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. 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.
(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 biweekly 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 23, 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 — 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: 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
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.
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
John Brennan, the long-time counter-terrorism advisor to President Obama who this year became Director of the CIA, flew to Israel — on a working visit not announced in advance.
Officials suggested that the main topic, in consultations on Friday (May 17), was Syria: what might be done to prevent the transfer of chemical weapons and advanced missiles from the Syrian military to terrorist groups such as Hezbollah. Inevitably the United States and Israel would also be exchanging assessments of how long Bashar al-Assad’s regime may survive — and how to handle a possible transition to a new phase of radicalism and chaos.
Word was leaked to Israeli reporters that Brennan was spending time with Moshe “Boogie” Ya’alon, the defense minister in Benjamin Netanyahu’s reshaped government coalition. No one had to announce — and no one did — that Brennan was also getting together with Israel’s intelligence chiefs, notably the Mossad director Tamir Pardo.
A little noticed aspect of these secret talks involves Turkey. Barack Obama, during his first visit to Israel as President in March, made a point of cajoling Netanyahu and Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Erdogan to talk by phone and bury their growing hatchet.
Sources close to the situation say the CIA has had a major role in bringing together the Mossad and Turkey’s foreign intelligence agency MIT. For decades, mostly without public acknowledgment by their governments, the “alternative diplomats” of the spy services had kept in close touch — and embarked on cooperative projects, generally aimed at their common enemies.
Brennan spoke about Israeli-Turkish covert cooperation with Pardo, preparing the ground for stronger coordination among the CIA, the Mossad, MIT, Jordan’s intelligence services, Britain’s MI6 (now known as SIS), and the French foreign espionage agency DGSE.
Their immediate subject is Syria — notably the possibility that anti-Western radicals who may be affiliated with al-Qaeda could continue to grow in territory and power inside Syria. If the international community decides to become more involved in Syria’s civil war, then the Western and pro-Western intelligence agencies would have a central role.
Brennan also discussed Iran’s nuclear program with Pardo. American and Israeli assessments of what Iran’s scientists have accomplished, and what the Iranian political and military echelons may be planning, are not precisely the same. As is well known, the “timing” issues — when the U.S. or Israel might have to take extreme action — are not seen in identical ways in Washington and Jerusalem.
Analysts in both intelligence agencies, the CIA and the Mossad, feel it is clear that after Iran’s presidential election next month — which might, of course, require a second round of voting — the Iranians will face a crucial decision: whether to move more quickly toward assembling a nuclear bomb, and speeding up the machining and engineering needed to fit a nuclear warhead onto a missile that could reach Israel and other American allies.
Is something up — something imminent? In the Middle East, which is unusually volatile in the two years since the “Arab Spring” uprisings broke out, almost anything could happen at any time. But no, no one in authority is suggesting that the United States, Israel, or both are about to launch any violent, dramatic action.
May 17, 2013
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited China, and then Russia, this month. Did he accomplish anything? In Sochi, the Russian resort city that will host the Winter Olympic Games next year, the Israeli made it clear that he was trying to persuade Vladimir Putin to cancel planned arms deliveries to Syria.
In an exclusive article for TheTower.org, where he is a Contributing Editor, Yossi Melman reveals that Netanyahu failed. Here is a small excerpt:
Israeli diplomatic sources are expressing disappointment at the outcome of Tuesday’s meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Netanyahu, who initiated the meeting, …was accompanied by Chief of Military Intelligence Major-General Aviv Kochavi and Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin, who served as a translator. Netanyahu hoped to persuade Russia not to honor its contract to supply surface-air S-300 missiles to the Syrian army. But Israeli sources told The Tower that Putin was evasive and refused to commit himself on the issue.
During the meeting with Putin, Netanyahu also clarified Israel’s position versus Syria. He explained that Israel would continue to obstruct by all means available — including continued air attacks — Syria’s efforts to ship long-range missiles to Hezbollah.
The Russian president, on the other hand, made clear that his country objects to any foreign intervention in Syria and advised Israel to restrain itself, arguing that further attacks may escalate the situation.
Click here for the full article at TheTower.org, published by The Israel Project in Washington: http://www.thetower.org/exclusive-netanyahu-putin-meeting-a-bust-as-russia-refuses-to-back-off-s-300-sale-to-syria/
May 16, 2013
[This is edited from an article by Yossi Melman, a new contributing editor at TheTower.org (which is published by The Israel Project in Washington). The full article is here: http://www.thetower.org/analysis-israeli-brinksmanship-aimed-at-preventing-regional-deterioration/.]
CNN video showed smoke and fire from apparent Israeli Air Force strikes inside Syria (used in TheTower.org coverage)
By striking military targets inside Syria three times this year, Israel is engaging in what former Secretary of State John Foster Dulles would have described as a strategy of “brinksmanship.”
