Shimon Peres, Last Founder of Israel, Father of Nuclear Program and More…

Shimon Peres, former prime minister, defense minister, and finally (non-political) president of Israel, has died at age 93 — and an impressive array of world figures are mourning.

shimon peres, covert operations, spies against armageddon, iran nuclearThey think of him as a man of peace and reconciliation — dreaming of a Middle East that can be incredibly more positive, creative, and productive than it is now.   Peres proudly declared himself an optimist, saying that that was the secret of his longevity.  He shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 with Yitzhak Rabin (his rival within the Labor Party, but by the time Rabin was assassinated in 1995 they were close colleagues in exploring peace possibilities with the Palestinians) and the PLO chief, Yasser Arafat.

Peres’s role in strengthening Israel’s defenses — indeed the Jewish state’s survivability — is not widely and fully known.   We have written, in our books, of the work he did — as a young aide who was very close to the first prime minister David Ben-Gurion — to make a deal with France for construction of an atomic reactor near Dimona, in Israel’s Negev Desert.  Peres and Ben-Gurion were the leaders of a small corps of Israelis who knew the real purpose and the real result: an arsenal of nuclear weapons, still not officially acknowledged by Israel.

Peres also made sure that Israel Military Industries would be a world-class manufacturer of arms, and Israel now boasts some of the best defense technology and innovations — which sell well around the world.

We salute him, above all, for speaking publicly about the possibility that if reasonable men and women could come together and make necessary compromises, there could be peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

 

September 28, 2016

U.S. Prepared Huge Cyber-Attack on Iran, In Case Israel Bombed Iran and a War Started

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"

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

“Ready for a Challenge?” Job Ads Placed by Mossad — Looking for Cyber Aces

[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.

Mossad ready for challengeThe 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

The Secrecy-Shrouded Nuclear Reactor at Dimona — It Might Have to Close in 7 Years

[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.

Israel Atomic Energy Commission logo pngThe 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

Israel Rushed — Iran Computers Could’ve Been Sabotaged More: New Documentary, “Zero Days”

Israeli hastiness blew operation to sabotage Iran’s computers, U.S. officials say:
‘Zero Days’, Alex Gibney’s film premiering at the Berlin International Film Festival, explores the joint U.S.-Israeli operation to develop the Stuxnet virus and sabotage Iran’s nuclear program
• By YOSSI MELMAN  (for Maariv and The Jerusalem Post)

If Israel were ever to bomb Iran and its nuclear facilities — according to Gen. Michael Hayden, former head of both the CIA and the NSA — Israel’s goal would be to drag the United States into war.

MIchael Hayden, in the film "Zero Days"

MIchael Hayden, in the film “Zero Days”

Hayden makes the remark in a documentary film premiering this week at the Berlin International Film Festival.  The film also quotes other sources in the U.S. intelligence community who accuse Israel of disrupting a joint covert operation to sabotage computers used in Iran’s nuclear program by acting rashly. The sources say Israel did not stick with the agreed-upon plan.

As a result, hundreds of millions of dollars that were invested in the operation went to waste.

The film, Zero Days, was directed by Alex Gibney, whose film Taxi to the Dark Side won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2008.

His new film includes 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.

Filmmaker Alex Gibney

Filmmaker Alex Gibney

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.”

As seen in "Zero Days"...

As seen in “Zero Days”…

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 that was not revealed in the film. The code-name of the entire operation, as was revealed by New York Times journalist David Sanger, was “Olympic Games.”

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.

America’s 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, in contravention of the plan, 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.

LInes of code of Stuxnet, seen in the film

LInes of code of Stuxnet, seen in the film

The unplanned spread of the virus led to the exposure of the operation.  That 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 due to Israel’s actions 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 of Iran – the country against which it was developed.”

The development of Stuxnet and the planning of Operation Olympic Games began in 2006, during George W. Bush’s term as president.  He fervently wanted to thwart the Iranian nuclear program.

Hayden, with his long experience in both the CIA and the NSA, declares in the film that “President Bush did not want to be left with the choice of ‘to bomb or be bombed.’”

Revealed too much: Ahmadinejad's Visit to Natanz

Revealed too much: Ahmadinejad’s Visit to Natanz

According to the film, experts from both countries came up with the idea of trying to sabotage Iran’s nuclear facilities, and in particular their computers.  News photographs of then-Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to the Natanz facility helped the experts obtain needed intelligence on the computers.  The computers, their configuration and their rear connections can be seen clearly in the pictures.  Eventually, these entry and exit points served as portals to implant the virus.

Iranian nuclear experts accompanied Ahmadinejad on his tour of the facility.  One of those photographed at Ahmadinejad’s side was assassinated a few years later, in an operation that was attributed to the Mossad.

On Bush’s orders, exact replicas of the centrifuges were built at the national laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, which is also used to produce nuclear weapons, and at Israel’s nuclear reactor in Dimona.  The deadly virus was implanted in the centrifuges and their rotors were damaged and broken.

Intelligence operatives brought the broken rotors to the White House situation room, showed them to President Bush and explained what the sabotage could do.  Bush was impressed, saying, “Go and try.”

He ordered a greater investment in offensive, covert cyber warfare and approved the operation.

According to the film, offensive cyber warfare against Iran was increased even more during Barack Obama’s term.  A key reason was his concern that Israel — under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-defense minister Ehud Barak — would take military action against Iran.

Hayden reveals in the film that America’s fear was that “the real goal of an Israeli attack [against the nuclear facilities in Iran], would be to drag us into war,” because Israel’s own attack capabilities were limited.

Hayden continues: “Israel has an excellent air force, but it’s small. The distance is great and the facilities are spread throughout Iran.”

In order to calm Israel down, and to prove that the administration was working diligently to thwart an Iranian nuclear weapon, Obama ordered the intelligence community to increase its efforts and its cooperation with the Mossad and Unit 8200.

He did so despite having some doubts about the operation. Obama expressed concern that “the Chinese and the Russians will do the same thing to us,” and insert viruses into nuclear facilities and other strategic sites in the United States.

However, Obama’s greater fear was of an Israeli attack.  “The goal was to gain time,” Hayden added, “in order to force Iran to come to the negotiating table.”

According to the film, British intelligence also secretly took part in the operation through GCHQ, its unit responsible for telephone surveillance, communications interception, code-breaking, and cyber warfare.

“But the main partner was Israel,” the film says.  “And in Israel the Mossad ran the show.  8200 provided technical help.  Israel was the key to the whole story.”

In the beginning, the virus succeeded at its mission, according to the film.

“As far as we knew, but they weren’t telling us everything,” an NSA source told Alex Gibney’s team. “The virus was implanted in the computers, probably by the Mossad, through its infiltration of two software companies in Taiwan that were working with the Iranians.”

The plan was for the virus to harm the digital and computerized electric boxes made by the German company Siemens, which were hooked up to the computers that operated the centrifuges.  About a thousand of the 5,000 centrifuges were damaged without the Iranians discovering the cause of the problem.

“The plan did what it was supposed to do,” an anonymous American intelligence operative said. “The centrifuges blew up without leaving a trace.”

The sabotage operation also had a psychological goal: to instill in the Iranian leadership and in the community of scientists a feeling that they were helpless and did not understand what was happening.  An additional goal was to drive a wedge between the scientists on one side — and Iran’s political and military leadership.

It did turn out that Iranian authorities accused their experts of failure and began firing them and threatened them.

According to testimony gathered by the filmmakers, several hundred programmers, mathematicians, and computer engineers worked in Tailored Access Operations (TAO) teams at CIA headquarters and the cyber command in Fort Meade, Maryland.  Only these teams were authorized to infiltrate computers outside of the U.S., including those in Iran.

The sources quoted in the film say the U.S. and Israel developed a few different versions of the Stuxnet virus.  Each new version was more powerful than its predecessor.  The idea was to gradually implant increasingly stronger versions of the virus.

In addition, it was established that each country had the right to act independently, as long as it informed the other of its actions.  However, according to the film, as a result of pressure from Netanyahu on the chief of the Mossad to “show results,” it was decided in Israel to use the most deadly version of the virus prematurely.

“We operated at a low profile,” an NSA source said. “The Israelis, on the other hand, constantly pushed to be more aggressive.”

