The steady drone of medium-level alarm bells about Iran continues, but the latest report by United Nations nuclear inspectors contains nothing that requires urgent action.
Israel has been alarmed for over a decade, now, by the Islamic Republic of Iran’s march toward nuclear capability — and our book chronicles the historic shift of priorities by Israeli intelligence: devoting less attention to Palestinian politics so as to be focused with laser-beam attention on Iran.
The latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency has several troubling aspects, including Iran’s rapid progress on a few paths that could lead to nuclear weapons.
Julian Borger of Britain’s The Guardian notes, however, that Iran has apparently continued to take great care to stay below the “red line” set by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his speech at the U.N. in New York last September.
Israel’s foreign intelligence agency, the Mossad, is monitoring all this very carefully, and Netanyahu is surely interested in every detail that can be plucked out of Iran.
Yet his new coalition government is distracted by many subjects — and notably has failed to reach agreement on its posture toward a possible “two-state solution” with the Palestinians, even as America’s Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Jerusalem and Ramallah for another attempt at mediating a return to negotiations.
Even though Barack Obama, on his first trip to Israel as President in March, said he respects Israel’s right to make its own decisions on how best to defend itself, it is crystal clear that the United States still wants Israel to act with restraint: to give negotiations and sanctions more time to be effective.
American analysts feel the IAEA’s latest report still points to the likelihood that it would take Iran one year at a minimum — and perhaps two years — before it could produce a deliverable nuclear weapon.
May 22, 2013
Dan Raviv, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, was a guest on the Jim Bohannon Show (on Dial Global Radio in the U.S.) on Wednesday night — with a wide-ranging discussion of President Obama’s new line on counter-terrorism drone strikes, the Syrian civil war, and the Middle East.
It is the first hour of this clickable audio item: http://www.jimbotalk.net/programhighlights?date=20130522
And here is a five-minute interview summarizing the main points for Bohannon’s “America In the Morning” aired on Thursday (May 23rd).
Please click here to listen for the 5-minute interview: Raviv on Jim Bohannon 23 May 2013
Raviv and Bohannon discuss the Obama Administration’s revelation that its drone strikes killed four U.S. citizens, Secretary of State John Kerry’s renewed attempt to mediate between Israelis and Palestinians, new indications that Syria’s regime may be winning the civil war, and the IAEA report on Iran’s rapidly advancing nuclear work.
May 22, 2013
Don’t assume Israel will feel compelled to attack Iran this year, if Iran continues to enrich uranium even beyond the limits declared by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his famous “red line” speech at the United Nations in New York last September. So says the former head of the military intelligence agency, Aman — retired General Amos Yadlin.
Amos Yadlin, at an AIPAC policy conference
Yadlin, who was one of the pilots who bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in Baghdad in 1981, is now the director of a think tank affiliaited with Tel Aviv University, the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS).
He was quoted worldwide this week as saying that this summer, Iran will have surpassed the level indicated by Netanyahu as an intolerable line — perhaps even a casus belli for Israel.
Much has changed, of course, since September. Netanyahu has been reelected and has a different coalition of ministers who seem less willing than their predecessors to consider war against Iran. Barack Obama has also been reelected, and then he made his first visit to Israel as President — pledging that the United States will not permit Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.
A new American defense secretary has been installed — a former senator, Chuck Hagel, who seemed in the past a bit skeptical about putting Israel’s security near the top of U.S. military priorities. This week, however, he had a productive and busy working visit to Israel — and could not be accused of being anything but a militant and firm friend of Israel.
Out of all this — and more, including disagreements on whether Syria’s army definitely used chemical weapons against rebels in the long and tragic civil war — comes a clarified analysis by Amos Yadlin.
General Yadlin, who commanded the largest agency in Israel’s intelligence community, made a point of telling Kol Israel radio: “I am a person who calms things and doesn’t inflame them.” Yet he confirmed that he criticized Netanyahu’s decision to set a public “red line,” because Iran can keep its quantity of uranium enriched to a 20% or higher level just below the line declared by the prime minister. ”But the Iranians can continue to enrich, in large quantities, at lower enrichment levels — in a very wide program with a very large number of centrifuges,” Yadlin added. (Quotations are somewhat paraphrased from his statements in Hebrew on the radio.)
He said that this could open the way to “a bad deal to be negotiated by the major nations with Iran,” permitting lower-level uranium enrichment. So far, he noted, Iran has been careful to stay “formally” below the line set by Netanyahu.
Yet Yadlin suggested that Israel does not have to feel compelled to attack Iran, even if that country does surpass the “red line” this summer. ”There are many things that can be done before an attack,” the retired general said — hinting at covert action inside Iran. ”Last year I said that we have to give diplomacy and sanctions more chance, and there are the various things that happen to the Iranian reactors and nobody takes credit for them.”
He said he continues to believe that in the second half of this year or at the start of 2014, “every one of the three leaders — of Iran, Israel, and the USA — will have to make a tough decision.” Yadlin has suggested that Iran will have the capability, if decided by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, to break out quickly toward building nuclear bombs.
