In recent weeks Israel has increased efforts to convey messages to the Assad regime via Russia detailing its vital security interests, including an outline of its ‘red lines.’
These efforts are taking place against the backdrop of military defeats of the Islamic State in the killing fields of Iraq and Syria.
Most military experts are well aware that concerted international efforts will soon bear fruit, despite the contradictory interests of various warring parties.
Israeli decision-makers at both the military and government echelons know very well that a new era – in which the shape of a future Syria will be determined – is imminent. It is also clear that Syria will not return to be a “normal” state, as it was before civil war broke out six years ago.
Bashar al-Assad: still in power, though diminished
Israel fears that when Assad again consolidates his grip on power it will lead to the deployment of Iranian, Hezbollah or other Shi’ite militias along the Golan Heights border. That possibility is now the most serious concern on the minds of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot and his General Staff, even more than the transfer – from Iran via Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon – of long-range, precise missiles, which has occasionally triggered Israeli air strikes inside Syria.
As a result, Israel is trying to advance its agenda and influence the various parties and processes within the international community, in order to reach a post-war agreement that will regulate the situation in Syria.
The main actors in efforts to reach an agreement are Russia, the USA, Turkey and even some Arab nations such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar – all of which Israel hopes to successfully reach with its concerns and red lines.
Various ideas have been raised in recent consultations among the military, the prime minister and the defense minister. One, is a promise to reduce involvement in Syria – with actions such as the recent air strikes and many others, some of which have been officially admitted – in return for a Syrian commitment to keep its Shi’ite-Iranian allies from the border.
If Israel manages to reach a tacit understanding along these lines there is reason that the Syrian army will be welcome.
King-maker, dictator-saver: Vladimir Putin
It’s worth mentioning that the Syrian Army has the right to deploy along the border, according to the Agreement on Disengagement reached in 1974, the year after the Yom Kippur War. However, most of those positions have now been taken over by rebels forces in the course of the current war. Today, most of the border is controlled by al-Qaida, ISIS and so-called “moderate” rebels. The only place where remnants of the Assad army are currently found is near Mount Hermon in the North.
It is no secret that the major force exerting the biggest influence on Damascus is Russia, which practically saved the regime from collapse by deploying its military – mainly its air force – 18 months ago.
The keys to an agreement are in Moscow, which explains why Netanyahu has met with Russian President Vladimir Putin five times in the last a year-and-a-half and spoken by phone with him at least two dozen times.
In one conversation between the two leaders and their teams, Netanyahu and Israeli military officials raised the idea of some sort of non-aggression pact with Assad.
Putin showed interest in the idea, according to some sources, saying that he understood the concerns and vital security interests of Israel. He also reportedly was clear in reiterating that all foreign armies, including Iran and Hezbollah, will leave Syria once the war is over. But, he said, his No. 1 priority at that moment was to defeat ISIS and end the war with an agreement.
April 5, 2017
[Six years after the beginning of the bloody, horrendous civil war in Syria, some analysts feel we are seeing the “end game” unfold. Russia’s support for the Bashar al-Assad regime is part of the picture, but so are the concerns of Syria’s southwestern neighbor, Israel. Yossi Melman, co-author of the best seller Every Spy a Prince and the current history of Israel’s intelligence community, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars wrote this analysis for The Jerusalem Post.]
Contradictory reports, most of them unconfirmed and unofficial, have emerged in recent days regarding Israeli-Russian understandings over the war in Syria. The reports follow Jerusalem’s admission that its warplanes last Friday attacked missiles being transfered via Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Putin and Netanyahu Meet Often, but Does Fear Reign?
The rare admission, which was contrary to the traditional Israeli policy of ambiguity, of neither confirming nor denying past strikes, triggered a chain of events in which, just hours after the attack, Israel’s ambassador in Moscow was urgently summoned to Russia’s Foreign Ministry and asked to provide explanations.
Media reports suggested that President Vladimir Putin, who is the sponsor and savior of the Syrian regime, expressed anger, while Syria’s ruler, Bashar Assad, boasted to Russian lawmakers that Putin had promised to rein in Israel. Israeli commentators wrote that the operational freedom hitherto enjoyed by the Israel Air Force is over.
Judging from statements by Israeli leaders and military commanders over the past two days, it seems they are not seriously worried.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a state visit to China, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot remained undeterred, delivering, more or less, the same message to the effect that Israel will continue pursuing its national security interests and defend its red lines in Syria.
Israeli policy is non-interventionist, with three exceptions. One is that the IDF retaliates from air and land whenever shells and rockets hit on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights, regardless of whether it was targeted intentionally.
Another is the establishment of terrorist networks near the Israeli border; attempts to do so have resulted in the assassination of Syrian, Iranian and Hezbollah commanders.
The third and most important exception is the occasional bombing, without admission, of convoys carrying and warehouses storing long-range, accurate missiles sent from Iran via Syria that are destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon. Since 2013, some 20 such incidents have been recorded by the media based on Syria’s official statements and rare Israeli claims of responsibility.
Since Moscow deployed its forces in Syria 18 months ago, Israel added another factor to the equation; it reached understandings with Russia in order to know each other’s interests and avoid mistakes and even dog fights between their two air forces. These understandings are formulated in the creation of direct lines of communication between intelligence and air forces of the two countries, and are known as a “deconflicting mechanism.”
The unrattled reaction by top political and military brass indicate that they know better, especially Liberman, who is considered to be close to and have a good understanding of the Putin administration. It is very likely that Putin is playing a two-sided game – he understands the Israeli concerns and interests, but when Israel confirms that it has attacked Syria, he has no choice but to publicly denounce it.
However, on top of the understandings with Russia and the red lines, there is now one more important Israeli interest – to prevent the deployment of Hezbollah or Iraqi-Shi’ite militias sponsored and guided by Iranian officers near the Israel-Syria border on the Golan Heights.
The recent success of the Assad regime and expected defeat of ISIS in both Iraq and Syria make this scenario more and more possible. Iran and Hezbollah hope to be positioned on the border and thus threaten to open a second front alongside Lebanon against Israel in case of a future war.
Israel is committed to stop this, either by reaching another understanding with Putin, and through him influencing Assad, Iran and Hezbollah in that direction, or, as a last resort, by force.
March 22, 2017
[This is based on an article for The Jerusalem Post by Yossi Melman, co-author of the history of Israel’s intelligence and security agencies — Spies Against Armageddon.]
We should not ignore — or underestimate — the warnings of the Syrian Government and its army’s capability to respond to Thursday night’s attack, which Syria attributed to Israel. The spokesperson for the Syrian Army claimed that Israeli planes flying near the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) in northern Israel fired missiles that hit the Mezzah military airport, located near Damascus. The airport is approximately five kilometers from Basher Assad’s presidential palace. Opposition leaders claim that there were more targets, in addition to the airport.
This is not the first time that the Syrian Army and Assad’s government have blamed Israel for attacks in Syrian territory, threatening retaliation. Until now, the threats have been empty threats.
It is clear that Assad does not want to open a new front with Israel. Just recently, with the help of Russian fighter jets, Hezbollah forces alongside Iranian Shi’ite ground forces and the Syrian army were able to defeat rebel forces and regain territory. These successes raised the Syrian army’s morale, upping their confidence. In their next conflict or the one after, Syrian leadership may develop “Crying Wolf” syndrome. Strike after strike and in the end, Assad may decide to respond.
public CIA map of Syria
Another possibility is for Assad to use a proxy to attack, using Palestinians or Hezbollah on the Golan Heights border in order to rattle Israel. This is something that already happened two years ago when Iranian forces, together with Hezbollah, Palestinians and pro-Syrian Druze created cells which attacked Israeli posts in the Golan Heights.
According to foreign reports, Israel managed to squash the cells by assassination, which included Jihad Mughniyah, whose father, Imad Mughniyah (Hezbollah’s “defense minister”), was assassinated in a joint Mossad and CIA operation in 2008. Druze terrorist Samir Kontar was also killed.
The Israeli security establishment does not belittle threats from Syria, taking into account a reaction from Damascus, though the probability of an attack is currently low.
According to foreign reports, Israel has attacked Syria ten to fifteen times in recent years, eliminating sophisticated weaponry such as air defense systems, navigation and guided systems as well as long-distance missiles — all of which were supplied from Iran and Syria to Hezbollah.
However, what is especially interesting is Russia’s silence. A spokesperson for the Russian Defense Ministry has in the past warned the United States and coalition forces not to attack the Syrian regime. Yet Russia has remained silent on the alleged Israeli attack.
If Russia, Assad’s biggest supporter, was against Israeli attacks and warned against them, it would have limited Israel’s freedom of action.