In this way, after the strongest version of the virus was implanted in order to increase the force of the damage to the centrifuges at Natanz, the virus, according to German information security expert Ralph Langer, began to “jump from computer to computer,” until it was out of control and unintentionally spread to thousands of computers, networks and systems, including computers in the United States.

“Our friends from Israel took a weapon that we developed jointly, among other things in order to defend Israel, and did something crazy with it, and actually blew the operation.  We were very furious,” an American source said.

The film reveals that the presidential orders of Bush and Obama to activate the cyber weapon were based on their authority to use nuclear weapons.

As a result of this American-Israeli cyber warfare, Iran began to develop and to enhance its own attack tools.  A few years ago, in revenge and as a message of deterrence, it attacked 30,000 computers belonging to the Saudi oil company Aramco and computers belonging to American banks.

Against this backdrop, the film also delves into the philosophical-theoretical issue of the world’s need to establish international treaties and rules of what’s legal and illegal in cyber warfare, like the international conventions that govern the laws of conventional warfare.

In addition to Hayden, other U.S. officials are interviewed in the film, including Richard Clarke, an anti-terrorism and cyber warfare consultant in the Bush, Clinton and Bush administrations; John C. Inglis, former deputy NSA chief; Gary Samore, formerly with the Obama National Security Council; and the head of information and computer security branch of the Department of Homeland Security.  The New York Times’ Sanger also served as consultant to the film’s director and producers.

On the Israeli side, interviews were conducted with former Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin, current National Infrastructure, Energy and Water and former Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, as well as the writer of this article, who also served as a consultant to the filmmakers.

Computer security experts from the American firm Symantec appear in the film, as well as the German expert Ralph Langer and Eugene Kaspersky, who is considered one of the best-known computer security experts in the world.  Kaspersky was formerly a Russian intelligence operative and is considered to have close ties to the Kremlin.

February 16, 2016

Simmering Crises Surround Israel: U.N. in New York is One Battleground Among Many

In the weeks following Congress’s refusal to block the Iran nuclear deal, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has had to reshuffle his deck of diplomatic cards.

Among other aspects of the current game plan are these:

–Netanyahu will give his annual speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Thursday, Oct. 1, two days after the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas’s speech.  Abbas has promised a “bombshell,” which probably has something to do with declaring an independent State of Palestine even without agreed borders or sovereignty.  But, frankly, no one knows if anything significant will be said by either the Israeli or the Palestinian leader.

–Russia has begun a military buildup in Syria.  Netanyahu, alarmed that Russian and Israeli forces could somehow get into an unintended conflict in Syrian airspace, made a lightning-quick one-day visit to President Vladimir Putin.  Israeli military and intelligence chiefs went along on the trip, and one result was an arrangement to prevent collisions or hostile encounters.

Netanyahu Faces Several Potential Bombshells (photo: at UN in September 2012)

Netanyahu Faces Several Potential Bombshells (photo: at UN in September 2012)

Israel reiterated that its interests in Syria center mostly on preventing the transfer of “advanced weapons systems” to Hezbollah in Lebanon.  Yet when it was reported that Russia might be giving Syria’s army some tanks — and perhaps those could be passed on to Hezbollah — Israeli tacticians said they were unconcerned: Tanks are easily seen and hit; and it seems unlikely Hezbollah will deploy them.

–Israel needs a new national police chief, and the leading candidate for the job now is a man known publicly as “R” (the Hebrew letter reysh) — a reminder that identifying employees of Shin Bet (the domestic security agency also known as Shabak) continues to be illegal under Israel’s rickety, leaking censorship regulations.  “R” is Shin Bet’s deputy director, and it is somewhat interesting that he was considered to be the likely successor to the current director — Yoram Cohen.  It is legal to name the heads of the intelligence and security agencies.

–In Gaza, the Hamas leadership claims several of its senior radicals vanished while traveling through Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.  Hamas says it has concluded that they are now held secretly in Israeli prisons; adding that Egyptian military commandos snatched the men and handed them to Israel; or Israeli special forces swooped into the Sinai and grabbed them.  No comment from Israel, but it certainly could be true.

–On November 9 at the White House, President Barack Obama will meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu.  It is obvious that they will have to kiss and make up — to a degree — after their sharp, public disagreements over the nuclear deal with Iran.

Obama’s Democratic Party is concerned that the Republicans are making huge progress in winning votes among Americans who care deeply about Israel: whether Jewish, or not.  Obama also wants to decrease the chance that Israel will stage a military strike on Iran — which he would see as dangerous destabilization.  So he is expected to offer significant security and military aid to Israel.  We wait to see how Netanyahu handles the offer and the vital Israel-U.S. relationship.

(A self-serving reminder of our book chronicling the history of that from 1948 to 1994: Friends In Deed: Inside the U.S.-Israel Alliance.)

September 27, 2015

Did Netanyahu and Barak Truly Intend to Bomb Iran in 2010 and 2012? Barak Wants Us to Think So…

[This post is based on an article written by Yossi Melman — co-author of Spies Against Armageddon — for The Jerusalem Post newspaper.]

An Israeli TV station played audio recordings of Ehud Barak — the former prime minister who served as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s defense minister until March 2013 — in which Barak reminisces about three occasions in which Israel almost dispatched its air force to bomb Iranian nuclear sites.

As for why no attack took place, Barak blames the then-military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, his successor Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, and cabinet ministers Moshe Ya’alon and Yuval Steinitz, all of whom opposed a strike on Iran.

According to Barak associates, he feels betrayed by Ilan Kfir and Danny Dor – the authors of a Hebrew-language biography of the former defense minister. Barak let them record interviews, to help their writing process. But the tapes were never supposed to be played publicly.

Barak's official photo while prime minister

Barak’s official photo while prime minister

Prior to the report on Israel’s Channel 2, Barak tried to prevent the airing of the audio clips. He appealed to the Military Censor’s Office, which rejected his request to bar the broadcast. Once Barak revealed information about secret cabinet discussions to journalists, the question of whether he intended to have his position aired publicly is a secondary one – and certainly is not one that concerns the censor.

Even if he did not intend for the information to emerge in audio format, Barak intended to have his opinion known by the public. He is trying to shape the historical narrative by portraying himself as the figure who pushed hardest in favor of a strike on Iran – only to be overruled by the cabinet ministers and military commanders who opposed such a move.

According to Barak, General Ashkenazi told him in 2010 that the IDF simply did not have the operational capacity to execute an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

In 2011, Ashkenazi was succeeded as chief of staff by Gantz, who told Barak that the military did indeed have the operational “maturity” for a strike.

benny gantz, israel spy, covert operations, Iran nuclear, Israel-U.S.

Benny Gantz (courtesy IDF)

While Gantz made it clear that the IDF would carry out any directive issued to it by the civilian leadership, he was convinced that an attack was unnecessary.

Barak also said that he was surprised to see ministers Ya’alon and Steinitz “melt” at the last minute after he was led to believe by Netanyahu that the two men supported an attack plan.

Ya’alon and Steinitz instead chose to side with the opposing cabinet ministers – Dan Meridor and Benny Begin. As a result, Netanyahu and Barak were left without the necessary majority in the inner, security cabinet to back an attack.

A year later, Barak and Netanyahu tried again to convince the cabinet to approve an attack plan. This time, weather considerations limited the possible “windows of opportunity” to attack. There were two possible windows, but one of them coincided with a large-scale military exercise with the U.S. military (May to July 2012). The other was around the time of the U.S. presidential election in November 2012.

Barak’s comments should not be taken as absolute truth. They are just one version of events.

Other versions that have not been aired publicly include that of former Mossad director Meir Dagan, and those of Gantz and Ashkenazi themselves. Dagan and Ashkenazi have hinted that Netanyahu and Barak acted in a manipulative fashion on the Iran issue.

There was one claim, first reported by Ma’ariv, according to which Barak told the cabinet that he was personally informed by then-CIA chief Leon Panetta that the Obama administration had reversed its opposition to an Israeli strike on Iran.

When the Americans were informed of Barak’s claim, they were furious. They sent a special emissary to Israel with the exact transcript of the Panetta-Barak conversation in question.

Barak and Netanyahu allegedly went ahead, however, by instructing the chief of staff to “get the system activated” — in effect, to prepare for war.

That would involve mobilization of military reserves and ordering the air force, intelligence services, and home front authorities to take a number of preemptive measures.

“Activating the system” could take more than a month. It could lead to a “miscalculation.”