“There are different timetables between the United States and Israel,” said Yadlin, “due to different capabilities.” Israel is determined to prevent Iran from getting near the break-out to bomb construction, whereas the United States might not turn to military action until Iran is actually putting together a bomb — “and that could be years,” said Yadlin.
“I assume President Obama and the Prime Minister discussed this during the President’s visit, and just because a ‘red line’ is crossed doesn’t force an attack [by Israel or the U.S.].”
The radio host asked whether Hagel’s announcement that the U.S. will sell mid-air refueling planes, Osprey tilt-rotor helicopters, and advanced radar to Israel is intended as a message to “just sit quietly, because you have plenty of weapons.”
Yadlin replied: “The public doesn’t understand just what happened. Hagel announced approval to sell weapons, but then that may or may not fit into the plans of the IDF [Israel Defense Forces]. And it’s not clear when the weapons would be received. That’s typically 3 years. So it’s not relevant to the discussion [over bombing Iran this year or next year].”
Noting that the IDF chief of staff, General Benny Gantz, said this week that Israel could attack Iran on its own and be effective, Yadlin commented: “He’s right. Israel can do it. And I believe there wouldn’t be a world war, and the Middle East wouldn’t burn. But Iran would react. It wouldn’t be like Iraq [which did not respond in 1981]. Yet Iran’s capabilities are not quite as publicly presented. So an attack [by Israel] is not automatic, and the Iranian response would not necessarily be what other people think.”
If you’re assuming there will be a regional war, out of this nuclear issue, Yadlin advises: “I say calm down.”
April 24, 2013
Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu
President Obama doesn’t want Israel to do it. He’ll say so, in person, in Jerusalem this week. Israel is likely, once again, to restrain itself — reluctantly depending on Obama to strike Iran. If deemed unavoidable and unnecessary. Maybe next year.
When one assesses the make-up of Benjamin Netanyahu’s newly formed coalition in Jerusalem, there are several facts that lead to a prediction that Israel’s military will not attack Iran this year.
We humbly note that we published our assessment, a year ago, that no attack would occur in 2012. A very senior Israeli official, reacting to one of our articles at TabletMag.com, challenged one of us: “How can you be so sure?” His job, it seems, was to add to the impression — around the world and especially in the United States — that Netanyahu was very serious in warning that Israel might have to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities at any time.
Netanyahu’s partner in saber-rattling was Defense Minister Ehud Barak. But Barak, unable to find any traction for a new political party he tried to form, ended up quitting politics. He is not in the Knesset, and he’s no longer in the cabinet. Barak’s absence is the main indicator that Israel won’t be rushing its air force or missiles into an offensive against Iran.
The new defense minister, a former military chief of staff who is proud of leading the elite Sayeret Matkal commando force, is Moshe “Boogie” Yaalon. He is a hawk in most things, but it seems that he is in agreement with the current and former military and intelligence chiefs who are against a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran.
One reason is the assessment that Iran’s nuclear work would be delayed for only a while. Some officials say that is good enough. But, when balancing any gains against the likely damage, destruction, and deaths from Iranian retaliation, the military and intelligence chiefs have concluded that attacking Iran — and doing so without American participation — would be folly.
Retired Major-General Amos Yadlin, who was head of Aman (the Military Intelligence) agency until 2010 — and now heads an influential think tank in Tel Aviv — is trying to keep the military option extremely credible by telling the AIPAC conference in Washington that no one is talking about starting “a war” with Iran. (View the video here.) Yadlin said what’s being considered would be a “one-night operation.” It doesn’t appear that Yadlin favors a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran, but — as an officer who served as Israel’s military attache in Washington — he does want to keep America’s attention on the unacceptable dangers of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.
President Barack Obama has just repeated his firm intention to stop Iran from doing so, but his timeline is significantly different from Netanyahu’s. Obama told Israel TV that it would take more than a year for Iran to build a nuclear bomb — and he apparently meant after a decision by Iran’s leaders to step-up their uranium enrichment and bomb project. Both U.S. and Israeli intelligence assess that Iran has not yet made that decision.
Obama will arrive in Israel on Wednesday (March 20) for his first visit as President, and he’ll have plenty of opportunity to discuss this and other issues with Netanyahu — both at a press conference and behind closed doors. On March 21 he will visit leaders of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, and Obama will deliver a speech aimed at the Israeli people in a convention center in Jerusalem.
March 16, 2013
While global media picked up on an intriguing element of a TV documentary in Israel — the apparent refusal of the military and intelligence chiefs to carry out a mobilization in 2010 that appeared to mean preparation for attacking Iran — a subtle but important feature of those events remained buried.
Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, reveals what the true intention was — at least as seen by the military and Mossad leaders who said “no” and, frankly, were shocked. Here is Melman’s article, appearing at the Middle East news and analysis website Al-Monitor.com.