This leads us to believe that there is probably a quiet understanding between Jerusalem and Moscow. Beyond “de-conflicting,” or preventing the two militaries from shooting at each other, the full nature of the agreement remains unknown.
The deal was reached in meetings involving Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IAF commander Maj.-Gen. Amir Eshel — with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his military chiefs. It seems as though Israel enjoys freedom of movement in firing missiles into Syria.
It is possible to conclude that Russia understands that Israel’s interests are solely to prevent arms transfers of sophisticated weapons from reaching Hezbollah. They also know Israel’s red line. Israel has no interest in entering Syria’s civil war, not by supporting the rebels or by acting against the regime.
It seems that so long as Russia continues to accept these principles, Israel will continue to act from time to time with accurate intelligence.
January 15, 2017
[This analysis was written for the Israeli newspaper, The Jerusalem Post, by Yossi Melman, co-author of a history of Israeli security and espionage agencies, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.]
Turkey is the victim of a boomerang effect. The most recent terrorist attack – when a gunman opened fire on party-goers, killing 39 including an Israeli woman at an Istanbul night club Sunday morning – is just one more manifestation of the terrorism plaguing the nation.
The attack was most likely carried out by a member of Islamic State, or an avid supporter of the radical terrorist group. The gunman, armed with an automatic weapon, disappeared from the scene after the massacre and is now being hunted by the authorities.
This attack further proves that unfortunately, despite the alerts, warnings, careful surveillance and the extra security measures taken by the Turkish security services and police, it is almost impossible to stop a determined murderer unless there is precise early warning and accurate intelligence about his intentions.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is paying a heavy price for his manipulative and short-sighted policies.
Driven by its hatred of the Syrian regime when the civil war broke out nearly six years ago, it’s becoming evident that Erdogan either secretly collaborated with Islamic State, or at least turned a blind eye to its actions.
Prime Minister Erdogan
For him as well as for his regime, Islamic State was utilized as a tool to defeat Bashar Assad and stir chaos in Syria, which has a strong Kurdish minority sympathizing with Turkish-Kurds.
Erdogan was also motivated in punishing Assad personally, who in the past gave shelter to members of the PKK, the organization – listed as a terrorist group by NATO and the EU – which aims to establish Kurdish independence.
The Turkish government and its security services allowed individuals from across the world to use Turkey as a stopover on their way to crossing the border into Syria, where they later joined Islamic State.
Turkey has supplied weapons to Islamic State and purchased oil from them, thus providing the murderous group with the funds they needed in order to consolidate their horrific “state” in Iraq and Syria.
Some 18 months ago, Erdogan changed his policy. There are several reasons for this: After initially coming under pressure from the US, he then weighed the effect of Russian forces deploying in Syria. Then, the EU handed over billions to his administration under the condition that he stop allowing Syrian war refugees – among them hundreds of would-be terrorists – to enter Europe.
At that point, Islamic State added Turkey to its black list.
Since June 2015, Turkey has been the focus for terrorist attacks from both Sunni extremists and the PKK.
While the Kurdish fighters largely attempt to target the Turkish army, police and security forces, as they did a few weeks ago near Besiktas Stadium in Istanbul after a soccer game, Islamic State works indiscriminately, aiming to maim and murder as many civilians as possible.
In the last year and a half, more than 400 Turks and foreigners have been killed in various terrorist attacks. The biggest single incident took place in October 2015, in the Turkish capital of Ankara, where 100 people were killed by two suicide bombers. In fact, it was the deadliest terrorist attack in the history of Turkey. No group claimed responsibility, however, Turkish authorities suspect it was the work of Islamic State.
The group is also responsible for the terrorist attacks in the southeastern city of Gaziantep, near the border with Syria, where 50 people who attended a wedding ceremony were killed in August 2016.
Istanbul was also the target of a few attacks by Islamic State terrorists, including the attack at Ataturk International Airport in June, which resulted in the death of 44 people, and the March 2016 attack in which terrorists killed three Israeli tourists.
On the eve of the World War I in 1914, the Turkish Ottoman Empire was known as “the Sick Man of Europe.” Nowadays, modern Turkey has become the soft spot for terrorist attacks at the Asian-European crossroads.
January 2, 2017
[This post is based on an article written by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, for the website Middle East Eye, after an attack on a military airfield near Syria’s capital, Damascus. As usual, Israel did not confirm that its forces carried out the attack. It was believed to be aimed at preventing transfer of advanced arms to Hezbollah, the Shi’ite Muslim militia in Lebanon that is controlled by Iran and closely allied with Syria’s Assad regime.]
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told a meeting of European Union envoys that his country was “trying to prevent the smuggling of sophisticated weapons, military equipment and weapons of mass destruction from Syria to Hezbollah.”
public CIA map of Syria
A strike against President Bashar Assad’s military can be indirectly perceived as an assault or humiliation of Russia, which is behind the regime. Indeed, it was reported that after the attack Russia asked Israel for a clarification of what it was up to.
Soon after Russia deployed its forces in Syria in spring-summer 2015, Israel was nervous and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rushed to Moscow to appease Putin.
In the meeting and, in subsequent ones, the two sides established a special red line link for “deconflicting”, to avoid unintended clashes between the two sides.
Since then, Netanyahu has travelled three more times in the past year to Moscow for further talks with Putin. Subsequently, senior IDF and IAF officers met with their Russian counterparts to define the rules of the game over Syrian airspace.
Despite these arrangements, it is very unlikely that Israel informed Russia ahead of attacks on November 28 and December 7. Nations don’t do that, even with their friends, because it may very well jeopardise an operation and risk lives.
Bearing these circumstances and complications in mind, one has to reach the conclusion that the targets attacked inside Syria were very important to Israel and worth risking the ramifications.
One can also assume that the intelligence was excellent and that there was operational feasibility. Another conclusion which can be drawn from the incidents is that maybe Israel developed such sophisticated measures that its planes were not detected or even “blinded” by the Russian radars.
In the past, Netanyahu, former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon and his successor Avigdor Lieberman have repeatedly said that Israel has no intentions of getting involved in the civil war, but would religiously defend its national interests.
They include retaliation for, intentional or not, every violation of Israeli sovereignty and prevention of shipments of sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Israel is mainly concerned about the Yakhont land-sea cruise missiles, anti-aircraft batteries and radars and components which will increase the accuracy of Hezbollah ground-to-ground missiles, capable of hitting almost every strategic or military site in Israel including the nuclear reactor in Dimona, IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, power stations and air fields.
Most probably these were the targets in the last Israeli strike in Syria, with the additional fine tuning by Lieberman that Israel is also concerned about transfers of weapons of mass destruction to Hezbollah.
It is, however, important to stress that Israel is also very careful to keep from violating Lebanese sovereignty. In the past – after an IAF strike on Lebanese soil – Hezbollah has threatened to retaliate. For the Shia Lebanese movement, Israeli strikes on Syrian soil are tolerable, but not in Lebanon.
The Assad regime promised in the past to retaliate for the violation by Israel of its airspace and sovereignty. But IDF strategists and planners know that these are empty threats. Assad can’t allow himself – and is actually incapable – of opening another front, especially one with the mighty Israeli military.
But they also know that there is a limit to what they can inflict upon Damascus. Not because of Assad but because of his patron – Putin.
There are two possibilities to explain the increased number of Israeli attacks in the last two weeks. One is that Israel is brazenly challenging Russia and playing a game of chicken with Putin.
But given Lieberman’s comments about WMD, it is more likely that Russia is playing a double game. It defends the Assad regime, but also understands the vital Israeli national interests and turns a blind eye when Israel takes action to defends these interests.
The operational military freedom which Israel has enjoyed to do whatever it likes in Syria since the civil war broke out nearly six years ago is narrowing. Israeli military and government know very well that Putin’s patience is running out.
December 17, 2016
[Note: Although the Israeli government will never confirm it, it is assumed and even obvious why Israel has created a fleet of submarines: to let its enemies believe that the subs carry nuclear warheads. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself said recently that the additional submarines Israel has agreed to buy from Germany — a deal that has become controversial, largely because the Israeli military seems not to want them — are necessary in order to guarantee the survival of the Jewish state. Was there anything corrupt about Netanyahu’s decision? Here is an article written by Yossi Melman, co-author of the best seller Every Spy a Prince and the current Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, for the Jerusalem Post.]
The decision by Israel’s attorney general, Amichai Mandelblit, to open a police investigation into what is wrongly termed the “submarines affair” has dragged many in the media to suspect, or even accuse Prime Minister Netanyahu of corruption.
