’s visit to Israel in March — when he got Erdogan and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on the phone with each other — there have been efforts by senior Turkish and Israeli officials to restore the friendship that was shattered years ago. If the goal isn’t quite friendship, it certainly is a restoration of cooperation.
The “peripheral strategy” that goes back to the origins of the Mossad in the early 1950s stresses the benefits of Israeli cooperation — and alliances — with non-Arab Muslims, as well as non-Muslim minorities in Arab countries. Friendship with Turkey, sometimes secretive and sometimes less so, was very important.
Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, is quoted today as saying – when asked about the report that Pardo went to Turkey to confer with that country’s intelligence chief, at such a tense time for the Turks: ”The meeting signifies the strong will of the countries to open a new chapter in their special relations in the fields of defense and security.”
Hurriyet reports that Pardo and his Turkish counterpart talked about possible involvement by other countries — referring, it seems to Iran and Syria — in stirring up the current protests inside Turkey. The Mossad director is also said to have brought evidence of deep Iranian involvement in Syria’s civil war, on behalf of President Assad’s regime.
When Iran flexes its muscle and influence in the Middle East, especially in Turkey’s backyard, the Turks are interested in flexing back.
June 13, 2013
Click here for full details of how (and where) to buy Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, the new 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 Israeli news website Walla). This is their fifth book together. Their best seller (in 1990-91) about Israel’s intelligence community was Every Spy a Prince. They also wrote a character-filled history of U.S.-Israel relations, Friends In Deed.
To glance at readers’ reviews posted at Amazon.com, please click here. For example:
“Despite the book being over 350 pages, it goes by very quickly (I read it in a weekend). ” –daniel michael | 17 reviewers made a similar statement
“Highly recommended read for those interested in Middle East events. ” –zedillo99 | 15 reviewers made a similar statement
“Raviv and Melman have written a wonderful history of Mossad. It reads like a thriller, but conveys a thorough history of the Israeli intelligence agency.” –Kai Bird, Pulitzer Prize winner
SPIES AGAINST ARMAGEDDON is a powerful, vivid history of Israel’s intelligence community – led by the famous and feared Mossad – from the country’s independence in 1948 right up to the crises of today. Israel’s battle plan, aimed at stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program, may drag the United States into war and soaring oil prices. The plan is based on deception, sabotage, assassination, and intimidation. The book tells the story, never told before, of Kidon – the super-secret unit that is like a Mossad within the Mossad. Kidon carries out special operations, including assassinations and sabotage. Kidon had a daring role in destroying Syria’s nuclear reactor in 2007.
Israel’s methods and motivations can be fully understood only when seeing how they developed over the decades. Bold spies have penetrated enemy capitals, and secret agencies felt a historic responsibility to protect Jews worldwide. The authors chronicle major changes in Israeli intelligence agencies’ priorities – away from Palestinian peace prospects, shifting to Iran as the main focus. The book also exposes some episodes of which Israeli spies are ashamed; scandals they would prefer remain buried. Still, in the age of the internet and spy satellites, Israel is the most innovative nation in the use of espionage as an alternative to war.
Among the burning questions addressed and answered in SPIES AGAINST ARMAGEDDON are these: Who planted a powerful computer worm in Iran’s uranium enrichment centrifuges? Who has been motorcycling boldly through the streets of Tehran, assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists? Are Israeli spies regularly inside Iran and other enemy countries? Did the Mossad make a huge mistake when two dozen of its operatives were seen by hotel security cameras in Dubai, or was it a successful murder mission? Do the assassins, as portrayed in the movie “Munich,” really feel pangs of conscience? Have Israel’s enemies ever managed to plant agents in the Israeli government? Does the United States really trust Israeli intelligence, or is the relationship limited by mutual mistrust? Why do U.S. security agencies believe their close ally is spying on America? Is Israel trying to maneuver the U.S. into attacking Iran?
This book contains new information about the Mossad director from 2002 to 2010, Meir Dagan, and how he put “the dagger back between the teeth” of the spy agency. When he publicly declares that he opposes an Israeli military strike on Iran, what does he favor instead? The authors of this book have spoken with all the major players, and a multitude of minor players as well, to gain a balanced and deep understanding of Israeli actions at times of crisis – and Israel almost always feels it is in a crisis. Click here for reviews and more information on Spies Against Armageddon.
June 12, 2013
by Yossi Melman in Tel Aviv
The People’s Republic of China dropped an old Communist taboo on official relations with Israel in 1992, when it agreed to exchange ambassadors: normalizing diplomatic ties between two nations rooted in centuries of tradition — China with its 1.3 billion people, and Israel now with almost 8 million.
That ratio is around 200 to 1, and there is no denying that size does matter in international relations.
Let’s consider the Chinese Embassy in Tel Aviv, located at 219 Ben Yehuda Street near the northern port district of the city. The four-story residential building, converted into offices, contains 50 accredited diplomats and dozens of other Chinese employees with non-diplomatic status. It is thus the fifth largest embassy among the 83 nations that have permanent diplomatic missions in Israel.
Given the state of Sino-Israeli relations, there is no apparent reason for China to have such a large presence. The relations between the two countries are reasonable and amicable, but nothing more than that.
The mutual trade volume stands at $8 billion dollars – two-thirds in favor of China’s exports. In the era of globalization, and in comparison to other countries, this balance is not impressive. Israel’s total trade with the US and the EU is more than $30 billion each, which means more than four times bigger than its trade with China. Efforts to boost Israeli exports were at the center of last month’s visit to Beijing by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In the diplomatic arena, Israel has neither levers nor the ability to influence China’s foreign policy in general and its Middle East actions in particular. Chinese policies in the region are dictated by two words – stability and oil. China wants a stable Middle East, so as to ensure the supply of oil and other commodities vital to its expanding economy.
Iran is a case in point. Time after time, Israeli ministers, generals, and intelligence officials have failed to convince China to change its policy and instead support crippling sanctions against Iran. Netanyahu, during his trip, again tried to persuade the Chinese leadership that Tehran’s headlong rush toward building nuclear weapons must be stopped.
The situation is even worse when it comes to the security-military field. Once upon a time, things were good. In the mid-1970s, before diplomatic relations were established, Israel was the first Western nation to arm China with modern weapons. Brokered by the late businessman Shaul Eisenberg, most Israeli arms manufacturers — including Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), Israel Military Industries, Tadiran, and Rafael — clinched lucrative deals worth billions of dollars.
But the bonanza came to end in the mid 1990s, with the United States shutting down the Chinese market for Israeli security exporters and contractors.
Two dramatic events sealed the fate of Israeli arms sales to China. One was IAI’s Phalcon project, designed to convert a Russian-made Ilyushin transport plane into an early warning spy-in-the-sky for the Chinese Air Force. The second deal, also involving IAI, was for the upgrading of the Harpy attack drones that it had previously sold to China.
President Bill Clinton’s administration, which perceived China as an emerging superpower adversary, set an ultimatum for Israel – to cancel the Phalcon project and not to upgrade the Harpies. Israel protested but gave in to the pressure of its strategic ally and financial benefactor.
As a result, Israel lost the expanding Chinese military market, brought upon itself the wrath of the Communist powerhouse, and had to compensate Beijing to the tune of half a billion dollars.