The risk is that Iran would notice these preparations and launch preemptive actions that would threaten to drag the entire Middle East, as well as the United States, into a regional war.

Was that what Barak and Netanyahu intended? Such a possibility should not be ruled out.

These conflicting versions of events remind one of the Japanese movie Rashomon, in which a number of characters recall events, each through his own lens. The narratives often contradict.

The truth may only be known 70 years from now, if at all, when official records of the meetings are made public. That is not a sure thing. In the most sensitive, secret discussions, there are those who seem talented at directing the conversations — and composing the transcript of meetings — with an eye to the history books.

Even if we were to believe Barak, it’s difficult to be swayed.

If the prime minister and the defense minister really wanted to win cabinet approval for a decision to attack Iran, they could have overcome ministerial opposition. Never in the history of the State of Israel has a determined, dominant prime minister been prevented from getting government approval for his decisions – especially those relating to existential issues – by opposition from other ministers.

One is left wondering whether Netanyahu and Barak really wanted to attack – or whether it was all bluff. If indeed it were a bluff, it was a successful one. They played a game of “Hold me back” with the Israeli public and – more importantly – with the Americans.

One effect was the pressure felt by President Obama to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis — out of concern that Israel might strike and spark a regional war. The result has apparently been an “unintended consequence,” from Netanyahu’s point of view: a nuclear deal with Iran that he considers dangerous.

August 25, 2015

Israel’s New 5-Year “Gideon” Plan for the Military: Iran Nuclear is “A Done Deal” — Where Israel is Adding Strength

[This analysis was written for The Jerusalem Report by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon — a history of Israeli intelligence and security.]

In mid-July, IDF Chief-of-Staff  Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot met with military reporters and briefed them off the record on the latest local and regional developments. He also presented a new five-year plan “Gideon”, named after the Israelite judge-warrior who was instructed by God to battle the Midianites and destroy their idols.

The Gideon plan has two purposes: First to avoid cuts and, in fact, obtain yet another increase in the defense budget – currently around NIS 60 billion ($15.3 billion), not final and still growing – at the expense of welfare, education, health and all the other national necessities. Gideon is also another effort – the fourth in recent years – to obtain approval from the government to implement long-term planning. So far, due to never-ending dispute and bickering between the ministries of Defense and Finance various long-term plans have either been rejected or not authorized.

Israel's Top General, Gadi Eizenkot

Israel’s Top General, Gadi Eizenkot

In mid-August, the Chief of Staff’s briefing turned into an official, but sanitized, 33-page document titled “IDF Strategy”. Though the document does not state it in so many words, what emerges is the fact that the Israel Defense Forces is the strongest military structure in the entire region, which spreads from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea.

The “IDF Strategy” is meant “to serve as a guideline to the IDF and is based on vital national interests and agreed notions of national security and the military thinking and practice.”

Already in 2007, then-minister Dan Meridor wrote a very lengthy and detailed security doctrine defining the “National Goals” for the State of Israel:

  1. To ensure the existence of the state, defend its territorial integrity and the security of its citizens. [It’s worth noting, however, that Israel has never defined its borders.]
  2. To preserve its values and nature as a Jewish and democratic state and home to the Jewish people.
  3. To ensure the social and economic strength of the state.
  4. To strengthen the regional and international status of the state while aspiring to have peace with its neighbors.

Here, it should be noted that while the pursuit of peace is mentioned by the IDF, judging from the actions over the last three years taken by the government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it seems that peace with the Palestinian Authority is no longer a possibility.

“IDF Strategy” accepts and reaffirms these four principles. It also acknowledges that, in a democratic state, the military is subjected to the supremacy of the government. Yet, interestingly enough, the document goes beyond this obvious imperative – it states that the IDF obligation is not only to the elected government and Knesset, but also to society and citizens of the state who elect their representatives and ministers. Since he was appointed Chief of Staff less than a year ago, Eizenkot has stressed, on several occasions, that “the people’s trust” is an important element of the way the IDF works, operates and sets its goals. “We have to be sensible” in our demands and “sensitive to other needs of society.”

According to the document, the security doctrine is based on four pillars. Three are as old as the state and were already defined by the first prime minister David Ben-Gurion: deterrence, early warning and decisive outcome. A fourth pillar – defense – was officially added a decade ago.

All in all, the IDF sees its mission as repelling and neutralizing threats, creating effective deterrence; postponing confrontation, if possible, but also to use both defensive and offensive strategies and utilize force in the most determined and effective way, while respecting international law and the rules of war. The IDF also emphasizes the importance of strategic cooperation with the US and the development of strategic ties with other countries.

In the document and in Eizenkot’s briefing, it is clearly stated that, like other nations in the region, Israel was taken by surprise by the spontaneous events of the “Arab Spring” of 2010-2011. As a result, Military Intelligence has since put a lot of emphasis on trying to understand the “zeitgeist,” creating and beefing up research departments that deal with and monitor the social media in Arab states and Iran.

The Arab Spring is now described by the IDF as an “Arab Shakeup,” which relates to the unexpected twists in its results. “The old order has collapsed,” said Eizenkot. Four countries – Syria, Libya, Yemen and Iraq ‒ are shaped by civil war and the decline of central government.

Egypt barely escaped the same fate due to the determination of its military and the backing of a broad base of civilian society that holds onto a sense of national cohesion.

Egypt, ruled by President Fattah al-Sisi, a former chief of staff and defense minister, which has in the last two years strengthened its military and intelligence ties with Israel, is facing a growing challenge of daring terror attacks in the Sinai Peninsula. The most prominent terror group is Ansar Beit al Maqdis, which less than a year ago pledged its allegiance to the Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed “caliph” of the Islamic State (ISIS). The group now calls itself Sinai district of the Islamic State, in return for financial support. This danger emanating from Sinai has brought Israel and Egypt closer. Indeed, as “IDF Strategy” notes ISIS “is a new and amazing phenomenon that no one anticipated.”

The changes in the Middle East are strongly reflected in the IDF’s strategy document. It contends that the non-conventional weapons threat to Israel has been reduced because of the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria and the dismantling of chemical and nuclear programs in the last two decades in Iraq and Libya.

Instead, Israel is confronted by the rising strength of “non-state actors” such as ISIS and other terror groups like Jabhat al Nusra (Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria) and formations on Israeli borders in the south and on the Golan Heights in the north.

“IDF Strategy” also perceives Hezbollah and Hamas as dangerous enemies in possession of nearly 100,000 missiles and rockets that can be directed at almost any military or strategic site in Israel.

Interestingly, Iran is mentioned only twice in the document, which describes it as a “threat” to Israel mainly because of its support of terror groups in the region.

But there is no reference to Iran’s nuclear program ‒ in sharp contrast to the government and Netanyahu who have made the “Iranian threat” the number one priority of their policy and political agenda.

In private sessions, Eizenkot and his top military commanders have criticized the nuclear deal reached recently between the world powers and Iran, but also acknowledge that it contains positive elements. Above all, the senior military commanders say privately, it is a done deal, at least for the 10-year duration of the agreement — unless Iran is caught red-handed, once again cheating.

Accordingly, the IDF has been trying to adjust itself to the emerging reality. Since 1985, it has reduced the number of tanks by 75 percent and its warplanes (usually old and outdated) by 50 percent.

On the other hand, it has invested more money to extend the submarine fleet (soon to be at six), which according to foreign reports, is capable of launching nuclear missiles, thus creating for Israel a “second nuclear strike capability.”

Also, in the last two decades, it has increased by 400 percent the number of drones in its possession and has improved intelligence and cyber capabilities.

“IDF Strategy” is an important document, but not a revolutionary one. In a way, it states the obvious, reflecting in an honest and accurate manner the challenges, risks and opportunities facing Israel. Its main problem, however, is that in many parts it doesn’t reflect the attitudes, beliefs and practices of the government.

August 23, 2015

Russia Will Now Sell Advanced Anti-Aircraft Missile System to Iran — A Game-Changer Preventing an Israeli or US Attack?

by YOSSI MELMAN

(The co-author of the best seller Every Spy a Prince and the current history of Israeli intelligence and security, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.)

This time it’s final. After nearly a decade of delays, suspensions, pressures, and tough international battles, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov and the state-owned manufacturer Almaz-Anety now confirm that the sale of ground-to-air S-300 missile systems to Iran is a done deal.

What is still to be determined is the scope of the deal – whether three or four batteries will be sold.