TEL AVIV — Sometime in 2010, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak met with their top five cabinet ministers for a routine yet secret meeting to discuss pressing security and foreign-policy issues. The group, which has no legal status and does not have the authority to make decisions, is known as the “Secret Seven,” inspired by the “Secret Seven” series of adventure novels for children by the British author Enid Blyton.
Also present at that meeting (the date of which Israeli censors do not allow to be specified) were Israel’s security chiefs, including then-Mossad director Meir Dagan, Chief of the General Staff Major-General Gabi Ashkenazi and a few others.
Minutes before that meeting ended, Netanyahu turned to the chief of staff, General Ashkenazi, and told him to “set the systems for P-plus,” a term meaning to swiftly increase the preparedness of the military in case of a war with Iran. The measures to be taken in such a situation could include moving military units, strengthening intelligence capabilities and preparing the home front for a war.
The 2010 incident was reported earlier this week in the opening of a new season of “Uvda” (“fact” in Hebrew), a flagship program of Channel 2, Israel’s largest commercial and privately owned TV station.
The story hit Israeli headlines and reverberated in major Middle Eastern and Western media outlets. The prime minister’s words two years ago are now interpreted by the Israeli and international media as an order for the military to begin the countdown to an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
But the truth of what happened, which went farther than that particular meeting involving Netanyahu, Barak and their top military and security echelon, is much more complex and intriguing than the way it was broadcast and understood.
The truth is that Netanyahu and Barak did not order the military to plan a direct, all-out attack on Iran. Their true intention was to trigger a chain of events which would create tension and provoke Iran, and eventually could have led to a war that might drag in the United States.
At that meeting and on other occasions, General Ashkenazi warned Netanyahu and Barak that such an order could “create uncontrollable facts on the ground” which could ignite an undesired regional war. ”If you open and press an accordion, the instrument starts playing music” was the picturesque description from the chief of staff, who retired more than a year ago.
Ashkenazi’s concerns were echoed at the time by Mossad director Dagan, who at present is fighting for his life at an Israeli hospital after a liver transplant four weeks ago.
Before his illness, Dagan, who retired from his office nearly two years ago, talked in private on numerous occasionns about Netanyahu and Barak’s intentions against Iran. He revealed that he witnessed several incidents in which Netanyahu, who became prime minister in 2009 and is seeking reelection in January 2013, conspired with Barak to take measures which could have led to miscalculations by Iran.
One such scary scenario was the possibility that Iranian intelligence could have noticed the Israeli military preparations and decided to stage a pre-emptive strike against Israel or US targets in the region. Israel, in such a situation, would have claimed that it was a victim of Iranian aggression and retaliated. America, too, could have found itself caught up in an unpredictable circle of violence.
Sources who were privy to the secret deliberations told me that Ashkenazi and Dagan eventually managed to convince the security cabinet and then the full cabinet, which are the only authorized bodies to decide on war and other vital issues, that Netanyahu and Barak were playing with fire and may not only ignite a regional war in the Middle East, but also ruin decades of close, intimate strategic cooperation with the US.
Since then, bad blood has overtaken the relations between Netanyahu and Barak on one hand and Ashkenazi, Dagan and Yuval Diskin, the former chief of the domestic security service Shin Bet, on the other. A few months ago, Diskin described Netanyahu and Barak as being “motivated” by a “messianic” drive. Barak in return accused his critics of attempting a military “putsch” — the disobedience of generals of legitimate elected officials — and hinted that they deliberately did not prepare the military for the mission.
For the time being, the danger of war with Iran has diminished. Israel is preoccupied with its national election on January 22. The Iranian issue is no longer high on the Israeli political agenda. Opinion polls indicate that Barak, who is leading a small party, may not be reelected. Netanyahu himself, in his speech last September in the UN General Assembly, set spring, or at the latest, summer 2013, as a new deadline to deal with Iran’s nuclear program.
The results of the US elections will also have a tremendous effect on the future Israeli deliberations and decision regarding Iran.
If Netanyahu is reelected — and he has a fairly good chance, though it’s premature to predict — he will get right back to beating the war drums. He is obsessed with Iran’s nuclear program. He has time and again likened Iran’s policies to German Nazi hatred of the Jews. He seems to feel certain that if Iran produces nuclear weapons, they will be used to destroy Israel and the Jewish people.
Netanyahu reiterated this week in interviews that if he is re-elected, he will not allow Iran to have nuclear weapons. He refused to be more specific about how he would achieve that. But with the re-election of President Obama, and the likely re-election of Netanyahu, what to do about Iran, and the consequences of such action, will be at the very top of the national-security agendas of both Israel and the United States in 2013.
Yossi Melman is an Israeli commentator on security and intelligence affairs and the co-author with CBS News Correspondent Dan Raviv of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars. They blog at IsraelSpy.com.
Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2012/al-monitor/israel-secret-seven.html#ixzz2BZ78P0AZ
November 7, 2012
The New York Times has a scoop in the Sunday paper: “U.S. Officials Say Iran Has Agreed to Nuclear Talks.”
