by Yossi Melman [written first for The Jerusalem Report]
Is the glass half empty or is it half full? That is the question one is left asking, after hearing about the contents of Israel’s NIE — the National Intelligence Estimate for 2016. Depending on one’s point of view, or even bias, Israel’s situation can be viewed in different ways. Objective analysis shows there are risks out there, but also opportunities.
The NIE was drafted by the research department of Aman (the large Military Intelligence agency) with input from the research departments of Mossad (the external espionage agency) and the Israel Security Agency (the domestic service – known as Shin Bet). The Estimate is not published, but the major points were described by senior military officers in strictly limited briefings.
Emblem of Aman (Israeli Military Intelligence)
The most important part of the new report is the assessment that the probability of war this year is low. Senior military sources tell The Jerusalem Report that this applies on all fronts: from Gaza in the South to Lebanon and Syria in the North. Neither Hezbollah nor Hamas have plans or any interest to initiate a war against Israel.
Hezbollah is bleeding in the killing fields of Syria. Five years from the outbreak of the civil war there, the Lebanese Shi’ites of Hezbollah become ever more deeply embroiled in the conflict — with a permanent contingent of as many as 7,000 fighters, nearly half its conscripts, fighting alongside Iran to defend the regime of Bashar Assad. The Russian air force has provided significant air support.
These Shi’ites from the neighboring nation also have 15,000 reservists who are called to duty for training or field missions for up to 40 days a year – similar to the IDF reserve system. So far, Hezbollah has lost nearly 1,500 soldiers, killed in action–many of whom belonged to its elite units– and more than 6,000 have been wounded.
Hezbollah’s losses are a heavy blow to its military capabilities and have dented its morale to go to war with Israel. That, of course, is good for Israel.
Furthermore, Hezbollah is suffering from a serious economic crisis. Its annual budget is estimated at around $1 billion, 70 percent of which comes from Iran and the rest from taxes and trade, mainly in drugs and contrabands of cigarettes and electronic appliances. Due to the sanctions imposed on Iran (most soon to be lifted), Tehran in recent years has had difficulties providing much financial aid to its Lebanese proxy.
In the South, Hamas has not yet recovered from the war in the Summer of 2014, which inflicted heavy casualties on its military forces and capabilities and, even more importantly, caused severe damage to the civilian population.
Since the end of that conflict, two dozen rockets have been fired from Gaza into southern Israel. But they all landed in open areas and caused no casualties or damage. None of them was launched by Hamas. All were fired by small renegade groups, either inspired by or identifying with the Islamic State (ISIS), which oppose the Hamas regime and try to provoke Israel into attacking Hamas.
In other words, deterrence is working both vis-à-vis Hezbollah, since the 2006 war in Lebanon, and Hamas, following Operation Protective Edge in 2014. Yet, senior military sources say there is a clear understanding that “deterrence is not forever” and that it is an elusive concept.
Indeed, the NIE takes into account the potential for escalation deriving from a minor incident along the border with either Hamas or Hezbollah that could get out of hand and escalate into a major confrontation.
These scenarios take into consideration,for example, that a rocket fired from Gaza might kill several Israeli citizens. Israel then would retaliate forcefully against Hamas, which it holds responsible for the situation in Gaza. Hamas can’t stand idly by and responds; and the vicious cycle of rockets and Israel Air Force bombings rolls into another major war.
A similar scenario could apply along the northern border if Israel takes advantage of the war in Syria – as it reportedly has done on several occasions – and bombs another convoy of weapons being delivered to Hezbollah or kills another of its commanders near the Golan Heights; and Hezbollah then might retaliate with a salvo of rockets.
Both Hamas and Hezbollah are preparing for these scenarios.
Despite its financial and military troubles, Hezbollah has continued its preparation for a war against Israel, amassing an impressive arsenal of nearly 100,000 rockets and missiles capable of reaching every strategic and military site in the country.
But it’s more the quality — rather than the quantity — that is a major concern for Israel. Hezbollah, with the help of Iranian experts, is working hard to improve the accuracy of its missiles.
Israeli war planners estimate that, if war breaks out, Hezbollah will try, for the first time, to dig tunnels into Israel, to shift the battle to Israeli territory and try to conquer settlements near the border.
Thus, Hezbollah is considered the main military threat against Israel. The organization is therefore the prime target for intelligence efforts to gather information about its capabilities and intentions.
“The next war will be different from the wars we’ve seen in the past 20-30 years. The conflict will be very complex,” a senior military source told The Report. “It may last many, many weeks. Hezbollah has turned the majority of its Shi’ite villages in southern Lebanon into massive strongholds.”
The sources, however, warn that in case of war, Israel will take a different approach and strike, with all its force, against all Hezbollah positions including inside the villages. That, the source said, “will create a huge refugee problem in Lebanon.”
Though Hamas doesn’t want to be dragged into a new round with Israel and is not ready for it, that Gaza-based group also continues with efforts to improve its preparedness. Hamas is manufacturing rockets and prioritizing efforts to increase their range and accuracy. (In Operation Protective Edge, Hamas hit Tel Aviv and fired unsuccessfully in the direction of the northern port city of Haifa).
Though caught between Israeli and Egyptian blockades and close security and intelligence cooperation, Hamas has never given up its efforts to smuggle weapons, explosives, and rockets via tunnels between Sinai and Gaza — though that has become much more difficult. Hamas is also continuing to dig tunnels and the IDF estimates that some– probably more than 10 – are very close to the Israeli border and may penetrate inside Israel.
The NIE also notes, though in very vague words, that the changes and turmoil in the Middle East have improved Israel’s strategic posture.
Though they occasionally mention Israel in propaganda bulletins, the Islamic State movement — even the branch in Egypt’s Sinai — as well as al-Qaeda in Syria, known as Jabhat al Nusra — have no interest or intention to turn their weapons against Israel. They have other priorities and more immediate enemies.
The Middle East is characterized by the growing schism between Shi’ites and Sunnis, between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and rifts inside the Sunni world between zealots and terrorists such as Islamic State.
The Iran nuclear deal is also seen by the IDF as an opportunity of sorts, in blatant contrast to the perception and rhetoric of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“There are advantages to the nuclear deal,” an IDF source said. “True, a better deal could’ve been reached, and there’s a bit of frustration because the deal doesn’t take care of the Iranian involvement and efforts to increase its hegemonic aspirations in the region. But the fact is that the amount of enriched uranium has been significantly reduced, as has the number of centrifuges, and Iran’s capability to produce plutonium at its nuclear reactor in Arak has also been dismantled. These are dramatic developments with which you can’t argue.”
The intelligence estimate sees February as a critical time for Iran’s future. Elections for the Iranian parliament, the Majlis, as well as the Assembly of Experts – a small but important body that is in charge of electing or removing the Supreme Leader – will be taking place. Twelve thousand candidates registered, but the election committee disqualified 40 percent of them, eventually leaving just 30 moderate candidates.
The constant rifts and battles between the conservatives and reformists that have taken place in Iran since the death of Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, nearly 30 years ago, are reaching a peak. The elections will determine the direction Iran will take in the coming years with serious consequences not only for its own people but also for the rest of the Middle East, Israel included.
“It’s clear,” an Israeli military source said, “that the majority of the Iranian people want more freedom and openness to the West and less religiosity, but will the conservatives in the judiciary, in the religious circles and in the Revolutionary Guards allow it to happen?”
In addition, the IDF estimates that Iran is set to receive tens of billions of dollars from its frozen bank accounts abroad and from the lifting of sanctions. Most of the money will be invested in improving the economy. Some will be used to cover past debts. Nevertheless, oil prices have dramatically dropped from more than$100 per barrel to under $30, endangering Iran’s hopes for quick economic recovery
Yet, Iran hasn’t given up the dream of regional hegemony. It will use some of its bonanza to fund Hamas and attempt to gain a foothold in the West Bank. It is also guiding and paying for terrorist infrastructures in the Syrian Golan Heights.
Military Intelligence and Mossad will continue to monitor Iran to follow its expansionist aspirations and to make sure it doesn’t violate its commitments under the nuclear deal.
Regarding the Palestinians,the NIE is also not fully in sync with the government led by Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.
The estimate talks about a high potential for escalation in the West Bank if the peace process is not resumed. The IDF hopes that the government will at least continue with its current policy of economic incentives by allowing 120,000 Palestinians to work in Israel and in Jewish settlements — and that the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas will continue to permit the cooperation of its security agencies with Shin Bet and the IDF.
Whether all of the above should be seen as cause for optimism or pessimism is a test of one’s worldview.
February 3, 2016
The attacks by Palestinians on Israelis — using knives and cars — since October have embittered both sides, and there is no sign that peace negotiations might start between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Yet the attacks are morphing — most recently including infiltration of Israeli homes in the West Bank, by young men who brutally stab women.
[This analysis was written for The Jerusalem Post by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars and other books.]
There are commentators who rushed to draw broad conclusions about the nature of ongoing Palestinian terrorism after two Palestinian teenagers infiltrated two Jewish settlements in the southern part of the West Bank, not far from the city of Hebron this past week.
One Israeli woman — mother to four children — was stabbed to death, and in the second case a pregnant woman was wounded. One terrorist was captured after two days, and the other was shot on the spot by a Tekoa resident.
[Another attempted stabbing of an Israeli security guard at a West Bank settlement made worldwide headlines on Saturday (Jan. 23), when the attacker — a 13-year-old Palestinian girl — was shot dead by the guard. Israel said she had been in a dispute with her parents and rushed over to the settlement with the intention of ending her life. Her parents said that was not so, and said she was just a little girl.]
Indeed, for the first time during the current wave of Palestinian terrorism – which can be called the “third intifada” – settlements were infiltrated. To that one can add the recent exposure of a terrorist cell in the West Bank that was recruited and sponsored by Juad Nasrallah, the son of Hezbollah’s secretary-general.
Essentially there is nothing in these events to indicate that Palestinian terrorism is changing its direction or its nature, or that it is rapidly escalating.
The above-mentioned cases are just new variants, additional manifestations of the same phenomenon. It began four months ago and so far has claimed the lives of 29 Israelis and 152 Palestinians. Nearly 350 Israelis and more than 1,000 Palestinian have been wounded.
It is difficult to characterize the nature of the current wave of attacks, since it changes constantly with new or additional elements.
So far its perpetrators have come from all walks of Palestinian life, though most of them were young. Most of them were single, but some were married with families.
Most were male, but there have also been female terrorists.
Some came from poor families, but others from middle-class and well-off ones. Some decided to resort to terrorism because members of their families were killed or jailed by Israeli security forces.
The terrorists also cannot be geographically defined. They originated from all over the West Bank and east Jerusalem, though 30 percent of the participants were from the Hebron area, which is known to be Hamas turf, or were deeply religious.
Their motives are also a mixed bag. Some were incited via social media. Some were influenced by religious sermons promising they would become martyrs in heaven.
Some were motivated purely by hatred of Jews and Israelis. Others wanted to avenge the death of their family members.
In a few cases, the decision to become a terrorist was made out of desperation over their poverty or even as defiance against parental authority.
Their weapons of choice were not very selective. They used knives, cars, stones, firebombs and, in only a few cases, firearms – in short, any tool that can kill, wound or cause bodily harm.
Israel is powerless in confronting this kind of Palestinian terrorism.
This helplessness was echoed in what Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said this week, when he addressed the annual conference of the Institute for National Security Studies.
He recalled the second intifada, which occurred a decade ago when he was commander of the IDF division in charge of the West Bank.
“What helped us then was a preventive anti-terrorist concept, based on intelligence superiority.”
In other words, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) managed then to penetrate terrorist cells, recruit agents among them, and bug and intercept their phone and computer conversations, e-mails and chats.
Thus, important information was gleaned, which led to the disruption of terrorists’ plans and the arrest of culprits.
This was possible because although the second intifada was a popular rebellion, it was initiated and organized by well known elements: the Palestinian Authority led by Yasser Arafat, the PLO-Fatah groups, and Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Israeli security forces and the IDF had intelligence and military addresses against which to strike back.
Today’s terrorist acts are mainly carried out by individuals who make their own decision to attack. They are neither initiated nor structured nor organized by others.