There is here a great deal of irony. For nearly a decade Israeli prime ministers pushed hard at the gates of the Kremlin and urged Russian President Vladimir Putin not to sell the advanced missile and radar system to Tehran.

Until recently it seemed that the Israeli lobbying — backed by a U.S. tailwind — was paying off. Despite a signed contract and an advance payment, Russia found excuses not to honor the deal with Iran and even announced that it wouldn’t deliver the systems.

But now that the missile deal is under way — in the wake of the deal reached in Vienna to restrict Iran’s nuclear program — the depth of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s failure is exposed.

This story has several layers. The nuclear deal is a major part of it. In his opposition to the emerging agreement with Iran, Netanyahu designed a policy of “all out” on all international fronts. He embarked on a collision course with the President Barack Obama. He tried to appease Putin. He kept pummeling European politicians with stories likening Iran’s hostility to the horrors of Nazi Germany.

Netanyahu acted like a gambler with no exit strategy or fallback position.

But Obama and Putin, in the end, ignored him. Netanyahu’s miscalculations pushed Israel into an undesirable position. It had little influence on the content of the nuclear deal between Iran and the six world powers. It also left Israel with no levers to influence Russia or modify its decision to go ahead with the missile deal.

It didn’t have to be this way. A more cautious and sensible approach by Netanyahu would not have prevented the nuclear deal, but it could have given Israel a chance to influence its outcome and ensure the drafting of tougher clauses regarding the inspection of Iranian nuclear sites.

It was recently revealed that the world powers caved in, by leaving some of the inspection rules up to the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency. The IAEA, according to a secret side deal, will let Iranians provide photos, videos, and environmental samples from the Parchin site — although the IAEA says it will always be supervising and verifying that what it is handed is authentic.

Netanyahu Could've Influenced the Iran Deal

Netanyahu Could’ve Influenced the Iran Deal

Such verification is unlikely to be reliable.  Israeli and U.S. intelligence say Iran, in the Parchin military base, conducted unlawful experiments to test nuclear chain reactions — simulating, in effect, nuclear explosions.

Had Netanyahu been more measured and surgical in his public opposition to the nuclear deal, he may have been able to reach a secret understanding with Putin about which arms to sell to Iran and which should not be delivered.

Now it’s too late. The sale of the S-300 batteries is a game-changer.

The batteries belong to a family of missiles and radars that were first developed and manufactured by the Soviet Union in the mid ’70s and deployed by the Red Army in 1979. Since then, new generations and models have been upgraded and turned into one of the best of its kind.

True, what Russia agreed to deliver is not the state of the art in this line of batteries. There are already more advanced versions operated only by the Russian army.

But still, what Russia is selling is disturbingly good — providing sufficient grounds to be highly concerned. The battery’s radar is capable of detecting and spotting hostile warplanes at a distance of hundreds of kilometers — and then lock in and accurately launch guided missiles.

Iran is sure to deploy the batteries to defend its nuclear sites. Their presence will make it much more difficult for any air force – be it Israeli or American – to operate, if one day in the future a decision will be made to attack Iran.

President Obama himself has said that “the military option” is very much alive, if Iran violates the nuclear deal and “breaks out” to produce nuclear bombs.

Yet, despite the importance of the deal, the skies are not going to fall. In the cat and mouse game between an attacker and defender, the attacker almost always has the upper hand.

There is no doubt that the Israeli and American air forces will find a way, with clever technological and operational solutions, to circumvent the S-300 systems.

The Israeli and U.S. militaries, perhaps even working together, will be able to execute a mission — if so ordered by their governments.

The Russian deal also has larger implications. Just as we already witness long queues of international corporations courting Iran for lucrative deals in the civilian sectors, once sanctions are lifted next year, we can expect the same in the military field.

It is reported that China is thinking about selling Iran fighter planes, whichincidentally and ironically are equipped with Israeli-made avionics,including radars. These components were produced by Israel Aircraft Industries (now called Israel Aerospace Industries) 30 or so years ago for the Lavi project, the Israeli self-produced fighter plane. In the mid-’80s, under U.S. pressure, Israel canceled the project and sold some of its technological innovations to the apartheid regime of South Africa and to Communist China. The Chinese built their own J-10 fighter plane, based on the Israeli technology.

But will Iran have one of the most technologically advanced militaries in the region? No.

Despite enhanced Iranian efforts to use the nuclear deal as a launching pad to improve and modernize its armed forces, the ayatollahs will still be lagging behind their rivals and enemies in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states have much better and more advanced military hardware, and are now negotiating with the U.S. for packages to compensate them for perceived, added dangers from the Iran nuclear deal. And money is not a problem for the Gulf countries.

As for Israel, its defense forces — the IDF — continue to be the strongest military force in the region. Israeli weapons developers are the most innovative on earth. Also, despite political annoyance at Israel’s prime minister, President Obama has pledged to maintain — and even increase — the QME: Israel’s “Qualitative Military Edge” in the Middle East.

Even when Iran gets the S-300 anti-aircraft system and other military acquisitions, it will be no match for Israel.

August 23, 2015

Nuclear Irony: Roots of US Strategy Ignoring Israel’s Nukes Revealed in Documents

[This post is based on an article written for The Jerusalem Post newspaper by Yossi Melman, co-author of the best seller Every Spy a Prince and the current history of Israeli espionage and security, Spies Against Armageddon.]

Israel and the United States worked together to formulate the Jewish State’s nuclear doctrine, archival documents released Tuesday by the US State Department reveal.

The documents detail the secret discussions that took place on Israel’s nuclear program between officials of the two countries.

We would decide that we could tolerate Israeli activity short of assembly of a completed nuclear device,” one of the US memos declares.

The documents reveal that — according to American intelligence — Israel planned to have ten Jericho surface-to-surface missiles (based on a French missile) equipped with nuclear warheads.

The publication of the documents comes as part of a routine release of historical information by the Department of State. However, the timing of the revelations — against the background of the disagreement between Israel and the US over the nuclear agreement with Iran — gives them extra resonance.

There are those who would claim that the timing of the release is not a coincidence, and is in fact intended to embarrass Israel, which staunchly opposes the deal with Iran.

Perhaps pointing to Israel’s unacknowledged — by widely known — nuclear arsenal is an attempt to undermine Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who continues in his efforts to persuade Congress to reject President Barack Obama’ cherished deal with Iran.  Netanyahu argues that the Islamic Republic, partly because it supports terrorist groups, cannot be allowed to keep a nuclear infrastructure.

According to the American documents now released, which cover events from 1969 to 1972, Israel was asked to provide a written obligation neither to arm its Jericho surface-to-surface missiles with nuclear warheads nor to deploy them.

Up until that point, the official policy of Israel — enunciated to the US in the early 1960s by then-deputy defense minister Shimon Peres  — was: “We will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons in the region.”

This policy has been defined up until the present day as the hallmark of Israel’s “nuclear ambiguity.”

As a result of the “not be the first” pledge, it was agreed during the administration of President John F. Kennedy that American inspectors would visit — once or twice a year — the nuclear reactor in Dimona where, according to US suspicions, fissile material for a nuclear bomb was being made.

Golda Meir Visits Nixon and Kissinger

Golda Meir Visits Nixon and Kissinger

However, in 1969, as a result of the Six-Day War and on the background of the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union — as well as efforts to promote negotiations between Israel and the Arab countries — the administration of President Richard Nixon looked to formulate a new approach centered on preventing, or at least limiting, the further development of Israel’s nuclear program.

The Nixon administration asked Israel to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Israel had agreed several years beforehand to join the treaty — first signed by other nations in 1968 and in effect as of 1970.  However, Israel employed stalling tactics in order to get out of that obligation.

In secret meetings attended by officials of the Pentagon, the State Department, the CIA, and Nixon’s National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, American officials discussed how the US would react to a potential attack on Israel by the Soviet Union, which was arming the major Arab nations.

The Nixon administration established a special committee to explore the issues. The committee determined that “our goal is to convince Israel to join the NPT by the end of the year. And to ratify the treaty.”

Later, a meeting was set up between administration officials and then-Israeli ambassador to Washington, Yitzhak Rabin. According to the documents, Israel was asked “to provide us with written assurances that it will stop creating and will not deploy Jericho missiles or other strategic missiles with nuclear warheads.”