So why does China deploy such a vast array of diplomats and other employees at its embassy in Tel Aviv in a variety of guises – political and educational officers, economic and labor advisors, science and military attaches?
The answer can be summed up in one word – espionage; or to put it more gently – efforts to gather and collect information about Israel with an emphasis on its advanced technological capabilities.
There have been increasing reports in the international media about China’s spying activities in the U.S. A special report by the Pentagon, which was partly leaked to The Washington Post, revealed that Chinese espionage activities have reached the level of an unstoppable epidemic. Today, rather than age-old activities such as recruiting human sources as agents, China is focused more on cyber warfare.
The Chinese work at undetectably infiltrating databases and computers and stealing the stored secrets. China has been also involved in penetrating computer systems that operate strategic sites such as power stations and banks, apparently to practice its sabotage capabilities and to test America’s cyber defenses.
According to the report prepared by the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board, China’s computer whiz kids managed to steal some of America’s most advanced weapon systems, including at least some of the secrets of the state-of-the-art F-35 fighter plane and the latest version of the anti-aircraft Patriot missile.
Incidentally, by doing so, China may have jeopardized Israel’s military domination over its Arab neighbors and Iran — if China were to share what it knows with others. After all, Israel’s Air Force has already signed contracts to purchase the F-35 and occasionally deploys Patriot batteries to protect the northern fronts with Syria and Lebanon.
It was also reported that China penetrated Australia’s intelligence agencies and got its hands on some of its most sensitive data. Chinese spokespeople have categorically denied that they are involved in such malpractice but very few believe them.
In its race to become the greatest economic and military superpower, China’s leaders and military and intelligence officers are not selective. They are apt and willing to target any developed country that has sophisticated technology. Thus, they have employed the same measures and methods to spy on Israeli soil and in Israeli cyberspace and against Israeli corporations and military and scientific institutions.
For China, Israel has a double appeal. Israel is considered a high-tech superpower and has deep and friendly military-scientific and technological ties with the U.S.
In this sense, Chinese efforts to target Israel are reminiscent of Soviet attempts.
Soviet espionage operations against Israel from the 1960s through the 1980s, before the collapse of Communism, focused mainly on obtaining technological and military information and taking advantage of the close ties between Jerusalem and Washington. “In that sense, Israel for us was a launch pad to penetrate America,” General Vladimir Kryuchkov, the last director of the KGB before the notorious Soviet security apparatus was disintegrated and replaced by new agencies, told me in the mid-1990s.
“The Chinese operate endlessly in Israel,” I was told recently by a senior source who is familiar with the topic. “They operate with a variety of methods. They try to obtain data from open sources. They try to recruit and run agents in the most sensitive fields: military industries, the army and air force, the intelligence community, and high-tech companies.”
It is assumed that like other powers, China has installed espionage capabilities at its embassy in Tel Aviv. 219 Ben Yehuda Street houses electronic and other equipment that enables Chinese intelligence officers to bug Israeli communications and to decipher coded messages – an art known as signal intelligence, or sigint.
Recently, Prof. Yitzhak Ben Yisrael, one of Israel’s top experts on space, cyber and technology-related security, said that his country is facing hundreds of cyber-attacks on a daily basis. Ben Yisrael, a former major general in the army, was appointed two years ago by Netanyahu to create an authority to combat computerized terror. He did not specify who the attackers were. But a well-placed source said that among them were Chinese hackers, most probably military officers.
The overall responsibility to block espionage activities and to protect state secrets is in the hands of the Israel Security Agency (known usually by the Hebrew initials, Shin Bet). The agency has assigned two special units for these missions. One, technical in nature, provides guidelines to security officers and experts on how to protect computers and network systems at top-secret sites such as the Dimona nuclear reactor and at the security services and military industries.
The other unit operates in the more traditional role of spy-catcher. In the past, this unit was responsible primarily for targeting spies of the Soviet Union and its Eastern bloc satellites. The unit’s officers shadowed the Communist diplomats, bugged their phones, and occasionally broke into their embassies.
But with the end of Communism in the Soviet Union and the Eastern European countries, the Shin Bet shifted its attention. Russia, although it now liaises with Israel’s intelligence community, still remains a priority for Shin Bet’s counter-espionage mission. But no less important a target is China.
The issue of foiling espionage activities by operatives of states that are not hostile is very sensitive, especially when you are dealing with a huge and proud superpower. It’s no wonder that Shin Bet is very cautious in its dealings with the Chinese presence in Israel. However, the Chinese Embassy and some of its diplomats, as well as some Chinese businessman, are kept under surveillance.
It is difficult to obtain details about the full extent of Chinese espionage operations in Israel. It is not clear if any Chinese diplomats or businessmen have been uncovered and questioned, and whether Israeli national interests have been compromised.
“But what can be said with certainty,” the senior source said, “is the fact that the Chinese are very professional, well positioned and acquainted in the art of spying and the collection of intelligence. They have demonstrated this in the U.S. and other countries, and there is no reason not to believe that they may have been successful here, too.”
Both Shin Bet and a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy declined to comment.
China * Hong Kong * Surveillance * NSA * Israel * Middle East * Snowden * US-China * Espionage * Eavesdropping *
June 11, 2013
Did Israel help the National Security Agency (NSA) collect a massive database of phone calls and e-mails involving American citizens? Some reports have pointed to U.S. government purchases from Israeli high-tech companies of hardware and software — for the collection and analysis of huge amounts of information.
After Israel’s government was asked to provide a response, on a subject where “no comment” is usually all we get, a senior officer who worked for a long time in the field of communications intercepts did have something to say.
“America is our strategic ally, so it so clear that we neither spy on the USA nor against its citizens,” said a Brigadier-General who is a former commander of Unit 8200 of Israel’s military intelligence agency Aman. He asked not to be named. Unit 8200 is being mentioned in some media reports, in a form of innuendo, as a likely accomplice of the NSA in its counter-terrorism surveillance programs.
The Australian edition of Business Insider has this headline:
DID YOU KNOW?: Two Secretive Israeli Companies Reportedly Bugged the US Telecommunications Grid for the NSA
A few comments are in order, when almost every day there are new leaks about the surveillance programs run by the United States government since 9/11. Israel has been doing a lot of the same things, but with a minimum of complaint within Israel.
Years ago, and even since the founding of Israel in 1948, most of its citizens have weighed the conflict between security requirements and how to protect civil rights. They have clearly opted for security, above all.
Obama Administration officials say that with the vast amount of information collected by the highly secretive National Security Agency (NSA), only a tiny fraction is ever looked at — and only when there is believed to be a connection with foreign terrorist groups.
In Israel, the police have the authority to demand details of telephone calls for any criminal investigation. If a crime has been committed, police will obtain logs of cellphone calls in the immediate geographic area — just before and after the crime. That sort of high-tech investigating has helped solve crimes.
The domestic security agency Shin Bet (the initials of Sheruti ha-Bitachon, which means Security Services) has even broader authority — and capabilities — to intercept calls and e-mails within Israel. Shin Bet is roughly equivalent to America’s FBI and Britain’s MI5, and the Israelis have been on strongly on the look-out for communications involving foreign spies and terrorists — long before America woke up to the global peril on 9/11.