True, Hamas is trying hard to jump on the terrorism wagon and hijack it to advance its agenda – to inflict casualties on Israel and the settlers in the West Bank; to spread terrorism from the West Bank to Israel; and to provoke the Israeli security forces to turn against the PA, its arch-rival, and thus weaken it. And all this while almost completely maintaining peace with Israel on the Gaza frontier.
Since the last war in Gaza in the summer of 2014, Hamas has not fired a single rocket against Israel. All the rockets from Gaza – some two dozen – were fired by anti-Hamas Salafist and jihadist groups. While Hamas continues to rearm and regroup by manufacturing more accurate, longer-range rockets and to build tunnels leading to Israel, thus preparing for the next round, at the moment it has no interest in confronting Israel in Gaza.
So far, Hamas has failed in its attempts to escalate the violent situation in the West Bank and Israel — with ambitious plans to again use suicide bombers.
Hamas’s failure is due to several reasons. First, because of the efficiency of Shin Bet and the IDF (Israel’s army). Second, because the PA led by Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) continues to instruct its security services to cooperate with Shin Bet in the struggle against Hamas.
Third and most important, it is because the PA now — unlike in the time of Arafat — does not wish to join the terrorism and violent struggle. It doesn’t shed tears when Israelis are killed, and the West Bank media controlled by the PA have praised the terrorists (though, in the last month, much less vociferously), but it stops short of ordering its own personnel to take part.
Because of all these developments, it is impossible for Israeli security services to have early warnings and disrupt terrorists’ plans. Even the omnipotent Shin Bet cannot read the minds of the Palestinian individuals who decide — sometimes in a matter of hours, sometimes in a split second — to attack Israelis.
This harsh reality is also an outgrowth of what the government is doing or, to be more precise, not doing.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government doesn’t wish to negotiate with the PA. Netanyahu would be willing to do so, only under its own preconditions while continuing to build more settlements and confiscate Palestinian land – 150 hectares (370 acres) this week in the Jordan Valley.
Instead of trying to move with good faith to the negotiating table, all the government does is “maintenance” – maintain the conflict with the hope and self-delusion that it will somehow miraculously succeed in bringing security.
In truth, however, the situation is fragile and slippery. Palestinian terrorism will not stay forever on a low flame. Sooner or later it will escalate and get out of control, either by more Palestinians joining the circle of terrorism or by Hamas taking it over.
This is of great concern to the IDF and Shin Bet, whose chiefs beg the government in closed-door sessions not to stand still.
But so far their advice has fallen on deaf ears in Jerusalem.
January 24, 2016
[This article was written for The Jerusalem Report, a magazine published by The Jerusalem Post, by Yossi Melman, co-author of the best seller Every Spy a Prince and other books, including the current history of the Mossad and Israeli security agencies: Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.]
Yossi Cohen is taking over (on January 6) at Mossad headquarters in Glilot, north of Tel Aviv, as the intelligence organization’s twelfth director. He is replacing Tamir Pardo who retires after 35 year in the agency, five of them as its head.
Yossi Cohen, Israel’s new top spymaster
For the last two and half years Cohen served as national security adviser to the prime minister and as head of the National Security Council. This capacity and proximity to Benjamin Netanyahu gave him the edge over two other senior Mossad officials in the running for the job.
Netanyahu trusts Cohen and assigned him secret and sensitive missions; among them mending relations with Turkey; improving ties with the Obama administration, which he did via his good contacts with his American counterpart Susan Rice; and clandestine meetings with Arab leaders and officials.
Cohen is 54 years old. He is a typical product of the Mossad, where he has served in various operational and managerial capacities since 1983; but he was not a typical recruit. He was born in Jerusalem in 1961 to a right-wing religious family with roots going back eight generations in the city. He graduated from schools affiliated with the National Religious movement, which is today represented by the right-wing Bayit Yehudi party.
When Cohen joined the Mossad as a young cadet it was rare to see a religious candidate wearing a kippa (yarmulka). Cohen, who later stopped wearing a head covering, was the only religious cadet in his class and as a result was the brunt of many jokes.
The Mossad, at the time, was practically off limits to people like him.
As years went by, he was labelled “The Model” by journalists for his dapper suits — with headline writers recently dubbing him “James Bond 007″ — in stark contrast to the typically informal Israeli dress sense.
Cohen was communicative, charming, easygoing, focused and manipulative; all the traits needed to be a good case officer, known in Mossad parlance as “katsa,” the Hebrew acronym for a collection officer. A Mossad case officer is expected to be able to establish contact with potential agents, and if successful in recruiting an agent, running that agent and extracting the required information the agent may possess. The case officer’s main responsibility is in the field known as HUMINT — human intelligence.
Cohen rose through the espionage agency’s rank and file. He began as a low-level case officer running Arab agents in Europe and later became chief of a Mossad station, operating from the Israeli embassy in a major Western European city. After returning to Israel he was appointed by Meir Dagan, then Mossad chief, as head of the Tzomet (Junction) department in charge of case officers and their agents.
Meir Dagan on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” 2012
Cohen was in charge of covert actions against Iran and its nuclear program.
The years 2006-2010 — before Dagan retired and was replaced by Pardo — were the heyday of Mossad operations to prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear bomb.
Dagan put Cohen in charge of these efforts. From his Tzomet office he ran a special operations center that coordinated with all the other relevant departments.
During that period at least five key Iranian nuclear scientists were killed – their deaths were attributed by foreign sources to the Mossad – a few more wounded and probably many more warned that they would be well advised to stop working for the secret military project.
The Mossad, together with the U.S. National Security Agency, was also said to have created the Stuxnet computer worm which targeted systems running the centrifuges in the uranium enrichment facility in Natanz, Iran: a cyberattack that caused severe damage.
Other operations included preventing shipments from reaching Iran; either by damaging the equipment at the port of departure; or by threatening companies not to do business with Iran, or by asking local security services to intercept the shipments.
Another important operation during these years was the killing in 2008 in Damascus of Imad Mughniyeh , the “Defense Minister” of Hezbollah, the militant Shiite-Lebanese organization. According to American media, the assassination was a joint Mossad-CIA operation but other foreign sources claim that though the CIA was privy to the planning and intention, its operational role was marginal and most of the work was “blue and white” – the colors of the Israeli flag.
Mossad’s official logo
Yet, Cohen’s team was not immune to failure. The most damaging of his failures was the case of Ben Zygier, an Australian Jew who was recruited to work for a European-based front company of the Mossad, which while selling equipment to Iran tried to penetrate its nuclear program. Zygier boasted about his role and exposed the operation. Agents had to be recalled and tens of millions of dollars were wasted. Zygier was jailed, and he committed suicide in an Israeli prison in 2010, causing some fuss when the case was publicized in the media.
It is hard to assess whether the daring Mossad operations, combined with international sanctions, prevented Iran from assembling a nuclear bomb or whether Tehran made a well calculated decision to stop short of an actual weapon. Either way, Iranian scientists and military men have already mastered the know-how and acquired the technology, equipment and materials necessary to build a bomb should they decide to do so.
All these anti-Iran operations were carried out simultaneously and required above all agents in the right places, who needed solid and accurate information. Although the reasons cannot be revealed, in 2011, then president Shimon Peres granted Cohen and his Tzomet team the Israel Security Award, and in the same year he was also promoted to deputy head of the Mossad.
Cohen’s return to the organization where he spent most of his career is being well received. Cohen knows the agency and most of its staff inside out.
The Mossad’s organizational behavior and culture are rooted in years of experience and meticulous care to detail, but the spy agency needs to be responsive and flexible in order to meet the challenges of the new Middle East reality.
This is a region where several states – Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Libya – are at various stages of collapse; American power and influence are dwindling and Russia is taking full advantage; new actors, such as ISIS and the Kurds are emerging, and the Sunni-Shia rift is widening.
These new realities create opportunities but also risks for Mossad’s new head. Although his years heading the prime minister’s National Security Council helped to upgrade his strategic understanding, Cohen is more of a skillful operative than a thinker and will have his work cut out for him.
Netanyahu decided (government photo)
Cohen wants to make the Mossad more combative and daring than it was under Pardo and return to the “good old days” when Dagan led the organization.
He strongly believes, like Netanyahu, that Iran remains Israel’s enemy number one – that it continues to support terrorism and has never abandoned its goal of obtaining nuclear weapons. One of his major tasks will be to monitor and to verify that Iran is not once again deceiving the international community and violating the July 2015 nuclear deal with the U.S. and other world powers.
Cohen will also continue to carry out — on behalf of Netanyahu, often authorized solely by the prime minister — sensitive missions. These may include delivering messages to the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Egypt, and Turkey. Netanyahu hopes to establish an anti-Iranian coalition with those countries, but their leaders are reluctant to go out into the open and be seen in the company of Israel unless there is progress on the Palestinian issue.
The Mossad has no input on the Palestinian issue, perhaps Israel’s most challenging front.
Colleagues who know Cohen from their work in the agency say that from an early stage he dreamed of reaching the top. Now his dream has come true, and his test will be to provide the prime minister who appointed him a true picture of the reality faced by Israel — and not one that is tainted by politics.
January 5, 2016
[This article is based on the “Intelligence File” column by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, in The Jerusalem Post newspaper and website.]
What a roller-coaster ride Israel’s right wing is having.
Interrogation methods used by Shin Bet, the domestic security agency, for decades against Palestinian suspects are now being used on Jewish detainees.
Shin Bet’s logo: Hebrew words mean “The Defender That Won’t Be Seen”
The Jews, young men who have not been publicly named, are suspected of murdering three members of a Palestinian family, the Dawabshas, by setting fire to their house in the West Bank village of Duma this past July. The case has attracted worldwide attention, especially as it seemed for months that Israel was not doing everything possible to catch the murderers of an Arab family.
The Landau Commission, 28 years ago, gave Shin Bet a green light to exert “physical pressure” when questioning terrorism suspects. The Landau report strongly criticized the Shin Bet’s habit of lying in court about interrogations, but the report did not tell the agency to be kind and gentle.
These use of harsh methods on Palestinian detainees prompted strong, sincere condemnation by left-wing Israelis and human rights campaigners in Israel and abroad. There were court cases and public campaigns against Shin Bet.
Israel’s right-wing activists supported Shin Bet and its methods. They accused the Left of treason, and even of collaborating with terrorists.
Now the Shin Bet is using exactly the same methods against right-wing suspects in terrorist acts, notably the arson murder in Duma.
The Jewish terrorist group’s supporters include those seen worldwide in a video, last week, as some at a wedding celebrated the murder of the Dawabshas. A photo of the family was repeatedly stabbed, as part of a noisy dance.
The group and its supporters are not typical Orthodox Jews. They are young Israeli anarchists who despise any parental or educational authority, aspire to replace the State of Israel with a Jewish theocracy and, above all, hate Arabs.
They are a small, marginalized, and isolated group within the settler movement – probably consisting of 200 people. These violent men are identified with what was known a few years ago as “hilltop youth,” establishing their own encampments in the West Bank. They are a direct product, a natural outgrowth, of the tolerance shown them by generations of mainstream leaders and top rabbis among the settlers.
Their leader is considered to be Meir Ettinger, a grandson of the notorious racist Rabbi Meir Kahane who was gunned down in New York City 25 years ago by a Palestinian Islamist. Ettinger is under administrative detention.
Another suspect who was recently released from jail is a grandson of a member of the Jewish terrorist underground which in the 1980s bombed Palestinian mayors and planned to bomb the mosques on Haram al-Sharif (the Temple Mount) and a Palestinian school.
Now their lawyers, who are partially financed by donations from right-wing American Jews and American evangelists, raise hell against Shin Bet and claim that their clients were tortured by interrogators.
The lawyers organized demonstrations in Jerusalem, including near the home of Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen. Cohen, perhaps ironically, wears a kippa and studied at National Religious Party schools that are now mostly represented by the Bayit Yehudi (Israel Home) party led by government minister Naftali Bennett.
