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

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

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

A CIA map of Yemen

A CIA map of Yemen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So far Iran has rejected the demands.

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

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

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

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

March 26, 2015

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

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

Here is an excerpt:

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

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

[courtesy: The Guardian]

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

March 25, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Netanyahu

Netanyahu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 24, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dan Raviv

yossi melman, spies against armageddon, iran nuclear

Yossi Melman

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

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

 

March 21, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

= = = = = 

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

= = = = =

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Islamic State flag (photo at MEMRI.org)

An Islamic State flag (photo at MEMRI.org)

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

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

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

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

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

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

(courtesy iris.org.il)

(courtesy iris.org.il)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Egypt's President Sisi, in his military days

Egypt’s President Sisi, in his military days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 20, 2015

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

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

Bashar al-Assad

Bashar al-Assad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Israeli View

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

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

March 18, 2015

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

Kerry and Netanyahu in more trusting times

Kerry and Netanyahu in more trusting times

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

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

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

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

March 18, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 8, 2015

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

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

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

 

March 4, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

March 4, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tamir Pardo, the Mossad director

Tamir Pardo, the Mossad director

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

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

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

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

February 24, 2015

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ehud Olmert, when prime minister

Ehud Olmert, when prime minister

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 15, 2015

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

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

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

Gen. Allahdadi

Gen. Allahdadi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emblem of Aman (Israeli Military Intelligence)

Emblem of Aman (Israeli Military Intelligence)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 14, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 31, 2015

Why Would the CIA Now Reveal its Role (with Mossad) in a Middle East Assassination?  To Remind Israel that it Still Needs the USA

One should ponder why American officials would suddenly leak details of the assassination of Hezbollah’s military chief, Imad Mughniyeh, seven years after the lethal explosion in Damascus.

Why would they decide to tell reporters on the espionage beat that the CIA acted together with Israel’s Mossad?  And why would they apparently emphasize that the CIA was on the spot in Damascus, doing the key job of planting the cleverly designed bomb – after the bomb was created and tested at a base in the United States?

The answer seems linked with the current, recently increased tensions between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

It is as though Obama wishes to remind Netanyahu that Israel still needs the United States: America’s expertise and long reach.

President Obama, annoyed at Bibi Netanyahu again

President Obama, annoyed at Bibi Netanyahu again

White House officials are obviously angry that Israel’s prime minister plans to come to Washington to address a joint session of Congress on March 3.  The event designed by Republican leaders in Congress is aimed at adding pressure to their desire for legislation that would threaten tougher sanctions against Iran.

Netanyahu would love for such a bill to pass, but he seems to be ignoring Obama’s strong opposition to the bill.

Obama has explained that if Congress insists on threatening more sanctions now, that might give Iran an excuse to walk away from the nuclear talks – with the U.S. and five other nations – and some in the world may blame America for derailing the process.

Benjamin Netanyahu Plans to Address Congress -- Over Obama's Objections

Benjamin Netanyahu Plans to Address Congress — Over Obama’s Objections

Obama claims he gives the talks with Iran only a 50-50 chance of success, and he says U.S. military action against Iranian nuclear facilities is a real possibility.

Netanyahu, for years now, hints at the possibility of unilateral military action against Iran by Israel.

He has been criticized by his opponents – in Israel’s election scheduled for March 17, a mere two weeks after the speech to Congress – for ruining relations with Israel’s all-important ally in Washington.

Netanyahu’s critics, both in Israel and in the U.S., say the tiny country of 8 million people seems to forget that it is the junior partner in an alliance with a superpower (of over 300 million people).

When American officials point to a joint mission with Israel to kill a notorious terrorist in 2008 – emphasizing the leading role played by the CIA, while the Mossad was the junior partner – that seems to include a political message that the Israelis should remember their place and their dependence.

January 31, 2015

Suddenly a Flood of New Details: How the Mossad worked with the CIA to Assassinate a Hezbollah Leader – Seven Years Ago

In Damascus, seven years ago – before the civil war that has killed more than 200,000 people in Syria – the military chief of Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia was assassinated.

Israel never admitted responsibility for the killing of Imad Mughniyeh, who was responsible for many attacks on the Jewish State but also lethal bombings and hijackings that took the lives of hundreds of Americans.

Suddenly this weekend, CIA sources have been telling The Washington Post and Newsweek that American intelligence officers – acting surreptitiously and courageously in Syria’s capital – were primarily responsible for assassinating Mughniyeh.