But Netanyahu is not a corrupt politician. He does not need to be, with casino tycoon friends such as American Sheldon Adelson and Australian James Packer, who would be more than happy to offer him top jobs with plenty of money if he retired and joined their organizations.
He is not corrupt.
Yet, this latest saga indicates that he is careless about selecting his confidantes, and may even be blind to seeing when they exploit, manipulate and use state secrets to advance their own interests. Two of them are at the center of the police investigation: his own and his family’s personal attorney David Shimron, and former deputy head of the National Security Council Brig.-Gen. (Res.) Avriel Bar Yosef.
There are four parallel and interwoven aspects to what should more accurately be called the “navy affair.” They are: submarines, new corvettes, the maintenance, and the role of agents and middlemen.
He hired attorney David Shimron to represent him. Shimron is a reputable Israeli lawyer, but no doubt he was approached by Ganor, not only because of his professional skills, but most probably also because of his access to Netanyahu.
The two went to Histadrut (labor unions federation) Secretary-General Avi Nissenkorn with a proposal that maintenance should be privatized. The submarines are maintained by the navy shipyards in the port of Haifa. Because of their strategic nature, the IDF and the navy do not want anyone without top security clearance to be able to get a close look at them.
Nissenkorn’s spokesman told me that in the meeting, Shimron and Ganor asked that both the submarines and the corvettes be taken care of by a private company, which the German corporation would create. Shimron denied that, telling me that they did not discuss the submarines, but only the ships, and in any case it was a very preliminary conversation. Whatever the truth, Nissenkorn rejected the request, because he opposes privatization.
Ganor is one of hundreds of Israeli agents, dealers and middlemen who represent international corporations that hope to clinch civilian or military deals in Israel. They serve as door-openers and lobbyists. In return, they are handsomely paid: the money variably defined as salaries, dividends, commissions and success fees.
In almost any sale of foreign-made weapons — be they planes, ships, intelligence equipment, or components for missiles — an Israeli middleman gets a cut.
You may say that this is the way of the world in doing business.
The problem in Israel, however, is that transparency and supervision by the government barely exist. Being a small and intimate society where everyone knows everybody, Israel witnesses the “revolving door” phenomenon.
Army or intelligence officers work on top secret projects while in service and later join the companies with which they worked. This opens many doors to potential corruption.
Israel society was once considered “unbribeable.” Not any more. From a small and unimportant military branch, the navy has become a big and powerful organization with a budget of billions. No wonder it attracts people like Ganor and Ben Yosef, among others.
Embarrassed by the media attention, ThyssenKrup said this week that they will open an internal inquiry to see whether Ganor operated according to their guidelines.
It will be interesting to see whether the German giant will express trust in its Israeli agent or replace him.
The Israeli police mission is much more complicated. It will have to find out whether Shimron, equipped with inside information, acted to enrich himself. And more importantly, whether Netanyahu knew about it or even encouraged him. Both Shimron and Netanyahu deny it.
In the Israeli defense establishment, particularly in the navy, there is concern that the affair may lead to a decision by Germany to suspend, or even cancel the submarine deal. If that happens, Israeli security will suffer the consequences.
November 30, 2016
[This is the announcement released in Hollywood by a public relations agency for the production company, Studio 8.]
A MOST DANGEROUS MAN
– Studio 8 has finalized the deal for A MOST DANGEROUS MAN. The film is based on the article ‘The Strange Case of a Nazi Who Became an Israeli Hitman’ written by journalists Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman for the New York based weekly Forward. Raviv and Melman also have a book proposal based on the story.
– William Brookfield & Oded Ailam are attached to co-write the screenplay. William most notably adapted KIDNAPPING MR. HEINEKEN for Informant Media, directed by Daniel Alfredson (director of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO Swedish film series) starring Anthony Hopkins and Sam Worthington.
— Oded Ailam worked in the Mossad for more than 22 years. At the time of his retirement, Ailam served as the Deputy Head of Global Operations. Prior to attaining this position, he served in various other capacities in the organization such as the chief of the Counter Terrorism Center.
— William Brookfield and Oded Ailam are represented by Camille McCurry at United Agents and Echo Lake Management.
— Dan Raviv is represented by Russell Galen at Scovil Galen Ghosh Literary Agency. Yossi Melman is represented by Asaf Carmel Associates. Raviv and Melman’s non-fiction books include the national best seller EVERY SPY A PRINCE and the current SPIES AGAINST ARMAGEDDON.
– Tanya Seghatchian is attached to produce for Studio 8, alongside John Middleton and Alex Foster at Middleton Entertainment and Amotz Zakai at Echo Lake Entertainment will executive produce.
– Jon Silk, Chris Goldberg and Rishi Rajani are overseeing for Studio 8.
– True Story, Action, Thriller genres
– Logline: The true story of Otto Skorzeny, a high ranking Nazi special forces soldier and Hitler confidant who was considered by the Allies to be “the most dangerous man in Europe”. After the war, Skorzeny was located and recruited by an intrepid Mossad agent to work with him as a double agent to eliminate Nazi rocket scientists working on a secret Egyptian rocket program.
-- Tanya Seghatchian was a co-producer and then executive producer on the first four HARRY POTTER films, and produced MY SUMMER OF LOVE. She was later appointed Head of the Development & Film Funds at the BFI/UK Film Council. During her time there, she worked on BRIGHT STAR, THE IRON LADY, SHAME, THE KING’S SPEECH and UNDER THE SKIN. After overseeing the merging of the Council with the British Film Institute, Tanya struck a first-look deal with Studio 8. She most recently executive produced Peter Morgan & Stephen Daldry’s upcoming Netflix series, The Crown, for Sony Pictures Television.
— Formed in 2016, The Middleton Media Group is the Production Company of John Powers Middleton and Alex Foster, who serves as President of Production. In addition to partnering with Roy Lee’s Vertigo Entertainment, Middleton also recently launched The Affleck/Middleton Project (MANCHESTER BY THE SEA) with Casey Affleck. Middleton served as an executive producer on Spike Lee’s OLDBOY, RUN ALL NIGHT, POLTERGEIST, THE BOY and the upcoming films, DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS, THE STAND and DEATH NOTE remake, as well as SLEEPLESS on which Alex Foster is also an executive producer and the TV series, BATES MOTEL. Middleton was also a co-producer on THE LEGO MOVIE and associate producer on the upcoming film, RINGS.
— Studio 8 is a filmmaker driven company focused on building longstanding relationships with filmmakers in order to develop, produce and acquire both potential tentpoles and prestige pictures. Studio 8 is funded in partnership with the Chinese investment management firm Fosun Group and with Sony Pictures Entertainment, which will distribute up to six films worldwide annually. Studio 8 has secured $1 billion in financing. The company’s initial film projects include SOLUTREAN, which is currently in post-production, WHITE BOY RICK, which is currently in pre-production with Yann Demange directing, and Ang Lee’s BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK (November 11, 2016) in partnership with Sony’s TriStar Pictures.
October 28, 2016
[This article was written by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, for The Jerusalem Post newspaper.]
The revelation that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah nom de guerre is Abu Mazen, was a KGB agent shouldn’t surprise those knowledgeable of the PLO movement and the Soviet Union’s methods.
Since its creation in 1959, the Fatah group and later the PLO were influenced and supported by various Arab intelligence communities, the KGB, and its satellite security services in the communist bloc. Beyond solidifying ideological bonds, the cooperation was a marriage of convenience.
The PLO needed financial support, military training and weapons. The Soviet Union, entangled in the Cold War with the West, wanted to increase its influence in the Middle East.
The Soviet Union and its client states in Eastern Europe supported “progressive” movements and groups around the globe, including those who were involved in terrorism.
Abbas and his Cabinet in Ramallah: Only KGB Spy is Man in the Middle?
While the Soviet Union tried to keep its hands clean, it instructed the security services of its client state to do the dirty work. The East German Stasi and also the Hungarian and Bulgarian agencies trained PLO officers, gave them weapons and documents, and hosted notorious terrorists such as Abu Nidal, Carlos and Wadi Haddad. The Black September terrorists who killed the 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics traveled via East Berlin.
Yasser Arafat himself was photographed by the Securitate, the Romanian security service, in an intimate position in his hotel room in the company of his bodyguards while visiting Bucharest.
The Soviet Union gave grants to and hosted thousands of students from Asia, Africa, South and Central America at its universities.
The Soviet generosity was also a tool to recruit agents of all sorts among the foreign students.
Based on the belief that “quantity will turn into quality,” the KGB method was to recruit as many agents as possible, hoping that some of them would reach the top of their countries or organizations and be a quality agent.