It is not in Israel’s national interest to intervene in the bloody Syrian civil war – a sad, violent, and regionally destabilizing conflict with no end in sight. And it is not Israel’s intention to do so.
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 The Tower 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.
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 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 IAD 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 helicopter would, at least, reduce the bloodshed inside his suffering country.
May 11, 2013
The controversial head of an Israeli defense facility that is almost never talked about — the Israel Institute of Biological Research (IIBR) at Nes Ziona — has retired.
Dr. Avigdor Shafferman was director of IIBR, one of the country’s most secretive security institutes — for 18 years. He is considered one of the world’s top experts on anthrax, although Israel has never confirmed having weaponized versions of anthrax or any other lethal biological compounds.
His replacement will be Dr. Shmuel (Samuel) Shapira, whose role in the department of anesthesiology at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem may not seem to have much to do with biological weapons. Yet he is also deputy director-general of the hospital and director of a “military medical school” at Hadassah.
Senior officials at Hadassah Medical Center have a role in preparing Israel for coping with possible attacks in the future by enemies using non-conventional weapons. Dr. Shapira also served in the navy as a lieutenant colonel.
He has been a consultant to the Rand Corporation and to the U.S. government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
[In an earlier blog post here at IsraelSpy.com, we said that the most likely pick for director would be Shafferman's deputy, Dr. Gadi Frishman. But the Defense Ministry went in a different direction.]
official logo of the secretive institute (at iibr.gov.il)
IIBR employs approximately 300 scientists and technicians, all of whom sign secrecy agreements. Located 15 miles south of Tel Aviv, the Institute’s laboratory work is believed to include both biological and chemical weapons — as well as countermeasures that Israel might need to defend itself. Researchers there developed a vaccine against anthrax, more than a decade ago.
Over the years, IIBR has benefited from grant money from the Pentagon and the U.S. Army and Navy.
As reported in our book, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, IIBR also works closely with the Mossad when the spy agency needs ways of poisoning Israel’s enemies — such as in the failed assassination of the Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Amman, Jordan, in 1996.
Preparing defenses against chemical and biological weapons that might strike Israel has taken on a new importance, because of the civil war in neighboring Syria. Even before America’s Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel declared (on April 25, 2013) that there is evidence that Syrian government forces used poison gas or chemicals against rebels, a senior Israeli military officer had revealed that disturbing fact.
Brig.Gen. Itai Bron, the head of the Research Directorate of Aman — the military intelligence agency — was the first to reveal that Bashar al-Assad’s regime used Sarin gas on several occasions against the rebels.
Dr. Shafferman’s pet project, more than a decade ago, was to develop a vaccine against anthrax. But it turned out that with the collaboration of the army’s Medical Corps, vaccine tests on soldiers were conducted in contrast to the Helsinki Convention’s guidelines for conducting medical tests on human beings.
An inquiry committee, set up a few years ago by the ethics department of the Israel Doctors Association, hinted that the soldiers may have been abused as guinea pigs to serve “foreign interests.” As reported by the French website Intelligence On-Line, IIBR received a grant of $200 million from America — in return for providing the anthrax test results to the U.S. military. That financed a production line at Nes Ziona, where the Institute produces the anthrax vaccine and other medications. The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz revealed the tests on soldiers.
May 8, 2013
The Obama Administration has expressed concern about the use of chemical weapons by Syria’s regime against rebels and civilians, but the United States is not believed to have done anything in response.
Israel, on the other hand, is sending a strong message that it is watching — carefully keeping an eye on everything going on in the chaos of Syria’s civil war — and Israel won’t tolerate the transfer of weapons to Hezbollah, in Lebanon, that would strengthen the Lebanese Shi’ites in future clashes with Israel.
One thing you can’t hide — even in the Middle East, a region full of secrets — is a series of loud bomb explosions on a mountain overlooking the capital of an Arab country.
That’s what the people of Damascus were seeing during the overnight hours (early Sunday). A country once hermetically sealed and controlled by a Stalin-style Assad regime now has citizens using their mobile phones and video cameras and immediately posting to YouTube. This amateur video ends with a very significant explosion.
Thus we have the impressively large fires — and the occasional large blast — on Jebel (Mount) Qassioun, which overlooks the Syrian capital. For decades, its slopes have been known as a place to relax at airy cafes and restaurants. But during the civil year that has raged for over 27 months, the Syrian military is believed to have stationed more elite troops on the mountain. It also has broadcasting towers for state-run TV and radio.