Uri Ariel, a cabinet minister in that party, even went an extra mile by calling for abolition of the Shin Bet unit known to the public as the “Jewish Department,” so called to distinguish it from other departments responsible for Israeli Arabs and the West Bank and Gaza Palestinians.
By the way, this department is in charge of counterterrorism and other acts of subversion against the state by Israeli Jews, regardless of their political affiliation.
In their desperation or wish to impress the general public and mobilize it, the activists of the hilltop youth staged a mock performance in front of the Habimah Theater in Tel Aviv, simulating an alleged Shin Bet interrogation. Their complaints are a perfect example of a double standard. One could ask them why they filed no complaints when Palestinians were being roughed up by Shin Bet.
In recent days Shin Bet reported that “progress” is being made in the Duma murder investigation, without revealing any further details. Courts have issued gag orders regarding the case.
These orders create a ridiculous situation. The main suspect’s name and other details, including that he has dual Israeli-American citizenship, have been published in the social media. New York-based Forward interviewed his grandmother. Thus the gag orders deprive the Israeli media and public of their right to know the facts.
It is clear that the lawyers’ public contentions that their clients were tortured are a balloon test and prologue to the defense strategy they are going to use in the courts, once indictments are submitted. The lawyers and the supporters said that their clients were deprived of sleep, tied to the walls, forced to sit on very small and uncomfortable stools and were shouted at.
Shin Bet on Thursday issued a statement denying that torture was used in the Duma murder investigation, saying that all claims in this regard against the organization and its employees are “lies and slander.”
In its statement, Shin Bet emphasized that there is no truth in arguments that suspects were subjected to sexual abuses, beatings or electrified. It also stated that the suspects in Jewish terrorism are motivated by “an extreme and anti-Zionist ideology” with the aim to “topple the regime in Israel.”
December 28, 2015
This is part of an article that Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, is writing for The Jerusalem Report magazine — on efforts by the governments of Turkey and Israel to repair diplomatic (and other more covert) relations:
Israeli Navy Photo of Turkish Activists Attacking Israelis Who Assaulted Mavi Marmara
A deal is no certainty. It all depends on President Tayyip Erdoğan, and he is unpredictable and unreliable. Israel has no intention to make any compromises with Hamas as, beyond its own domestic political considerations, such steps would anger another important Israel ally – Egypt, as well as the Palestinian Authority.
Still, Israel is ready to make some small gestures in Gaza on the humanitarian front to satisfy Erdoğan and help him to portray himself as Hamas’s savior. The big question is will those gestures be enough to save face for the Turkish president?
Even if relations are normalized, they will never return to the levels of the ’80s and ’90s when the two countries were allies and cooperated in the fields of intelligence and security against common rivals and enemies, such as Syria and Iran.
Those glorious days were over even before the bloody clash on the Mavi Marmara “Break the Gaza Blockade!” ship in May 2010, when Israeli troops who boarded the vessel killed 9 activists who fought them.
December 23, 2015
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made his choice: the new head of the Mossad, Israel’s famed but secretive agency for espionage and innovative missions worldwide, will be Yossi Cohen. Agency chief Tamir Pardo is retiring.
Israeli newspapers, impressed by Cohen’s good looks and affable demeanor, note that he was a debonair operative for the Mossad starting in 1983 and was involved in a host of clandestine operations.
The result: headlines alluding to James Bond. “My name is Cohen. Yossi Cohen. And I’m the head of Mossad.” (To see him and judge for yourselves: click here and here.)
A few decades ago, it was illegal in Israel to name (or show a photograph of) the directors of the Mossad and the domestic security agency Shin Bet. Now spy chiefs are like celebrities — although their work is still conducted in secret, and their deputies and agents are not named.
On a serious note, Cohen’s top priorities will include secret diplomacy — and what officials hint as “unprecedented, astounding cooperation” — with intelligence chiefs of Egypt, Jordan, and Arab countries that don’t have open relations with Israel (Qatar, the UAE, and even Saudi Arabia). Cohen is said to be fluent in Arabic.
Yossi Cohen already has a good working relationship with the Obama Administration. As the head of Netanyahu’s National Security Council in recent years, he did a lot — to coordinate covert operations against Iran and its nuclear program — with his American counterpart, Susan Rice.
He also worked with the Americans when he was deputy chief of the Mossad and head of the Operations Directorate.
Cohen will have to keep the Mossad’s operational capabilities at a very high level, as Israel perceives itself surrounded by dangerous challenges. The agency is expected to continue as Israel’s clandestine long arm: for secret liaison relationships, collecting vital intelligence, and sabotage and assassinations where deemed necessary.
Yossi Melman (co-author of Every Spy a Prince and the current history of Israeli intelligence, Spies Against Armageddon, wrote for The Jerusalem Post):
The ascent of Yossi Cohen to serve as the twelfth head of the Mossad should not come as a surprise, because he was the leading choice among the three candidates. However, because the prime minister struggles to make decisions and postpones them until the last minute, on Monday evening Netanyahu delivered his statement on Cohen almost an hour after it was scheduled — causing unnecessary drama over the appointment.
In the past, the appointment of a new Mossad chief was made in a conversation between the prime minister and the various candidates, after which a written statement was released to the media and the public.
However, this time, perhaps in order to heighten the drama and paint himself as a decisive leader, Netanyahu made the announcement live on camera, in a sort of press conference, but without allowing reporters to field questions.
Already in the midst of Netanyahu’s address, in which he described his considerations in choosing the candidate, he spoke of the diplomatic experience required of a Mossad chief, who sometimes must act as a kind of “second Foreign Ministry.” The moment that the prime minister said this, it was clear that his choice would be Cohen.
Cohen has the experience in all three areas which the prime minister discussed: in the diplomatic field, from his time working as Tamir Pardo’s deputy Mossad chief, and also from his tenure as head of the National Security Council; in the intelligence field, from his time as the head of the most important branch of the Mossad, the organization’s “bread and butter” – Tzomet (intersection) – the division responsible for locating, enlisting and running agents in order to gather the intelligence necessary to make decisions; and third, the operational aspect, in which Cohen also has abundant experience.
During his three decades in the Mossad, the organization was focused on exposing Iran’s illict nuclear progress. According to reports (and our book), impressive operations inside Iran included sabotage and the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists.
Netanyahu deliberated about the other two candidates up until the final moment. They each served as deputy Mossad chief as well. Ram Ben-Barak, who today serves as director-general of the Intelligence Ministry and “N,” who served as deputy Mossad chief up until a few weeks ago, are no less capable than Cohen — and they were certainly worthy candidates.
However, the prime minister chose Cohen because he has been close to him for the last two-and-a-half years. As Netanyahu’s National Security Advisor, Cohen led secret delegations abroad and provided recommendations on various issues tied to the prime minister’s activities.
Netanyahu held an orderly process of consultations, including personal meetings with the three candidates. He turned to outgoing Mossad chief Tamir Pardo and his predecessor Meir Dagan for their opinions of the candidates. Dagan told him that Cohen would be the best candidate.
A difficult task
Cohen, 54, is a married father of four and grandfather of one. He studied at a yeshiva in Jerusalem and joined the Mossad at the very young age of 22. In 1983 he trained to become a katsa (field intelligence officer), and from there began to climb the ladder of the organization.
He was the head of a station in Europe – locating, enlisting and operating agents from enemy states and terror organizations. He later served in various roles at headquarters near Tel Aviv, until he was appointed by Meir Dagan to be the head of Tzomet. He next was appointed Tamir Pardo’s deputy.
In announcing that Cohen would get the job, Netanyahu also discussed the importance of cyber warfare and the need to be at the technological forefront. Indeed, for more than a decade, the Mossad has leaned heavily on technology and its capabilities in the field do not fall short of the IDF’s Military Intelligence Unit 8200, although on a smaller scale.
However, despite the Mossad’s impressive abilities, Cohen will have to adapt the organization to be able to face the new challenges posed by the shifting reality of the Middle East. This reality includes the disintegration of traditional states and the rise of terror organizations, including Islamic State, Sinai Province and Syria’s Nusra Front.
The Mossad, whose most basic strength is humint (human intelligence), will continue to operate as the main body in this field, but the goal of penetrating and enlisting agents in the new terror organizations will be much more difficult.
In the past, the Mossad, together with Military Intelligence, succeeded in gathering information and knowing what was happening in organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas (with the cooperation of the Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency). However, in the face of the unstable reality of brutal and religious terror organizations, such as Islamic State – this will not be an easy task.
December 8, 2015
Netanyahu on TV, December 7th (government photo)
“Citizens of Israel, this evening we are lighting the second candle of Chanukah. Chanukah symbolizes the great victory of our people in ancient times, the victory of light over darkness, in those days at this season.
My first goal as Prime Minister is to strengthen the security of the State of Israel in the face of the major global upheaval being led by dark radical Islam. Radical Islam is led by two forces – by Iran and by Daesh. They are using violent aggression and terrorism in our region, and not just there; they are threatening the Middle East and the entire world.
Radical Islamic terrorism has hit Paris, London, Istanbul, Mali, and California, and it is attacking us as well. Palestinian terrorism is driven by opposition to our very existence, and more and more by religious and mendacious incitement, according to which we purportedly seek to destroy the Al Aqsa Mosque.
Against our enemies’ appetite for blood, we fight back. IDF and Israel Police units go anywhere and operate anywhere. My government gives them full freedom of action and full backing. Our forces are stopping terrorists, demolishing murderers’ homes, are on the alert in defense and are taking the initiative in offense. A very great contribution to our security is made by the ISA, which operates tirelessly to foil terrorist attacks.
And now I would like to say a few words about the Mossad. The men and women of the Mossad operate around the clock, throughout the year. They operate with exceptional daring and great imagination, at times at personal risk. They do this in order to ensure the security of Israel in the face of terrorist threats, the Iranian threat and additional threats.
The Mossad is an operational agency. It is also an intelligence agency. It is also an agency that frequently paves the way to diplomatic relations, especially with countries with which we do not have official ties. In appointing the next head of the Mossad, I took into account these three components. The operational side: The Mossad will continue to build up our strength and foil threats to the security of the state and it will do so through actions and operations that are best left unspoken about. The intelligence side: The Mossad must adapt its capabilities to the age of cyber and advanced technologies. It must continue to be among the best intelligence agencies in the world.
Whether on the operational or the intelligence side, the Mossad will continue to assist me, as Prime Minister, to develop diplomatic links around the world, including with Arab and Islamic states. These ties found expression last week in Paris where I met with many leaders. They very much appreciate the State of Israel for standing steadfast in the face of radical Islamic elements and for waging a determined struggle against terrorism. The head of the Mossad must have the ability to lead the organization with daring, wisdom and professionalism.
The choice among the candidates to head the Mossad was difficult. On this score we are blessed with the problems of the wealthy. The three people whose candidacies I considered were excellent, talented, experienced and capable. I considered things with responsibility and due seriousness and in the end I decided that the next head of the Mossad will be Yossi Cohen.
Yossi has served as head of the National Security Council in recent year. He has a wealth of experience and achievements, as well as proven abilities in the various aspects of Mossad activity. He has leadership skills and a professional understanding, which are both necessary for one who is to lead the organization.
I would like to thank Tamir Pardo for his commendable work as head of the Mossad; I will yet have much to add on this score. I would like to thank the other two excellent candidates who contended for the position: N, whose identity is still classified and who works in the Mossad and does great work there, and Rami Ben-Barak, who is the director general of the Intelligence Ministry. The merits of both men are considerable and the people of Israel owe them much. I am certain that they will continue to faithfully serve the State of Israel, each one in his own way. I thank them and wish the chosen head of the Mossad much success.
A happy Chanukah to you all.”
December 8, 2015
[This blog post first appeared here at IsraelSpy.com in June 2012. It is adapted from an article by Yossi Melman, then a correspondent for the newspaper Haaretz, published April 15, 2008. Professor Klingberg — exposed as a spy for Communist Russia, tried and imprisoned in secret in Israel, and totally unrepentant when interviewed later in Paris by Melman — died in late November 2015 in the French capital at age 97.]
A Soviet spy-turned-double agent led to the 1983 arrest of Professor Avraham Marcus Klingberg, the highest-ranking Soviet spy ever caught by Israel.