The unofficial but reliably based Israeli version of events confirms that Israel and the U.S. were acting together. Israeli officials refuse to say whether Israeli (Mossad) operatives were on the ground in Damascus, but based on their successful similar operations in Beirut, Lebanon, it would seem logical – if daring – for the Israelis to be there.

The Israeli version confirms the new reports’ assertion that the signal to detonate the bomb that killed MUghniyeh was transmitted from Mossad headquarters in Tel Aviv; and that might reflect the CIA’s reluctance to engage in assassinations.

The new accounts say that in Washington the CIA had to make a case – because of U.S. legal concerns – that Mughniyeh continued to pose a potent, deadly threat to Americans.  The Post reported that President George W. Bush enthusiastically approved of the killing, after CIA director Michael Hayden felt uncomfortable about the mission.

How this seemed different from the drone strikes that killed dozens of alleged terrorists is not clear.

In our book, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, we wrote of unprecedented cooperation in recent years between the Israeli espionage agency, Mossad, and the CIA – including joint operations which would have seemed unthinkable prior to 9/11.

*THEY COULD’VE GOTTEN A SENIOR IRANIAN

Sources close to the Israeli side of the mission confirm that the Mossad was acting jointly with the Americans – and they confirm that the CIA was very concerned that “collateral damage” be avoided, including the possibility of killing of a senior Iranian operative who was with Mughniyeh in Damascus. That man was identified as Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps officer in charge of liaison with Hezbollah.

The Israeli side suggests that its desire to include Soleimani in “the hit” was vetoed by the Americans.

Our sources continue to say that Mughniyeh was not as careful as he should have been, because in Syria’s capital he was “fooling around” with women.  In Beirut, especially as a senior officer of the conservative Hezbollah (Shi’ite Muslim) movement, he would not have engaged in such reckless behavior.

In Damascus, Mughniyeh was visiting a girlfriend – and that was his fatal downfall.

January 31, 2015

Israel: Tension on Syria/Lebanon Frontier, Signal to Iran, and a Test of Targeted Assassination

By YOSSI MELMAN  [originally written for The Jerusalem Post]
Amid growing tension in the wake of the death of six Hezbollah operatives and six Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps commanders, killed by a missile while on a reconnaissance mission on the Syrian Golan not far from the Israeli border, contradictory messages are emerging.

On Tuesday, Reuters quoted a “senior security source” in Israel saying the Iranian general killed in the operation – attributed by the foreign media to the Israel Air Force – “was not the target.”

If the citation and source are genuine, the meaning is clear: There is an effort to send appeasing messages to Iran in order to prevent further escalation, which could lead to a general confrontation with Hezbollah.

It can also be interpreted as an Israeli admission that it carried out the operation, and that it was an intelligence and/or operational failure.

But within hours of the Reuters story, an “official security source” issued a statement to the effect of refuting the first one, saying that “the State of Israel neither comments on the event in Syria nor on reports about it, which didn’t come from officials.”

It may well be that the two sources are actually one, using double-speak: Sending a conciliatory message to Iran while at the same time, signaling a different hint to Israeli voters, two months before the election.

Whatever intentions have been concealed, it seems that someone fears an entanglement with Iran – whose senior military commanders promised this week to avenge the killing of their comrade.

Under the official cloud of secrecy and silence, it is difficult to dissect what really happened behind the scenes which led to the attack. But it is known that the Israeli decision-making and approval process for targeted killings and assassinations is thoroughly deliberated; the various agencies of the intelligence community are required to collect data and information on potential targets. This includes every piece of intelligence regarding the target’s daily routine; their importance in the relevant hostile organization or military structure of an enemy country; and the domestic, regional and international ramifications in case an elimination order is given.

The flow chart of the decision-making process goes in both directions – from the political echelon to the security/military apparatus, and vice-versa. It is desirable to reach a unanimous decision but sometimes, disagreements do appear in the deliberations between the two levels or within each of them.

For example, and this has happened in the past, the chief of military intelligence – a key player – can oppose the suggested course of action, while his peers in the IDF General Staff or the Mossad support it. While the final word is in the hands of the defense minister and the prime minister, military and intelligence commanders can greatly influence the process and can practically prevent dangerous or overly adventurous decision from being taken.

Moshe Ya'alon, Israel's Defense Minister

Moshe Ya’alon, Israel’s Defense Minister

Since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war nearly four years ago, Israel has adopted a non-interventionist policy. The only deviations have occurred when “Israeli interests are jeopardized,” as Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has declared on several occasions.