According to reports quoting Syrian TV, Israeli missiles struck — but this is apparently referring to another location in the Damascus suburbs where a military research center is located. That center was bombed in February, in an aerial strike which Israel has not officially confirmed. Syrians say that Israel is attacking from a distance, without sending planes into Syrian airspace. That assertion could not be confirmed with Israeli official sources.
Israel has not formally confirmed it struck any targets in Syria — not early Sunday morning, and not on Friday morning — but sources did say that President Bashar al-Assad’s military was again planning to transfer “game-changing” powerful offensive missiles to the Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon — so Israel decided that it had to stop that.
Is Israel intervening in the civil war — trying to help rebels topple the Assad government? That seems doubtful, as Israel politicians and intelligence analysts have not settled on any particular rebel faction which they like. But Syrian TV said the attacks by Israel prove that the “terrorists” (the rebels) are agents of Israel.
There was not a word of criticism from the Obama Administration, which for days has faced the issue of striking somehow at the Assad regime for its use of chemical weapons against rebels and civilians. Israel’s leaders recently said that they are highly concerned about the possibility that Syria’s chemical weapons are out of their locked arsenals and, as one official put it, “on the move.”
On Thursday, shortly before the targets in Syria were struck, Netanyahu is known to have had a long, strategic discussion with the ministers in his “security cabinet.” Several of them have thin experience with national security affairs, as they had no government experience until joining the coalition formed after this past January’s election.
Visiting Costa Rica, President Obama — continuing his solidly pro-Israel tone since his visit to Israel in March — told an interviewer: ”What I have said in the past and I continue to believe is that the Israelis justifiably have to guard against the transfer of advanced weaponry to terrorist organizations like Hezbollah. We coordinate closely with the Israelis recognizing they are very close to Syria. They are very close to Lebanon.”
May 4, 2013
Israel’s former Mossad chief is now practically confirming a significant piece of Middle East “nuclear conflict” history that we revealed on this blog — and at Al-Monitor.com last November 7. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had the idea of provoking a possible attack by Iran, as an excuse for Israel to strike hard at nuclear facilities in Iran.
Meir Dagan, who ended eight years as head of Israel’s secretive foreign intelligence agency at the end of 2010, was speaking (April 29) on Israeli television’s Channel 2 in an interview by Ilana Dayan on her “Uvda” (Fact) show.
Dagan, the former spymaster who last year had a medical emergency but then successful surgery in the former Soviet Union, is again actively speaking out — with the intention of restraining Prime Minister Netanyahu from ordering Israel’s military to attack Iran.
Last year, Dagan told the CBS News broadcast “60 Minutes” that the likely retaliation that would follow such an attack by Israel would ruin daily life in the Jewish state. In short, Dagan does not believe it would be worth it to attack Iran.
Now he has told Dayan on her TV show (in Hebrew) that there was a situation — when he was still the Mossad director — in which the political leaders of the country favored a military conflict, while those who would have to execute such orders were firmly against.
Meir Dagan on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” 2012
Dagan was undoubtedly referring to the opposition expressed to Prime Minister Netanyahu and his then-defense minister, Ehud Barak, by Dagan, the top military officer (Chief of the General Staff) Gabi Ashkenazi, and the head of domestic security (the agency known as Shin Bet), Yuval Diskin.
As Yossi Melman reported over 4 months ago:
“Netanyahu turned to the chief of staff, General Ashkenazi, and told him to ‘set the systems for P-plus,’ a term meaning to swiftly increase the preparedness of the military in case of a war with Iran. The measures to be taken in such a situation could include moving military units, strengthening intelligence capabilities and preparing the home front for a war. …
“The truth is that Netanyahu and Barak did not order the military to plan a direct, all-out attack on Iran. Their true intention was to trigger a chain of events which would create tension and provoke Iran, and eventually could have led to a war that might drag in the United States.
“At that meeting and on other occasions, General Ashkenazi warned Netanyahu and Barak that such an order could ‘create uncontrollable facts on the ground’ which could ignite an undesired regional war. ‘If you open and press an accordion, the instrument starts playing music’ was the picturesque description from the chief of staff, who retired more than a year ago.”
Now, on Israeli TV, Meir Dagan has gone public with his account of how his country’s top political leaders — meaning Netanyahu and Barak — wanted to ready the “military and the entire systems, and then you may have a situation where you are on alert — and the other side sees it — and everybody is ready and preparing for war. A war which maybe nobody wants.”
While hinting that he saw the danger of an unwanted war at that time, Dagan has not publicly said what he advocates. It seems obvious that he would like robust covert action — including sabotage coordinated with the United States — to continue.
Dagan did repeat this week that he pledged, while leading the Mossad, that Iran would not create or acquire a nuclear weapons during his time as head of the spy agency. And Iran has not developed nuclear bombs. Dagan says publicly that Iran cannot make a nuclear weapon before 2014, meaning that there still is time to slow down the Iranians — or for American military action to destroy Iranian facilities far more thoroughly than could Israel.