The dispatch, datelined Washington, says there have been “intense, secret exchanges between American and Iranian officials that date almost to the beginning of President Obama’s term” in 2009. Helen Cooper and Mark Landler write that talks, after America’s Election Day, “could be a last-ditch diplomatic effort to avert a military strike on Iran.”
[The White House, on Saturday night, issued a denial: "It's not true that the United States and Iran have agreed to one-on-one talks or any meeting after the American elections." The statement from the National Security Council spokesman adds that, while efforts for "a diplomatic solution" continue through the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council + Germany), the Obama Administration has "said from the outset that we would be prepared to meet bilaterally."]
Several Iranian dissidents living in exile have claimed, in recent weeks, that a deal has already been reached — for Iran to freeze or suspend its uranium enrichment in some verifiable way, in exchange for a cancellation of the harshest economic sanctions against Iran.
One of those Iranians, using the false name Reza Kahlili, says he was a Revolutionary Guards member who spied inside his native country for the CIA. (U.S. officials do not dispute the essence of the story in his book, A Time to Betray.)
“Kahlili” has been distributing an on-line article he wrote that suggests Iran could soon announce it is stopping uranium enrichment — in an effort to ensure an election victory for Barack Obama. This, he said, was the result of secret talks in an Arabian Gulf country. [Saturday night, in an e-mail, Kahlili said the Times story is confirmation of what he has been writing.]
Kahlili’s prediction of an October Surprise has not seemed to pick up much traction among think-tank scholars and others who track Western efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program.
At an appearance this past week at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Peace in Washington, a former chief of Israel’s foreign intelligence service — the Mossad — said the West should be talking with Iran. Efraim Halevy, the Mossad director from 1998 to 2002, said the best wars are the ones that are won without firing a shot. Halevy suggested that Iran’s leaders must be persuaded that having nuclear weapons would be “more dangerous to them” than to anyone else.
Halevy suggested that “red lines,” demanded by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are not conducive to diplomacy. He also said Iran should not be told repeatedly that its nuclear ambitions are an “existential threat” to Israel — because then you are telling your enemy that if he sticks with his current plan, he will be able to defeat you.
Halevy, 78, expressed confidence that Israel will find solutions and countermeasures to whatever a hostile Iran may develop.
An official response to the report that direct talks are being planned came from Israel’s ambassador in Washington — Michael Oren — who told The New York Times that Israel has not been informed of any negotiations in the works. Oren also expressed concern that Iran would use talks to “advance their nuclear weapons program.”
October 21, 2012
Today, Thursday, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu almost mockingly disputed the contention — he means the U.S. claim — that intelligence agencies will surely notice when Iran starts using its enriched uranium to build a nuclear bomb.
That missive, apparently aimed at President Barack Obama, was part of Netanyahu’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
He had declared in dramatic terms — before leaving Jerusalem on Wednesday night — that the speech would be very important, setting out the need for the “red lines” that the Obama Administration refuses to set.
Washington officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have said that setting “red lines” or “deadlines” for Iran to stop its uranium enrichment would not be helpful.
Holding up what to some seemed like a silly, oversimplistic graphic – or cartoon – of a bomb with a lit fuse to represent Iran’s alleged drive to build a nuclear bomb, Netanyahu used a red magic marker to draw a horizontal “red line.” He said that Iran needs to be stopped before reaching that stage: before Iran has enriched enough weapons-grade uranium.
The graphic might seem risible, but it got Netanyahu the worldwide attention he wanted for his argument.
Click here to hear the 1-minute portion dealing with intelligence (meaning the CIA and Mossad) not being “foolproof” : Netanyahu 27sept12 some claim intel
Click here to hear the entire 12-minute Iran-nuclear section of Netanyahu’s speech to the General Assembly: INetanyahu 27sept12 Iran nuke part of speech
And click here to hear his entire 31-minute speech: Netanyahu 27sept12 whole UN speech
Here’s the official text of the “intelligence” portion of Netanyahu’s speech:
Now there are some who claim that even if Iran completes the enrichment process — even if it crosses that red line that I just drew — our intelligence agencies will know when and where Iran will make the fuse, assemble the bomb, and prepare the warhead.
Look, no one appreciates our intelligence agencies more than the Prime Minister of Israel. All these leading intelligence agencies are superb, including ours. They’ve foiled many attacks. They’ve saved many lives.
But they are not foolproof.
For over two years, our intelligence agencies didn’t know that Iran was building a huge nuclear enrichment plant under a mountain.
Do we want to risk the security of the world on the assumption that we would find in time a small workshop in a country half the size of Europe?
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The relevant question is not when Iran will get the bomb. The relevant question is at what stage can we no longer stop Iran from getting the bomb.
The red line must be drawn on Iran’s nuclear enrichment program because these enrichment facilities are the only nuclear installations that we can definitely see and credibly target.
I believe that faced with a clear red line, Iran will back down.
This will give more time for sanctions and diplomacy to convince Iran to dismantle its nuclear weapons program altogether.
Two days ago, from this podium, President Obama reiterated that the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran cannot be contained.