It can fairly be said that the surveillance powers of Israeli government and police agencies are far wider than those of U.S. officials, who insist that they obey laws barring them from spying on American citizens.
As for published claims that two high-tech companies that were founded in Israel — Narus Systems and Varint — helped the NSA run its controversial communications intercepts, suggestions that Israelis are physically present at NSA facilities and working with the American interceptors and analysts seem to be little more than speculation.
Yes, it would be no surprise if equipment used by the NSA — at its headquarters in Ft. Meade, Maryland, and at many unacknowledged facilities around the world — is designed or made in Israel. (Our book includes information on high-tech accomplishments by Unit 8200 of Israel’s Aman agency, and veterans of Unit 8200 often become leaders in the internet and communications industries.)
Yet it would be unfair to suggest that Israelis are carrying out the intercepts, collection, and analysis of information. The Americans at the NSA are quite capable of doing it all on their own.
In reluctantly discussing the counter-terrorism programs that have been revealed, President Obama’s Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, insists that information about U.S. citizens is ignored. Clapper adds that leaks to the news media on this subject have damaged America’s ability to keep an eye and ear on terrorist groups.
It is not surprising to see reports that the Department of Justice has launched an investigation into who is leaking all these secrets about surveillance programs. The leak seems more like a gusher.
Part of a Leak, Apparently from the NSA, Published June 8 by The Guardian
There are strong indications now that the United States and Israel are focused on similar dangers. The latest leak — describing an NSA tool (“Boundless Informant”) for keeping track of the internet and phone-call information intercepted all around the world — includes a list of countries that are targeted: Iran above all others. Israel has also had its focus on Iran, hoping to stop its nuclear program, for a decade.
NSA documents suggest that intercepts are fully approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and overseen by the Department of Justice — in the name of investigating terrorism and/or the spread of nuclear weapons.
June 9, 2013
by Yossi Melman
TEL AVIV—The Middle East is now marking the 46th anniversary of a war that has a permanent place in military history. Israel, in six days, defeated the armies of all the surrounding Arab countries.
The key to defeating Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, with thumping effectiveness and speed? Preemptive strikes, when it was clear to Israel’s leadership that war was inevitable and it would be far wiser to attack first.
Selecting targets, and knowing precisely what and where they were, was the product of excellent pre-war intelligence.
Here’s a story never told before: the role of Bedouin who wander throughout the Sinai Peninsula – recruited and paid by Israeli intelligence to spy on Egypt’s military.
the sort of place in the Sinai where Bedouin meet with foreigners
One of the most intriguing episodes, revealed here for the first time, related to Unit 504 (then numbered as 154) of the military intelligence agency known to Israelis as Aman. The unit was and still is responsible for recruiting and running agents – a tradecraft known as “humint” (human intelligence).
In the years before 1967, the unit’s case officers covertly crossed the border from southern Israel into the Sinai Peninsula — then under Egyptian rule — and hired local agents. These were members of Bedouin families and tribes, and obviously their sense of loyalty to Egypt was very low.
”We provided them cameras with long lenses which were considered then to be state-of-the-art and nowadays are just junk,” a former officer in Unit 504 said recently. “We taught them how to conceal the cameras, how to position them, and how to take the photos and from which angles.”
The agents proved to be very good pupils and from time to time sent back rolls of film with a treasure trove of tactical intelligence: showing Egyptian military bases in the Sinai desert and troop movements. The real gems were photos of the air fields, which in June 1967 would be bombed with great precision.
Israeli intelligence operatives pride themselves on knowing their region extremely well, including an unmatched ability to identify disloyal, disaffected, weak, or otherwise vulnerable people inside enemy countries – people who would be willing, usually for money, to spy for Israel.
The extent to which that is done today is, of course, a closely guarded secret. Yet there can be little doubt that Aman and Mossad (the agency for special operations worldwide) continue to excel at this priceless espionage skill.
June 8, 2013
Iran’s official media claim that authorities there arrested members of a “terror” squad trained by Israel’s Mossad and backed by Great Britain and an unnamed Arab country.
The Iranian claim said the Arab nation in question has become obviously dependent on Israel. (One can guess that Iran is hinting at Jordan or Qatar, but naturally an observer might wonder who’s now the target of Iran’s official, delusional hypothesizing.)
Iran’s report said the sabotage group — with 12 members supposedly now arrested — intended to stir up ethnic unrest in parts of Iran, specifically in the run-up to the Iranian election in less than two weeks.
Yossi Melman (co-author of Spies Against Armageddon) comments from Tel Aviv that the Iranian claim is “almost certainly rubbish.”
It’s true that Israeli intelligence analysts closely watch Iranian politics — as well as military moves, economic trends, and above all the nuclear program. But Israel and the world have no realistic reason to hope that the June 14 presidential election in Iran will change that country’s secret push toward becoming a nuclear-armed power.
An election cartoon from Iran’s news agency
None of the presidential candidates would represent a major shift in Iranian expansionist ambitions, in part because a guardian council controlled by the Supreme Leader — Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — held veto power over the list of candidates for the presidency.
Melman adds: ”Israel almost surely would not risk operations and waste resources on such a stupid mission – to sabotage Election Day. The Mossad has more urgent missions to execute in Iran. This report is obviously a propaganda ploy by the regime to boost its morale before the election and to mobilize Iranian voters to rally around the regime.”
Jonathan Schanzer, a scholar at the Washington-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, seems quite appropriately to be ridiculing the Iranian claim — on his Twitter feed @JSchanzer:
Iran announced last month that it hanged two spies: one supposedly working for the Mossad, and the other for the CIA. These claims are often made after dissidents — or, frankly, individuals who fell into official disfavor — are arrested and quickly tried and executed by the Islamic Republic of Iran.
June 6, 2013
Because of geography, strategy, politics, and even non-Sunni allegiances, Syria’s importance includes its role in a “food chain” from Shi’ite Iran to Shi’ite fighters in Lebanon — Hezbollah (“The Party of God”).
Hezbollah is known to be stockpiling weapons, in part to prepare for “the next round” — seen as inevitable — referring to the bitter cross-border battle between Israel and Hezbollah’s missile forces in the Summer of 2006.
Here’s a recent analysis by Yossi Melman, published by The Jerusalem Post (as a translation from the Hebrew-language periodical, Sof HaShavua).
For almost two decades, the Israeli intelligence establishment, led by Military Intelligence and the Mossad, has been playing a game of wits, and cat and mouse with the intelligence establishments of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah. Israel is trying to obtain as much information as possible on the weapons supply ”food chain,” beginning with Iran’s decision to supply weapons, through their transfer to Syria and until their arrival at the Hezbollah bunkers in Lebanon.
These bunkers, according to foreign reports, are concentrated mainly in Shi’ite villages in the Bekaa Valley and in the Dachia quarter in southern Beirut – the location of Hezbollah’s central command, which has been rebuilt in recent years after having been almost completely destroyed by the IAF during the Second Lebanon War.