Israel was developing into a pro-American ally, yet there was an assumption that — on nuclear matters — Israel would cheat.  One document expresses American concern that even if Israel joins the NPT, it is liable to continue covertly producing nuclear weapons and missiles.

Kissinger wrote in a memo: “We judge that the introduction of nuclear weapons into the Near East would increase the dangers in an already dangerous situation and therefore not be in our interest. Israel has 12 surface-to-surface missiles delivered from France. It has set up a production line and plans by the end of 1970 to have a total force of 24–30, ten of which are programmed for nuclear warheads.”..

Kissinger also pointed out: “When the Israelis signed the contract buying the Phantom aircraft [from the US] last November, they committed themselves ‘not to be the first to introduce nuclear weapons’ into the Near East. But it was plain from the discussion that they interpreted that to mean they could possess nuclear weapons as long as they did not test, deploy, or make them public.

“In signing the contract, we wrote Rabin saying that we believe mere ‘possession’ constitutes ‘introduction’ and that Israel’s introduction of nuclear weapons by our definition would be cause for us to cancel the contract.”

Kissinger claimed that the vow not to “introduce” was not enough, because Israeli officials took this to mean that they could have nuclear weapons as long as they didn’t carry out tests, deploy or make the issue public.

And so, a Kissinger memo suggested the United States would demand a new Israeli pledge: “Reaffirm to the US in writing the assurance that Israel will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Near East, specifying that ‘introduction’ shall mean possession of nuclear explosive devices. [For our own internal purposes, we would decide that we could tolerate Israeli activity short of assembly of a completed nuclear device.]  Give us assurances in writing that it will stop production and will not deploy ‘Jericho’ missiles or any other nuclear-capable strategic missile. [NOTE: I do not believe we can ask Israel not to produce missiles. Israel is sovereign in this decision, and I do not see how we can ask it not to produce a weapon just because we do not see it as an effective weapon without nuclear warheads. We might persuade them not to deploy what they produce on grounds that the rest of the world will believe that the missiles must have nuclear warheads.]”

Re-read that paragraph, written by Henry Kissinger on July 19, 1969, to consider the irony of the current issues with Iran: whether Iranian work on ballistic missiles and other military systems can indeed by prevented — whether as part of a nuclear restriction agreement or otherwise.

Did Israel make the commitment that Kissinger intended to demand in 1969 (six months after Nixon took office as president)? That is not clear from the documents just released.

Yet the fact is — as a result of a visit to the US by then-prime minister Golda Meir and her meeting with Nixon — the US stopped its inspections of the Dimona reactor in 1969.

In later foreign reports, it was claimed that ambassador Rabin and Meir promised that, in exchange for a halt to the inspections, Israel agreed not to be the first to deploy or arm nuclear weapons, and likely vowed not to conduct nuclear bomb tests.

To this day, Israel has yet to join the NPT, and it is believed to be, according to multiple foreign reports, the sixth biggest nuclear power in the world with a stockpile numbering around 100 nuclear warheads.

August 18, 2015

What Does Netanyahu Really Want? AIPAC Pushes Congress to Vote “No” — See Dan Raviv

Dan Raviv, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, a history of Israeli intelligence and security agencies, appeared on the CBS News television broadcast “Up To The Minute,” analyzing the nuclear deal with Iran — and why Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu is so vociferous in his opposition.

Also — this coming week, when Defense Secretary Ash Carter visits Israel — will significant U.S. “security compensation” be offered to Israel?

Watch the video from CBS News:

 

August 11, 2015

Israel Could Claim Some of the Credit for Delaying (at least) Iran’s Nuclear Bomb — but Chooses to Complain Bitterly

Tuesday (July 14) was historic and memorable, to be sure.  Israel was not able to persuade the United States and other world powers to walk away from a deal with Iran, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately branded the agreement “a mistake of historic proportions.”  

The tradition, in U.S.-Israel relations, is that — when the Israelis feel their security is diminished by something that America is doing — Israel requests and receive new security systems, weapons, intelligence, or even cash as a form of compensation from Washington.

Congress, where Israel has many supporters and sympathizers, will give the Iran nuclear deal a vigorous 60-day review.  As Republicans have the majority on both the Senate and the House, a vote to reject the deal may well succeed.  But then, as President Obama has already declared publicly, he would cast his veto.  Congress almost surely will not vote by two-thirds majorities to override that veto.

Yet the divisions and suspicions will persist.  The effort to restrict Iran’s nuclear work peacefully will be an issue in the 2016 presidential campaign.  But the deal will almost surely be a reality.

The analysis (below) is based on an article written for The Jerusalem Post by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars and other books including Friends In Deed: Inside the U.S.-Israel Alliance, also co-authored with Dan Raviv.  Note, near the beginning of the article, the Israeli minister’s eye-winking reference to Israel’s own nuclear capability.

In 2007 an Israeli cabinet minister told senior military officials that if a country wants nuclear weapons nothing will stop it.

“I know at least one country that did it,” he remarked.  He had just heard them agree on a strategy to do everything to keep Iran from getting the bomb.

Instead, he advised them to focus on delaying the nuclear program and to ask the U.S. for significant compensation.

Eight years later,  one can say that due to its successful diplomacy, sabotage and assassination operations attributed to Mossad and its demand for sanctions, Israel managed — so far — to prevent Iran from reaching the bomb.

It seems, though, that what Iran really wanted was to be a nuclear-threshold state and not to assemble warheads.  Thus one could say that Iran has succeeded in its goal — for now.

Of course, Israel was not alone in these efforts; it was an impressive international group that presented a unified front.

Another Israeli government could have appropriated the nuclear agreement as its victory. It could have said that as a result of wise diplomacy combined with daring covert actions, Iran was brought to its knees and forced it to sit down, negotiate and compromise on its nuclear program. Tehran had refused to do that from 2002 to 2013.

If we accept the calculations of the U.S. and other teams that negotiated the deal in Vienna, it will lengthen the amount of time it would take for Iran to amass fissile materials and produce a bomb to at least one year — for at least the 10-year term of the agreement.

It’s estimated that before Iran agreed to talk and clinch the interim agreement it was just two to three months from the bomb. The number of centrifuges of the old and outdated models at the uranium-enrichment sites in Natanz and Fordow will be reduced to a third of the current inventory: to 6,000 from 19,000.

Iran is forbidden to enrich uranium above 3.6%; its enriched uranium will be dwindled from 10 tons to a mere 300 kg.; and the nuclear reactor in Arak will be redesigned and won’t be able to produce sufficient plutonium as fissile material.

As for international inspection, even if it is not sufficiently intrusive, it still will be tighter than it is now.

If Iran honors the deal, the chance of a nuclear race in the Middle East by countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey will be slimmer.

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

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

But Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has decided to take a different path. Instead of working hand-in-hand with the international effort to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions and claiming victory, it has preferred to stand alone.

Israel is opposed to the agreement. To any agreement with Iran, a lethal foe that declares it wants the Jewish State wiped off the map.

But Netanyahu tried to create a wedge between the US president and Congress and failed.  Israel exaggerated the Iranian threat and portrayed it in monstrous proportions.

Netanyahu was ridiculed, this week, for a tweet in which he declared that Iran not only aspires to impose its hegemony in the region, but to control the entire world.

True, it may have been better for Israel if the world were to keep harsh sanctions on Iran forever — strangling its economy until it surrendered all of its nuclear facilities, if one believes that Iran would ever have done that.

In any event,  Israel is not the center of the universe. The big powers have their own interests and sometimes they don’t listen to Israeli warnings — just as Israel, in many instances, is not attentive to requests from other nations, including its allies; for example, on the Palestinian question.

The nuclear deal is far from perfect, but the skies are not going to fall tomorrow.

Israel remains the strongest and most technologically advanced state in the Middle East. And, according to foreign reports that Israel declines to confirm, it has an impressive arsenal of nuclear warheads.

It is also true that lifting the sanctions will help revive the Iranian economy. But, according to estimates by US economists, the recovery will be slow. It is very unlikely that a dramatic shift in Iran’s rush for regional hegemony will be seen. Its ambitions are already high.

The deal will not increase Iran’s grip on Hezbollah, which is already full. Its support for terrorist groups and its subversive attempts to undermine and destabilize countries will not necessarily be enhanced. They are already in full gear.