I very much appreciate the President’s position as does everyone in my country. We share the goal of stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program. This goal unites the people of Israel. It unites Americans, Democrats and Republicans alike and it is shared by important leaders throughout the world.
What I have said today will help ensure that this common goal is achieved.
Israel is in discussions with the United States over this issue, and I am confident that we can chart a path forward together.
September 27, 2012
by Dan Raviv
The head of Iran’s delegation at the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna is boasting that Iran “sometimes” gives “false information” to the IAEA.
In the logic of Fereydoun Abbasi Davani (see Haaretz’s story at http://bit.ly/PCTLMR), the U.N. agency shares intelligence with spies from Israel, the United States, Britain, and other nations — and one result was the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists in Tehran. Therefore, Iran started lying, “to protect our nuclear sites and our interests.”
Richard Nixon and Prime Minister Golda Meir: He was willing to let her have nukes; the U.S. stopped asking.
Now, on the one hand, a cynic could point out that the history of Israel’s unacknowledged nuclear arsenal — told, in unique detail, in our book — included plenty of untruths and half-truths. As we write, after Richard Nixon became president in 1969, the United States more-or-less stopped asking Israel what it had built at the French-provided Dimona nuclear reactor.
Still, the fact is that the Middle East accustomed itself to the general belief that Israel has a potent nuclear force. While no one seems to know precisely why Israel has it — or, as a more precise question — when the Israelis might possibly use nuclear weapons — the region does not seem to fear that “the Jews” will drop an A-bomb on anyone on some sort of whim.
Israel’s leaders, on the other hand, study the official and religious declarations of the Islamic Republic of Iran; and they fear that Iran might feel moved one day to destroy the Jewish state. Really? Even though the blast and the fallout would surely kill many, many Muslims — Palestinians and others?
Most Israeli strategists conclude: Probably not. Iran would more likely use a nuclear arsenal for blackmail purposes — or as a kind of “umbrella” for aggressive political initiatives and support for terrorism and upheavals in various countries.
Yet Israelis don’t seem willing to take that chance, to base their lives or deaths on the whim — or religious doctrines — of Iranian leaders. All Israelis? Some Israelis? Most Israelis? It’s hard to tell, and Israel is the kind of country where 100 average citizens hold at least 125 contradictory opinions.
The decision, on whether to tolerate an Iranian drive to create nuclear bombs or instead go to war, rests with the prime minister in Jerusalem. Right now, that is Benjamin Netanyahu. He won’t choose to tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran.
And when Iran boasts that it is lying about the nuclear program, while that is no surprise to Israel and its intelligence services, the prevarications and inventions provide further justification for a hard line by Israel.
September 22, 2012
Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, is cited as an expert and then quoted directly in coverage of the U.S.-Israel dispute in this piece in The New York Times. A new report from the International Atomic Energy Agency was the catalyst for the coverage.
The Times wrote: “Though Mr. Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are crucial to making the final call, attention has turned to a group of 14 ministers known as the inner cabinet, or security cabinet. Yossi Melman, an author of ‘Spies Against Armageddon,’ a history of Israeli intelligence, said military actions typically required “a solid majority” of 12 or 13 members of this group, which is currently divided.
“Remember, it’s whether to attack now or attack later; it’s not between peaceniks and warmongers,” Melman told The Times. “The argument against is don’t hurt the U.S. relationship, don’t risk relations with the president just for the satisfaction of conducting an attack before the election.”
August 28, 2012
A former Director of Central Intelligence is one of the readers of Spies Against Armageddon who are praising the book by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman, who were the authors of a best seller on Israeli intelligence in 1990 titled Every Spy a Prince.
After reading Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, James Woolsey — who is well versed in the history of CIA cooperation with Israeli espionage and security agencies — wrote:
“Raviv and Melman have redefined the gold standard for nonfiction about intelligence. This remarkable history of Israeli intelligence from the War of Independence to Stuxnet calls it straight. By describing the roots of both the triumphs and the screw-ups thoroughly and fairly, the authors help us see not only how Israel’s survival has been effectively protected — but the huge debt the rest of us owe.”
The reviews at Amazon.com
are uniformly 5 stars out of 5. One is by Joseph Gelman, co-author of a fascinating non-fiction book, Confidential: The Life of Secret Agent Turned Hollywood Tycoon, Arnon Milchan
. Milchan is among the dozens of colorful characters in Spies Against Armageddon,
in part because – before becoming one of the top movie producers in the world — Milchan took part in covert missions that helped Israel obtain materials it needed for its unacknowledged nuclear weapons. Shimon Peres, now president of Israel, coordinated much of that work and now has very high praise for Milchan. Here is what the author Gelman wrote about Raviv and Melman’s new book:
“A gripping read. Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman do it again! As a life-long student of Israeli intelligence history and capabilities, I have always found Raviv and Melman’s work over the decades to be indispensible and cutting-edge. ‘Spies Against Armageddon’ is chock-a-block with stunning material. I could not put the book down. For a sweeping history of Israeli intelligence accompanied by nail-biting descriptions of field operations, this is a must read.”