Klingberg, who was the deputy head of the top-secret Israel Institute for Biological Research in Nes Tziona, immigrated to Israel in late 1948. Before immigrating to Israel, he had served and been wounded as a soldier in the Red Army during World War II. Klingberg initially told his Israeli interrogators that he began working as a Soviet spy in 1957, after being blackmailed by a Soviet operative, but Israeli intelligence believes he was already a Soviet agent when he moved to Israel.
In his book published in 2007, he said he was first enlisted in the early 1950s by a pro-Soviet Israeli while at a rehabilitation center, healing from injuries sustained in a car crash.
In his memoir, Klingberg wrote that during his trial for espionage, he saw a note that had been accidentally left on his file by the prosecution. The note revealed he had been exposed by a double agent. The military censor deleted this reference from Klingberg’s memoir.
Klingberg was suspected of being a Soviet spy as early as 1963, but he was exculpated after passing a polygraph test. Further information received aroused suspicion over Klingberg, but after having failed once, Shin Bet officials were reluctant to act prematurely.
The information from the double agent, received in 1983, was considered sufficient to prove Klingberg’s complicity. After being interrogated at a secret location in Tel Aviv, Klingberg admitted he had been working for the Soviets. He was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in jail. After having served 16 years in prison, he was released to house arrest.
In 2003, after the 20-year sentence was over, he was allowed to leave Israel and live with his daughter in Paris.
November 30, 2015
[Yossi Melman — co-author of the best seller Every Spy a Prince and the current Spies Against Armageddon — continues his analysis of Jonathan Pollard, the American who spied for Israel and is now being released from a U.S. prison after 30 years.]
The Escape Plan
For years, veteran spymaster Rafi Eitan was accused of not preparing a genuine rescue plan for his valuable agent in the United States. But now Eitan reveals that such a plan was actually prepared. It included code words and phone numbers to be used in case of emergency.
According to the plan, Jonathan Pollard was instructed to take a bus to Canada.
Longtime Israeli spy Rafi Eitan, on RT recently
But he never followed the instructions. In November 1985, when U.S. Navy counterintelligence and the FBI suspected him, Pollard was questioned. After the first session, he was allowed to go home.
Instead of rushing to the Greyhound bus station, he hesitated. He didn’t know how to get rid of a suitcase that was filled with documents. Precious time was lost. When he made up his mind, it was too late to execute the plan.
His ex-wife Anne Pollard (who served three years in prison) refutes Eitan’s claim, however, and says they did not have any rescue plan. She told me that the only escape instructions given to them were to go to the Israeli Embassy, which they did.
They panicked and decided to take their dog in their car and drive to the Israeli Embassy compound in Washington’s Van Ness neighborhood to seek asylum. FBI agents were following, in their own cars.
“Right up until today,” says Eitan — who this month celebrates his 89th birthday, “I don’t understand what were his reasons for not immediately, when he felt at risk, executing the rescue plan.”
The Pollards managed to sneak in to the embassy’s forecourt when a security gate was opened for another vehicle. But by order of Eitan, who instructed the security officer at the embassy, they were asked to leave.
“I gave the order,” Eitan admits. “There was no other choice. Had Israel kept them hiding in the embassy, the situation would have only worsened.”
After the news broke out, Israel declared it was a rogue operation. But that was a lie. Israel had spied against the US and on US soil since its independence in 1948 and even before then.
The only unique element of the Pollard case is that he was a U.S. intelligence employee with access to a wide array of classified information.
Lakam also operated another spy in the US – Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, an Israeli whose company illegally purchased and smuggled components for Israel’s nuclear program.
Still, according to Eitan, Pollard — who is now 61 years old — could have been punished with a lighter sentence.
“He could have served no more than 10 years.” Eitan claims that an understanding between the US and Israeli governments was reached for a lighter sentence. But Israeli officials and Pollard, with their behavior, blew it.
Pollard’s interviews with Wolf Blitzer and with CBS’s Mike Wallace angered U.S. authorities — as the captured spy did not seem at all sorry for what he had done.
The Americans were also annoyed by the actions of the head of Shin Bet (Israel’s domestic security agency), Avraham Shalom, who was assigned together with lawyer Ram Caspi to negotiate with US officials the return of the documents Pollard had stolen. Shalom promised full cooperation and transparency but lied and was caught red-handed with his lies.
There were two other reasons for the heavy sentence of life imprisonment. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger wrote a letter to the presiding judge in the case, describing Pollard as one of the most damaging spies ever operated in America. In addition, the Israeli public campaign to release Pollard, accompanied by the visits of members of Knesset and cabinet ministers, contributed to the U.S. decision to retreat from behind-the-scenes understandings.
I asked Eitan if he has any regrets or remorse about the affair. “Of course” was his answer. “I am sorry for what happened to Pollard.”
But he rushes to clarify that he acted only after informing his superiors and that he was authorized to carry out the operation. If this is true, it means that running a spy in the heart of the U.S. intelligence community was approved by prime ministers Yitzhak Shamir and Shimon Peres and two defense ministers – Moshe Arens and Yitzhak Rabin.
Arens, still a very active commentator at age 89, completely denies that he had any knowledge about the operation.
Rabin was assassinated in 1995, and Shamir died a few years ago.
Peres, who was privy in the 1950’s to the decision to create Lakam. keeps insisting that running Pollard was a “rogue”operation.”
It is irrefutable, however, that the products of Pollard’s operations benefited the entire Israeli intelligence community: the Mossad, Military Intelligence and Shin Bet.
All these years later, it can be said with certainty that since 1985 all Israeli espionage operations on American soil have ceased. The political and social damage — including severely uncomfortable situations for the Jews of the United States — would be far too great to justify the risk.
November 19, 2015
[This post is based on Yossi Melman‘s article in The Jerusalem Post on the release of Jonathan Jay Pollard, the American arrested in Washington in 1985 — caught spying for Israel. Pollard, as we have written in Every Spy a Prince and our current book, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, was sentenced to life in prison — but the Obama Administration has decided to let him go, after years of requests by Israel’s somewhat apologetic government.]
On Friday (November 20) the American who notoriously spied for Israel in Washington — Jonathan Pollard — is being released from a federal penitentiary in Butner, North Carolina.
The White House has never said this is President Barack Obama doing Israel a favor. His release is explained by the Federal Bureau of Prisons as a mandatory parole. As a spokesperson wrote to JTA this past July:
“Under the laws in place at that time (and which are currently applicable to Pollard), a person with a life sentence is presumptively eligible for mandatory parole after 30 years unless the Parole Commission ‘determines that he has seriously or frequently violated institution rules or that there is a reasonable probability that he will commit any Federal, State, or local crime.’ Pollard is eligible for mandatory parole in November 2015.”
Jonathan Jay Pollard, circa 1984
However, Pollard will not enjoy full freedom. His liberty is restricted. It is understood that he agrees not to talk publicly about his espionage activities or about his work as a US Navy intelligence analyst before he was arrested. He is also barred from leaving the U.S. for a period of five years.
So his dream of moving to Israel — “making aliyah” — will have to wait.
(Some pro-Pollard campaigners said they were hopeful of a quick deal in which Pollard will give up his U.S. citizenship, and he would be permitted to make aliyah immediately.)
As of now, there is no guarantee that after five years he will be allowed to leave the United States. That depends on his behavior.
This is the reason his lawyers asked him not to repeat past mistakes by making public declarations. They clearly want him to lower his profile.
It seems that this time Pollard understands the rules of the new game and obeys them. Via the Public Committee for Releasing Pollard, which has campaigned for his release, he has asked to be allowed to remain invisible — living, it is understood, in New York with his second wife, Esther — so that he can rehabilitate his life.
It is regrettable that the policy of keeping a low profile and anonymity did not guide Pollard, the Public Committee, and Israeli politicians who visited him in his jail cell — loudly demanding that he be released, and some implicitly celebrating his actions as heroic — from the outset.
Had that policy been followed, Pollard’s situation would probably have been better. The Israeli right-wingers who embraced Pollard did him great harm.
Poster by campaigners for Pollard’s freedom
This is also the opinion of Rafi Eitan — the legendary Israeli spy (and later politician) who was the head of the disbanded Science Liaison Bureau (an intelligence-gathering unit generally known by its Hebrew acronym, Lakam), which recruited Pollard in 1984 and ran him for a year and a half until he was exposed and arrested.
“The visits, the public campaign and the Israeli behavior in general only caused him great damage,” Eitan told The Jerusalem Post ahead of the expected release of Pollard.
Still the question of who gave the order to run Pollard has remained a mystery. Lakam was founded in 1957 as a secret unit in the Defense Ministry to physically defend the construction of the nuclear reactor in Dimona and to guard the nuclear secrets. It later became the acquisition and procurement arm for clandestine purchases of materials such as uranium and equipment for the reactor and the entire Israeli nuclear program.
Eventually, Lakam was expanded and became Israel’s scientific, technological espionage agency. Its attachés under diplomatic cover and its emissaries around the world collected and stole data, technology, know-how and materials for Israel’s military-defense industrial complex.
Eitan, whose escapades included the kidnapping of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, was appointed in 1981 by then-defense minister Ariel Sharon to be the head of Lakam — replacing its tight-lipped founder, the wily Binyamin Blumberg (Vered).
It should be borne in mind that this was not truly Israeli intelligence recruiting Pollard. The American Jew, born in 1954, volunteered to be recruited. He was a “walk-in.”
Since his childhood days, Pollard was fascinated by spy stories. When at age 16, in 1970, he studied at a summer camp at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, he asked around how best he could volunteer to be a secret agent for Israel.
At his high school in Indiana and at the universities he attended, Pollard boasted that he was “a colonel in the Israel army.” On other occasions he astonished his colleagues when he said he was “cultivated” by the Mossad to be a spy in the U.S. government.
Pollard tried to join the CIA but was rejected — apparently based on the Agency’s personality tests. Unfortunately for the U.S., the CIA likely did not share this information with other securityagencies. Hence, Pollard found a job at a counter-terrorism center in Maryland run by U.S. Navy intelligence.
One evening in early 1984, while attending a party in New York City, he met Steven Stern, a Jewish-American businessman, and confided in him about his readiness to help his beloved State of Israel.
A few weeks later Stern introduced Pollard to Col. Aviem Sella, an Israel Air Force pilot who three years earlier participated in the attack that destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak. Sella was on a year’s sabbatical to study for a master’s degree at Columbia University and was considered a brilliant officer who had the qualities that could qualify him to be the future commander of the air force.
It was customary, in that era, for Israeli military personnel and civilian scientists on study leaves to be in contact with Lakam representatives.
Sella reported to his Lakam contact and air force superiors about Pollard — and the Americans’ intriguing readiness to supply Israel with information. Rafi Eitan requested that Sella maintain contact with Pollard for the time being, until a case officer could be assigned.
Because of his involvement, Sella’s career was ruined when Pollard was arrested in November 1985. The U.S. put pressure on Israel to cancel Sella’s promotion to brigadier-general, and the veteran pilot was forced to retire from the military.
Federal prosecutors also demanded to question Sella. Israel refused, and since then Sella has been blacklisted by the U.S. He fears that if he travels there, he may be arrested and indicted.
Eitan approved the operation to run Pollard, who was invited to Paris to meet with Eitan, Sella and his future handler, Yossi Yagur, the Lakam attaché at the Israeli Consulate-General in New York.
Pollard traveled to Paris with his fiancée (and future first wife) Anne Henderson. Pollard did not ask for money, but Eitan insisted and massaged his ego with an annual salary offer of $20,000 over a 10-year period. Eitan also showed Pollard an Israeli passport under the name of Danny Cohen that would be given to him upon the completion of his mission.
Sella encouraged Pollard to buy Henderson a diamond ring at the expense of the Israeli taxpayer. That served not only as the engagement ring for his future bride. It also represented the “engagement” between Pollard and Israel.
Pollard felt that he was in heaven. His dream had come true. For Israeli intelligence, Pollard was a “gold mine” because of his unrestricted access to the databases of most of the agencies of the US intelligence community.