Armed Hezbollah fighters (courtesy The Israel Project)
From Kalashnikovs to M600′s
The two decades of supplying weapons can be divided into three periods. The first began in the 1990s, during the tenure of former Syrian president Hafez Assad, and was characterized by great caution on the part of the Syrian regime. Damascus allowed Iran to transfer arms to Hezbollah occasionally, but only relatively small amounts of light weapons: Kalashnikov rifles, ammunition, mines, mortars and some anti-tank weapons.
“Some of the weapons were supplied in an organized manner,” a former senior intelligence officer who was involved in the issue told Sof HaShavua. ”But there were also personal smuggling operations. Syrian Army officers, without the knowledge of their commanders, and certainly unbeknownst to the leadership in Damascus, sold an anti-tank missile and a mortar here and there, and pocketed the profits. The smuggling was carried out in a simple fashion: the weapons were loaded on a truck and hidden under some kind of merchandise, like boxes of vegetables.”
The second period began after Hafez Assad’s death in 2000. His son Bashar gradually began to expand ties with Iran, until they eventually became what they are today: a strategic alliance.
As part of this alliance (but also as part of Assad’s own personal initiative) relations between Syria and Hezbollah were also cultivated. “Assad has really admired [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah and sees him as a leader and role model,” said another intelligence officer with whom I spoke.
In this period as well, Syria’s behavior was measured and thought out. Most of the weapons being supplied to Hezbollah were Iranian, and the deliveries included Scud surface-to-surface missiles and Fateh-110 precision missiles. These missiles give Hezbollah the ability to hit almost any target of value in Israel, including the Nuclear Research Center in Dimona.
Syrian intelligence officers coordinated the transfers in their territory, under the authority of Assad and his special consultant and confidant, General Muhammad Suleiman, who also served as the coordinator of Iranian arms transfers to Hezbollah.
Suleiman was killed in 2008 by sniper fire while dining with friends on the balcony of his home in the port city of Tartus. The fire came from a ship anchored not far from the beach, and according to foreign reports, Israel was behind the assassination. [The book Spies Against Armageddon describes the assassination in detail.]
Syria transferred missiles and weapons from their warehouses to Hezbollah only in isolated cases. In one of these instances, old and imprecise Scuds were transferred. In another case, following the attack on the nuclear core in September 2007 [an attack by Israel's air force also described in Spies Against Armageddon although never acknowledged officially by Israel] Assad decided, as an expression of his frustration and even revenge, to transfer new, more precise missiles – M600 missiles.
The M600 is the Syrian version of the Iranian Fateh-110 – a guided missile with a range of approximately 200km. The combination of a large, one-ton warhead with relatively high precision and a long range gives Hezbollah abilities that it never had before, such as accurate firing on strategic targets like airports, emergency warehouses, power plants and more.
Israel’s current defense systems – the Iron Dome and the Arrow – are not capable of coping with this threat. The system which is planned to provide an answer for these missiles is the Magic Wand (also known as David’s Sling), which is still in development.
The third and last stage in relations between the triangular axis began with the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011 and has continued since. The process was gradual: As the rebels took control of more and more territory, the Syrian Army began to empty some of their warehouses and to transfer them to more secure storage facilities in areas under Hezbollah control in Lebanon.
At least at the beginning of the rebellion, the Syrian motive was not to arm Hezbollah. According to American sources, the Syrians only wanted to keep their weapons systems from falling into the hands of the rebels.
The weapons transfers included surface-to-surface missiles of various ranges and possibly surface-to-sea missiles. However, Hezboallah was not known to have received any air-defense systems. The transfers were documented in written contracts in which it was agreed that the weapons were temporarily being deposited.
The Syrians forbade Hezbollah from using the weapons against Israel without their consent and Hezbollah agreed, with Iran’s approval.
Hezbollah also agreed to give the weapons back when Assad’s regime regained its strength and control of the country. And if Assad were to fall, what would be the fate of the weapons? Likely, Hezbollah will keep them for themselves, while continuing to follow Iran’s lead.
When the first Gulf War broke out in 1991, Saddam Hussein dispersed his planes to the neighboring enemy Iran, with the promise that they would return them. The planes never again landed on Iraqi soil.
Hezbollah behind the wheel
Israel is not the only country monitoring the transfer of weapons from Iran to Lebanon with concern. The US, British, Jordanian and Turkish intelligence communities are keeping their eyes open, cooperating and sharing information with each other. All those involved are using all the resources at their disposal to keep track of the transfers and gather information on them. They are enlisting agents (HUMINT) in Iran, Syria and Lebanon, operating eavesdropping devices (SIGINT) and using visual methods (VIZINT), with satellite images, spy planes and drones.
According to Western sources, weapons deliveries have been flown in recent years from Iran through Turkey to the airport in Damascus, mostly by Iran Air planes. A special unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is responsible for the flights. However, since the start of the Syrian uprising, Turkey has tightened control on this channel, and, at least on one occasion the Turks intercepted a plane based on intelligence information and confiscated the weapons.
Today, Iran prefers to fly the weapons through Iraq, with which it has friendly relations. The US government has complained to Iraq on several occasions for turning a blind eye to the flights, but to no avail.
According to Western sources, when the weapons arrive in Damascus, they are unloaded in a special compound controlled by Hezbollah, usually at night. Syrian intelligence officers are present, overseeing the process. They know exactly what each and every cargo load contains.
The cargo loads are then loaded onto a fleet of civilian trucks (sometimes with hidden compartments) which make their way to intermediate storage sites in Syria or go straight to warehouses in Lebanon. The drivers are all loyal Hezbollah operatives. In order not to be too conspicuous, the convoys are not composed of more than a few trucks.
In the past, weapons were delivered from Iran by ships which were unloaded at Latakia port in Syria, and on a few occasions arms transfers were made over land, from Iran through Turkey to Syria. The Turks, acting on intelligence information, intercepted some of the trucks and confiscated the weapons.
Last week, conflicting reports were published about Israel’s policies on the situation in Syria. An Israeli official was quoted by The New York Times as threatening that Israel would intervene in the civil war and take down the Assad regime if he continued to supply weapons to Hezbollah. Conversly, The Times of London cited a senior Israeli intelligence official as saying that Israel actually prefers that Assad’s rule continue in Syria.
Official spokesmen in Jerusalem, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, responded to the reports, saying that Israel is not interested in intervening in Syria, but will continue to prevent the transfer of “game-changing” weapons to Hezbollah, such as precise surface-to-surface missiles, surface-to-sea missiles and air defense systems.
Israel is also concerned with the possibility – which is not likely but must be taken into account – that Syria will also send its chemical weapons to Hezbollah for safekeeping. All of these scenarios are likely to trigger massive military reactions by Israel.
[This Jerusalem Post article by Yossi Melman has been slightly edited for IsraelSpy.com.]
June 1, 2013
Nigeria’s secret service said Thursday it had discovered a Hezbollah ”cell” in a house in Kano (northern Nigeria), where Lebanese citizens had concealed weapons to be used for attacks against “Israeli and Western targets” in Nigeria.
The Hezbollah weapons seized in Kano (BBCnews.com still)
Nigerian authorities said they had arrested three Lebanese in that area, on suspicion of being members of Hezbollah, and that a raid on one of their residences had revealed a large stash of weapons.