Israel has responded with measured, low doses of artillery shells or missiles when its territory on the Golan was occasionally bombed by the Syrian army or Hezbollah.

According to foreign sources, convoys carrying Syrian or Iranian weapons via land from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon have been attacked by Israeli forces at least 10 times in the past. For Israel, preventing the transfer of long-range advanced missiles or anti-aircraft weapons is considered “a vital interest.”

The message being clear: It must be stopped.

But all in all, Jerusalem has tried to restrain itself – to the point that even when shots were fired at the Israeli side, which turned out to be erroneous fire, the IDF held its guns.

Israel has long maintained that its ultimate interest is upholding peace and tranquility along its border with Syria. To that end, Israel has taken in injured Syrian fighters and civilians for treatment in its hospitals, and has supplied humanitarian aid.

Lebanese and the Iranian media have even accused Israel of cooperation with the Nusra Front, considered the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda – which now controls the 100-kilometer border strip between Israel and Syria, and is fighting Hezbollah.

Clearly, the attack this week against Hezbollah and the Iranian commanders may endanger the Israeli wish for quiet.

On the other hand, one should not ignore the fact that in recent months Hezbollah has made inroads into the Syrian Golan, close to the Israeli border. It can be assumed that the inspection tour by Hezbollah and the Iranian entourage was part of this expansion effort to establish a “Golan command.”

Hezbollah officials, including secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah, claim this is a reaction to what they perceive as Israel’s breaking of tacit understandings. They accuse Israel of being behind an attack a few months ago on a convoy probably carrying sophisticated weapons – which, in a first, was attacked not on Syrian soil but inside Lebanese territory.

Monitoring these developments, Israel sees Hezbollah as wanting to create a launch pad to challenge it from a second front, in the event that a third Lebanon war breaks out.

Much speculation was raised in the media about who was the target of the last attack. In all probability, it wasn’t the Iranian general. But it is also very unlikely that it was Jihad Mughniyeh, the son of Imad Mughniyeh, who was considered Hezbollah’s “defense minister,” and was Nasrallah’s right-hand man and the darling of IRGC’s top commanders.

(Imad Mughniyeh was killed in 2008 in Damascus by a bomb planted in his car; Hezbollah, Iran and Syria accused the Mossad of the assassination.) Unlike his father, the 25-year-old Jihad was neither a senior nor a daring nor a skillful military commander.

Yet he was an icon for Iran and Hezbollah, the son of the legendary Imad, and thus granted leadership of the so-called Golan Command.

Several experts believe the real target was Abu Ali Tabatabai, a senior Hezbollah commander in charge of “special forces,” currently fighting and dying in the Syrian civil war while defending the Assad regime.

In case a war breaks out in the future, these special forces have also been charged with moving the battles inside Israeli territory in order to capture small, rural communities.

Hezbollah has a military force of some 30,000 soldiers, most of them non-conscripts who are called up for reserve duty – almost exactly like in the IDF. It is a very disciplined and hierarchal force, and its mid- and top-level commanders are adept and professional. Experience has shown that after losing top commanders, either in the Syrian killing fields or due to assassinations, Hezbollah has found it difficult to find adequate replacements – and cultivating them takes time.

Today, seven years after the killing of Imad Mughniyeh, the Shi’ite organization hasn’t recovered from his loss.

Yet the ultimate test of whether the decisions to get rid of Imad Mughniyeh, Tabatabai and the Iranian general were right, or whether the risk was misplaced, will come in the future.

It will depend on whether Hezbollah and/or Iran retaliate as they have promised, and whether that retaliation causes a major, painful blow to Israel.

January 23, 2015

New CIA Deputy Chief: Expert on Following Terrorist Money — David Cohen Worked with Israel, Many Others

[This is adapted from an article written for The Jerusalem Post by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon and previous books on Israeli intelligence and national security.]

While all eyes in the world were on Paris following the terror attacks this month, President Barack Obama announced the appointment of David Cohen to be the deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

The CIA has been seen as a WASP stronghold since it was founded.

Just in the last decade-and-a-half individuals from minority groups in the US have begun to obtain middle and high-level positions at the agency.  The number of Jews on staff at the CIA has been, and remains, relatively few. In the past, the CIA representative in Israel was Jewish.  There was a Jewish man who was CIA director in 1995-1996, John Deutch.

David Cohen's official Treasury portrait

David Cohen’s official Treasury portrait

Cohen can now be considered the second most important Jewish figure in the Obama administration following the Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew, who has been Cohen’s boss at Treasury.