August 22, 2012
By Yossi Melman and Dan Raviv
In his efforts to mobilize a majority vote in his 14-member Security Cabinet — if and when Benjamin Netanyahu decides that he wants to send Israel’s air force to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities — he has turned to the religious figure who holds more political power than any other rabbi in the Land of Israel.
Netanyahu, we have learned, sent his influential National Security Advisor — Yaakov Amidror — to brief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef [see photo]. At age 91, Yosef is the spiritual leader of a powerful political party that is part of Netanyahu’s governing coalition: the Shas Party. It represents Orthodox Jews whose families had their roots in Arab countries, in Iran (where Yosef was born in 1920) and in Turkey. For decades, Shas was fighting to get recognition and respect for Sephardic (“Oriental”) Jews, when political and other power seemed monopolized by Ashkenazi — or European — Jews and their families.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef has had a huge impact on many issues, notably education budgets and other controversies of concern to religious Jews. Though he generally steers away from matters of national security, he and his Shas Party followers are thought of as hard-liners: showing no interest in surrendering territories to Palestinian Arabs or neighboring Arab countries, and believing in the right of Jews to live in all parts of their Biblical homeland.
Among the 14 ministers in the Security Cabinet, who would be called upon to endorse or reject Netanyahu’s decision to attack Iran, are two Shas Party ministers. As of now, they are believed to be leaning against an attack on Iran.
Netanyahu’s emissary, Amidror, is a bearded, kippa- (yarmulke-) wearing retired major general who is also considered a hard-liner. He and the prime minister are clearly on the same wavelength, when it comes to matters of huge and long-lasting importance for Israel.
According to our sources, Amidror tried to persuade Rabbi Yosef that an attack on Iran is practically essential (“chiyuni” is the Hebrew word) for securing the future existence of Israel and its people. Amidror would have pointed out what he and Netanyahu posit as the real possibility that the Islamic Republic of Iran, if it builds a nuclear bomb, might use it to wipe out a significant portion of the Jewish state.
In the past, political leaders and even some foreign politicians have visited Rabbi Yosef to pay respects and court his support on domestic issues such as family law and education. It is very rare for Israeli politicians to try to draw him into debates on security and strategic issues. Ovadia Yosef traditionally has expressed caution in matters of war and peace, citing Jewish texts – including the Old Testament – and their appeals for wisdom to overcome bloodshed.
If Amidror managed to persuade the rabbi to instruct the two Shas ministers to vote “yes” — if and when Netanyahu brings a vote, in effect for war — then the prime minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak may be securing the majority they say they need: eight out of the 14 ministers in the Security Cabinet.
Others reliably reported to be in favor — agreeing with Netanyahu, apparently even if he opts for action before America’s Election Day in November — are: Gideon Saar, Yuval Steinitz, Yaakov Ne’eman, and Uzi Landau. As of now, that would give the prime minister six votes, including himself and Barak.
Reliably reported to be against attacking Iran at this time are: Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (although his vote might easily be swayed to Netanyahu’s side), Benny Begin, Dan Meridor, Silvan Shalom, strategic affairs minister Moshe (“Boogie”) Ya’alon, and Yitzhak Aharonovitz (minister of public security).
The two Shas Party ministers are Eli Yishai and Ariel Atias.
August 20, 2012
The buzz about Spies Against Armageddon, the new book about Israeli covert operations continues with this interview with Scripps-Howard News Service.
“Those seeking to understand Israel’s saber-rattling have a new piece of required reading,” writes Isaac Wolf. “In their rich volume, ‘Spies Against Armageddon,’ published by Levant Books, veteran reporters Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman tell the history of Israel’s intelligence community. It’s one cast from the horrors of the Holocaust and steeled by their Arab neighbors.
“Raviv, who has over 30 years of experience as a CBS News correspondent, and Melman, a longtime Israeli newspaper reporter on military and intelligence issues, trace the growth of Israel’s intelligence community, showing the long-standing tension between Israel’s efforts to gain respect from American spies as it simultaneously tries to trick them.”
August 20, 2012
By Dan Raviv
No one familiar with the history of modern state of Israel can think of a situation as extreme as the choice facing the Jewish state’s leaders now: whether to order their air force to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities — distant, well protected, and partially underground — so as to delay the suspected Iranian nuclear bomb program for a year or two.
[Israel's president, Shimon Peres, now 89 years old]
Senior figures in Israeli politics — as well as, more privately, in the military and in intelligence agencies — must feel that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are close to a decision: because opponents of an airstrike are stepping up their rhetoric to warn that it would be a terribly dangerous thing to do.
This week, the president of Israel — Shimon Peres, with a long history of involvement with secret projects such as Israel’s own nuclear capability — marked his 89th birthday with a very provocative interview, apparently defying Netanyahu and Barak. Peres said that he puts his trust in President Barack Obama’s declaration that the United States will not allow Iran to acquire or make nuclear weapons.