Pollard did not ask for financial reward, but Eitan insisted on paying him. Pollard provided Israel with hundreds of thousands of precious documents about Arab armies, the PLO, the chemical and biological programs of Libya, Iraq and Syria, and Pakistan’s nuclear program. Pollard also handed over photos taken by US spy satellites, three years before Israel put its first satellite in orbit.
Pollard had volunteered to work for Israel for at least three reasons. First, because of the thrill and excitement he got from undercover work, as he was infected by what might be called “spy disease.” The second, very major, reason was his love for Israel — and he may well have denied in his own mind that he was betraying and harming his own country America.
Third, Jonathan and Anne were greedy and wanted extra cash to support a high-spending lifestyle which (according to prosecutors) included illegal drugs.
Their greed eventually led to their downfall. According to U.S. intelligence claims which were not proven, the Pollards realized that it was easy to steal documents so they decided to collect documents that were unrelated to the Israeli espionage operations. The accusation is that the Pollards planned to sell secrets to other countries, such as Australia, South Africa, and Taiwan.
November 19, 2015
by YOSSI MELMAN
TEL AVIV — The expected appointment of Shin Bet deputy director Roni Alsheich as the commissioner of the national police is another step in the changes that Israeli society and its elites are undergoing.
Like his boss at the domestic intelligence agency, Yoram Cohen, Alsheich wears a kippa (a yarmulke), and until three years ago he lived in a settlement in the West Bank. He since moved to a city near Tel Aviv.
Both Cohen and Alsheich are products of the national-religious community, which is mostly represented by the right-wing Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) Party. Another product of this community, National Security Council head Yossi Cohen, will most probably soon be nominated to lead the Mossad. Yossi Cohen, however, stopped wearing the skullcap of religious Jews long ago.
Thus Israel’s three leading security agencies will be commanded by men from the same background. Left-wingers and liberals are worried about the trend. They are in denial about the changes taking place in Israeli society.
One strong trend is the readiness of young graduates of the national-religious education system and youth movements to volunteer for public service in the security organizations – the IDF, Shin Bet and, though to a lesser degree, in the Mossad and police.
In this respect, they are pioneers exactly as the sons of the kibbutz movement were when the Labor Party and its left-wing partners ruled Israel for its first 20 years.
Those who know Yoram Cohen or Alsheich, including their secular colleagues in the agency, know very well that there is no need to be worried about Orthodox, religious control of national security decisions.
Like Shin Bet director Cohen, Alsheich sees himself as a public servant and the state’s laws as superior to religious ones. Under his command the police will show no political bias, nor will they turn a blind eye to criminality by politicians. That’s exactly how Alsheich has done it while serving in the Shin Bet.
On the contrary, one of the reasons for his decision to leave his settlement and move to the city was the harassment he had suffered from extreme-right neighbors, who thought he did not show enough sympathy in his work to their cause.
Alsheich began his service in the Shin Bet at the bottom and climbed to the top. He was recruited in 1988 to be a young case officer in charge of running Palestinian agents. He speaks good Arabic and was head of the Jerusalem and South districts before appointed as Number 2 in the organization.
He is a typical product of the Shin Bet organizational culture, its professionalism, education, and values. He will bring these values with him to the police.
Indeed, the police need a strong shake-up after sex scandals, failed investigations, and byzantine political machinations that besmirched their image in recent years.
There is of course the question of whether it is appropriate in a democratic state to appoint a senior official who comes from what in some countries is termed the “secret police” to lead a civilian police force. But this question aside, there are many important differences between the two bodies.
The Shin Bet is able to attract higher quality manpower than the police. The Shin Bet is a smaller agency with a few thousand employees, while the police have some 35,000. Thus the Shin Bet can react quicker with more flexibility than the police.
The Shin Bet also has much better technology at its disposal. It can conduct secret investigations; and when it feels that they could lead to the exposure of sources and methods of operation, it can refrain from presenting the cases before the court and settle for administrative detention.
The Shin Bet is a much more prestigious agency in Israeli society and is protected by a special law and censorship.
The police have to be much more transparent and produce evidence admissible in a court of law. They have a bad image and have been hampered by leaks.
In short, the police are a massive bureaucratic machine like a big and slow merchant ship. In comparison, the Shin Bet is a fast, agile missile boat.
As a professional case officer, Alsheich knows how to be charming, gentle, and nice; but at the same time manipulative and impossible to manipulate. His main mission will be to install Shin Bet organizational procedures into the Israel Police and to eradicate the culture of lies, cover-ups, and violence that spread like an epidemic in recent years among its rank and file and reached its top.
September 30, 2015
In the weeks following Congress’s refusal to block the Iran nuclear deal, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has had to reshuffle his deck of diplomatic cards.
Among other aspects of the current game plan are these:
–Netanyahu will give his annual speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Thursday, Oct. 1, two days after the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas’s speech. Abbas has promised a “bombshell,” which probably has something to do with declaring an independent State of Palestine even without agreed borders or sovereignty. But, frankly, no one knows if anything significant will be said by either the Israeli or the Palestinian leader.
–Russia has begun a military buildup in Syria. Netanyahu, alarmed that Russian and Israeli forces could somehow get into an unintended conflict in Syrian airspace, made a lightning-quick one-day visit to President Vladimir Putin. Israeli military and intelligence chiefs went along on the trip, and one result was an arrangement to prevent collisions or hostile encounters.
Netanyahu Faces Several Potential Bombshells (photo: at UN in September 2012)
Israel reiterated that its interests in Syria center mostly on preventing the transfer of “advanced weapons systems” to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Yet when it was reported that Russia might be giving Syria’s army some tanks — and perhaps those could be passed on to Hezbollah — Israeli tacticians said they were unconcerned: Tanks are easily seen and hit; and it seems unlikely Hezbollah will deploy them.
–Israel needs a new national police chief, and the leading candidate for the job now is a man known publicly as “R” (the Hebrew letter reysh) — a reminder that identifying employees of Shin Bet (the domestic security agency also known as Shabak) continues to be illegal under Israel’s rickety, leaking censorship regulations. “R” is Shin Bet’s deputy director, and it is somewhat interesting that he was considered to be the likely successor to the current director — Yoram Cohen. It is legal to name the heads of the intelligence and security agencies.
–In Gaza, the Hamas leadership claims several of its senior radicals vanished while traveling through Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Hamas says it has concluded that they are now held secretly in Israeli prisons; adding that Egyptian military commandos snatched the men and handed them to Israel; or Israeli special forces swooped into the Sinai and grabbed them. No comment from Israel, but it certainly could be true.
–On November 9 at the White House, President Barack Obama will meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu. It is obvious that they will have to kiss and make up — to a degree — after their sharp, public disagreements over the nuclear deal with Iran.
Obama’s Democratic Party is concerned that the Republicans are making huge progress in winning votes among Americans who care deeply about Israel: whether Jewish, or not. Obama also wants to decrease the chance that Israel will stage a military strike on Iran — which he would see as dangerous destabilization. So he is expected to offer significant security and military aid to Israel. We wait to see how Netanyahu handles the offer and the vital Israel-U.S. relationship.
(A self-serving reminder of our book chronicling the history of that from 1948 to 1994: Friends In Deed: Inside the U.S.-Israel Alliance.)
September 27, 2015
by Yossi Melman
[adapted from an article to appear in early October in The Jerusalem Report magazine by Yossi Melman — co-author of the best seller Every Spy a Prince and the current history of the Mossad and Israeli security, Spies Against Armageddon]
The late-September meeting near Moscow between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin was prompted by the increased Russian military presence in Syria — and America’s stalled policy toward Syria.
By the end of September, Russia deployed in military bases near Latakia in Syria’s northern coastal strip 28 combat jets (12 Suchoi Su-24 bombers, 12 Su-25 ground attack aircraft and four Su-30 multi-role fighters); two types of drones, and 20 helicopters (a mix of gunships and troop carriers). There are indications, still difficult to verify, that Russia already has, or soon will need, more bases to house an expeditionary force.
While Israel, along with the Western intelligence services, tries to decipher Putin’s endgame, the Syria policy of President Barack Obama is in disarray. Congress has heard testimony indicating that the U.S.-led bombing campaign against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) has done little to weaken those Sunni Muslim radicals.
General Lloyd Austin, commander of US Central Command (in charge of the Middle East), astonished a Senate hearing recently when he admitted that a $500 million effort to create a “New Syrian Force” to tackle ISIS has so far resulted in only “four or five” fighters actively battling the jihadi army.
Following the recent tete-a-tete with the Russian leader, Netanyahu painted the encounter in bright colors and described it as “successful.” Putin made a point of saying that Russia’s relations with Israel are “friendly.”
However, past encounters between Israeli prime ministers and Putin have presented a more complicated picture. Amicability and protocol aside, such meetings neither changed Russian policy in the region nor moved Putin one centimeter closer to Israeli positions.
Netanyahu visited Russia’s Putin (RT Television)
In these meetings since Putin came to power in 2000, a recurring ritual has been established. Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert, and Netanyahu stressed their concerns about sales of sophisticated Russian military hardware (missiles, air defense systems, aircraft) to Syria and Iran. The Israeli leaders presented intelligence reports showing that some of the hardware found its way to the Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah movement, which is an Iranian proxy and practically an extension of Tehran’s military force in the region.
Putin and his aides listened politely, expressed their understanding, denied that they armed Hezbollah, claimed that arming Hezbollah was against their policy and promised to investigate the reports.
Upon their return home, each of the prime ministers, in a self-congratulatory manner, declared that they managed to persuade Putin – in sharp contrast to what eventually emerged.
This is more or less what happened with the latest Netanyahu meeting.
The Prime Minister, who was accompanied by Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, Commander of Military Intelligence Herzl Halevi and National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen (soon to be announced as the next head of the Mossad) announced that the two countries decided to set up a joint committee to coordinate “deconfliction” — a military term used to describe reducing the risk of collision and inadvertent engagement between two forces operating in the same arena.
It was decided in a parallel meeting between Eisenkot and his counterpart General Valery Gerasimov that their deputies would head a joint committee tasked with dealing with airborne, seaborne, and “electromagnetic” (i.e. missiles, radars, and air defense systems) matters.
However, judging from past encounters, one should expect little or no genuine progress.
For example, for years, Israel tried to stop the sale to Iran of the advanced Russia S-300 air defense system, but Israeli and US pressure on Putin was in vain. In any event, the deal was eventually suspended by the Kremlin itself when it suited its interests and was recently reinstated with the signing of the Iran nuclear deal.
Briefing Putin on how Israel perceives the Syrian imbroglio, Netanyahu and his aides presented a very gloomy picture. They said Israel is once again worried about the “leakage” (transfer) of Syrian and Iranian weapons to Hezbollah. Israeli intelligence has evidence that even Russian-made Yakhonts ‒ long-range, advanced ground-to-sea missiles ‒ have found their way to the Shi’ite militia.
Israel is also bothered by the repeated attempts by Iran’s elite al-Quds Force, commanded by the charismatic and influential General Qassem Suleimani, to set up a “forward command” on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.
Suleimani’s plan has been, and still is, to use the area as a launching pad for terrorist attacks against Israeli troops and civilians by hiring “mercenaries” ‒ be they members of radical Palestinian terror groups or Druze fighters who have chosen to be loyal to Assad.
Taking advantage of accurate, real-time intelligence, Israel has often — without claiming responsibility — thwarted such efforts by deploying the air force to bomb the terrorist sites or vehicles. Israel has even killed Iranian generals and senior Hezbollah operatives involved in the operations.
But Netanyahu’s and Eisenkot’s most serious concern about the Russian presence in Syria is the fear that it will restrict the freedom of action that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in general — and the Israel Air Force (IAF) in particular — have enjoyed so far.
Israel is not interested in intervening in the Syrian civil war and has tried to stay away from it. Cynical as it may sound, Israel’s national security interests benefit from the bloody war that has greatly weakened President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
At the same time, Israelis are dismayed that the civil war has claimed the lives of a quarter million people and made nearly half of Syria’s population homeless or refugees.
Still, the civil war strengthens Israeli military superiority in the region and weakens its sworn enemies: Hezbollah and Iran.