May 1, 2013
Israeli authorities have now released the full report by a judge on the death of Ben Zygier, the Australia-born man who moved to Israel and became a Mossad operative.
He hanged himself in a high-security, solitary cell partially covered by surveillance cameras. The new revelations include a visit to Zygier — on the day of his death in December 2010 — by his wife and their daughter.
The report says he was miserable and crying, after the visit. At one point, a minder from the Prisons Service prevented Zygier from passing a note to his wife. This made him so distraught that the wife was allowed to re-enter the cell to spend a few more minutes with him.
Ben Zygier (from Australia’s ABC)
A social worker — who had visited Zygier, we now learn, 57 times in the prison where his real name was never uttered — was informed of how upset the prisoner was. He had seemed, previously, to have possibly suicidal tendencies. But, because he had wept in the past, the social worker did not react.
The judge blamed the Prisons Service for Zygier’s death. She ruled that PS staffers did not faithfully monitor the surveillance cameras in his cell.
Her report does not state what is widely known by now: that Zygier, using the name Ben Alon, had been a secret operative for the Mossad. Why was he imprisoned, awaiting trial — with talk of a possible plea bargain? That remains secret.
Why was he so upset by something his wife told him? A source in the Jewish community in his native Melbourne, Australia, says Zygier’s wife was divorcing him. Israeli officials have not confirmed that.
April 26, 2013
Are Hezbollah agents living in Europe, South America, and parts of Asia as “moles,” preparing to surface — if activated by their commanders in Lebanon and Iran? Are they likely to receive attack orders, if Israel and/or the United States were to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities? Would Hezbollah be the key to the terrorism “blow-back” that many U.S. analysts fear?
There’s a new on-line magazine called TheTower.Org (with its second monthly issue in May 2013), published by the Washington-based The Israel Project, hoping to break some news and give perspective on major issues in the Middle East. Benjamin Weinthal has an article there on Europe– after years of denial and delay — moving toward branding Hezbollah (the militant Shi’ite party in Lebanon) as a terrorist organization. The article suggests that if Hezbollah organizing and fundraising were to be stopped in Europe, the entire group would be severely weakened.
TheTower.org Shows this Portrayal of Hezbollah’s Leader, Sheik Nasrallah, in a Museum in Lyon, France (taken from Abode of Chaos/Flickr)
In these excerpts from “Europe Has a Serious Hezbollah Problem,” Weinthal writes:
“Europe’s official policy of soft-pedaling Hezbollah emerged early in the organization’s history. Following a wave of Hezbollah attacks across Europe in the 1980s, Europe’s number one aim was to make them stop happening. The unspoken agreement struck between the two centered on legal recognition of Hezbollah’s presence—including fundraising—in Europe, in exchange for refraining from terrorism on European soil. …
“While this may have alleviated European anxieties, it had grave unintended consequences. Not only did it render Europe politically and militarily impotent against one of the world’s most dangerous terrorist organizations, it allowed Hezbollah to turn Europe into its economic backbone and create one of the world’s most powerful criminal enterprises. ..
“Once upon a time, Europe’s tacit deal with Hezbollah might have made sense, if only on the most Machiavellian, pragmatic level. But now, it is difficult to see what possible benefit the EU derives from it. It has not stopped Hezbollah from resuming terrorism on the continent. It has undermined Europe’s moral and political standing in the world. It has been of great economic benefit to Hezbollah, to the detriment of European criminal law. And it threatens to undermine the very stability of Lebanon and the greater Middle East that Europe so wants to preserve.”
Weinthal adds that the watershed event was the bombing of a tourist bus in Bulgaria, last July, that killed 5 Israelis and their Bulgarian bus driver.
A question for Israel’s intelligence community — which monitors Hezbollah activity in dozens of countries, often seeing the Lebanese terrorists working with Iranians and even Iran’s embassies — is whether Israel will vigorously pursue a low-level war outside the Middle East. After the massacre at the Munich Olympics in 1972, which left 11 Israeli athletes dead, the Mossad did engage in a brief but violent war against Palestinian militants in Europe.
April 25, 2013
The authors of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars (available now as a trade paperback and e-book) have written several books together, and they all include Israeli and American intelligence operatives. In their book, Friends In Deed: Inside the U.S.-Israel Alliance, 1948-1994, they illustrate that cooperative and competitive covert activities were a significant part of the story.
Levant Books has now seen to it that Friends In Deed
is available (for the first time) for the Nook: http://bit.ly/KInNdv
It can also be purchased for Kindle readers and the Kindle app for iPad and many smartphones: http://amzn.to/144oBIM
The list price is only $2.99.