Was Abu Mazen one of them? It shouldn’t be ruled out, despite his denials. In such circumstances, a denial by the president of the Palestinian Authority is only to be expected.
If it’s true, it happened when he studied in the early 1980’s at Moscow’s Oriental University, where he submitted his PhD thesis. But we still don’t know — from the Soviet-era document that reportedly names Mahmoud Abbas as a KGB mole in the PLO — how long he was run as an agent, how often he met with his controller, whether he was a paid agent and if so how much was he paid, or whether he was just an agent of influence who from time to time shared bits of information or estimates with his Soviet contacts.
If indeed he was a full-fledged agent, it was a good catch for the KGB. Abu Mazen was among the founding fathers of Fatah and a close friend of Arafat and the other top leaders of the group. Although throughout his career he mostly dealt with political and diplomatic matters, Abu Mazen must have known at least about some of the terrorist attacks carried out by the PLO against Israel, Jewish targets and Western targets.
One can assume that if he was an agent, he passed some of his knowledge on to the Soviets.
The KGB was a successful professional intelligence agency.
It managed to recruit and plant good agents in many Western countries, including the US and the UK. It also reached the Israeli top echelon, having agents in the Mossad, Shin Bet, IDF, the Foreign Ministry, the Ness Ziona Biological Institute and probably in other government ministries. It can be assumed that not all of them were caught by Israeli counter-intelligence.
One more interesting observation regards the intriguing relations between the Middle East and the world of espionage. The KGB and its satellites were not alone in the game. The CIA and British and French intelligence agencies also went on fishing expeditions, and their catch was not bad at all.
Many Arab leaders were either paid agents or agents of influence for these services.
King Hussein, for example, was a paid agent of the CIA and also worked closely with British intelligence. And so were Syrian leaders in the 1950s and ‘60s. Even Ali Hassan Salameh, who was Arafat’s chief of security and responsible for the planning of the Munich Olympics massacre, turned out to be an asset for the CIA in Beirut. In 1979 Mossad operatives killed him in the Lebanese capital.
The Israeli intelligence community, Mossad and military intelligence didn’t stand idle. The Israelis were also very successful in penetrating the Arab world and the PLO — recruiting leaders, top government officials, scientists and senior military officers. It is interesting to note that, during the Israeli-PLO negotiations in the ‘90s, it was revealed that the Mossad managed to plant a listening device in Abu Mazen’s desk in his office in Tunis.
September 8, 2016
[This analysis by Yossi Melman, co-author of the best seller Every Spy a Prince and the new history of Israeli intelligence, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, first appeared at MiddleEastEye.net.]
The failed coup in Turkey — exactly one month ago — and subsequent events are having a strong effect on Israeli-Turkish relations. At this point, there is a complete freeze on the reconciliation process between the two countries.
Prime Minister Erdogan
The Turkish government is now focused on tightening its grip on society by persecuting and purging the military, intelligence and practically all other security and civilian structures of the state from its real or imaginary enemies.
Externally, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is preoccupied in stepping up Turkey’s war against the Kurds and mending his relations with Russia’s Putin. His limited span of attention is excluding Israel.
“Nothing is happening on our front, for good and bad,” I was told by a senior source in the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“At least we aren’t any longer bashed by Erdogan as he used to do. And unlike the accusation levelled by the Turkish-controlled media against the US and the EU, Israel isn’t accused of any plots and involvement in the revolt.”
According to the source, “The relations are on hold and the agreement is not implemented; but on the other hand, we keep getting messages from Ankara that nothing has changed and that they are committed to the agreement.”
The Turkish parliament is set to vote on the deal before it goes into summer recess later this month, the country’s foreign minister said on Thursday – but what happens next is anyone’s best guess.
More than six years after the relations between the two countries deteriorated as a result of the tragic incidents of the Mavi Marmara, representatives of the two governments signed a reconciliation agreement at the end of June 2016 in a Rome hotel.
The Mavi Marmara was a Turkish boat which carried Turkish and international “peace” activists who wanted to break the Israeli siege and reach Gaza. The ship was purchased in 2010 by IHH, a Turkish NGO active as a charity organization in more than 115 countries.
But Israeli intelligence sources claimed that IHH smuggled weapons on behalf of terrorist groups and had links to al-Qaeda. In 2010, the US State Department expressed great concern over the group’s links with senior Hamas officials.
In May 2010, while sailing on international waters enroute to Gaza, the boat was stopped by the Israeli navy.
For Israel, most of the passengers were terrorists or at least agents of provocation who were equipped with clubs, chains, and bats and came to cause trouble, not humanitarians. A clash broke out, resulting in the death of nine Turkish citizens and the humiliation of one of Israel’s top commando units – Shayetet 13 (Flotilla 13).
The reconciliation agreement contains diplomatic, economic and security-related topics. The most annoying clause from the Israeli side is the readiness is to pay $20 million to the Turkish families of the victims.
Here is some perspective: Israel reluctantly paid less to the victims’ families of the USS Liberty, a spy ship of the US’s National Security Agency which sailed near the Sinai Peninsula coastline during the 1967 war. The Israeli Air Force mistook the Liberty for an enemy ship, attacked it and killed 34 crewmen. (Relatives of the slain Americans and many Navy and NSA veterans believe that Israel did it intentionally.)
All in all, in 2016, it was Turkey that needed the agreement — much more than did Israel.
Erdogan’s foreign and security policies have failed completely since the bloody civil war in Syria began more than five years ago. He announced that his policy would revolve around “zero” troubles with his neighbors. Exactly the opposite has occurred: Turkey has found itself in disputes with the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria and with Russia, Iran, the Islamic State and Kurds at home and in Syria.
What Israel Got
Thus, the new deal contains some positive elements and advantages for Israel.
Turkey bent to Israeli pressure and agreed to shut down an office established by Izz A-Din Qassam, the military wing of Hamas. From this office in Istanbul, as Israeli intelligence officials would later disclose in a briefing, Hamas operatives had issued orders, sent money and ran terror operatives in the occupied West Bank against Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA).
In 2015, the Israel Security Agency (ISA also known as Shin Bet) foiled a few attempts of these kinds, the largest almost a year ago, when dozens of Hamas members were arrested and caches of weapons found.
The orders were given personally by Salah al-Aruri, the Turkey-based Hamas commander who benefited from the personal protection of Hakan Fidan, the chief of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organisation (MIT).
To the agony of Fidan, Erdogan gave orders to expel Aruri already a few months ago. Fidan doesn’t like Israel. Over the past six years, he tried to avoid meeting his Mossad counterparts. He seldom met Tamir Pardo, the former director of Mossad, and his successor, Yossi Cohen, and reduced the links between the two agencies to the minimum.
Mossad suspected that Fidan was pro-Iranian, and American intelligence sources accused him of informing Iran about an Israeli espionage ring operating on Iranian soil. As a result, Iran’s authorities made arrests inside their country.
Another important success for the Israeli government is the fact that the siege of Gaza has not been lifted. Unlike Erdogan’s claims and boasts, Turkish humanitarian aid to Gaza will be sent via the Israeli port of Ashdod.
There it will be inspected, making sure that indeed it is only humanitarian in nature – food, medications, toys – and transported by Israeli trucks like all supplies to Gaza. One such shipment was sent by Turkey after the Rome agreement and days before the military rebellion.
There are also other security benefits for Israel which have been ignored or barely reported. The Turkish parliament, for example, will pass laws that prohibit the suing of Israeli officers and officials involved in the Marmara incident in Turkish courts. In recent years, a few Turkish courts issued warrants against senior Israeli officers.
Turkey has also promised not to oppose the inclusion of Israel in NATO events and in other international forums.
The History of the Covert Connections
The special security and intelligence ties between the two countries began in the second half of the 1950s. Encouraged by the US and the UK, the intelligence communities of Israel (Mossad), Iran (Savak) and Turkey (MIT) established a tripartite consultative body known as the Trident alliance.
The intelligence chiefs of the three services met annually and exchanged information on common enemies – Egypt, Syria and Iraq. The relations reached their peak in the 1950s, with Iran’s involvement ending after the country’s 1979 revolution. Israeli-Turkish intelligence sharing continued through the first decade of the 21st century, peaking around 2005 and ending when Erdogan walked away.
Turkey became an important market worth several billion dollars for Israeli military and security goods. Israeli security corporations sold drones, intelligence equipment and upgraded fighter planes and tanks for the Turkish army.
Turkey also fed Israel with information which it had obtained about Syria, Iraq and, to a degree, Iran from its spies and listening posts built by the US. In return, Turkey asked for and got information obtained by Israeli intelligence on Kurdish organisations — especially the PKK.