Cohen will replace Avril Haines who was the first woman to ever hold the office of deputy director. Haines will join the White House as Obama’s deputy national security adviser.

The appointment of Cohen, who has no experience in an intelligence organization, also signifies the direction in which the CIA and other Western organizations — including Israeli intelligence — are headed in the face of new challenges.

One challenge is summed up by the catchphrase “follow the money.”

Cohen’s appointment is good news for Israeli intelligence units that track terror financing and that follow Iranian attempts to circumvent the sanctions regime. Cohen has visited Israel a number of times to discuss these issues with intelligence personnel who also met with him in Washington.

Cohen served in his prior position at the Treasury for the past three-and-a-half years and was responsible for overseeing the US sanctions regime against Iran in order to stop its nuclear arms program.

Cohen, 51, is married, has two children and is the son of a doctor. Raised in Boston, he does not give special mention to his Jewish background in interviews, seemingly in order not to be labeled by the Jewish community as “one of our own.”

He studied at Cornell and at Yale, where he completed his law degree and researched nuclear management. He served as a law clerk to a federal judge and then joined the ranks of a law firm specializing in white collar crime. After nine years he joined the US Department of the Treasury. 

At the start of his career at Treasury, Cohen was a legal advisor. During the administration of President George W. Bush, Cohen was involved with the drafting of the USA Patriot Act of 2001 that limited civil rights in the aftermath of the September 11 terror attacks. 

After he was appointed under-secretary at the Department of the Treasury, Cohen was involved primarily in the issues of terror-financing and the sanctions against Iran. His firm positions on these issues earned him the nickname, “the sanctions guru.”

Cohen worked with the US intelligence community and with those of US allies including Israel during this role. During his contact with Israeli intelligence officials he helped the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) in its efforts to stop the flow of money to Hamas, but especially in its efforts to follow the financing of Hezbollah and Iranian efforts to evade the economic sanctions against it.

Recently Cohen has placed an emphasis on the effort to dry up funding sources of Islamic State (ISIL or ISIS).

“The financing of ISIL presents a challenge for us that is different than ones we have faced in the past. It has accumulated a large amount of capital, unprecedented in its speed; and its sources of funding are different from most of the other terror groups in the world,” Cohen said in a speech three months ago. 

“In contrast to al-Qaeda, for example, only a small amount of ISIS funds come from donors with deep pockets, so the funds are not dependent on international money transfers. Instead, ISIS accumulated its wealth from criminal and terror activities,” Cohen said, likely in reference to ISIS gains from ransom payouts and revenues from oil.  

Assuming the West reaches a deal with Iran this year that curbs Iran’s suspected nuclear arms ambitions, in exchange for the removal of the sanctions regime, the greatest challenge facing David Cohen in his new role as deputy director of the CIA will be tracking the financing of the Islamic State.

January 19, 2015

The French Intelligence Failure: Nobody’s Perfect, But Were 17 Murders Unavoidable?

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

Like insurance companies, intelligence agencies cannot guarantee full, fail-safe coverage.

The French security service can’t have information about every terrorist cell, certainly not about individuals or couples who conspire to carry out acts of terrorism. As a reminder, even the highly reputed and effective Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) didn’t know about the plan of a Hamas cell in Hebron to abduct Israelis last June, a terrorist incident that resulted in the murder of the three Israeli yeshiva students — then retaliation against an innocent Palestinian youth, and then a 50-day war between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers.

In the case of the kidnap which triggered a global crisis, it took the Shin Bet a few weeks until it tracked down the murderers and their helpers.

“Intelligence is not going to predict when a fanatic goes from being a radical thinker to a violent terrorist in most cases,” Bruce Riedel, a former top CIA analyst, told Reuters. He said French security agents cannot monitor all potential suspects “24 hours a day.”

These are wise words of truth. Yet it seems that this time the French services failed. Said and Cherif Kouachi, the brothers who murdered 12 people in last week’s attack against the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine in Paris, were known to the French security service and under surveillance.

Their names were on the list of TIDE, the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment. TIDE is the U.S. government’s central database on known or suspected international terrorists. It contains more than one million names. The CIA shares the list with its counterparts – including, of course, French intelligence.

Furthermore, the brothers were on another watch list of those banned from boarding flights.

One of the brothers flew in 2011 to Yemen and was trained by AQAP — Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the branch led by Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed that year by a U.S. drone strike.

The other brother was a recruiter trying to dispatch French volunteers to join the jihad in Iraq against U.S. forces.