– - - -
Like other books by Yossi Melman and Dan Raviv, Friends In Deed has the true-life stories of dozens and dozens of people whose collective efforts form a coherent, significant history.
From Library Journal
This is one of the most readable accounts of U.S.-Israeli relations in recent years. Both authors have impeccable credentials in the field of journalism and Israeli politics and successfully coauthored Every Spy a Prince, which detailed the activities of the Israeli intelligence community. As they chronicle the political give-and-take between the two countries from Harry Truman’s presidency onward, fascinating pieces of the hardball reality that is international politics float to the surface. Thus, we learn that it was the Israelis who suggested focused bombing raids to eliminate Saddam Hussein during Desert Storm; during the 1980s, Israel was so well received in Washington that Secretary of State George Shultz and others would solicit Israeli help in getting certain pieces of legislation passed by Congress. Eminently readable, Friends in Deed is highly recommended for all libraries with collections in this field. (1994)
April 24, 2013
Don’t assume Israel will feel compelled to attack Iran this year, if Iran continues to enrich uranium even beyond the limits declared by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his famous “red line” speech at the United Nations in New York last September. So says the former head of the military intelligence agency, Aman — retired General Amos Yadlin.
Amos Yadlin, at an AIPAC policy conference
Yadlin, who was one of the pilots who bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in Baghdad in 1981, is now the director of a think tank affiliaited with Tel Aviv University, the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS).
He was quoted worldwide this week as saying that this summer, Iran will have surpassed the level indicated by Netanyahu as an intolerable line — perhaps even a casus belli for Israel.
Much has changed, of course, since September. Netanyahu has been reelected and has a different coalition of ministers who seem less willing than their predecessors to consider war against Iran. Barack Obama has also been reelected, and then he made his first visit to Israel as President — pledging that the United States will not permit Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.
A new American defense secretary has been installed — a former senator, Chuck Hagel, who seemed in the past a bit skeptical about putting Israel’s security near the top of U.S. military priorities. This week, however, he had a productive and busy working visit to Israel — and could not be accused of being anything but a militant and firm friend of Israel.
Out of all this — and more, including disagreements on whether Syria’s army definitely used chemical weapons against rebels in the long and tragic civil war — comes a clarified analysis by Amos Yadlin.
General Yadlin, who commanded the largest agency in Israel’s intelligence community, made a point of telling Kol Israel radio: “I am a person who calms things and doesn’t inflame them.” Yet he confirmed that he criticized Netanyahu’s decision to set a public “red line,” because Iran can keep its quantity of uranium enriched to a 20% or higher level just below the line declared by the prime minister. ”But the Iranians can continue to enrich, in large quantities, at lower enrichment levels — in a very wide program with a very large number of centrifuges,” Yadlin added. (Quotations are somewhat paraphrased from his statements in Hebrew on the radio.)
He said that this could open the way to “a bad deal to be negotiated by the major nations with Iran,” permitting lower-level uranium enrichment. So far, he noted, Iran has been careful to stay “formally” below the line set by Netanyahu.
Yet Yadlin suggested that Israel does not have to feel compelled to attack Iran, even if that country does surpass the “red line” this summer. ”There are many things that can be done before an attack,” the retired general said — hinting at covert action inside Iran. ”Last year I said that we have to give diplomacy and sanctions more chance, and there are the various things that happen to the Iranian reactors and nobody takes credit for them.”
He said he continues to believe that in the second half of this year or at the start of 2014, “every one of the three leaders — of Iran, Israel, and the USA — will have to make a tough decision.” Yadlin has suggested that Iran will have the capability, if decided by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, to break out quickly toward building nuclear bombs.
“There are different timetables between the United States and Israel,” said Yadlin, “due to different capabilities.” Israel is determined to prevent Iran from getting near the break-out to bomb construction, whereas the United States might not turn to military action until Iran is actually putting together a bomb — “and that could be years,” said Yadlin.
“I assume President Obama and the Prime Minister discussed this during the President’s visit, and just because a ‘red line’ is crossed doesn’t force an attack [by Israel or the U.S.].”
The radio host asked whether Hagel’s announcement that the U.S. will sell mid-air refueling planes, Osprey tilt-rotor helicopters, and advanced radar to Israel is intended as a message to “just sit quietly, because you have plenty of weapons.”
Yadlin replied: “The public doesn’t understand just what happened. Hagel announced approval to sell weapons, but then that may or may not fit into the plans of the IDF [Israel Defense Forces]. And it’s not clear when the weapons would be received. That’s typically 3 years. So it’s not relevant to the discussion [over bombing Iran this year or next year].”