Mossad officials met regularly with their MIT colleagues either in Ankara or Istanbul or in Tel Aviv. During some of these sessions, senior MIT officials in charge of monitoring the PKK even felt at ease and close enough to ask their Israeli counterparts if they would be willing to help them to assassinate Kurdish terrorists. The Israelis listened politely, usually didn’t comment and ignored the requests.
It all ended when then Turkish prime minister, now president, Erdogan changed the course of Turkish foreign policy and orientation.
It is clear to Israeli security officials that when the new agreement is implemented, the golden era of close, even intimate military and intelligence cooperation between Israel and Turkey, will not return.
August 15, 2016
[This analysis was written for The Jerusalem Post by Yossi Melman, co-author of the best seller Every Spy a Prince — and the current history of Israeli intelligence and security, Spies Against Armageddon (published by Levant Books).]
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not only concerned, he is worried and angry, which has led him to go on the offensive.
Netanyahu (government photo)
He is concerned by the request — by most of the bereaved families of Operation Protective Edge (50 out of 67) — to establish a commission of inquiry into how his government behaved, before and during the 2014 Gaza war.
In addition to this request, which came as a surprise to the prime minister, the state comptroller’s report on the war is expected to be published soon. A leaked draft of the report suggests that it will be critical of the government’s and the IDF’s preparations for the war.
Netanyahu and his aides fear that the bereaved families’ demand for an inquiry and the comptroller report will be used by ministers and MKs in the coalition and the opposition in order to attack him and undermine his authority and position, in particular when he also has a police investigation into corruption allegations hanging over his head.
Therefore, the prime minister held a nearly three-hour briefing with military reporters and analysts on short notice Monday. He laid out before us his strategic viewpoint on Israel’s situation, the challenges facing the country, the threats against it and its capabilities to face these threats.
However, the bulk of the conversation was spent on the prime minister’s attempts to deflect the bereaved families’ criticism. As a bereaved brother himself, Netanyahu understands how sensitive an issue it is to argue with such families and to thwart the comptroller report and similar criticism voiced by ministers such as Naftali Bennett and Avigdor Liberman.
Convening the military correspondents was a smart move by Netanyahu. It was intended to give more “professional” weight to his claims than they would have had if they were conveyed through political or diplomatic correspondents.
The prime minister spoke at times with excitement and at times in anger, accompanied by fist-banging on the table. He presented data and quotes which sought to prove that the government, the cabinet and he personally took the Hamas tunnel threat seriously, as well as the group’s other military capabilities – rockets, naval commandos and aerial vehicles.
In the seven months prior to the war, between November 2013 and July 2014, the cabinet met eight times, almost a third of all of the forum’s meetings in that period, to discuss the tunnel threat. The prime minister also toured the frontlines and held discussions with Gaza division commanders. The cabinet heard situation reports from IDF commanders and senior Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) officials on the subject. At the conclusion of some of the meetings, decisions were made and orders were given, including by Netanyahu himself to the IDF and the defense establishment to prepare militarily for the tunnel threat and to develop technology to thwart it.
In these cabinet meetings, as well as in other forums, there was an intelligence-based estimate that Hamas had dug at least 20 tunnels into Israeli territory. In The Jerusalem Post’s sister publication, Ma’ariv Sofshavua, I published in October 2013 that the IDF had even estimated that there were some 30 tunnels (during Operation Protective Edge 31 tunnels were uncovered and destroyed). If I knew about the threat, then the IDF and the cabinet definitely knew about it.
Therefore, in this respect, the prime minister is right. The claims that the cabinet was not informed, or that the IDF did not know, are baseless. It is true that the defense establishment (and this is also Netanyahu’s responsibility) could have prepared better technologically and started to more quickly look for a solution if they would have listened years ago to the warnings of the geologist Col. (Res.) Yossi Langotsky. The solutions that are now being applied to the fight against tunnels are exactly what Langotsky suggested ten years ago, but nobody listened.
The prime minister, (and then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon) managed the war in the correct manner – carefully and calmly, while setting reasonable goals that took into account an exit strategy for the war. Netanyahu’s strategy was to avoid mass casualties on the Israeli side and to minimize the harm done to the civilian population in Gaza, while delivering a harsh and painful blow to Hamas without agreeing to any of the group’s demands.
If the prime minister will be wise enough now to make the decision to prevent a humanitarian disaster in Gaza – the establishment of a seaport is the required step – chances are that the danger of another war will be pushed back several more years, and in retrospect, we will be able to say that Operation Protective Edge achieved good results for Israel.
July 30, 2016
[This analysis by Yossi Melman is based on an article he wrote for The Jerusalem Post on July 16, 2016, after it became clear that the attempted coup by elements of Turkey’s army failed — and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who recently restored normal relations with Israel after several frosty years, has survived. Melman is co-author of the best seller Every Spy a Prince and of the current history of Israeli intelligence and security, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.]
The great irony in the coup attempt that failed in Turkey was obvious. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has tried for years to stifle the operating freedom of social networks and has accused them of being dark forces attempting to undermine his rule. It was these same social media networks which helped him to put down the coup.
Erdogan broadcast from his smartphone — using Apple’s FaceTime — a statement to the people. He tweeted to his supporters and relied on the media, even those whom he deathly hates, to spread his message in the critical first hours of the coup attempt when uncertainty gripped the country.
In this respect, the attempt was reminiscent of the failed coup by the national guard and the Greek military junta in 1974 against the rule of Cyprus President Archbishop Makarios III. Makarios succeeded in sending out a weak radio signal saying that he was alive. Voice of Israel radio monitor Miki Gordus received the signal and broadcast the message to the whole world. As a result of that failed coup, the Turkish army invaded and partitioned Cyprus into two parts.
In the case of Turkey, it seems that those involved – apparently relatively low-ranked officers – would not have succeeded in their operation even if Erdogan would not have been able to deliver his broadcast.
The rebellion initially appeared to be going by the book. The rebels gained control of the bridges over the Bosphorous Strait in Istanbul, which connect Europe and Asia, as well as major junctions. Pilots involved in the plot bombed the parliament building in Ankara, the MIT intelligence agency’s headquarters and some military strongpoints, including tanks near the presidential palace.
They even took control of the state-run TV station, TRT, and forced a remarkably poised female newscaster to read their statement that they had taken over the government to preserve democracy, to remove Erdogan, to suppress terrorism, and to change the Constitution.
However, it appears that the number of soldiers in their command – apparently a few thousand – was insufficient to complete the job.
How Pres. Erdogan Called on People to Defy the Coup
In Turkey’s previous four military coups since 1960, tens of thousands of soldiers took part, if not the entire army. This time, the rebels kidnapped the chief of staff and a number of other senior commanders, who have since been freed, but most importantly they failed to capture Erdogan, who was vacationing at a Marble Lake resort. Capturing the Turkish leader was probably the first thing they should have done.
Erdogan succeeded in broadcasting his remarks to the people, calling on his supporters to take to the streets, and they answered his call. They blocked the rebel soldiers’ path and together with the police, which remained loyal to Erdogan, fought them and took many of them prisoner.
The masses taking to the streets was reminiscent of the attempted coup by a group of Soviet officials in August 1991 against President Michael Gorbachev — in the hopes of preventing the fall of Communism and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. That rebellion was put down because of the leadership of Boris Yeltsin, who was then the head of the Russian Federation of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was dismantled in the wake of the coup attempt.
Turkey has previously experienced four military coups. According to the Constitution, since the establishment of the Turkish Republic out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire in 1922, the army is the defender of democracy.
Anytime that the military commanders believed that the civilian leadership was straying from the constitution, they did not hesitate to carry out a coup, take rule into their own hands and eventually put a democratic government back in place.
For years now, there has been disillusionment within the army and the secular public with Erdogan, the leader of the Islamist AKP party. As prime minister and elected president he instituted a dictatorship in the hopes of establishing himself as a 21st century sultan, while increasing the influence of religion in the public sphere. This is also the reason that Erdogan purified institutions in the state and instituted changes within them to strengthen his hold on power.
He put his loyalists in key positions in Turkey’s intelligence agency, police, justice system, education system and the army. He harassed the media, trying to take it over and marginalized business leaders who he saw as hostile to the throne.
It can be assumed that now, with the defeat of the coup attempt, he will immediately increase his efforts to strengthen his hold on power and oppress his opponents. His supporters are already accusing his arch rival Fethullah Gulen, a powerful cleric who lives in exile in the U.S., of organizing the rebellion. Gulen has denied involvement, but that will not stop Erdogan from persecuting Gulen’s supporters.