These efforts, after all, are a double-edged sword. The more Iran intervenes in other countries’ domestic problems, the likelier it will be bleeding itself. Look at what happens to Iran in the Syrian mud, Yemen’s slippery slopes, and Iraq.

It is rather surprising to hear our leaders expressing fears about what will happen upon expiration of the agreement 10 years from now when they cannot say what will occur two or three months down the road on our borders with Gaza, Golan, Sinai or Lebanon.

All in all, it is possible to estimate that at least two tangible results will emerge from the nuclear deal. Israel’s military-security establishment will demand that its budget be expanded; and Israel will ask the US to supply it with a security compensation package. That is basically what the cabinet minister suggested eight years ago in the military briefing.

August 10, 2015

Netanyahu Can Breathe a Little — Iran Nuclear Talks Not Ending June 30

[The following article was written by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, for The Jerusalem Post.]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can be temporarily satisfied. Due to good intelligence the Iran nuclear talks will probably not be finalized before the deadline on Tuesday.

Netanyahu at UN in New York, September 2012

Netanyahu at UN in New York, September 2012

Every day that passes has to be considered an achievement for Netanyahu and anyone else who opposes an agreement. It is very likely the talks will be extended – although not forever.

The US seems anxious to clinch a deal in a matter of days.

If it is achieved by July 4, Congress will have only 30 days to review the agreement. If there is no agreement by July 9, the congressional review period will be 60 days and, then, anything can happen.

Thus, President Barack Obama wishes to stamp the deal as quickly as possible. But it is not entirely in his hands. The power broker is Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. He calls the shots.

After three extensive meetings with Secretary of State John Kerry, Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif left the talks in Vienna and flew home for consultations with Khamenei.

Zarif and his team feared that their communication lines were intercepted. They don’t even trust their secured and coded phones and computers.

Media and experts publications claimed Israeli intelligence was eavesdropping at the hotels where the various rounds of talks were taking place.

Zarif’s trip is also evidence that he doesn’t have the authority to finalize a deal; a deal that most of its clauses, including the stumbling blocks, have been known for months. Judging from past precedents, it is not sure that Zarif will return to Vienna with his supreme leader’s blessing. In the past, Khamenei authorized his nuclear team to sign an agreement, and then due to domestic pressure from his radicals he backed off. Khamenei’s approach may well be revisited – first let’s sign and then we’ll see.

One has to be completely stupid to dare predicting the chance of a deal being finalized.

The gaps, as stated by the foreign ministers of Germany, France and UK, remain large.

They revolve around all well-known controversial topics: the demand that Iran opens its suspected military sites for international inspection; that it makes its scientists, especially those involved in suspicious military programs in the past available for international questioning; and to accept that sanctions are not lifted until Iran meets its obligations according to the agreement once it is signed.

In short, the chance of clinching a deal remains to be seen.

Yes, logic says an agreement is an Iranian imperative and yes, the US administration is very hot to have it. But once again with Iran’s leader having the final word anything can happen.

Nothing is assured.

June 29, 2015

Penetrating the Iran Nuclear Talks: Israel — And Others — Use Malware for Cyber-Espionage

By YOSSI MELMAN in Tel Aviv

The Russian internet security company Kaspersky Lab – which is often first to identify hacking efforts and cyber-crises around the world – says someone used an innovative computer virus to spy on the Iran nuclear talks.

Kaspersky and the American anti-virus company Symantec both say the virus resembles Duqu – malware that’s been called a “stepchild” of Stuxnet, the program that’s known to have been created as a joint project of U.S. and Israeli government agencies.

We don’t have to let the Russian software experts knock us off our chairs with surprise.  Founded and still led by Eugene Kaspersky, a product of former KGB technical training schools, the Lab publishes its findings on viruses and computer worms around the world.

The Lab has a financial motive.  Every burst of publicity brings it new, paying clients – especially in Western nations.

Kaspersky logoThe revelations from Kaspersky always point to Western governments (including Israel) or corporations as the villains.  He would not dare point a finger of blame at Vladimir Putin’s government in Russia.  Everyone knows what usually happens to open critics and foes of Putin.

Thus the motivations are not only financial – but also political-ideological.  With a dash of self-preservation.

We also shouldn’t be very surprised that The Wall Street Journal cites officials as saying that the malware that’s spying on nuclear negotiators – dubbed “Duqu 2” – originated with an Israeli intelligence agency.

Eugene Kaspersky is quoted as giving huge praise to Duqu 2 as “a generation ahead of anything we’d seen earlier” – and it’s reported that whoever invented it used it to penetrate Kaspersky Lab’s own systems.

It has become crystal clear that cyber-war is the war of the future: penetrations of government or corporate computer systems by using “Trojan horses” or other sophisticated software, viruses, or worms.  Who is able to do it?  Governments, corporations, terrorist groups, and individual hackers.

The future is now.

The almost mythically powerful malware might be named Stuxnet, and then a similar one is called Flame, and now we hear of two versions of Duqu.  The goal is the same: to intrude into the computers of a rival or enemy: to infect the databases with an overload of nonsense, to pluck out any valuable data, to eavesdrop on conversations whether written or oral, to record and transmit every word typed into the computers, and even to photograph the target facilities.

As the now fabled Stuxnet story shows, the malware can also make industrial control systems go haywire – damaging equipment such as the centrifuges that Iran used to enrich uranium.

Cyber-war is certainly the next big thing in espionage. The leaders in the field are the United States, China, Russia, Great Britain, and Israel, with Iran showing significant leaps in capability.

In a way, this is old wine in new bottles.  It is still espionage.  Field agents used to find a way to get into a target facility; they secretly took photographs and used bugging devices to record conversations.

For years now, it’s been reported – and assumed – that every international conference is a target for collecting intelligence information.  Espionage agencies gather whatever they can about participants, especially the ones who travel from country to country, as they can be monitored or recruited as spies.

Meetings that involve traveling Iranians are certainly of high interest – and not only to Israel – especially if the subjects include Iran’s nuclear program.

The U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China, and the local security agency in whatever country is hosting the conference are likely to be just as interested as Israel’s Mossad might be.

Now there’s no need physically to break into a hotel room, embassy, or office.  Electronic penetrations can be aimed at the laptop computer systems, networks set up for temporary offices, or the computer and wi-fi facilities of hotels.  It does not seem to be very hard for an intelligence agency to insert viruses and worms.

The published American report says a “Duqu” virus was injected into computers in three different hotels where the Iran nuclear talks have taken place in recent years: the talks that face a deadline for success on June 30.

There is a double problem. The targets of offensive cyber-warfare – in this case Iran – know about the possibility and use every countermeasure they can.  Thus the developers of malware find they have to raise their game even more: inventing what are, in effect, poisonous software creations.

Somewhat similar to traditional, physical warfare, there is collateral damage.  Computer systems that were not intentionally targeted are also being affected, and that has often led the anti-virus experts such as Kaspersky to find the malware.  E-mail and programs are constantly on the move, so it is hard for cyber-attackers to limit the impact of what they have created.

That is apparently why Kaspersky Lab found the latest poisonous program in its own computers.  It is even possible, however, that Israeli intelligence was trying to penetrate Kaspersky to find out what that company knows.

[Yossi Melman is co-author of the best seller Every Spy a Prince and other books including the new history of Israel’s intelligence and security agencies: Spies Against Armageddon.]

June 10, 2015

“When conditions are ripe,” Israel Wouldn’t Oppose Nuclear-Free MidEast — But for Now, Israel Thanks Obama for Blocking the Issue

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

Five more years.  That is the grace period granted to Israel — again — to avoid discussing Arab and international calls to open talks to create a Middle East Nuclear Free Zone.

That is the practical result after the Review Conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty failed, over the weekend, to reach a consensus and ended without a final statement.

Once again, it was the United States (together with the U.K. and Canada) that came to the rescue of Israel, taking it off the hook.  Israel won’t have to reveal anything that it has — or pretends perhaps not to have — when it comes to nuclear weapons.

But What Does Israel Have? Netanyahu Doesn't Have to Tell

But What Does Israel Have? Netanyahu Doesn’t Have to Tell

The month-long conference convened in New York City with more than 150 countries in attendance. It collapsed after the U.S. rejected an Egyptian draft resolution, backed by the majority of the member states, echoing decades of calls to dismantle any nuclear weapons that Israel may have, which the Jewish state neither confirms nor denies.