Noting that the IDF chief of staff, General Benny Gantz, said this week that Israel could attack Iran on its own and be effective, Yadlin commented: “He’s right. Israel can do it. And I believe there wouldn’t be a world war, and the Middle East wouldn’t burn. But Iran would react. It wouldn’t be like Iraq [which did not respond in 1981]. Yet Iran’s capabilities are not quite as publicly presented. So an attack [by Israel] is not automatic, and the Iranian response would not necessarily be what other people think.”
If you’re assuming there will be a regional war, out of this nuclear issue, Yadlin advises: “I say calm down.”
April 24, 2013
On Sunday (April 21), as America’s new Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was due to arrive in Israel for high-level talks, word emerged of major arms sales to the Middle East approved by the Obama Administration. The framework of the sales is the traditional U.S. policy of ensuring that Israel has the QME — a “Qualitative Military Edge” over all of its neighbors.
Defense Secretary Hagel at Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem (official Pentagon photo)
Thus the sale includes advanced radar for fighter aircraft and aerial refueling planes for long-range missions — sparking speculation that Washington is not strongly discouraging the notion of an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
In a copyrighted report, the Associated Press notes:
The officials said the United States will sell to Israel an undisclosed number of KC-135 aerial refueling planes and V-22 Osprey aircraft, the tilt-rotor hybrid that can take off and land like a helicopter and then fly like an airplane, as well as precision-guided missiles and advanced radar for Israeli fighter aircraft. It would be the first sale of the V-22 to a foreign nation.
In Israel, officials said the U.S. offer is meant to ensure Israel’s military edge in the region, in light of arms sales the U.S. is advancing in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The weaponry is not expected to arrive in Israel for at least two years.
On Sunday in Israel, Defense Secretary Hagel called the planned arms delivery a “message” to Iran and its ambitions.
Before Hagel was confirmed as Leon Panetta’s replacement this year, some pro-Israel political activists in the United States had branded Hagel an unfair critic — and perhaps even an unsympathetic opponent — of Israel. There was no sign of this in his remarks in Jerusalem on Sunday.
Meantime — even though President Barack Obama and his new Secretary of State John Kerry were in Israel recently, reassuring Israelis that the United States will ensure that Iran never builds a nuclear bomb, Israel’s prime minister is sounding impatient, worried, and perhaps leaning toward military action against Iran.
Netanyahu, in BBC interview, 18 April 2013
An in-depth interview on the BBC with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was visiting London to attend Margaret Thatcher’s funeral, found him warning that Iran is moving rapidly toward the “red line” that he drew at the United Nations in New York last autumn: 250 kilograms of enriched uranium which, he says, could rapidly be turned into weapons-grade material to build a nuclear bomb.
Again skeptical of the negotiations that the U.S. and partners (in the P5+1 group of nations) plan to continue with Iran, Netanyahu said only a “military threat” has a chance of persuading the Iranians to stop their nuclear enrichment.
The New York Times is also highlighting renewed Israeli threats to strike at Iran — unilaterally, without U.S. involvement.
It has to be assumed that covert activities by U.S. and Israeli espionage agencies, aimed at closely monitoring the nuclear work inside Iran and probably gathering information on possible targets, continue — even though nothing in public is being said about it by the American and Israeli governments.
April 21, 2013
There is a perception in Israel that its intelligence agencies should help protect Jews wherever they are.-
By Yossi Melman [originally in The Jerusalem Report dated 22 April 2013]
Acts of anti-Semitism and terrorism against Jewish targets have been on the rise across Europe and South America in recent years – except in Switzerland, where the number of incidents against Jewish institutes dropped in 2012.
Elsewhere in Europe, including the relatively tranquil Scandinavian states, there were increased attacks against synagogues and Jewish community centers, the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, and the spraying of swastikas and Nazi symbols on Jewish property.
In several European countries, anti-Jewish ultra-national forces are on the march. In the June 2010 elections in Greece, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party won 21 seats in parliament; in Ukraine, the radical Svoboda (Freedom) party garnered 10 percent of the vote in the country’s November 2012 elections; and in Hungary, the relatively well-established Jobbik party is a significant political force. Hatred for Jews can still be found in the traditional roots of Christianity; and economic and social reasons, as well as politics, also play a role.
But, more and more, the hatred is also surfacing among the growing Muslim communities in various parts of the world, drawing inspiration from the al-Qaeda notion of “Global Jihad” against the “Crusaders (Christians) and Jews,” as decreed by Osama Bin Laden.
Since the 9/11 attacks on the US, dozens of attempts by radical Islamists – inspired by al-Qaeda, Iranian or Hezbollah agents – to hit Jewish and Israeli targets have been foiled by Israeli intelligence or local security services in places such as Hungary, India, Turkey, Thailand, Azerbaijan and others. According to reports in early April, agents on behalf of Hezbollah and the Iranian intelligence services were spotted collecting information and taking photos of the synagogue in Sofia, Bulgaria.