In Turkey, conspiracy theories that Erdogan himself planned the coup in order to make himself stronger are even being voiced.
Despite the fact that the U.S. and most members of NATO, to which Turkey belongs, condemned the coup and voiced support for Erdogan and the elected government, there is no doubt that there is increasing concern among them about instability in the country.
For months, Turkey has been subject to an onslaught of terror from Turkish Kurds and ISIS (the so-called Islamic State in neighboring Syria feeling that he betrayed them after secretly aiding them for years).
The war on terror hurts tourism and the economy, and now the coup attempt is liable to throw one of the most important countries in the Middle East into a period of uncertainty and disquiet.
As for Israel, which just recently signed a reconciliation deal with Turkey, the failure of the coup will not affect relations between the countries and the status quo will continue.
However, it can be assumed that the Israeli government, the defense establishment and the intelligence community would not have shed a tear if the coup had succeeded, Erdogan had been ousted and the army had taken power.
July 16, 2016
[Yossi Melman, co-author of the best seller on Israeli espionage and security, Every Spy a Prince, and the current book Spies Against Armageddon, wrote this for The Jerusalem Post in early March. Today (June 27), Israel and Turkey are announcing the restoration of diplomatic relations after long, difficult negotiations. What’s likely to happen now?]
Even if Israel and Turkey soon announce an end to their diplomatic crisis, which began almost six years ago as a result of the Mavi Marmara flotilla ship incident, relations between the two countries will not go back to how they once were.
The golden era of cooperation in the security and intelligence fields between the two countries up until a decade ago will certainly not come back.
Turkey was a large and important market for Israel’s security industries, which provided drones, intelligence systems, tank and planes upgrades, and more. For years, there was close cooperation between the Mossad and Turkey’s intelligence agency, the MIT, which included meetings, an exchange of each countries’ situational assessments and more.
This cooperation began in 1958 with the initiation of an intelligence pact between Iran’s SAVAK, under the Shah, the Mossad and Turkish intelligence. The codename in Israel for this pact was “Clil” (Complete).
Prime Minister Erdogan
These intimate relations were ended by Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he rose to power in 2002, first as prime minister, and currently as president. It was a gradual process that deteriorated after the Marmara incident. However, the 2010 flotilla was merely a symptom of a deeper issue. Yet, despite the security and intelligence disconnect and the diplomatic crisis, both commercial and tourism ties did grow under Erdogan.
The initiative for a turnaround in relations has come from Ankara … Erdogan’s foreign and defense policies have failed miserably. He saw himself as the renewer of the days of the Ottoman Empire and as a modern-day, 21st century Sultan. He aimed to turn Turkey into a regional power, and perhaps into the strongest force in the Middle East, but this did not happen.
Instead, Turkey finds itself in a conflict with Russia and Iran over Syria, where Erdogan hoped to see President Bashar Assad ousted. Erdogan supported the Muslim Brothers in Egypt and now he finds himself at odds with Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi. Because of Turkey’s uncompromising fight against its Kurdish population, as well as in Syria and Iraq, Ankara is also losing its influence with NATO and with the U.S.
Turkey is now more isolated than ever and is therefore interested in renewing ties with Israel, in the hope that the Jewish state can help Ankara improve its standing in Washington. Turkey also needs natural gas from Israel in order to diversify its sources of energy and to reduce its dependency on Russian gas.
Most of the disagreements between Israel and Turkey stemming from the Marmara incident have already been rectified. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized for the incident in which nine Turkish citizens were killed. Israel has already made clear that it is prepared to pay some $25 million in compensation to the families of the victims. Turkey has deported senior Hamas military wing official Salah Aruri from the country and has tightened its supervision of the organization’s members at Israel’s request. Ankara has also agreed to institute special legislation that will prevent IDF commanders from standing trial for the Marmara incident.
However, the bigger problem to be solved is connected to Hamas in Gaza. Turkey is looking for a foothold in the Strip. [The Israeli government view is that] Erdogan broke the rules, and therefore he bears the responsibility for rectifying the situation. Egypt’s Sisi as well is not prepared to easily forgive and grant Erdogan a prize for his behavior, as if nothing happened.
If the golden formula is found, and the crisis is indeed solved, it will be part of a three-way deal: Israel-Egypt-Turkey, in which the strategic alliance with Egypt is much more important to Israel than rehabilitating ties with Turkey.
June 27, 2016
In his latest documentary, “Zero Days,” the award-winning Alex Gibney reveals that the Obama Administration believed an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities — which seemed in 2012 to be a very real prospect — would draw the United States into war. To prepare, the NSA created a set of cyberattacks — code named “Nitro Zeus” — which could have crippled Iranian industry, transport, and other modern services.
“Zero Days” was the opening feature of the AFI Docs festival in Washington, DC, on June 22. Gibney was interviewed by Dan Raviv for the CBS News Weekend Roundup radio magazine; and Yossi Melman is seen in the film as an expert commenting on Israeli motivations in confronting Iran’s nuclear program. Melman also credited in the film as a consultant.
Raviv and Melman are co-authors of five books, including the current history of Israeli intelligence — Spies Against Armageddon.
Here is part of an article Melman wrote for The Jerusalem Post in February 2016, when the documentary was first screened at the Berlin Film Festival.
Michael Hayden, former head of both the CIA and the NSA, is in the film and claims the goal of a potential Israeli strike on Iran would be to drag the U.S. into war. The film also quotes other sources in the US intelligence community who accuse Israel of disrupting a joint covert operation to sabotage computers used in Iran’s nuclear program by acting rashly and in opposition to agreed-upon plans. As a result, hundreds of millions of dollars that were invested in the operation went to waste.
A graphic from the documentary “Zero Days”
The film contains testimony from NSA and CIA operatives who worked together with Israeli colleagues – from the 8200 Military Intelligence Unit and Mossad – to develop several versions of a deadly virus that penetrated computers at the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz in Iran. The testimony is delivered anonymously by an actress whose face remains hidden.
According to the claims in the film, the hasty Israeli action prevented the carrying out of a number of further planned actions that were intended to sabotage computers at a second, more fortified uranium enrichment facility at Fordow. The film also reveals another planned cyber unit covert operation code-named NZ (Nitro Zeus).
“We spent millions on this operation to sabotage all of the computers of the Iranian infrastructure in the instance of a war,” a source quoted in the film said. “We penetrated the government, electricity lines, power stations and most of the infrastructure in Iran.”
The deadly virus that was implanted at Natanz was named “Stuxnet” by computer security experts, but it had a different name among the Israeli and American intelligence communities: “Olympic Games” — as revealed by New York Times’ journalist David E. Sanger.
Conventional wisdom holds that the implanting of the virus marked the first time that a country, or two countries in this case (the U.S. and Israel), engaged in cyber warfare against another country (Iran). Up until then, the majority of attacks were carried out by individual hackers for their own enjoyment or for political purposes, by criminals for the purposes of fraud and thievery, or by companies engaged in industrial and commercial espionage.
Vice President Joe Biden is quoted in the film as saying in a meeting that the Israelis “changed the code” of the deadly virus’s software. As a result, the virus spread from nuclear program computers to many other computers in Iran, and from there to computers around the world — even harming the computers of American companies.
The unplanned spread of the virus led to the exposure of the operation and enabled the Iranians, with the help of information security experts from Belarus and Russia, to invent a “vaccine” for their computers to better defend the nuclear program.
According to the film, the premature exposure of the operation caused by Israel’s action’s also caused the virus software, which was among the most classified and most advanced in the world, to leak to Russian and Iranian intelligence.
“Ironically,” it is said in the film, “the secret formula for writing the code for the virus software fell into the hands of Russia and Iran – the country against which it was developed.”
June 23, 2016
[This post is adapted from an article for The Jerusalem Post by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars and other books.]
The circumstances of Hezbollah “Defense Minister” Mustafa Badreddine’s death are shrouded in mystery, as was most of his life in the underground. Hezbollah released an official statement on Saturday, saying that he was assassinated a few days ago by Syrian rebels near the Damascus airport.
This was startlingly different from previous assassinations of senior Hezbollah commanders. The Lebanese Shi’ite group used to always — like a habitual reflex — blame Israel.
The official announcement seemed to clear Israel of responsibility for killing Badreddine — a mere eight years after his brother-in-law and powerful predecesssor, Imad Mughniyeh, was assassinated in Damascus. The Mughniyeh killing was the result of a joint Israeli-U.S. intelligence operation, according to several sources, although neither government has acknowledged liquidating one of their most virulent enemies.