We have learned that the exposure of the cell was possible due to close cooperation between Nigeria’s security service and the Israeli intelligence agencies, Mossad and Aman (military intelligence).
The Israelis are monitoring Iranian and Hezbollah activities all over the globe — part of the significant shift by Israeli intelligence, just over ten years ago, toward focusing on threats from Iran. That (as described in our book Spies Against Armageddon) includes, of course, Iran’s nuclear program.
The Nigerian incident is the tenth case in which Israeli intelligence — working with local security services — foiled attempts by Hezbollah and Iran to strike against Jewish and Israeli targets. Previous cases occurred in India, Cyprus, Thailand, Georgia, and Azerbaijan.
May 31, 2013
Israeli officials say they doubt that the Assad regime has received the Russian S-300 system — a real “game changer” of an anti-aircraft system that could potentially endanger commercial and military planes in Israeli airspace.
President Bashar Assad tried, of course, to give the impression that Russia already delivered the S-300 — when he was interviewed (Thursday) by the Lebanese Hezbollah’s TV station Al-Manar.
He said Russia has begun to fulfill the arms purchase made by Syria. But Israeli security officials estimate that the Russians have not commenced the deliveries.
Israel fears that if the sophisticated S-300 gets into Syrian hands, that could restrict the Israeli Air Force’s (IAF) freedom of action over both Syrian and Lebanese skies.Israeli warplanes, as a matter of routine, have been flying uninterrupted for nearly 30 years in Lebanon’s airspace.
The decision by Russia to supply the batteries and missiles to Syria, which has been gruesomely torn by a bloody civil war for 28 months, also causes concern to the United States and the NATO alliance. Russian official have actually declared that they intend to supply the system to President Assad, so that foreign air forces will not be tempted to intervene in Syria. Russia is dead set against a “no-fly zone” being imposed by Western nations, as occurred in Libya when Colonel Qaddafi was being overthrown.
Israeli officials hint that they would preempt and destroy the missiles before they become “operational.” It is estimated that it would take at least 4 months of training, deployment, and preparation by the Syrian military before the batteries would be be ready for battle.
President Assad may not dare to carry out his latest threats, but he is vowing to retaliate if Israel attacks his territory again. He indicates he would launch ground-ground missiles against Israeli targets.
The IAF did strike inside Syria three times this year, aiming at storehouses and convoys of Syrian weapons heading to Hezbollah.
As instructed by their master, Iran, thousands of Hezbollah fighters are helping Syria’s army in its war against rebel forces. The United States has publicly called on Hezbollah to get out of Syria.
Military experts believe that it is the Iran-Hezbollah backing that makes it possible for the Assad regime to remain in power.
May 31, 2013
Does this really work? Hezbollah, more than just a Shi’ite Muslim armed political faction in Lebanon, is also a clever foe — often confronting Israel with surprising tactics and countermeasures.
The Hezbollah flag, seen on the website of its Al Manar “news service”
In this excerpt of a report by Yossi Melman (co-author of Spies Against Armageddon) — published in Hebrew by the Israeli periodical Sof HaShavua and then in English by The Jerusalem Post — Melman discusses the Hezbollah tactic of shutting off the electricity across a wide area in Lebanon.
Israel’s Military Intelligence (MI, the agency also known by its Hebrew acronym Aman) believes that the power blackouts are frequently aimed at hampering Israel’s espionage work inside and near Lebanon, specifically when a transfer of missiles or other equipment from Syria is about to begin:
When there is sometimes no electricty or telephone service, communications between the intelligence command, operatives and agents responsible for getting information on the ground, become more difficult, and electronic intelligence gathering methods (SIGINT) are disrupted.
Hezbollah’s intelligence and information security operatives understand that if the disruption of electricity and telephone networks is too consistent or regular, the enemy – mainly Israeli intelligence, although others also gather intelligence on this subject – can learn the “print,” the pattern in which the networks are taken down. Therefore, they use deception tactics, disrupting networks even when there is no operation to transfer weapons being carried out.
For almost two decades, the Israeli intelligence establishment, led by Military Intelligence and the Mossad, has been playing a game of wits, and cat and mouse with the intelligence establishments of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah. Israel is trying to obtain as much information as possible on the weapons supply
“food chain,” beginning with Iran’s decision to supply weapons, through their transfer to Syria and until their arrvial at the bunkers.
These bunkers, according to foreign reports, are concentrated mainly in Shi’ite villages in the Bekaa Valley and in the Dachia quarter in southern Beirut – the location of Hezbollah’s central command, which has been rebuilt in recent years after having been almost completely destroyed by the IAF during the Second Lebanon War.
“This is a battle in which every imaginable means is employed,” said Amos Yadlin, MI chief up until two-and-a-half years ago and current director of the Institute for National Security Studies.
Click here to read the rest of Melman’s article: http://www.jpost.com/Features/In-Thespotlight/In-Depth-How-Iranian-weapons-go-through-Syria-to-Hezbollah-314312
May 30, 2013
An annual survey of terrorism, around the globe, has just been published by the State Department. It accuses Iran of stepping-up its support for terrorism during 2012 — including an attack (by an operative for the Lebanese faction Hezbollah) on Israeli tourists (killing five) in a bus in Bulgaria.
While the threats that have grabbed most of America’s attention since 9/11 — naturally, the late Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda organization — are not the same as Israel’s central concerns, this section titled “Strategic Assessment” makes for interesting reading:
The annual report from the U.S. Department of State published 30 May 2013
The al-Qa’ida (AQ) core, under the direction of Ayman al-Zawahiri, has been significantly degraded as a result of ongoing worldwide efforts against the organization. Bin Laden’s death was the most important milestone in the fight against AQ, but there have been other successes: Dozens of senior AQ leaders have been removed from the fight in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.
Ilyas Kashmiri, one of the most capable AQ operatives in South Asia, and Atiya Abdul Rahman, AQ’s second-in-command, were killed in Pakistan in 2011. AQ leaders Abu Yahya Al-Libi and Abu Zaid al-Kuwaiti were killed in 2012.
As a result of these leadership losses, the AQ core’s ability to direct the activities and attacks of its affiliates has diminished, as its leaders focus increasingly on survival.
Leadership losses have also driven AQ affiliates to become more independent. The affiliates are increasingly setting their own goals and specifying their own targets. As avenues previously open to them for receiving and sending funds have become more difficult to access, several affiliates have engaged in kidnapping for ransom. …
While AQ affiliates still seek to attack the “far enemy,” they seem more inclined to focus on smaller scale attacks closer to their home base. Both al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) have taken steps to seize land and impose their brutal authority over local populations.
The AQ core still has the ability to inspire, plot, and launch regional and transnational attacks from its safe haven in Western Pakistan, despite its leadership losses. Along with AQ, the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani Network, Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, and other like-minded groups continue to conduct operations against U.S., Coalition, Afghan, and Pakistani interests from safe havens on both sides of the Afghanistan/Pakistan border.
Other South Asian terrorist organizations, including Lashkar e-Tayyiba (LeT), cite U.S. interests as legitimate targets for attacks. LeT, the group responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attacks, continues to pose a serious threat to regional stability.