No wonder that the spread of anti-Semitism and the threat of Muslim terrorism are of major concern to Jewish leaders across the world.
But not only Jewish leaders are worried. So, too, is the Israeli intelligence community.
The Israeli intelligence community? What does it have to do with anti-Semitism directed at nationals of other countries? Well, apparently, it has plenty to do with it. The idea can be defined as “Jewish intelligence.”
It is based on the perception that if Israel is a Jewish state, then the Israeli intelligence agencies should also protect Jews wherever they are. The founding fathers of the Jewish state – and its intelligence community – believed that it was their almost mystical calling to ensure the safety of Jews around the world and to help them if they needed to emigrate to their ancient land. It was and still is a self-appointed mission. The individual communities rarely requested assistance.
Israeli envoys came to them, helped them to protect themselves against hostile neighbors, and gradually got them to emigrate if they wished so.
From the beginning, the Israeli intelligence community included two units charged with the task of carrying out such missions – one named Nativ and the other Bitzur.
Since the 1950s, Nativ, an independent unit within the Israeli intelligence community, was in charge of organizing the immigration of Jews from Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Since the collapse of Communism in the late 1980s, freedom of movement is ensured in these countries and there is no longer a real need for Nativ. Consecutive Israeli governments have toyed with the idea of disbanding the unit. Yet, it is still alive, albeit small in size and with limited tasks.
Bitzur, on the other hand, is active and busy. Part of the Mossad, the unit was charged with organizing immigration from Arab and Muslim countries, where Jews were in distress or were not allowed to leave their countries. Bitzur agents were involved in lifting the remaining Jews from Iraq, Syria and Lebanon in the 1970s, Ethiopian Jews from Sudan in the 1980s, Yemenite Jews in the 1990s, and, throughout the years, from Iran. At the same time, Bitzur was and still is responsible for ensuring that the local Jewish communities have the knowhow and means to defend themselves and their property.
These, however, are highly sensitive missions. Jews scattered around the world are usually not Israeli citizens. Their home countries do not like the notion of foreign interference in the lives of their nationals. The Jews receiving uninvited aid can suffer from a kind of a split personality – as well as accusations of dual loyalty hurled by the non-Jewish majorities all around them and the respective local governments.
As unique and touchy as it is, “Jewish intelligence” seemed natural. Israel calls itself the Jewish homeland and it has a Law of Return that grants automatic citizenship to any Jew who reaches its soil and asks for it. Israel has also had a powerful strategic motive. Immigration makes Israel stronger and bigger, in terms of population. More people mean improved national security.
Because of the sensitivity of the issues at stake, the intelligence chiefs very rarely talk about this hidden aspect of their duties, and certainly not in public. Yet, when they are asked privately, they say that “it was my finest hour.” Israeli leaders, too, are reluctant to discuss it, and they settle for general remarks about the “solidarity with our Jewish brethren.”
Only once was an exception recorded. It came in the wake of the August 11, 1982, terrorist attack carried out – in all likelihood by the Palestinian Abu Nidal faction – on the Jo Goldenberg restaurant on Rue des Rosiers in the Marais neighborhood of Paris. Six people were killed in the attack, which came after a wave of anti-Semitic and terrorist incidents against Jews and Jewish and Israeli targets in the French capital.
Then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin slammed the French government and its socialist president, Francois Mitterrand. “If the French authorities will not prevent the neo-Nazi manifestation of the murder of Jews, just because they are Jews, I, as a Jew, will not hesitate to call on the youth of our people living in France to actively defend the lives of Jews and their human dignity,” Begin warned, hinting that he would order Bitzur to activate its mission with local Jews, usually members of Zionist youth movements, to defend French Jewry.
This is exactly what happened 20 years earlier in Argentina. Following the kidnapping in Buenos Aires of Adolf Eichmann in 1960 and his subsequent trial and execution in Israel, a wave of anti-Semitic attacks spread across the South American nation, organized by a fascist group that had support from military and police officers. In July 1962, Fascists abducted a Jewish student and tattooed a Nazi swastika on her breast. Argentine Jews were terrified, and Israeli newspapers urged their government to “send assistance to our Jewish brethren.”
[from Mossad official website]
The Mossad, led then by its legendary chief, Isser Harel, moved in. He ordered the activation of Misgeret
(Framework), a unit of young local Jews trained to defend the local Jewish communities. The young local Jews were trained in camps in Argentina by Mossad-assigned Israeli military experts in martial arts, intelligence gathering, surveillance, navigation and the use of weapons. Once they were trained, the Jewish volunteers were assigned various security tasks, which included escorting school children back home, guarding Jewish facilities and, if necessary, launching attacks against the fascist thugs.