“I am convinced this is an American interest. I am convinced (Obama) recognizes the American interest and he isn’t saying this just to keep us happy. I have no doubt about it, after having had talks with him,” Peres told (Israel’s) Channel Two television.
“Now, it’s clear to us that we can’t do it alone. We can delay (Iran’s nuclear program). It’s clear to us we have to proceed together with America. There are questions about coordination and timing, but as serious as the danger is, this time at least we are not alone.”
A flurry of comments by Israeli officials and media reports over the past week have put financial markets on edge by appearing to suggest an attack could be launched before the U.S. presidential election in November.
An unidentified top “decision maker”, widely believed to be Barak, told Haaretz newspaper last Friday that Israel “cannot place the responsibility for its security and future even in the hands of its greatest ally”, a reference to the United States.
Peres said in the interview that he did not believe Israel would launch an attack on Iran before November.
As president, Peres, 89, has little political power in Israel. But he has won the respect of many Israelis while serving in the post and his opposition to any unilateral action poses an additional challenge to Netanyahu.
A political source close to Netanyahu issued an angry response to Peres’ comments shortly after the president’s interview was aired.
“Peres has forgotten what the role of Israel’s president is. He has forgotten that he made three major mistakes in regard to Israel’s security … his greatest mistake was in 1981 when he thought bombing the reactor in Iraq was wrong and, to the fortune of Israel’s citizens, Prime Minister Begin ignored him,” he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
On Friday night, also on Israel’s Channel Two, a former general who served as defense minister — and, for a short time this year as a deputy prime minister to Netanyahu during a failed attempt to govern with a very broad coalition — warned more explicitly against attacking Iran at this time. Shaul Mofaz seemed to be speaking as though Netanyahu and Barak might order an attack at any time, perhaps ignoring the reported, private appeal by Obama to Israel’s leaders not to attack — thus sparking a possibly global crisis — before America’s Election Day in November.
[Retired general, Shaul Mofaz]
Again, we quote Reuters, which reports that Mofaz warned against starting “a disastrous war”:
[He] said on Israeli television he thought Israel was “planning a hasty, irresponsible event”.
As a member of Netanyahu’s security cabinet for two months, Mofaz was privy to deliberations on Iran’s nuclear programme.
Naming both Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, he said he was “very worried at what they are preparing”. He added: ”I hope very much we don’t reach such a war because it would be a disaster.”
Days after he quit the cabinet late in July in a dispute about military conscription policy, Mofaz, who heads the centrist Kadima party, cautioned he would not back any Israeli military “adventures”.
His comments echoed those of other former Israeli security officials who have spoken against any unilateral attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, with some saying such an assault could spur Tehran to speed up uranium enrichment.
August 18, 2012
On his nationally syndicated radio show, conservative talk host Lars Larson asked Dan Raviv — co-author of Spies Against Armageddon – whether Israel might bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities this Fall. Here’s part of Raviv’s answer:
Raviv on LarsLarson Part1 14aug12
“Yeah, it’s not a good feeling, but it might have a good outcome: if Iran’s nuclear program can be shut down. You’d favor that. I’d favor that. Americans would favor that. But it’s a very tough mission. Israel’s not anxious to do it. In many ways, Israel’s been sending a signal — to the U.S. government, especially — saying, please ‘You take care of this, but you’ve got to promise you will.’
“And frankly, no one is promising absolutely. So Israelis say, ‘We’re the people who are threatened the most by Iran’s nuclear program, and we might have to act. And we’re sorry, Mr. Obama, we might not even wait ’til November 6th…”
Larson asked if it’s legitimate for Obama to ask Israel not to act until after Election Day. And he also asked Raviv about the fact that the United States keeps its embassy in Tel Aviv, rather than moving it to Jerusalem:
Raviv on LarsLarson Part2 14aug12
Raviv noted that while candidates have spoken of moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, to recognize that city as Israel’s capital, even Mitt Romney may well decide — if he is elected president, but then takes advice from the State Department and other agencies — to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv.
August 15, 2012
Newspapers in Israel are debating the pros and cons of sending the Israeli air force on a highly risky mission to bomb nuclear facilities in Iran. Many journalists are writing about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak sounding increasingly certain that Iran must be attacked — because, in the official Israeli view, diplomacy and sanctions are not working.
This past Friday, the respected daily Ha’aretz published an excerpt from Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman.
The Hebrew edition of the book, Milkhamot ha-Tzlalim (“The Secret Wars”) by Yossi Melman and Dan Raviv, is a best seller in Israel.
The newspaper published key parts of Chapter 24, “Enforcing Monopoly,” which reveals how and why Israel identified a nuclear reactor being built in a remote part of Syria in 2007 — and how Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decided to bomb the reactor in September 2007. First, Olmert asked President George W. Bush to bomb the site, but the American leader refused to do so.
Another Israeli newspaper — the best selling tabloid, Yediot Ahronot – on Monday wrote, in detail, about the revelations in Melman and Raviv’s Chapter 24. A front-page headline reads: “The Atomic Mistake of Ehud Barak,” with a photograph of the defense minister. This is a fairly obvious attack on Barak, highlighting his initial opposition in 2007 to bombing the Syrian site.