In Yemen, the fight against AQAP is a work in progress, but the trend lines are positive. Yemeni forces have had success pushing AQAP out of its southern strongholds over the last year, leading AQAP to turn increasingly to asymmetric tactics in a campaign of bombings and targeted assassinations against government targets, pro-government tribal militias known as Popular Committees and their leaders, soldiers, civilians, and foreign diplomatic personnel.
After more than two decades of strife, autumn 2012 marked the beginning of political transition in Somalia, with a new provisional constitution, parliament, and president. These are hopeful signs of a new era in this long-suffering country. This success was made possible because Somali National Forces and the AU Mission in Somalia – with strong financial support and training from the United States and Western partners – expelled al-Shabaab from major cities in southern Somalia. Though al-Shabaab is carrying out attacks against the new government, it is fragmented by dissension and much weakened.
Though the AQ core is on a path to defeat, and its two most dangerous affiliates have suffered serious setbacks, tumultuous events in the Middle East and North Africa have complicated the counterterrorism picture. The dispersal of weapons stocks in the wake of the revolution in Libya, the Tuareg rebellion, and the coup d’état in Mali presented terrorists with new opportunities. The actions of France and African countries, however, in conjunction with both short-term U.S. support to the African-led International Support Mission to Mali and the long-term efforts of the United States via the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership, have done much to roll back and contain the threat.
In Libya, the security vacuum in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution provided greater opportunity for terrorists to operate. This vacuum, combined with the weakness of Libya’s nascent security institutions, allowed violent extremists to act, as we saw too clearly on September 11 in Benghazi, when J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, and three staff members, died during attacks on U.S. facilities.
In Syria, AQI [Al-Qaeda in Iraq] seeks to establish a long-term presence under the pseudonym of al-Nusrah Front. The Nusrah Front has denounced the Syrian Opposition Coalition’s founding, rejected the vision statement that the opposition issued in Cairo, and says it is fighting to establish an Islamic caliphate encompassing the entire Levant.
In Gaza, a sharp increase in the number of rocket attacks launched by Hamas and other Gaza-based violent extremist groups led Israel to launch Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012. During the course of the eight day operation, Israeli forces targeted more than 1,500 terrorist sites. Since the Egypt-brokered November 21 ceasefire, the United States has engaged with our Egyptian and Israeli counterparts to strengthen and sustain the peace.
In West Africa we are seeing a loosely-organized collection of factions known as Boko Haram (BH) – some of them with ties to AQIM – exploiting the grievances of northern Nigerians to gain recruits and public sympathy. The number and sophistication of BH’s attacks are increasing, and while the group focuses principally on local Nigerian issues and actors, there are reports that it is developing financial and training links with transnational violent extremists.
The year 2012 was also notable in demonstrating a marked resurgence of Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism, through its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF), its Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), and Tehran’s ally Hizballah.
Iran and Hizballah’s terrorist activity has reached a tempo unseen since the 1990s, with attacks plotted in Southeast Asia, Europe, and Africa. On February 5, 2013, the Bulgarian government publicly implicated Hizballah in the July 2012 Burgas bombing that killed five Israelis and one Bulgarian citizen, and injured 32 others. On March 21, 2013, a Cyprus court found a Hizballah operative guilty of charges stemming from his surveillance activities, carried out in 2012, of Israeli tourist targets, while Thailand was prosecuting a Hizballah member for his role in helping plan a possible terrorist attack in that country.
The IRGC-QF is suspected of directing planned terrorist attacks in Georgia, India, Thailand, and Kenya in 2012, and is also implicated in a 2011 plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States in Washington, DC. And both Iran and Hizballah are providing a broad range of critical support to the Assad regime, as it continues its brutal crackdown against the Syrian people.
While terrorism from non-state actors related to AQ and state-sponsored terrorism originating in Iran remained the predominant concern of the United States, other forms of terrorism undermined peace and security around the world. In Turkey, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party remained active in 2012. Anarchists in Greece and Italy launched periodic attacks, targeting private businesses, foreign missions, and symbols of the state. In Colombia, terrorist attacks occurred almost every day until the declaration of a unilateral cease-fire by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in November. In Northern Ireland, dissident Republican groups continued their campaigns of violence.
“Lone Wolf” violent extremists also remain a concern, as we saw in March 2012, when violent extremist gunman Mohammed Merah went on a multi-day killing spree in Toulouse and Montauban, France. Seven people, including three children, lost their lives before he was killed by police.
May 30, 2013
Twenty-eight months after the civil war in Syria began, Israel still doesn’t know who it wants to win. In any event, senior officials say they don’t believe they can do much to influence the outcome.
CIA map of Syria
It’s Israeli intelligence that is tasked with carefully watching every development in Syria – with a definite focus on any attempt to move missiles, high-tech systems, and chemical weapons to terrorists including Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
At least three times this year, when Aman — Israel’s military intelligence agency — picked up signs that significant types and quantities of weapons were about to be transferred by Syria’s regime to Hezbollah, Israel’s air force has struck targets inside Syria.
These were dramatic decisions, of course, by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his top national security advisors. Israeli government spokespeople — while refusing to confirm publicly that their country had attacked Syrian targets — hastened to re-state the official policy that has dominated since the civil war began in January 2011: that Israel has no reason to choose sides.
Israel doesn’t call for the downfall of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, although he and his predecessor and father Hafez al-Assad have helped terrorists, have been implacable enemies of Israel, and formed a firm alliance with Iran.
But does Israel like any of the rebel groups? Certainly the al-Qaeda-affiliated militant groups are not Israeli favorites. The more moderate rebels, including those who wear suits and ties and attend meetings in Western Europe with American envoys, also seem to hold little allure for the Israelis — although some of them, if they were to take over and try to build a democratic, free Syria, could conceivably live in peace and quiet alongside Israel.
The traditional Israeli view of divisions within the Arab world is that it’s good for Israel if “our enemies are busy killing each other.”
A source close to the leadership of the Mossad said, this month, that strategically Israel would still see things that way. “The best situation is for things to continue the way they are now,” this Israeli said. Yet within minutes the source added: “It’s true, however, that as human beings it’s very difficult for us Israelis — to know that people, including children, are being killed every day just a few kilometers away in Syria.”
At the start of the civil war, Israeli officials generally preferred that Assad be overthrown. But lately, seeing the rise of radical Islamist elements among the rebel fighters, some Israelis have said that things would be “not all that bad if Assad continues as president, assuming he is weakened.”
All in all, the source said, “it still would be better for Israel if Assad falls — because of his alliance with Iran and with Hezbollah.” Israel wants Iran and its proxies to lose.
May 24, 2013
(a CIA map)
It is an open secret that Israel, in its efforts to monitor events in Syria, is enjoying full cooperation from Jordan– the Arab country with which it signed a peace treaty in 1994. A Jordanian official is even quoted as saying that his country and Israel are acting “as one” – because “the Israelis don’t mess about and that’s what we need.”
Part of standard intelligence gathering, in such circumstances, would include extensive interviews of refugees from Syria. They are plentiful, unfortunately, in both Jordan and Turkey. (A strong reason that Israeli and Turkish officials are trying to heal the rift between their countries is so that they can cooperate quietly on Syria.)