True, Arab media did quote a Hezbollah politician in Lebanon — as well as several former Iranian generals — as saying “the rebels” are working under the orders of “the Zionists.” But all in all, it is clear that Hezbollah does not wish to escalate its war against Israel — not at this time.
It remains unclear how Badreddine was killed. There are reports that he died in an artillery blast, and others which claim he was hit by a missile, and even some reports that the missile was fired from an airplane. In any event, it is clear that those who planned and carried out the assassination had precise intelligence information.
Hezbollah Issued This Photo of Badreddine After His Mysterious, Violent Death
Israel did not officially comment on who might have killed Badreddine, but politicians in the government in Jerusalem tried to add an air of mystery by acting as though the whole matter is too delicate to say anything about.
The United States government did state it was not involved in the Hezbollah leader’s death.
Yet it is strange that no one claimed responsibility for the killing — not even one of the Sunni Muslim rebel groups in Syria.
The list of those who wanted Badreddine eliminated was long. In addition to the U.S., Israel, and Syrian rebels, the governments of France, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and others must be glad that one of the most cruel and wanted terrorists in the world is dead.
The possibility has also been raised that he was killed by one of his rivals within Hezbollah, but that is most likely disinformation being spread by some intelligence agency’s psychological warfare department.
However, it is reputed that Badreddine did have some sharp arguments with other senior Hezbollah commanders in recent years — as the Lebanese Shi’ites increasingly sustained losses in the Syrian civil war, obviously ordered by their Iranian paymasters to plunge into that war with gusto.
Badreddine is also said to have had disagreements with the Iranian Al-Quds Force, led by General Qassem Soleimani, who practically is in charge of Shi’ite militias and violent organizations around the world. These arguments developed because of Badreddine’s operational ideas — which seemed to border on crazy hallucinations; as well as a reckless lifestyle that seemed to emulate his hero, the assassinated Mughniyeh.
Yet it has not been the practice of Hezbollah and Iran to settle accounts within their own ranks, within “the family,” so to speak, by liquidating non-conformists.
In rare cases, Hezbollah and Iran have put people on trial for espionage or treason — and those cases naturally ended in executions. Yet in cases of disobedience, Hezbollah men are simply stripped of their positions.
It also would not make sense for Iran and Hezbollah to get rid of one of their most important commanders, right in the middle of a crucial stage in Syria’s civil war. Three years ago, Hezbollah sent 6,000 combatants to fight the rebels — in order to save the Bashar al-Assad regime, an objective later backed emphatically by Russia’s military.
Killing Badreddine would require Hezbolla to replace him with a less experienced commander.
So who did it? Similar to the outcome (spoiler alert!) of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, it is even conceivable that all of Badreddine’s foes — or an unusual group of them — teamed up to find him and eliminate him.
Israel may have had a hand in that. Or not. But further weakening of Hezbollah’s capabilities and morale is certainly a good thing for Israel’s strategy.
May 15, 2016
[This post is based on an article in Hebrew by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars and other books, in the newspaper Maariv.]
The Mossad — Israel’s famed foreign intelligence agency — placed unusual advertisements in several Israeli newspapers on Wednesday. It is not the first time that the Mossad published “want ads,” announcing that jobs are available for the right men and women. This one also seems to be polishing the secret agency’s image as a cutting-edge, entirely modern and exciting place to work.
The ad shows rows of numbers, apparently meant to represent computer code on a screen — and among the digits are English letters that read: “ARE YOU READY FOR A CHALLENGE?”
At the bottom, in Hebrew, is the official symbol of the Mossad — with its motto quoting the Bible: “Where there is no counsel, the nation falls; but there is salvation in a multitude of counsel.” (Proverbs 11:14)
And intriguingly at the bottom is — apparently — the name of the Mossad department looking for brilliant employees: “The Operational Cyber Arm.”
The agency’s website also invites job applications.
Mossad.gov.il came into existence only about 15 years ago. In part that was part of a new wave of relative openness: acknowledging that the Mossad exists and making it legal to publish the name of its director (Yossi Cohen this year replaced Tamir Pardo). Also, the website is part of a recruitment effort — in Hebrew, English, Russian, Arabic, and Farsi (Persian) — which suggests that working for Israeli intelligence can give a person amazing experiences.
It was also, in the past 10 to 15 years, that the Mossad — instructed by Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert — stepped up its efforts to derail and sabotage Iran’s nuclear program.
May 11, 2016
[This article is based on an item written for The Jerusalem Post by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars and other books on Israeli defense, intelligence, and culture.]
A moment of truth for Israel’s nuclear policy is nearing. Haim Levinson’s article in Ha’aretz (in Hebrew on April 26) regarding the defects in the core of the nuclear reactor in Dimona only emphasizes this fact.
Such reactors are normally taken out of service after 40 years or so. Ultrasound examinations found 1,537 flaws in the metal core in Dimona, a scientist from the facility reported — according to Levinson in Ha’aretz.
These are not defects that can develop to the level of large cracks, that would at this stage cause nuclear radiation emission from the reactor and endanger the surrounding population and environment.
The awareness of these flaws — and the likelihood of how they would progress — were known since the inception of the nuclear reactor. In 2004 similar findings were revealed at a symposium at Ben Gurion University in Beersheba, where senior officials of the Atomic Energy Commission, which is responsible for the reactor in Dimona, admitted that they were encountering difficulties in upgrading the safety of the reactor.
The reactor in Dimona — which France built for Israel — began to function in 1963. According to the manufacturer’s standards, the lifetime of reactors of this type is forty years.
At that convention 12 years ago, the CEO of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission — Gideon Frank — said that in the United States, techniques were developed that allowed for a 20-year extension of the lifetime of reactors.
However, the reactor core, which is made from metal and wrapped with a thick layer of concrete that defends against the tremendous radiation from within, cannot be replaced, as there is a leaking water heater there that cannot be fixed.
Today, the reactor in Dimona is 53 years old and has repeatedly received “anti-aging treatment.”
Israel used the most advanced techniques in the world, but they will be effective until when? If we rely on the words of Gideon Frank from the convention, then the reactor has another seven years to its life. By then there will be no alternative but to disable the reactor.
The technological problems create a huge dilemma for the longtime Israeli strategy of deterrence. The reactor that Israel acquired from France, had, according to foreign reports, a 24-megawatt capacity and was to be used for research purposes. According to these same sources Israel increased its output to 50 megawatts, possibly even more.
According to foreign reports, since its activation, Israel’s reactor has been manufacturing uranium and plutonium. Those are the fissile materials for the construction of nuclear weapons. These reports said that the proponents of Israeli nuclear development believed that nuclear weapons would serve as a deterrent and secure Israel’s existence for generations.
Concurrently, they also formulated the Israeli policy of nuclear ambiguity, which neither admitted nor denied the existence of nuclear weapons.
In my opinion, the brilliance and boldness of the Israeli policy of nuclear ambiguity proved and continues to prove itself strategically.
The success of this policy is evident in the fact that no superpower has demanded of Israel to disarm nuclear capacity, which the world claims Israel has.
However the policy of nuclear ambiguity also prevents Israel from signing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which bans the production, stockpiling and spread of nuclear weapons.
This is the predicament in which Israel exists today. Israel does not possess the ability and the materials to build a new reactor and is in need of foreign or international assistance. If Israel were to sign the NPT it would be able to receive nuclear reactors for the purpose of research and generation of electricity, but it would also be mandated that Israel disclose everything it has.
The foreign reports indicated that during the years of its reactor’s operation, Israel constructed approximately 200 nuclear bombs of all types and sizes as well as the means to launch them, according to one report. According to another more recent report, Israel is in possession of “only” 80 bombs.
This substantial arsenal could continue to ensure Israel’s deterrence policy, even if the reactor were to close and could not manufacture additional bomb-making materials. But the gleaming dome of the reactor is also a symbol of Israel and its nuclear capability.
Israel will try to extend the lifespan of the reactor as much as possible before its inevitable expiration, when the efficacy of the “anti-aging” remedies will also expire.
May 8, 2016
[This post is adapted from an article written for The Jerusalem Post by Yossi Melman, co-author of the best seller Every Spy a Prince and the current history of Israel’s intelligence agencies, Spies Against Armageddon.]
The longtime head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan, who died of cancer on March 17, was known to be a great traveler. Years ago he went on a journey to central Asia and visited Azerbaijan. Knowing that he was an avid chess player and “not a bad one” — as he once put it — his hosts took him to a local chess club. Dagan had the heady experience of playing simultaneously against a group of teenagers. He lost to all of them.
His Azeri hosts (apparently counterparts in security agencies, but they have not been identified) felt embarrassed. They did not want an honored guest from such a friendly country, Israel, to be humiliated.