Today, some 50 years later, the same concept, measures and modes of operations are relevant and in place. Israel nowadays understands the complex issues with regard to the defense of Jewish communities. In the era of open societies and social media, what could have been achieved in secrecy, while undermining the sovereignty of other nations, is much more difficult to accomplish. Thus, Israel understands that the task of defending Jewish communities lies in the hands of local government.
Israel provides intelligence about plots against Jewish targets and is cooperating with local authorities, especially with friendly nations. But if worse comes to worst, it will not hesitate to resort to the old tactics.
April 14, 2013
On-the-spot reports from Almaty, Kazakhstan, on the latest talks between Iran and the P5+1 (including the United States), indicate no progress. If the negotiations are aimed at avoiding a military strike on Iran — or even a wider Middle East war — we are now a step, although probably only a small step, closer to an outbreak of violence.
Al-Monitor, an independent website specializing in Middle East news, has Laura Rozen tweeting from the Kazakh capital — with perhaps a hint of hope: a U.S. source saying there was a “whole new level of engagement” and “very intense talks on substance,” but the sides remain “far apart.”
Netanyahu at the UN in New York, September 2012
In a report by Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Western diplomats were said to be “puzzled” that Iran did not fully respond to an offer that might have moved some way toward Iran’s demand that its right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes be recognized.
Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, although busy (as expected) with domestic issues and his new coalition cabinet, can be expected to find the time — most likely at the Sunday cabinet meeting — to issue a form of “I told you so.” He has repeatedly expressed his doubts that negotiations and sanctions will persuade Iran to halt its work aimed (in the view of Israel and most Western governments) at building nuclear bombs.
While welcoming President Barack Obama’s declaration that the United States won’t allow Iran to create or obtain a nuclear weapon, Netanyahu and Obama still disagree on what is and isn’t acceptable.
As is said in the Middle East, they disagree on what is the Red Line. The U.S. and Israel obviously will need a lot of behind-the-scenes discussions if they are to establish a united stand.
In the meantime, covert actions — including unprecedented joint operations by American and Israeli espionage agencies — aimed at slowing Iran’s nuclear work are believed to be continuing.
April 14, 2013
This is from Balkanalysis.com — a website that takes those Balkan countries very seriously, as a hotbed of nationalism, power struggles, espionage, and potential terrorism.
An…Israeli expert, Yossi Melman, recently provided some significant commentary for Balkanalysis.com. A veteran journalist specializing in intelligence matters, Melman is the co-author (with CBS News’ Dan Raviv) of several critically-acclaimed contemporary studies, the most recent being Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israeli’s Secret Wars.
“Israeli agencies know that Iran’s MOIS and the al Qods force have established sleeper cells of agents and helpers in various key countries in regions all over the world, from South America and Central America to Southeast Asia and East and West Africa, and they try to locate weak links in the European chain… one such a weak link is the Balkans,” notes the Israel journalist. “They operated there during the wars of the 1990′s (mainly, in Bosnia and Kosovo) and they are trying to establish some sort of presence in Macedonia.”
The same local conditions that make the Balkans an attractive target for Hezbollah and Iran are also obliging Israeli security services to increase their focus. According to Melman, “the decision to expand the Israeli diplomatic presence [in the Balkans] is a byproduct of budgetary reasons, economic potential and yes, also the desire to challenge and stand up to Iran and Hezbollah terrorism.”
A key question emerges: what would Iran do if, as has been speculated for years, Israel and/or the US decide to attack it?
“Iran will respond and retaliate where it will have the operational capabilities, as we have seen in Bulgaria,” attests Melman. “Iran’s operations are based on, and are a result of, the following considerations: its capabilities, targets (whether there are easy and soft to attack) and above all not to leave its fingerprint, where they believe they would get away with murder- even if their agents are caught red-handed.”
“Having said that, this does not mean necessarily that the Mossad will open ‘stations,’” Melman continues. “Embassies provide a good logistic cover for intelligence operations but you can also have ‘jumpers’- liaison intelligence officers and officials who operate from HQ and ‘jump’ to countries were they are needed.”
However, he adds that while Israel enjoys “excellent cooperation” with local Balkan services, the latter in some cases “lack technological capacities and are weak in analysis, and certainly in monitoring outside elements like Iran- here enter the CIA and the Mossad to help them. The Burgas inquiry is a good example of such an international cooperation, combining local and international knowledge and understanding.”
For the rest of the analysis by Chris DeLiso — an American now based in Skopje, Macedonia — see: http://www.balkanalysis.com/bulgaria/2013/03/31/israeli-security-concerns-and-the-balkans/
April 7, 2013