King Abdullah of Jordan
Interviewing refugees could give Israel’s Mossad a window into more than the civil war. Syrians who recently left could talk about military bases, factory production, food supplies, and even some valuable information on Syrian politics at all levels.
Sources close to the Mossad do add this, however: While they cooperate with Jordan’s King Abdullah and wish him well – and while he certainly has the support of the United States– the Israelis fear that Abdullah’s reign is far from secure.
“If the king doesn’t make major reforms,” one of the sources said this week, “then he’s going to have trouble keeping his throne. Trouble would start on the streets, of course – like in other Arab countries in the past few years.”
May 24, 2013
The following article was written by Yossi Melman (co-author of Spies Against Armageddon) for The Jerusalem Report — a twice-a-month magazine published by The Jerusalem Post.
The international and Israeli media’s unflagging interest in the case of Ben Zygier – the Australian-born Jew turned Mossad operative, who committed suicide in his Israeli prison cell in December 2010 – has brought to light the intriguing question of how Israel’s espionage agency searches for, approaches and recruits its manpower.
But first an update on the unfolding story: The German magazine, Der Spiegel, first reported in March that Zygier, who wanted to impress his superiors, betrayed a few Lebanese agents who worked for the Mossad. And then in May, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), which earlier in February exposed Zygier’s identity (known until then as Prisoner X), went an extra mile, claiming that the Australian-Israeli, 34 at his death, compromised an operation to discover the remains of three Israeli MIAs who died in a battle in Sultan Yakoub in Lebanon during the 1982 war.
The ABC report was based on an interview with one of the “betrayed” Lebanese. Ziad el Homsi, a former Palestine Liberation Organization officer turned local politician, claimed that he was asked to dig up the graves of the Israeli MIAs, but actually he was a double agent working for Lebanese military intelligence.
Israeli sources dismissed both the German and Australian stories and described them as “nonsense.”
Yet they do admit that it was wrong to recruit Zygier in the first place. “He slipped through our usually rigorous recruiting net,” said an intelligence source.
Zygier was born in 1976 in Melbourne to a family very active in the Jewish community. He went to a Jewish school, joined a Zionist youth movement (Hashomer Hatza’ir) and in 1994 moved to Israel, aged 18. He adopted a Hebrew surname, Alon, and served in the Israel Defense Forces. Soon he was spotted as a potential recruit for intelligence work. Among other attributes, he had a genuine foreign passport that could help a covert operative establish a cover story.
Ben Zygier (from Australia’s ABC)
The sources say Zygier/Alon was approached by the Mossad, went through the standard laborious psychological and aptitude tests, and joined the secret agency in 2003. After more than a year of training, he was assigned to one of the Mossad’s top operational and clandestine units. His assignments tended to involve efforts to penetrate Iran.
Noticing flaws in his personality that made him unsuitable for intelligence field work, the Mossad sent him to study for an MBA at a university in Melbourne before the termination of his contract. There, sources say, he became depressed and edgy and was excessively talkative. Rubbing shoulders with fellow students from many nations, including Lebanese and Iranians, he openly spoke of his Mossad career. At a certain point, he befriended a local contact who had ties with Iran. He was so talkative that the Australian Security Intelligence Organization heard about him and opened its own investigation.
The Mossad also became aware of his loose tongue. Examining who was having conversations with Zygier, the Mossad concluded that some of its operations and operatives were put at risk by his revelations. On his next visit to Israel, he was arrested and indicted on charges of espionage, bordering on treason.
On its website, the Mossad refers to itself as the Israel Secret Intelligence Service (ISIS). It defines its mission as “collecting information, analyzing intelligence and performing special covert operations beyond Israel’s borders.” The website encourages members of the public, locally and internationally, to apply for a job in a range of professions such as graphic design, logistics, computers and programming. Multi-language skills are desired, with an emphasis on Farsi and Arabic. An excellent job candidate would excel at “special” assignments, intelligence and security – areas that are at the core of the agency.
Mossad’s official logo
It is clear from the Zygier affair, as well as previous known and unknown cases, that the number-one priority of the recruiting process is to properly screen potential candidates. The screening is aimed at finding out whether they are suitable for their designated missions — above all, so that they will neither bungle their work nor cause embarrassing damage to Israel’s national interests. The ultimate goal is to make sure that the select few will be loyal to the organization and avoid actions that might eventually lead to divulging sensitive information and exposing operations, thus causing the arrest and death of agents.
The jobs are described in superlatives. “The job which will change your life,” and “Your job dream.” Despite lack of precise descriptions of the jobs required, from the skills needed, one can reach the conclusion what it is all about. Here is one example for a job in the field of “special assignments.” The candidate, it says, “has an opportunity to create a reality in which he/she plays the central role.” It sounds like a sentence from The Little Drummer Girl, one of John Le Carre’s novels in which he likens intelligence to the art of the theater, though intelligence is “theater of the real.”
In reality, what the Mossad is talking about is the job description of a katsa, a Hebrew acronym for a “collection officer.” In other intelligence services, such a person and role is referred to as a “case officer” or “handler of agents.”
Despite its worldwide image and reputation as an organization that is mainly involved in liquidating its enemies, the Mossad is not “Murder Inc.” In its more than 60 years of existence, the Mossad has been involved in no more than 40 assassination cases in which terrorists, nuclear scientists and Nazi war criminals were killed. The Mossad is basically an intelligence agency specializing in collecting and analyzing information, which is then provided to the Prime Minister and his cabinet to aid in making decisions.
The katsa plays an essential role in the Mossad. He or she is indispensable. This officer is the spearhead of the agency in the field. With the help of specialists at headquarters level, the katsa is responsible for spotting, approaching, recruiting, running, defending and babysitting the agent who is supposed to provide the information. These officers belong to a department known as Tsomet (Junction).
A second operational department is Keshet (Bow), which is in charge of the surveillance of targets as well as break-ins into places of interest to the agency. And a third department is Caesarea, which encompasses the Mossad’s most cherished persons: the field agents. These are the operatives who infiltrate enemy countries such as Syria, Lebanon and, the most dangerous one, Iran. One of the units within the department is Kidon (Bayonet), whose agents carry out the very select operations in which violence is necessary.
One of the main functions of the Mossad’s website is to broaden the net of potential candidates for the Mossad. Before the website was launched 15 years ago, the main recruiting method was based on the “old-boys network” – searching for candidates in the military and the other branches of the intelligence community based on personal recommendations.
Since then, searching, screening and recruiting have tremendously improved and are more systematic and scientific. Yet, today, as then, the number-one problem of the Human Resources department remains how to make sure that the recruit does not have a hidden personality disorder and latent suicidal tendencies.
The objective is to screen out problematic candidates — without rejecting the suitable, potentially great ones. In the annals of the Mossad and other intelligence agencies, there have been hundreds of cases of rejecting good candidates. But, luckily enough for the Mossad, very few cases of recruits with personality disorders have been discovered.
There are at least four famous cases. One was Avri Elad, a major in the IDF. In 1954, he was sent to Egypt under the identity of a Nazi SS officer to run a network of Jewish students trained to destabilize the regime. Eventually, he betrayed them. Elad denied the charges yet was imprisoned for 10 years for espionage.