The final paper, drafted by Cairo and opposed by the U.S., would have called upon United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to convene a regional conference on banning nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical and biological, by March 2016.

Egypt, however, also insisted that the conference be held with or without Israel’s participation, without prior agreement on an agenda, and with no discussion of regional security issues.

Any reference to establishing a Middle East Nuclear Free Zone (MENFZ) is perceived as directed against Israel, which, according to international and regional perception, is so far the only possessor of such weapons in the region.

U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller announced on Friday that there was “no agreement,” and accused Egypt and other Arab states of demanding “unrealistic and unworkable conditions” in the negotiations. “We have made clear throughout the process that we will not accept the efforts by some to cynically manipulate the [conference] or try to leverage the negotiation to advance their narrow objectives,” she told attendees.

The NPT Review Conference was the fourth since 1995 (they are convened every five years). The purpose of the conferences is to draft a new treaty since the current NPT, which entered into force in 1970, was intended for a limited period of 25 years.

According to the NPT, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, technology, knowhow and equipment that would enable states to build nuclear bombs is universally forbidden, and only the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council – the U.S., Russia, China, U.K. and France – are permitted to have The Bomb.

Some of the existing clauses of the NPT, and particularly the one just cited, are challenged by emerging powers such as India, Brazil and Argentina, which demand full equality — and urge the five major powers to get rid of their nuclear arsenals.

Since decisions at the Review Conference have to be accepted by consensus and approved by all participants, the U.S. rejection of the Egyptian draft led to the conference’s failure.

While there were disagreements on other aspects of the NPT, the Middle East issue was the most divisive.

Israel, which (like India, Pakistan and North Korea) is not a signatory member of the NPT, for the first time this year agreed to attend the Review Conference in the capacity of an “observer.”

Israel noticed (with displeasure) that at the 2010 Review conference, the U.S. did not oppose an Egyptian final draft. That compelled Israel to take part in nonbinding and preliminary talks with states in the region, brokered by a Finnish diplomat, about the terms and conditions of how and when to convene a conference to discuss the creation of MENFZ.

The talks, which in one round included an Iranian diplomat, led nowhere because of unbridgeable differences between the sides and the disintegration in recent years of states in the region such as Syria, Iraq and Libya.

Over the weekend, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu phoned Secretary of State John Kerry and thanked him for the Obama Administration’s position and support.

The official position of Israel is that it doesn’t oppose — in principle — the convening in the future of a conference that will discuss the creation of a Middle East free of nuclear weapons as well as other weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery (missiles), but only when conditions are ripe.

Israel demands that before that happens, all states in the region, including Iran, must recognize the right of Israel to exist, sign peace treaties with it and put in place concrete security arrangements. The next Review Conference will be convened in 2020.

May 25, 2015

Israel Keeps Warning Iran Nuclear Deal is Bad — But It’s Not a Sword on Israel’s Throat

[Ths is adapted from an analysis by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon and other non-fiction books including the best seller Every Spy a Prince.]

Armed with half a dozen submarines, Israel’s strategic arm – along with the air force, and pending approval from the political echelon – could attack Iran to prevent it from assembling and deploying nuclear weapons. This is what former Mossad chief Meir Dagan meant when he spoke about a military attack as a last resort – “only when the sword is at the throat” — but still a possible option.

The deal unveiled in Switzerland on Friday between Iran and the five world powers plus Germany (P5+1), even if not ideal, certainly does not belong in the category of “sword at the throat.”

The Israeli government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, defined the pending agreement as a “bad deal.”

It’s true – maybe it would have been possible to reach an immeasurably better agreement. Iran has come to these talks, which are aimed at limiting its nuclear program, out of weakness. The heavy sanctions imposed on it over the last years – particularly on its oil exports and banking system – are threatening to crush its economy, and Iran’s leaders are concerned about the future of their regime.

But even with the concessions apparently being offered by the P5+1, Iran is being forced to capitulate. The centrifuges will not be dismantled, but their numbers will be reduced greatly.  And operations at both Fordow (once a secret site) and Arak will be restricted and subject to international inspections.

Each of these steps will distance Iran from being able to create nuclear weapons by at least a year. At the moment, it is only a few months away from such a capability.

It’s true that the agreement leaves some loopholes that are worrisome and that beg for solutions, such as requiring that Iran reveal its past “weaponization” activities, and how to prevent it from nuclear research and developing advanced models of centrifuges.

The question here is not only if this is a bad agreement – but rather, what is the alternative?

The alternative to foregoing a deal is even worse. With no international agreement and stringent inspections, Iran could already begin galloping toward a bomb.

Don’t forget: Israel is the strongest military and economic power in the Middle East. Its strategic posture amid the dissolution of the governments in the Arab world, has only improved in the last years.  There is no existential threat to the Jewish state. Not even from Iran.

Israel can permit itself to show more self-confidence than its prime minister, who imbues his citizens with fear, permits himself.  In any case, Israel always reserves the right to military action — perhaps even using the strategically invisible submarines — if ever it should feel “the sword at the throat.”

April 2, 2015

Israel Shows Off a Strategic Ace-in-the-Hole: Submarines that Could Carry Nuke Missiles — In MidEast Chaos, Israel’s Strength is Unrivalled

[The following analysis was written for The Jerusalem Post by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars and other books including the best seller Every Spy a Prince.]

As a mere coincidence, while reports were emerging from Lausanne, Switzerland, about a likely agreement over Iran’s nuclear program, Israel’s military reporters were granted a tour of the Israeli naval base in Haifa, to view its newest submarine.

Israel’s German-Made Submarines: ‘Second-Strike’ Strategic Threat?

Bearing the name “Tanin,” this is the fifth submarine that Israel has acquired at a significantly subsidized price from the Germans. Their generosity stems from pangs of bad conscience over the Holocaust.

Tanin in Dry Dock in Haifa (IDF Spokesman photo)

Tanin in Dry Dock in Haifa (IDF Spokesman photo)

Each submarine costs more than half a million dollars – Israel is expecting its sixth submarine to arrive this summer. Israel sees this submarine fleet – which it calls Fleet 7 – as a “strategic arm” of its military force.

Foreign experts and reports explain that Israel, according to their assessments, has eighty nuclear bombs and warheads — with some analysts suggesting the number is even higher. They suggest that Israel’s submarines represent a “second strike” nuclear capability.

This means — in a Doomsday scenario — that if Israel were ever to be bombed in a nuclear attack (if and when Iran achieves that capability, and if Tehran were to carry out such an offensive), Israel would still be able to respond with a “second strike”: firing missiles from its underwater fleet, nearly indiscernible to enemy eye.

Even before such a Doomsday, another scenario is imaginable. Armed with these six submarines, Israel’s strategic arm – along with the air force, and pending approval from the political echelon – could attack Iran to prevent it from assembling and deploying nuclear weapons. This is what former Mossad chief Meir Dagan meant when he spoke about a military attack as the last resort – “only when the sword is at the throat.”

The deal currently being consolidated in Switzerland between Iran and the five world powers plus Germany (P5+1), even if not ideal, certainly does not belong in the category of “sword at the throat.”

The Israeli government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, defines the pending agreement as a “bad deal.”

It’s true – maybe it would have been possible to reach an immeasurably better agreement. Iran has come to these talks, which are aimed at limiting its nuclear program, out of weakness. The heavy sanctions imposed on it over the last years – particularly on its oil exports and banking system – are threatening to crush its economy, and Iran’s leaders are concerned about the future of their regime.

But even with the concessions apparently being offered by the P5+1, Iran is being forced to capitulate. The centrifuges will not be dismantled, but their numbers will be reduced by 40 percent, to 6,000 – reportedly leaving Iran with only older, slower and less efficient models.

Most of its stock of enriched uranium – some eight tons, those too at a level of only up to 5% – will be transferred to Russia. (Early Monday there were reports that Iran was backing away from agreeing on this.)

The nuclear reactor Iran is building in Arak will not be able to produce enough plutonium to create an atomic weapon. International inspection would be intrusive, and it would continue as such for at least 10 more years. The sanctions would be lifted only gradually (although Iran has been asking for instance sanctions relief).

Each of these steps will distance Iran from being able to create nuclear weapons by at least a year. At the moment, it is only a few months away from such a capability.

It’s true that the agreement leaves some loopholes that are worrisome and that beg for solutions, such as requiring that Iran reveal its past “weaponization” activities, and how to prevent it from nuclear research and developing advanced models of centrifuges.