On occasion, Israel has gotten involved to protect its own security interests. These interests have been defined by Eisenkot and his predecessor, as well as by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. They include the desire to stop the flow of advanced weapons to Hezbollah; to prevent terror attacks against Israelis on the Golan Heights, and to ensure, if possible, the safety of 700,000 Druze people in Syria, who are a major concern for their Israeli Druze brethren.
For more than a decade, even before the breakout of the civil war, IAF pilots flew freely over Syria. They attacked terrorist bases; broke the sound barrier flying over Assad’s palace in Damascus just to make a point, and, in 2007, destroyed a nuclear reactor built with the help of North Korea in eastern Syria.
In the 55 months of the civil war, at least 10 air strikes against weapons convoys between Syria and Hezbollah have been attributed to the IAF. They were carried out whenever good intelligence and operational feasibility warranted it, without the need to consult with anyone else.
Now, Israel may well need to coordinate its plans beforehand or in real time with Russia’s military.
The main purpose of Netanyahu’s snap visit was to try to create the mechanism to prevent undesired consequences vis-a-vis Russian forces and Syria and still preserve Israeli freedom of maneuver. The technicalities of deconfliction are of lesser importance ‒ they can be set by using “hotlines” set between the military commands of the two countries, or via identifying signals sent by warplanes to differentiate between friend or foe.
But what Netanyahu really wants is more than that. He hoped to reach a tacit understanding with Putin about the division of Syria into operational spheres of influence. Israel hopes Russian forces will not get close to the Israeli border — and that they will not hinder operations against anti-Israeli terrorists or interfere with IAF strikes on weapon transfers to Hezbollah.
Israel, for its part, promised Russia not to side with any player in Syria and not to get close to the northern part of the country where Russia forces are stationed.
It is doubtful, however, whether such high-level coordination is possible. Putin acknowledged in his conversation with Netanyahu that he is fully aware of Israeli security concerns.
But if he accepts Israel’s interpretation of self-defense beyond its territory, Putin will practically admit that Israel or any other country has the right, with Russia’s blessing, to violate Syria’s sovereignty.
As the major power supporting the Assad regime and its legitimacy, this is something Putin can’t afford.
Even by deciding to go to Moscow, Netanyahu’s freedom of action already has been restricted. Once again – as in the case of the nuclear deal with Iran – Israel is learning the hard way the limitations of its power when it is facing a superpower with important interests in the Middle East.
However, this is preferable to being exposed to the risk of military confrontation with Russia. Moreover, Israel is better off with Russia’s deeper involvement in Syria – rather than stronger meddling by Iran.
Putin’s endgame remains unclear – probably to ensure the existence of at least a “Small Syria” from Damascus to the Mediterranean coastal strip (where the Russian bases are).
However, one thing is certain: Putin decided to send his forces to save the Assad regime, or whatever is left of it, because he realized that neither Iran nor Hezbollah can get that job done.
September 27, 2015
[This is adapted from an analysis written for The Jerusalem Post newspaper by Yossi Melman, co-author of Every Spy a Prince and the current history of the Mossad and Israeli security, Spies Against Armageddon.]
Israeli officials are increasingly concerned about the BDS — the “boycott, divestment, and sanctions” anti-Israel movement in many countries. Now we unveil the role of Israeli’s intelligence community in investigating the BDS campaign — and fighting back.
by YOSSI MELMAN
A senior Israeli military source revealed recently that a special unit inside the Research Division of Military Intelligence has been assigned to monitor the activities of the BDS movement.
The unit was created as a result of lessons learned from the Mavi Marmara incident.
Israel’s Evidence Mavi Marmara Turks Were Violent
In May 2010 a fleet of six boats organized by pro-Palestinian groups sailed from Turkish ports — vowing to lift the siege of Gaza. While the activists (of various nationalities) aboard five of the boats surrendered to the demands of the Israel Navy and stopped their voyage, the Mavi Marmara crew and passengers refused to obey the order.
Israeli navy commandos raided the ship and were surprised by heavy resistance. In the ensuing clashes, nine Turkish activists were killed and 20 wounded; 10 Israeli troops were wounded as well. This incident further poisoned the already deteriorated Israeli-Turkish relations.
The military operation fiasco also exposed an intelligence failure.
The Mossad, Aman (Military Intelligence), and naval intelligence all had no information about the Marmara activists, most of them members of the Turkish Islamist IHH group, or their weapons of choice – knives, bats and chains, which they had prepared for the anticipated battle.
As a result, it has since been decided to build an intelligence unit to follow and monitor radical international groups and individual activists who support the Palestinian cause.
Though the assignment is to track down civilian groups that operate mainly in Western countries, strangely enough the mission was assigned to Military Intelligence and not to the Mossad or, even more reasonably, the Foreign Ministry.
A senior security official explained to me the rationale behind the decision. He argued that the international organizations involved in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and in other activities aimed at delegitimizing the Jewish state are directed by one center – the Palestinian Authority. Thus, since Military Intelligence’s responsibilities include understanding the PA and its political processes, it was natural to assign it the new mission against BDS.
The senior security official also claimed that the smear campaigns to undermine the legitimacy of Israel, including expelling it from international bodies and appealing to the International Court of Justice, must be considered the “new intifada.”
This self-victimization, which began a few years ago, is characteristic of the consecutive of right-wing governments which claim that the entire world is against us.
Even without a formal cabinet decision, this political perception has trickled down to the intelligence community. The Mossad has a special unit that tries to “follow the money.” It is a task force devoted to monitoring financial transactions and movement of money from abroad to finance terrorism in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza as well as what Israeli security officials call “subversive acts” against the state.
The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) has two more units in charge of monitoring financial support for terrorists and preventing entry of what they refer to as “radical left-wingers and anarchists who are trying to come to Israel or the West Bank to spread chaos and havoc.”
The units also conduct research and follow groups identified with BDS and organizations involved in the attempts to delegitimize the Jewish state.
In recent years, there has been a substantial increase in reports of nationals, especially young people – not only of Palestinian or Arab descent – from EU countries and even the U.S. who were denied entry by the order of the Shin Bet.
Some of them tried to enter Israel to participate in Palestinian demonstrations and protest against the security barrier. Others came to express solidarity with nonviolent Palestinian civil rights organizations, and yet their entry was blocked and they were sent back.
On numerous occasions senior State Department officials in Washington and U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro in Tel Aviv have complained and demanded explanation from Israeli authorities for why Americans, of Palestinian or Arab origins, have been denied entry or badly treated at border points. The U.S. officials reminded their Israeli counterparts that the two countries are committed to reciprocity in respecting each other’s citizens.
A few months ago Ram Ben-Barak, a former deputy chief of the Mossad and currently director-general of the Strategic Affairs Ministry, submitted a comprehensive plan detailing how to make the battle against BDS and similar anti-Israeli groups more effective.
Ben-Barak, who aspires to be the next head of the Mossad when Tamir Pardo leaves his post by the end of 2015, suggests combining the efforts of various government agencies dealing with the same issue. Accepting his plan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced recently that the government would allocate for this purpose NIS 100 million (around $25 million).
But typical of Israeli bureaucracy, Ben-Barak’s plan has been subjected to fierce personal and political battles between various government ministries about turfs and responsibilities. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon is involved in political arm-twisting with his Likud rival Gilad Erdan, the public security and strategic affairs minister. Ya’alon and the IDF have refused to transfer the Military Intelligence unit to Erdan’s jurisdiction.
Yossi Cohen, chair of Israel’s National Security Council
In an attempt to close the political gaps and provide a sensible compromise, Netanyahu brought into the picture his national security adviser and head of the National Security Council, Yossi Cohen.
Cohen, a former deputy head of the Mossad and the leading candidate to be the next head of the organization, prepared a report that offers ways to bridge the bureaucratic divisions. Its key recommendation is to establish another small unit inside the Strategic Affairs Ministry which will coordinate between the various intelligence units dealing with the issue.
And still, no one seriously questions why a state that considers itself democratic has assigned its three leading security and intelligence agencies to fight a movement that — though it may well be damaging and bothersome — is overall nonviolent, political, grassroots-fueled, and civilian.
Perhaps the Israeli overreaction is another manifestation of right-wing radicalization and paranoia that unfortunately seem to be increasing their grip on Israeli society.
August 28, 2015
[This post is based on an article written by Yossi Melman — co-author of Spies Against Armageddon — for The Jerusalem Post newspaper.]
An Israeli TV station played audio recordings of Ehud Barak — the former prime minister who served as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s defense minister until March 2013 — in which Barak reminisces about three occasions in which Israel almost dispatched its air force to bomb Iranian nuclear sites.
As for why no attack took place, Barak blames the then-military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, his successor Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, and cabinet ministers Moshe Ya’alon and Yuval Steinitz, all of whom opposed a strike on Iran.
According to Barak associates, he feels betrayed by Ilan Kfir and Danny Dor – the authors of a Hebrew-language biography of the former defense minister. Barak let them record interviews, to help their writing process. But the tapes were never supposed to be played publicly.
Barak’s official photo while prime minister
Prior to the report on Israel’s Channel 2, Barak tried to prevent the airing of the audio clips. He appealed to the Military Censor’s Office, which rejected his request to bar the broadcast. Once Barak revealed information about secret cabinet discussions to journalists, the question of whether he intended to have his position aired publicly is a secondary one – and certainly is not one that concerns the censor.
Even if he did not intend for the information to emerge in audio format, Barak intended to have his opinion known by the public. He is trying to shape the historical narrative by portraying himself as the figure who pushed hardest in favor of a strike on Iran – only to be overruled by the cabinet ministers and military commanders who opposed such a move.
According to Barak, General Ashkenazi told him in 2010 that the IDF simply did not have the operational capacity to execute an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
In 2011, Ashkenazi was succeeded as chief of staff by Gantz, who told Barak that the military did indeed have the operational “maturity” for a strike.
Benny Gantz (courtesy IDF)
While Gantz made it clear that the IDF would carry out any directive issued to it by the civilian leadership, he was convinced that an attack was unnecessary.
Barak also said that he was surprised to see ministers Ya’alon and Steinitz “melt” at the last minute after he was led to believe by Netanyahu that the two men supported an attack plan.
Ya’alon and Steinitz instead chose to side with the opposing cabinet ministers – Dan Meridor and Benny Begin. As a result, Netanyahu and Barak were left without the necessary majority in the inner, security cabinet to back an attack.
A year later, Barak and Netanyahu tried again to convince the cabinet to approve an attack plan. This time, weather considerations limited the possible “windows of opportunity” to attack. There were two possible windows, but one of them coincided with a large-scale military exercise with the U.S. military (May to July 2012). The other was around the time of the U.S. presidential election in November 2012.
Barak’s comments should not be taken as absolute truth. They are just one version of events.
Other versions that have not been aired publicly include that of former Mossad director Meir Dagan, and those of Gantz and Ashkenazi themselves. Dagan and Ashkenazi have hinted that Netanyahu and Barak acted in a manipulative fashion on the Iran issue.
There was one claim, first reported by Ma’ariv, according to which Barak told the cabinet that he was personally informed by then-CIA chief Leon Panetta that the Obama administration had reversed its opposition to an Israeli strike on Iran.
When the Americans were informed of Barak’s claim, they were furious. They sent a special emissary to Israel with the exact transcript of the Panetta-Barak conversation in question.
Barak and Netanyahu allegedly went ahead, however, by instructing the chief of staff to “get the system activated” — in effect, to prepare for war.
That would involve mobilization of military reserves and ordering the air force, intelligence services, and home front authorities to take a number of preemptive measures.
“Activating the system” could take more than a month. It could lead to a “miscalculation.”
The risk is that Iran would notice these preparations and launch preemptive actions that would threaten to drag the entire Middle East, as well as the United States, into a regional war.
Was that what Barak and Netanyahu intended? Such a possibility should not be ruled out.
These conflicting versions of events remind one of the Japanese movie Rashomon, in which a number of characters recall events, each through his own lens. The narratives often contradict.
The truth may only be known 70 years from now, if at all, when official records of the meetings are made public. That is not a sure thing. In the most sensitive, secret discussions, there are those who seem talented at directing the conversations — and composing the transcript of meetings — with an eye to the history books.