It is interesting to note that while foreign experts such as Riedel are suggesting excuses in defense of the French security agencies — specifically the domestic service DGSI (DirectionGénérale de la Sécurité Intérieure) — French experts are much more critical. The French analysts are less hesitant to define as failure what happened last week when three jihadi terrorists with Kalashnikov assault rifles put a major European capital under siege.

JeSuisCharlie“Our problem,” I was told by a senior French security and intelligence expert, “is in the structural reform of our security services.”

The expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity, explained that in 2008, the domestic security service DST merged with the intelligence units of regional police departments, known as RG. The merger created a new body known as DCRI, later in 2014 to be renamed DGSI.

Until the merger, DST was focused on the “big issues” of counterintelligence and catching foreign spies, and on “great” terrorism, big groups such as al-Qaeda.  RG, on the other hand, was doing the leg work of sending undercover agents to mosques, listening to imams and mapping the terrain of radical Islamists in the neighborhoods.

But according to the French expert, “what happened after the merger is that the mentality of the DST – which considered itself a noble, aristocratic counterintelligence service – its state of mind has contaminated the entire DGSI and after the merger fewer resources were devoted to the methodical and patient intelligence collection that RG was doing before.”

In other words there is a dangerous irony: that as the radical Islamist threat has grown, its intelligence coverage has been weakened by structural malfunction.

Nevertheless, the French problem is not merely the structure and deficiencies of its security agencies. It is much broader and much deeper.

France, like the rest of western Europe, has to change its attitude and state of mind. It has to realize that it is in a state of war against those who challenge its culture, heritage and history.

To face the new challenge, France and Europe have to toughen their anti-terrorist laws and change their immigration policies. France must be ready to reevaluate the delicate balance between security and democracy, and between democratic values versus the need to defend the republic.

As happened in the U.S. after 9/11, defending security inevitably comes at the expense of some liberties.

January 12, 2015

Not Simply Lone Wolves — The Paris Massacre: War has Come to Europe

By YOSSI MELMAN [written for The Jerusalem Post, Thursday January, 8, 2015]

The writing was on the wall. European streets in general and French ones in particular are turning into a battlefield of radical, extremist Islamist zealotry. The battle is an extension of the Middle East front lines.

Not that anyone should have been surprised. The first wave was carried for several years after 9/11 in 2001 by al-Qaeda sympathizers and supporters, who pursued their ideology of global jihad in impressive terrorist attacks in Madrid, London, and Istanbul.

After a relative calm that created the illusion that Europe was relatively safe came the second, current wave.

This one reflects the rise of Islamic State and the weakening of al-Qaeda.

There are numerous bloody indications that Islamic State and al-Qaeda are back in action on European soil.

A soldier was stabbed to death in London; a gunman stormed a synagogue in Toulouse. Another gunman killed two Israeli tourists in the Jewish Museum in Brussels.

Two characteristics are commonly found in most of these terrorist incidents. One is that some attacks have been carried by young, local Muslims who were inspired by Islamic State or al-Qaeda.

The second is that some terrorist incidents are perpetrated by young European nationals who volunteered to fight in Syria and Iraq and came home after acquiring battlefield experience and being thoroughly brainwashed.

A scarred city: Paris (courtesy French tourist board)

A scarred city: Paris (courtesy French tourist board)

There are thousands of European nationals fighting in Syria and Iraq who have become a major headache to the various European security services. This phenomenon is particularly widespread in France, which houses the largest and potentially the most violent Muslim community. French intelligence estimates that between 700 and 1,000 French volunteers are fighting alongside Islamic State and al-Qaeda.

It was a sad irony that, minutes before the attack, Charlie Hebdo’s Twitter published a cartoon wishing a Happy New Year “and particularly good health” to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of Islamic State .

The attack carried the pattern of targeted killing. The terrorists had a clear plan, knew what they wanted to achieve, and acted calmly – as the graphic footage of the cold-blooded execution of one wounded and helpless policeman shows. No doubt they were professional killers.

Regardless of who was behind it – al-Qaeda, Islamic State foreigners, or a local Muslim cell – this was a direct challenge to French and Western democracy and to the fundamental values of liberty and freedom of expression.

The West is slowly realizing that this is a clash of civilizations. It is a war declared by Muslim fanatics against what France and all of Europe treasure and stand for.

The answer has to be appropriate: better cooperation among Western security services, better intelligence on the terrorist groups, and new laws to limit the ability of the enemy to exploit and take advantage of democratic values.

The Paris massacre is France’s 9/11 – and à la guerre comme à la guerre.

January 7, 2015


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