The question here is not just if this is a bad agreement – but rather, what is the alternative?

The alternative to foregoing a deal is even worse. With no international agreement and stringent inspections, Iran could already begin galloping toward a bomb.

Don’t forget, as we just saw on the submarine tour, Israel is the strongest military and economic power in the Middle East. Its strategic posture amid the dissolution of the governments in the Arab world, has only improved in the last years.  There is no existential threat to the Jewish state. Not even from Iran.

Israel can permit itself to show more self-confidence than its prime minister, who imbues his citizens with fear, permits himself.  In any case, Israel always reserves the right to military action — perhaps even using the strategically invisible submarines — if ever it should feel “the sword at the throat.”

March 29, 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

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

Will Iran Sip from the Poisoned Chalice — and Make a Deal to Reduce its Nuclear Potential?

[Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, traveled to Vienna to assess the state of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 nations led by the United States.  He wrote this article jointly with Ilan Evyatar for the English-language Israeli magazine, The Jerusalem Report.]

With the ball firmly in Tehran’s court, after the extension of nuclear talks, the question is whether Iran’s supreme leader will give his negotiators the flexibility needed to conclude a deal

Iran’s supreme leader will have to drink from the poisoned chalice and swallow the Islamic Republic’s pride if the Iranian nuclear crisis is to come to a satisfactory, final and comprehensive conclusion. That at least was the metaphor that a former senior Obama administration arms control advisor chose to use while speaking to The Jerusalem Report on the sidelines of a conference in the Austrian capital.

IAEA logoTalking after delivering a speech at the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, Robert Einhorn, assistant secretary for nonproliferation during the Clinton administration and a special advisor for nonproliferation and arms control during the Obama administration, discussed the possible outcome of the talks between Iran and the P5+1, the group of five permanent Security Council member plus Germany.

The metaphor that Einhorn employed referred back to the Iran-Iraq war fought between the two countries from September 1980 to August 1988. For many years, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic and its first supreme leader, reportedly refused to allow his generals, despite defeats on the battlefield and the suffering of the Iranian people, to negotiate a cease-fire.

Yet at the final stages of the war the generals led by Mohsen Rezaee, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), persuaded the supreme leader that they could no longer bear the consequences of the war. Khomeini reportedly told them that he would allow them to sign a cease-fire agreement with Saddam Hussein’s army, but for him that was worse than surrender, it was like drinking from a poisoned chalice.

So argued Einhorn there is a precedent. If Khomeini ended that bloody conflict, the 20th century’s longest conventional war, which caused the death of some one million in total on both sides, his successor Ali Khamenei, the current supreme leader, can, at least theoretically, swallow his and his nation’s pride, and order his negotiators to reach a deal with the international community to substantially reduce Iran’s nuclear weapons potential.

The P5+1 talks held at the historic Coburg Palace, now a luxury hotel catering to wealthy American and Saudi Arabian tourists, ended with no agreement, but since ultimately neither side has any interest in bringing an abrupt end to negotiations, they decided to extend the talks for a second time until the end of June 2015.

A year ago, the two sides reached an interim agreement in Geneva known as the Joint Plan of Action that partially halted Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. That agreement stipulated that the Islamic Republic would be allowed to operate only 10,000 centrifuges out of its 19,000 installed. It also forbade Iran to increase the level of 20 percent enriched uranium to over 220 kilograms, the minimal sufficient quantity required to build a nuclear bomb once that amount has been further enriched to 90 percent.

But since then the two sides have failed to overcome the enormous obstacles on the way to a desired comprehensive agreement. Among the issues under contention is the number of operational centrifuges that Iran would be allowed to keep. On this matter, the Israeli stance has been zero tolerance – in other words, Tehran would not be allowed any centrifuges whatsoever – but as a senior Israeli official familiar with the negotiations has told The Report, the international community is not buying into that position.

There are several possible explanations as to why the Israeli line has been ignored. One is because of the deteriorating relations between the administration of President Barack Obama and the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Another is the lack of progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and the continued expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

But above all, the reason is that Israel is perceived as being alarmist and exaggerating with regard to Iran. In this sense Israeli policy vis-a-vis Iran as designed by Netanyahu has failed.

Israel has in the last decade invested huge financial resources and a great deal of diplomatic and political capital on three fronts. First, according to foreign reports, was to equip the Mossad and authorize it to carry out covert operations that included the killing of Iranian nuclear scientists, sabotaging materials and equipment related to the program and cyber warfare aimed at slowing down Tehran’s nuclear project. Despite some impressive tactical successes, strategically that has not worked out.

Secondly, Israel enlarged the IDF’s budget reportedly to allow the air force to practice and simulate aerial attacks on Iran’s nuclear sites. Even if the leadership comprising Netanyahu and the previous defense minister Ehud Barak, his partner in this scheme, did not mean to launch an attack, that investment had to be made in order to create a credible impression that Israel was able and serious regarding the military option.

The third front was the diplomatic effort to persuade the US to impose punitive sanctions against Iran. It’s hard to assess how much Israel influenced the American decision-making process, nonetheless Netanyahu has taken the credit. Meanwhile, with negotiations ongoing, Israel’s theoretical military option has been distanced.

Another point of contention between Israel and the US and EU position is that Israeli intelligence analysis sees Iran as being between three to six months, if it so decides, from breaking out and building a bomb. The US estimate on the other hand, as Einhorn related, is that Iran is at least one year from that point.

The US and EU attitude has been less rigid.  Originally they demanded that Iran be restricted to 1,500 centrifuges – around 3,000 centrifuges are sufficient to enrich uranium to the 90 percent level needed to produce fissile material required in order to make a nuclear weapon – but they are now ready to raise the threshold to between 4,000 to 5,000 centrifuges which surely would enhance the potential of Iran to breakout within a shorter period. However it’s hard to imagine that Iran would agree even to accept that, American proposed, compromise.

The number of centrifuges is not the only unsolved issue between Iran and the P5+1. Another problem is the amount of enriched uranium Iran would be allowed to stockpile and how much of it has to be exported – most likely to Russia to be converted into uranium rods to be used as fuel for nuclear reactors generating electricity.

Yet even greater stumbling blocks are the issue of the longevity of the agreement and how intrusive the verification mechanism will be. The international community would like to see limitations on Iran’s nuclear capabilities in place for 15-20 years; Iran on the other hand would like to see a much shorter period of no more than a few years. Regarding the verification mechanism, the US, EU argument is that the verification regime, given the possible military dimensions (PMD) of Tehran’s program, would need to be much more aggressive than the standard International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verification protocol.

Iran argues that it should not be singled out, but, the US, EU position is, as Einhorn noted, that Tehran “has to restore confidence due to its track record.” Einhorn was referring to nearly 20 years of lack of Iranian cooperation with the IAEA and attempts to conceal parts of its program, mainly suspected possible military dimensions, as indicated by repeated IAEA reports.

The issue of PMDs is of special interest. On the one hand it is a point of contention between Israel and the US: In 2007, the American national intelligence estimate stated that Iran had stopped its military program four years earlier in 2003; Israeli intelligence however countered that the program has not been discontinued and most likely has been going on even to the present day.

Robert Einhorn (courtesy Brookings Institution)

Robert Einhorn (courtesy Brookings Institution)

Regardless of whether or not the military dimension of the program has been stopped, the IAEA and the P5+1 are still demanding full disclosure and transparency of Iran’s nuclear military record. Knowing what Iran has been up to in the past would improve understanding of what capabilities Iran possess and what they are capable of achieving in the future.

Iran has been dancing around the PMD issue for a long time, first with the IAEA and now in talks with the P5+1 – for example, refusing to allow inspections at its Parchin military base which is suspected by the CIA, MI6, Mossad and other Western intelligence agencies of being the site of weaponization capabilities testing.

“The US understands that it’s unrealistic that Iran confesses its entire past activities,” says Einhorn.  In other words, he doesn’t share the optimism expressed by the Iranian, French and US foreign ministers after the latest round of Vienna talks.

The ball, in Einhorn’s analysis, is firmly in the Iranian court. The question is whether the supreme leader, despite his understanding that the Iranian people and the government of President Hassan Rouhani would like to see the lifting of sanctions in return for a final agreement, will drink the poisoned chalice and give his negotiators the flexibility necessary to conclude a deal.

December 13, 2014


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