Even if we were to believe Barak, it’s difficult to be swayed.
If the prime minister and the defense minister really wanted to win cabinet approval for a decision to attack Iran, they could have overcome ministerial opposition. Never in the history of the State of Israel has a determined, dominant prime minister been prevented from getting government approval for his decisions – especially those relating to existential issues – by opposition from other ministers.
One is left wondering whether Netanyahu and Barak really wanted to attack – or whether it was all bluff. If indeed it were a bluff, it was a successful one. They played a game of “Hold me back” with the Israeli public and – more importantly – with the Americans.
One effect was the pressure felt by President Obama to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis — out of concern that Israel might strike and spark a regional war. The result has apparently been an “unintended consequence,” from Netanyahu’s point of view: a nuclear deal with Iran that he considers dangerous.
August 25, 2015
[This analysis was written for The Jerusalem Report by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon — a history of Israeli intelligence and security.]
In mid-July, IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot met with military reporters and briefed them off the record on the latest local and regional developments. He also presented a new five-year plan “Gideon”, named after the Israelite judge-warrior who was instructed by God to battle the Midianites and destroy their idols.
The Gideon plan has two purposes: First to avoid cuts and, in fact, obtain yet another increase in the defense budget – currently around NIS 60 billion ($15.3 billion), not final and still growing – at the expense of welfare, education, health and all the other national necessities. Gideon is also another effort – the fourth in recent years – to obtain approval from the government to implement long-term planning. So far, due to never-ending dispute and bickering between the ministries of Defense and Finance various long-term plans have either been rejected or not authorized.
Israel’s Top General, Gadi Eizenkot
In mid-August, the Chief of Staff’s briefing turned into an official, but sanitized, 33-page document titled “IDF Strategy”. Though the document does not state it in so many words, what emerges is the fact that the Israel Defense Forces is the strongest military structure in the entire region, which spreads from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea.
The “IDF Strategy” is meant “to serve as a guideline to the IDF and is based on vital national interests and agreed notions of national security and the military thinking and practice.”
Already in 2007, then-minister Dan Meridor wrote a very lengthy and detailed security doctrine defining the “National Goals” for the State of Israel:
- To ensure the existence of the state, defend its territorial integrity and the security of its citizens. [It’s worth noting, however, that Israel has never defined its borders.]
- To preserve its values and nature as a Jewish and democratic state and home to the Jewish people.
- To ensure the social and economic strength of the state.
- To strengthen the regional and international status of the state while aspiring to have peace with its neighbors.
Here, it should be noted that while the pursuit of peace is mentioned by the IDF, judging from the actions over the last three years taken by the government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it seems that peace with the Palestinian Authority is no longer a possibility.
“IDF Strategy” accepts and reaffirms these four principles. It also acknowledges that, in a democratic state, the military is subjected to the supremacy of the government. Yet, interestingly enough, the document goes beyond this obvious imperative – it states that the IDF obligation is not only to the elected government and Knesset, but also to society and citizens of the state who elect their representatives and ministers. Since he was appointed Chief of Staff less than a year ago, Eizenkot has stressed, on several occasions, that “the people’s trust” is an important element of the way the IDF works, operates and sets its goals. “We have to be sensible” in our demands and “sensitive to other needs of society.”
According to the document, the security doctrine is based on four pillars. Three are as old as the state and were already defined by the first prime minister David Ben-Gurion: deterrence, early warning and decisive outcome. A fourth pillar – defense – was officially added a decade ago.
All in all, the IDF sees its mission as repelling and neutralizing threats, creating effective deterrence; postponing confrontation, if possible, but also to use both defensive and offensive strategies and utilize force in the most determined and effective way, while respecting international law and the rules of war. The IDF also emphasizes the importance of strategic cooperation with the US and the development of strategic ties with other countries.
In the document and in Eizenkot’s briefing, it is clearly stated that, like other nations in the region, Israel was taken by surprise by the spontaneous events of the “Arab Spring” of 2010-2011. As a result, Military Intelligence has since put a lot of emphasis on trying to understand the “zeitgeist,” creating and beefing up research departments that deal with and monitor the social media in Arab states and Iran.
The Arab Spring is now described by the IDF as an “Arab Shakeup,” which relates to the unexpected twists in its results. “The old order has collapsed,” said Eizenkot. Four countries – Syria, Libya, Yemen and Iraq ‒ are shaped by civil war and the decline of central government.
Egypt barely escaped the same fate due to the determination of its military and the backing of a broad base of civilian society that holds onto a sense of national cohesion.
Egypt, ruled by President Fattah al-Sisi, a former chief of staff and defense minister, which has in the last two years strengthened its military and intelligence ties with Israel, is facing a growing challenge of daring terror attacks in the Sinai Peninsula. The most prominent terror group is Ansar Beit al Maqdis, which less than a year ago pledged its allegiance to the Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed “caliph” of the Islamic State (ISIS). The group now calls itself Sinai district of the Islamic State, in return for financial support. This danger emanating from Sinai has brought Israel and Egypt closer. Indeed, as “IDF Strategy” notes ISIS “is a new and amazing phenomenon that no one anticipated.”
The changes in the Middle East are strongly reflected in the IDF’s strategy document. It contends that the non-conventional weapons threat to Israel has been reduced because of the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria and the dismantling of chemical and nuclear programs in the last two decades in Iraq and Libya.
Instead, Israel is confronted by the rising strength of “non-state actors” such as ISIS and other terror groups like Jabhat al Nusra (Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria) and formations on Israeli borders in the south and on the Golan Heights in the north.
“IDF Strategy” also perceives Hezbollah and Hamas as dangerous enemies in possession of nearly 100,000 missiles and rockets that can be directed at almost any military or strategic site in Israel.
Interestingly, Iran is mentioned only twice in the document, which describes it as a “threat” to Israel mainly because of its support of terror groups in the region.
But there is no reference to Iran’s nuclear program ‒ in sharp contrast to the government and Netanyahu who have made the “Iranian threat” the number one priority of their policy and political agenda.
In private sessions, Eizenkot and his top military commanders have criticized the nuclear deal reached recently between the world powers and Iran, but also acknowledge that it contains positive elements. Above all, the senior military commanders say privately, it is a done deal, at least for the 10-year duration of the agreement — unless Iran is caught red-handed, once again cheating.
Accordingly, the IDF has been trying to adjust itself to the emerging reality. Since 1985, it has reduced the number of tanks by 75 percent and its warplanes (usually old and outdated) by 50 percent.
On the other hand, it has invested more money to extend the submarine fleet (soon to be at six), which according to foreign reports, is capable of launching nuclear missiles, thus creating for Israel a “second nuclear strike capability.”
Also, in the last two decades, it has increased by 400 percent the number of drones in its possession and has improved intelligence and cyber capabilities.
“IDF Strategy” is an important document, but not a revolutionary one. In a way, it states the obvious, reflecting in an honest and accurate manner the challenges, risks and opportunities facing Israel. Its main problem, however, is that in many parts it doesn’t reflect the attitudes, beliefs and practices of the government.
August 23, 2015
by YOSSI MELMAN
(The co-author of the best seller Every Spy a Prince and the current history of Israeli intelligence and security, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.)
This time it’s final. After nearly a decade of delays, suspensions, pressures, and tough international battles, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov and the state-owned manufacturer Almaz-Anety now confirm that the sale of ground-to-air S-300 missile systems to Iran is a done deal.
What is still to be determined is the scope of the deal – whether three or four batteries will be sold.
There is here a great deal of irony. For nearly a decade Israeli prime ministers pushed hard at the gates of the Kremlin and urged Russian President Vladimir Putin not to sell the advanced missile and radar system to Tehran.
Until recently it seemed that the Israeli lobbying — backed by a U.S. tailwind — was paying off. Despite a signed contract and an advance payment, Russia found excuses not to honor the deal with Iran and even announced that it wouldn’t deliver the systems.
But now that the missile deal is under way — in the wake of the deal reached in Vienna to restrict Iran’s nuclear program — the depth of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s failure is exposed.
This story has several layers. The nuclear deal is a major part of it. In his opposition to the emerging agreement with Iran, Netanyahu designed a policy of “all out” on all international fronts. He embarked on a collision course with the President Barack Obama. He tried to appease Putin. He kept pummeling European politicians with stories likening Iran’s hostility to the horrors of Nazi Germany.
Netanyahu acted like a gambler with no exit strategy or fallback position.
But Obama and Putin, in the end, ignored him. Netanyahu’s miscalculations pushed Israel into an undesirable position. It had little influence on the content of the nuclear deal between Iran and the six world powers. It also left Israel with no levers to influence Russia or modify its decision to go ahead with the missile deal.
It didn’t have to be this way. A more cautious and sensible approach by Netanyahu would not have prevented the nuclear deal, but it could have given Israel a chance to influence its outcome and ensure the drafting of tougher clauses regarding the inspection of Iranian nuclear sites.
It was recently revealed that the world powers caved in, by leaving some of the inspection rules up to the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency. The IAEA, according to a secret side deal, will let Iranians provide photos, videos, and environmental samples from the Parchin site — although the IAEA says it will always be supervising and verifying that what it is handed is authentic.
Netanyahu Could’ve Influenced the Iran Deal
Such verification is unlikely to be reliable. Israeli and U.S. intelligence say Iran, in the Parchin military base, conducted unlawful experiments to test nuclear chain reactions — simulating, in effect, nuclear explosions.
Had Netanyahu been more measured and surgical in his public opposition to the nuclear deal, he may have been able to reach a secret understanding with Putin about which arms to sell to Iran and which should not be delivered.
Now it’s too late. The sale of the S-300 batteries is a game-changer.
The batteries belong to a family of missiles and radars that were first developed and manufactured by the Soviet Union in the mid ’70s and deployed by the Red Army in 1979. Since then, new generations and models have been upgraded and turned into one of the best of its kind.
True, what Russia agreed to deliver is not the state of the art in this line of batteries. There are already more advanced versions operated only by the Russian army.
But still, what Russia is selling is disturbingly good — providing sufficient grounds to be highly concerned. The battery’s radar is capable of detecting and spotting hostile warplanes at a distance of hundreds of kilometers — and then lock in and accurately launch guided missiles.
Iran is sure to deploy the batteries to defend its nuclear sites. Their presence will make it much more difficult for any air force – be it Israeli or American – to operate, if one day in the future a decision will be made to attack Iran.
President Obama himself has said that “the military option” is very much alive, if Iran violates the nuclear deal and “breaks out” to produce nuclear bombs.
Yet, despite the importance of the deal, the skies are not going to fall. In the cat and mouse game between an attacker and defender, the attacker almost always has the upper hand.
There is no doubt that the Israeli and American air forces will find a way, with clever technological and operational solutions, to circumvent the S-300 systems.
The Israeli and U.S. militaries, perhaps even working together, will be able to execute a mission — if so ordered by their governments.
The Russian deal also has larger implications. Just as we already witness long queues of international corporations courting Iran for lucrative deals in the civilian sectors, once sanctions are lifted next year, we can expect the same in the military field.
It is reported that China is thinking about selling Iran fighter planes, whichincidentally and ironically are equipped with Israeli-made avionics,including radars. These components were produced by Israel Aircraft Industries (now called Israel Aerospace Industries) 30 or so years ago for the Lavi project, the Israeli self-produced fighter plane. In the mid-’80s, under U.S. pressure, Israel canceled the project and sold some of its technological innovations to the apartheid regime of South Africa and to Communist China. The Chinese built their own J-10 fighter plane, based on the Israeli technology.
But will Iran have one of the most technologically advanced militaries in the region? No.
Despite enhanced Iranian efforts to use the nuclear deal as a launching pad to improve and modernize its armed forces, the ayatollahs will still be lagging behind their rivals and enemies in the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states have much better and more advanced military hardware, and are now negotiating with the U.S. for packages to compensate them for perceived, added dangers from the Iran nuclear deal. And money is not a problem for the Gulf countries.