Israel, the Jewish state, is indeed considered a good friend to the Muslim, former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan. Diplomatic relations were established in 1992, only a few months after Azeri independence was achieved with the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Relations are excellent, and the improvement has been based on shared strategic interests. The two countries are getting even closer, against the background of renewed violence between Azerbaijan and Armenia, another former Soviet republic. They are fighting over a district, Nagorno Karabakh, where civilians caught in the middle are again suffering death and destruction.
Azerbaijan’s forces have been noticed using Israel-made weapons.
The two nations are certainly an odd couple. The Azeris are predominantly Shiite Muslims, and while they vote in elections they do not truly have a Western democracy. The country has been run since 1991 by a single family, which is accused of corruption and suppressing independent media. Investigative journalists have been harassed and jailed there.
The CIA’s Map of Azerbaijan: Nestled Among Strategic Neighbors
Israel, however, has a long record of not being too picky in choosing its undemocratic friends — certainly not when it comes to weapons sales and other national interests. A quick look at the map can explain Israel’s priorities. Azerbaijan has borders with four countries including Iran — Israel’s most dangerous enemy. The capital, Baku, is on the Caspian Sea — which affords interesting ways to get in and out. Azerbaijan is a major oil producer and invests 5 percent of its GDP in its military.
Israel’s Harop, Displayed for Sale
According to foreign reports, The Mossad runs a big station in Azerbaijan taking advantage of the geography. Iranian spokespersons have accused their neighbor of allowing Israeli intelligence to carry out — from Azeri territory — espionage missions in Iran which include recruiting and planting agents, communications interception, and aerial reconnaissance. More than a year ago, Iran claimed to have shot down an Israeli drone. Israeli officials have refused to comment on such reports.
Yet it was President Ilham Aliyev himself who was quoted in a cable — published by WikiLeaks — sent from the U.S. Embassy in Baku, as saying: “Bilateral relations between Azerbaijan and Israel are like an iceberg. Nine-tenths are below the surface.”
Another WikiLeaks document from 2007 showed more frankness and openness expressed by Arthur Lenk, then the Israeli ambassador in Baku (now serving in South Africa). He told the U.S. ambassador that the two countries have a security agreement and that one of Aliyev’s assistants — during a visit to Israel — met with Israel’s deputy defense minister and “Mossad officials.”
In 2009 Azeri security services exposed a joint plot designed by an Iranian intelligence agency and Hezbollah to target the Israeli embassy and the Jewish community in Baku. That would have been part of their attempt to take revenge for the killing, a year earlier, of Imad Mughniyeh — the “defense minister” in charge of Hezbollah operations. The car bomb that killed Mughniyeh in Damascus was attributed to the Mossad, and recently a CIA role in the assassination was reliably reported.
Tips from the Mossad to their Azeri counterparts in 2009 foiled the conspiracy in Baku and led to the arrest of several suspects, while others managed to escape to Iran.
The joint combat against terrorism is just one glue strengthening the relations between Azerbaijan and Israel. Another sign of the prosperous allience can be seen in the annual trade. which is currently $5 billion, more than the total trade between Israel and France.
The details are not fully revealed, but it consists most of Azeri oil sold to Israel — and Israelis weapons and intelligence technologies purchased by Azerbaijan. The best promoters of the military sales and ties have been Israeli defense minister and officials who have visited the Caucasian nation. Most recently it was the current minister, Moshe (Boogie) Ya’alon, who went to Baku in Otober 2014 to meet with his counterpart — and even with President Aliyev.
The security and intelligence ties began modestly. In the 1990s Israel sold light weapons, mortars, and ammunition worth a few millions of dollars. In addition, Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI, now renamed Israel Aerospace Industries) maintained the aircraft fleet of Azerbaijan Airlines.
Israel Aerospace Industries Exports the Harop: a Drone Bomb
In recent years, according to foreign reports, the volume expanded to billions. That made Azerbaijan the second biggest market in Asia, after India, for Israeli weapons.
According to the French newsletter “Intelligence on Line,” Israeli sales include drones, ground stations, control and command posts, and advanced intelligence equipment.
It was also reported that IAI was the first bidder to offer Azerbaijan a spy satellite valued at $150 million — plus the ground station and the launching cost. U.S., French, and Russian compaanies later joined the bidding, but experts assume that the Israeli company has the best chance of winning the contract because of IAI’s long-standing, intimate contacts with Azerbaijan.
The French publication also reported that Haifa-based Israel Shipyards has an advantage over its French and other competitors to build 12 light vessels for the Azeri coast guard.
This month the Washington Post gave the world a narrow peek into the mostly secret relationship by publishing a video and photos of an Israel-made “suicidal drone,” flying over the frontlines of the civil war in Nagorno-Karabakh — reportedly exploding itself onto a bus carrying Armenian combatants. Seven people were killed, and the Armenian government protested to Israel.
The drone, called “Harop.” is just one model in a line of products that are hybrids of drones, missiles and bombs. They can carry cameras and be recalled back to ground by their operator but also are equipped with up to 20 kilograms of explosive which the operator can lead to collide with the target and detonate it .
This past week, a few days after the incident, Israeli military journalists visited IAI facilities and were briefed on the various products from drones to satellites which the company has to offer. An IAI spokeswoman was asked if the company was behind the Washington Post publication. She refused to answer, but she clearly smiled when one reporter commented that such photos and video are good for business. They promote sales which can be labeled “battle proven.”
April 16, 2016
[This is the beginning of our article, written for The Forward newspaper, revealing the Israel used Otto Skorzeny as an agent — and what the famous Nazi Waffen-SS colonel did for the Jewish State.]
On September 11, 1962, a German scientist vanished. The basic facts were simple: Heinz Krug had been at his office, and he never came home.
The only other salient detail known to police in Munich was that Krug commuted to Cairo frequently. He was one of dozens of Nazi rocket experts who had been hired by Egypt to develop advanced weapons for that country.
One Israeli newspaper surprisingly claimed to have the explanation: The Egyptians kidnapped Krug to prevent him from doing business with Israel.
But that somewhat clumsy leak was an attempt by Israel to divert investigators from digging too deeply into the case — not that they ever would have found the 49-year-old scientist.
We can now report — based on interviews with former Mossad officers and with Israelis who have access to the Mossad’s archived secrets from half a century ago — that Krug was murdered as part of an Israeli espionage plot to intimidate the German scientists working for Egypt.
Moreover, the most astounding revelation is the Mossad agent who fired the fatal gunshots: Otto Skorzeny, one of the Israeli spy agency’s most valuable assets, was a former lieutenant colonel in Nazi Germany’s Waffen-SS and one of Adolf Hitler’s personal favorites among the party’s commando leaders. The Führer, in fact, awarded Skorzeny the army’s most prestigious medal, the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, for leading the rescue operation that plucked his friend Benito Mussolini out from the hands of his captors.
Key to understanding the story is that the Mossad had made stopping German scientists then working on Egypt’s rocket program one of its top priorities. For several months before his death, in fact, Krug, along with other Germans who were working in Egypt’s rocket-building industry, had received threatening messages. When in Germany, they got phone calls in the middle of the night, telling them to quit the Egyptian program. When in Egypt, some were sent letter bombs — and several people were injured by the explosions.
Krug, as it happens, was near the top of the Mossad’s target list.
[Read the rest at: http://forward.com/news/336943/ht/]
April 1, 2016
Dan Raviv, a CBS News correspondent who is co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, was interviewed on “The World,” a radio co-production of PRI and the BBC, by host Marco Werman.
Their 5-minute chat included a retelling of the “sexy” recruitment of former Waffen-SS Colonel Otto Skorzeny by the Mossad in 1962 in Madrid.
Raviv and Yossi Melman, in an article for Forward, revealed this week that Skorzeny became an agent — and even an assassin — for Israel’s intelligence agency.
Here is the audio, from “The World”:
March 30, 2016
Our article appeared in the Forward weekly newspaper this past weekend, and on-line (click here).
We have learned that Otto Skorzeny — a daring commando officer in the Waffen-SS who was a favorite of Adolf Hitler — was recruited by the Mossad in 1962 and carried out assignments for Israeli intelligence.
Why would he do that? And didn’t the Israelis feel moral qualms about employing a Nazi — to pursue, locate, and even kill Nazis?
That issue fascinates many in the global media.
Click here for Yossi Melman’s interview with BBC World Service’s Dan Damon — heard in the 5 a.m. hour across America on Wednesday.
Here is another of the interviews we have done since the weekend: This one, on BBC Radio 4’s The World Tonight:
March 30, 2016