Another one involved Mordechai Kedar, a bank robber suspected of murder. He was recruited in 1956, trained and sent to establish his cover in Argentina before being sent to Egypt. While in Buenos Aires, he murdered his local Jewish helper and stole his money. Kedar was found guilty by a military tribunal court and was imprisoned for 20 years.
Three decades later, the case of Mossad cadet Victor Ostrovsky came to light. Possessing a Canadian passport and the traits of a professional charmer, he was recruited as a candidate despite what Mossad sources call personality flaws. They say Ostrovsky became involved in financial frauds. Eventually, after 18 months of training, his handlers discovered that he was cheating his classmates.
After being fired, Ostrovsky took his revenge by writing a book about Mossad operations, and named many of its operatives. Prior to the publication of his book, which contains a lot of lies, the Mossad tried to dissuade him from publishing, but he refused. It turned out that the Mossad’s efforts, which included failed appeals to Canadian and American courts, served as Ostrovsky’s best marketing vehicle. His book became a lucrative bestseller.
And then there was the case of Yehuda Gil. A legendary katsa who posed as an Italian businessman, in the mid-1970s Gil befriended a Syrian general and tried to recruit him. The general refused to betray his country. Fearing he would be seen as a failure, Gil kept up a 20-year charade in which the general was supposedly feeding him valid information. Meanwhile, Gil hid the money he was supposed to pay the source under mattresses at his home in Tel Aviv and fabricated reports.
In the mid-1990s, one of the reports Gil submitted nearly triggered a war between Israel and Syria. Eventually, Gil was put under the surveillance of his Keshet buddies and was caught red-handed. He was sentenced to five years in jail.
Psychologists who worked for the Mossad have told me that individuals with borderline personalities are characterized by sudden and dramatic changes in their behavior and unstable relations with other people. “In many cases,” one psychologist said, “these people tend to see their close colleagues in a dichotomy – either as an enemy or a loved one.”
“People with borderline personalities are the greatest risk to any intelligence organization,” another psychologist noted, “because it is an elusive trait that is difficult to be noticed and screened.”
Maximum efforts of any clandestine service are devoted to block entry to such personalities. However, a built-in contradiction threatens the process. Often such people are gifted and blessed with traits that the organization is seeking: creativity, the ability to change identities, to lie without blinking, to be daring, and to deal with changing and challenging circumstances. No wonder that sometimes the agency does not resist the temptation and hires these characters.
Indeed the cases mentioned above, as well as the Zygier affair, prove this point. Nevertheless, a few dozen failed cases out of the thousands of people who have been recruited to work in the Mossad and for the Mossad over the six decades of its existence are not a bad ratio at all.
The recruiting process cannot be perfect. As of now, no one has invented a vaccine that can neutralize the flaws in human nature.
[This Jerusalem Report article by Yossi Melman was slightly edited for IsraelSpy.com.]
May 22, 2013
The steady drone of medium-level alarm bells about Iran continues, but the latest report by United Nations nuclear inspectors contains nothing that requires urgent action.
Israel has been alarmed for over a decade, now, by the Islamic Republic of Iran’s march toward nuclear capability — and our book chronicles the historic shift of priorities by Israeli intelligence: devoting less attention to Palestinian politics so as to be focused with laser-beam attention on Iran.
The latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency has several troubling aspects, including Iran’s rapid progress on a few paths that could lead to nuclear weapons.
Julian Borger of Britain’s The Guardian notes, however, that Iran has apparently continued to take great care to stay below the “red line” set by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his speech at the U.N. in New York last September.
Israel’s foreign intelligence agency, the Mossad, is monitoring all this very carefully, and Netanyahu is surely interested in every detail that can be plucked out of Iran.
Yet his new coalition government is distracted by many subjects — and notably has failed to reach agreement on its posture toward a possible “two-state solution” with the Palestinians, even as America’s Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Jerusalem and Ramallah for another attempt at mediating a return to negotiations.
Even though Barack Obama, on his first trip to Israel as President in March, said he respects Israel’s right to make its own decisions on how best to defend itself, it is crystal clear that the United States still wants Israel to act with restraint: to give negotiations and sanctions more time to be effective.
American analysts feel the IAEA’s latest report still points to the likelihood that it would take Iran one year at a minimum — and perhaps two years — before it could produce a deliverable nuclear weapon.
May 22, 2013
Dan Raviv, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, was a guest on the Jim Bohannon Show (on Dial Global Radio in the U.S.) on Wednesday night — with a wide-ranging discussion of President Obama’s new line on counter-terrorism drone strikes, the Syrian civil war, and the Middle East.
It is the first hour of this clickable audio item: http://www.jimbotalk.net/programhighlights?date=20130522
And here is a five-minute interview summarizing the main points for Bohannon’s “America In the Morning” aired on Thursday (May 23rd).
Please click here to listen for the 5-minute interview: Raviv on Jim Bohannon 23 May 2013
Raviv and Bohannon discuss the Obama Administration’s revelation that its drone strikes killed four U.S. citizens, Secretary of State John Kerry’s renewed attempt to mediate between Israelis and Palestinians, new indications that Syria’s regime may be winning the civil war, and the IAEA report on Iran’s rapidly advancing nuclear work.
May 22, 2013
One of the greatest tools for Israeli espionage is the capability — for decades, the best in the Middle East — to put eyes on the enemy from high above, without even risking the lives of spies and pilots.
photo from Elbit Systems Ltd.
A new study of the global market for UAV’s (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) shows that Israel is the top exporter of the hardware and software that many countries are starting to use.
The United States military and the CIA operate their own fleets of drone aircraft, and despite the assumptions made by some observers, the Americans manufacture their own and insist that theirs are the best in the world.
The market study was published, for private clients, by the business research firm Frost & Sullivan and is reported by Haaretz.
It says that in the past eight years, Israel sold drones for dozens of nations for a total of $4.6 billion. The customers included India, which has become Israel’s largest market for arms sales. The United Kingdom and other NATO alliance members — such as Poland, Turkey, and even some customers in the U.S. — have also bought drones from Israel.
A sale to France is now being negotiated, and sales have gone through to Nigeria and Kenya in Africa — which both face terrorist threats. Angola and Azerbaijan have also bought drones.
Israel was the first country to use pilotless aircraft for intelligence-gathering, as early as the late 1970s. These days, Israel uses them to keep a close eye on Palestinian extremists in Gaza, the Hezbollah forces in Lebanon, and developments in Syria’s volatile civil war.
Note the absence of a cockpit or windows.
Drones were also used to track Iranian arms supplies to Hamas, even at remote locations in the Red Sea and along the coast of Sudan.
The Americans use their drones — which often have precision missiles mounted on them — to attack al-Qaeda and Taliban positions in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, and Somalia. Although not acknowledged by the U.S. government, American drone aircraft have also spied in the skies over Iran.
Israeli-made drone aircraft come in many sizes. Surveillance targets are meant never to notice the smallest ones, high overhead. There are wide-bodied UAVs that can be equipped with cameras, listening devices, and missiles. These are capable in all weather conditions, on sunny days and during dark nights, and can stay in the air for as long as 48 hours.
May 19, 2013