As for Israel, its defense forces — the IDF — continue to be the strongest military force in the region. Israeli weapons developers are the most innovative on earth. Also, despite political annoyance at Israel’s prime minister, President Obama has pledged to maintain — and even increase — the QME: Israel’s “Qualitative Military Edge” in the Middle East.
Even when Iran gets the S-300 anti-aircraft system and other military acquisitions, it will be no match for Israel.
August 23, 2015
[This post is based on an article written for The Jerusalem Post newspaper by Yossi Melman, co-author of the best seller Every Spy a Prince and the current history of Israeli espionage and security, Spies Against Armageddon.]
Israel and the United States worked together to formulate the Jewish State’s nuclear doctrine, archival documents released Tuesday by the US State Department reveal.
The documents detail the secret discussions that took place on Israel’s nuclear program between officials of the two countries.
“We would decide that we could tolerate Israeli activity short of assembly of a completed nuclear device,” one of the US memos declares.
The documents reveal that — according to American intelligence — Israel planned to have ten Jericho surface-to-surface missiles (based on a French missile) equipped with nuclear warheads.
The publication of the documents comes as part of a routine release of historical information by the Department of State. However, the timing of the revelations — against the background of the disagreement between Israel and the US over the nuclear agreement with Iran — gives them extra resonance.
There are those who would claim that the timing of the release is not a coincidence, and is in fact intended to embarrass Israel, which staunchly opposes the deal with Iran.
Perhaps pointing to Israel’s unacknowledged — by widely known — nuclear arsenal is an attempt to undermine Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who continues in his efforts to persuade Congress to reject President Barack Obama’ cherished deal with Iran. Netanyahu argues that the Islamic Republic, partly because it supports terrorist groups, cannot be allowed to keep a nuclear infrastructure.
According to the American documents now released, which cover events from 1969 to 1972, Israel was asked to provide a written obligation neither to arm its Jericho surface-to-surface missiles with nuclear warheads nor to deploy them.
Up until that point, the official policy of Israel — enunciated to the US in the early 1960s by then-deputy defense minister Shimon Peres — was: “We will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons in the region.”
This policy has been defined up until the present day as the hallmark of Israel’s “nuclear ambiguity.”
As a result of the “not be the first” pledge, it was agreed during the administration of President John F. Kennedy that American inspectors would visit — once or twice a year — the nuclear reactor in Dimona where, according to US suspicions, fissile material for a nuclear bomb was being made.
Golda Meir Visits Nixon and Kissinger
However, in 1969, as a result of the Six-Day War and on the background of the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union — as well as efforts to promote negotiations between Israel and the Arab countries — the administration of President Richard Nixon looked to formulate a new approach centered on preventing, or at least limiting, the further development of Israel’s nuclear program.
The Nixon administration asked Israel to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Israel had agreed several years beforehand to join the treaty — first signed by other nations in 1968 and in effect as of 1970. However, Israel employed stalling tactics in order to get out of that obligation.
In secret meetings attended by officials of the Pentagon, the State Department, the CIA, and Nixon’s National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, American officials discussed how the US would react to a potential attack on Israel by the Soviet Union, which was arming the major Arab nations.
The Nixon administration established a special committee to explore the issues. The committee determined that “our goal is to convince Israel to join the NPT by the end of the year. And to ratify the treaty.”
Later, a meeting was set up between administration officials and then-Israeli ambassador to Washington, Yitzhak Rabin. According to the documents, Israel was asked “to provide us with written assurances that it will stop creating and will not deploy Jericho missiles or other strategic missiles with nuclear warheads.”
Israel was developing into a pro-American ally, yet there was an assumption that — on nuclear matters — Israel would cheat. One document expresses American concern that even if Israel joins the NPT, it is liable to continue covertly producing nuclear weapons and missiles.
Kissinger wrote in a memo: “We judge that the introduction of nuclear weapons into the Near East would increase the dangers in an already dangerous situation and therefore not be in our interest. Israel has 12 surface-to-surface missiles delivered from France. It has set up a production line and plans by the end of 1970 to have a total force of 24–30, ten of which are programmed for nuclear warheads.”..
Kissinger also pointed out: “When the Israelis signed the contract buying the Phantom aircraft [from the US] last November, they committed themselves ‘not to be the first to introduce nuclear weapons’ into the Near East. But it was plain from the discussion that they interpreted that to mean they could possess nuclear weapons as long as they did not test, deploy, or make them public.
“In signing the contract, we wrote Rabin saying that we believe mere ‘possession’ constitutes ‘introduction’ and that Israel’s introduction of nuclear weapons by our definition would be cause for us to cancel the contract.”
Kissinger claimed that the vow not to “introduce” was not enough, because Israeli officials took this to mean that they could have nuclear weapons as long as they didn’t carry out tests, deploy or make the issue public.
And so, a Kissinger memo suggested the United States would demand a new Israeli pledge: “Reaffirm to the US in writing the assurance that Israel will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Near East, specifying that ‘introduction’ shall mean possession of nuclear explosive devices. [For our own internal purposes, we would decide that we could tolerate Israeli activity short of assembly of a completed nuclear device.] Give us assurances in writing that it will stop production and will not deploy ‘Jericho’ missiles or any other nuclear-capable strategic missile. [NOTE: I do not believe we can ask Israel not to produce missiles. Israel is sovereign in this decision, and I do not see how we can ask it not to produce a weapon just because we do not see it as an effective weapon without nuclear warheads. We might persuade them not to deploy what they produce on grounds that the rest of the world will believe that the missiles must have nuclear warheads.]”
Re-read that paragraph, written by Henry Kissinger on July 19, 1969, to consider the irony of the current issues with Iran: whether Iranian work on ballistic missiles and other military systems can indeed by prevented — whether as part of a nuclear restriction agreement or otherwise.
Did Israel make the commitment that Kissinger intended to demand in 1969 (six months after Nixon took office as president)? That is not clear from the documents just released.
Yet the fact is — as a result of a visit to the US by then-prime minister Golda Meir and her meeting with Nixon — the US stopped its inspections of the Dimona reactor in 1969.
In later foreign reports, it was claimed that ambassador Rabin and Meir promised that, in exchange for a halt to the inspections, Israel agreed not to be the first to deploy or arm nuclear weapons, and likely vowed not to conduct nuclear bomb tests.
To this day, Israel has yet to join the NPT, and it is believed to be, according to multiple foreign reports, the sixth biggest nuclear power in the world with a stockpile numbering around 100 nuclear warheads.
August 18, 2015
Dan Raviv, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, a history of Israeli intelligence and security agencies, appeared on the CBS News television broadcast “Up To The Minute,” analyzing the nuclear deal with Iran — and why Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu is so vociferous in his opposition.
Also — this coming week, when Defense Secretary Ash Carter visits Israel — will significant U.S. “security compensation” be offered to Israel?
Watch the video from CBS News:
August 11, 2015
Tuesday (July 14) was historic and memorable, to be sure. Israel was not able to persuade the United States and other world powers to walk away from a deal with Iran, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately branded the agreement “a mistake of historic proportions.”
The tradition, in U.S.-Israel relations, is that — when the Israelis feel their security is diminished by something that America is doing — Israel requests and receive new security systems, weapons, intelligence, or even cash as a form of compensation from Washington.
Congress, where Israel has many supporters and sympathizers, will give the Iran nuclear deal a vigorous 60-day review. As Republicans have the majority on both the Senate and the House, a vote to reject the deal may well succeed. But then, as President Obama has already declared publicly, he would cast his veto. Congress almost surely will not vote by two-thirds majorities to override that veto.
Yet the divisions and suspicions will persist. The effort to restrict Iran’s nuclear work peacefully will be an issue in the 2016 presidential campaign. But the deal will almost surely be a reality.
The analysis (below) is based on an article written for The Jerusalem Post by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars and other books including Friends In Deed: Inside the U.S.-Israel Alliance, also co-authored with Dan Raviv. Note, near the beginning of the article, the Israeli minister’s eye-winking reference to Israel’s own nuclear capability.
In 2007 an Israeli cabinet minister told senior military officials that if a country wants nuclear weapons nothing will stop it.
“I know at least one country that did it,” he remarked. He had just heard them agree on a strategy to do everything to keep Iran from getting the bomb.
Instead, he advised them to focus on delaying the nuclear program and to ask the U.S. for significant compensation.
Eight years later, one can say that due to its successful diplomacy, sabotage and assassination operations attributed to Mossad and its demand for sanctions, Israel managed — so far — to prevent Iran from reaching the bomb.
It seems, though, that what Iran really wanted was to be a nuclear-threshold state and not to assemble warheads. Thus one could say that Iran has succeeded in its goal — for now.
Of course, Israel was not alone in these efforts; it was an impressive international group that presented a unified front.
Another Israeli government could have appropriated the nuclear agreement as its victory. It could have said that as a result of wise diplomacy combined with daring covert actions, Iran was brought to its knees and forced it to sit down, negotiate and compromise on its nuclear program. Tehran had refused to do that from 2002 to 2013.
If we accept the calculations of the U.S. and other teams that negotiated the deal in Vienna, it will lengthen the amount of time it would take for Iran to amass fissile materials and produce a bomb to at least one year — for at least the 10-year term of the agreement.
It’s estimated that before Iran agreed to talk and clinch the interim agreement it was just two to three months from the bomb. The number of centrifuges of the old and outdated models at the uranium-enrichment sites in Natanz and Fordow will be reduced to a third of the current inventory: to 6,000 from 19,000.
Iran is forbidden to enrich uranium above 3.6%; its enriched uranium will be dwindled from 10 tons to a mere 300 kg.; and the nuclear reactor in Arak will be redesigned and won’t be able to produce sufficient plutonium as fissile material.
As for international inspection, even if it is not sufficiently intrusive, it still will be tighter than it is now.
If Iran honors the deal, the chance of a nuclear race in the Middle East by countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey will be slimmer.
Netanyahu’s display at the UN in New York (Sept. 2012)
But Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has decided to take a different path. Instead of working hand-in-hand with the international effort to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions and claiming victory, it has preferred to stand alone.
Israel is opposed to the agreement. To any agreement with Iran, a lethal foe that declares it wants the Jewish State wiped off the map.
But Netanyahu tried to create a wedge between the US president and Congress and failed. Israel exaggerated the Iranian threat and portrayed it in monstrous proportions.
Netanyahu was ridiculed, this week, for a tweet in which he declared that Iran not only aspires to impose its hegemony in the region, but to control the entire world.
True, it may have been better for Israel if the world were to keep harsh sanctions on Iran forever — strangling its economy until it surrendered all of its nuclear facilities, if one believes that Iran would ever have done that.
In any event, Israel is not the center of the universe. The big powers have their own interests and sometimes they don’t listen to Israeli warnings — just as Israel, in many instances, is not attentive to requests from other nations, including its allies; for example, on the Palestinian question.
The nuclear deal is far from perfect, but the skies are not going to fall tomorrow.
Israel remains the strongest and most technologically advanced state in the Middle East. And, according to foreign reports that Israel declines to confirm, it has an impressive arsenal of nuclear warheads.
It is also true that lifting the sanctions will help revive the Iranian economy. But, according to estimates by US economists, the recovery will be slow. It is very unlikely that a dramatic shift in Iran’s rush for regional hegemony will be seen. Its ambitions are already high.
The deal will not increase Iran’s grip on Hezbollah, which is already full. Its support for terrorist groups and its subversive attempts to undermine and destabilize countries will not necessarily be enhanced. They are already in full gear.
These efforts, after all, are a double-edged sword. The more Iran intervenes in other countries’ domestic problems, the likelier it will be bleeding itself. Look at what happens to Iran in the Syrian mud, Yemen’s slippery slopes, and Iraq.
It is rather surprising to hear our leaders expressing fears about what will happen upon expiration of the agreement 10 years from now when they cannot say what will occur two or three months down the road on our borders with Gaza, Golan, Sinai or Lebanon.
All in all, it is possible to estimate that at least two tangible results will emerge from the nuclear deal. Israel’s military-security establishment will demand that its budget be expanded; and Israel will ask the US to supply it with a security compensation package. That is basically what the cabinet minister suggested eight years ago in the military briefing.
August 10, 2015