Inside Yediot Ahronot, a two-page spread has a big headline suggesting a Jekyll-and-Hyde situation torn from the pages of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic: “Dr. Ehud and Mr. Barak,” the headline blares. The accompanying article focuses on the analysis — in the book, Spies Against Armageddon, that Defense Minister Barak, in 2007, may have wanted to hold off on attacking Syria because of his own political ambitions.
Other decision-makers, including Olmert and the Mossad spy chief, Meir Dagan, reached the conclusion that Barak was hoping to replace Olmert as prime minister in 2008 — and then Barak could be the big hero who would bomb Syria and eliminate a nuclear danger.
Barak’s critics now are wondering if political calculations outweighed defense considerations in 2007, and if so, should anyone take seriously Barak’s apparent gung-ho attitude now in favor of bombing Iran and its nuclear facilities — the sooner, the better?
August 14, 2012
Readers who have bought Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars occasionally post reviews at Amazon.com, and so far all 11 are rating the book 5 stars out of a maximum 5. Here is a sampling of the latest:
5.0 out of 5 stars Thorough, Thrilling, Thought-Provoking
, August 4, 2012
By Larry Constantine “AKA Lior Samson”
Raviv and Melman’s Spies Against Armageddon is not the first history of Mossad and the Israeli clandestine services, but it is far and away the best and most readable. By dumping strict chronology while sticking to history, Raviv and Melman tell a more engaging and exciting story that makes it easier for readers to connect the dots and make sense of who and what are connected in a complex narrative. Written in a highly readable but disciplined style, this book is both a comprehensive resource and a thrilling read. Much of the story has been told before, but even familiar capers are enriched by insider insights and fresh details that bring the politics and practice of secret operations alive. Of particular note are up-to-the-minute disclosures, including confirmation of the German BND involvement in the cyberattack on Iran’s nuclear facility at Natanz. The authors go beyond mere recounting of facts to delve into the reasons and intentions behind operations. Their treatment of all sides of the issues and all players is impressively well-balanced. Triumphs and screw-ups are presented with equal candor. Theirs is neither a knee-jerk defense of Israel’s positions and actions nor an unduly critical attack. As a writer of thrillers about clandestine operations, I wish I had the benefit of this remarkably rich source earlier. Highly recommended for absolutely anyone interested in the Middle East or in the role of clandestine ops in the modern world–which should mean just about everyone.
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic book!, August 6, 2012
By daniel michael
An absolutely incredible book. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in Israeli history and/or espionage in general. Very well researched and filled with great stories. Although this book is non-fiction, it is written in a very entertaining narrative that will surely keep you interested. Despite the book being over 350 pages, it goes by very quickly (I read it in a weekend). The book is split up into chapters, all covering different themes and periods of history; it makes it very easy to stay focussed and aware of everything going on.
As someone already familiar with the history of the Mossad, this book contained tons of stuff I had never heard about before. Regardless of your familiarity with the various Israel intelligence services, the book is sure to contain new information for you. Although I suspect that this book will more popular with zionists, it really is accessible and made for everyone. No bias – no hidden agenda – just the history of the Mossad (or atleast what has been accessible to the outside world).
Reading this book makes me curious about all the other stuff that goes on that the public has no idea about.
August 13, 2012
by Yossi Melman
The month of October is already on the horizon. And it’s usually characterized by difficult weather conditions, especially for an attack. Thus there’s the explanation that if there’s a decision to attack Iran, it’ll be done within less than 3 months. Will Benjamin Netanyahu act?
The French novelist Jules Verne, in the nineteenth century, wrote Around the World in 80 Days
, which was thought of as science fiction. That is, more or less, the time frame that Israel has to work with — at one of the decisive moments in its history. The next eighty days are the window of opportunity in which Israel could attack Iran, until the end of October — and the weather only gets worse in November. After late October, even if Israel’s government wishes it, it would be difficult for the air force to carry out the intended attack. The climate conditions over Iran at the end of autumn and the start of winter are mostly cloudy — and thus they’re not amenable to an air attack.
Prime Minister Netanyahu is more certain than ever that an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities will be necessary. Some commentators are describing that attitude as “ideology.” They believe that the PM, when it comes to Iran, has a fixed worldview. They believe that he is concerned that if Iran obtains nuclear weapons, it would use them — so he is determined to prevent a second Holocaust.
But Netanyahu has never had a genuine “ideology.” He just wraps his decisions in justifications and explanations that appear ideological. That’s how it is with economic issues, and that’s how it is regarding a possible Palestinian state, and so it is also on Iran.
Yet despite his general image as a man who is cautious and avoids major risks, when it comes to Iran he is ready to gamble. That’s because he believes that an attack would put him into Israel’s national Pantheon, with leaders such as David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin. Begin, of course, ordered the air raid that destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981.
There’s no doubt — not in Israel and not between Israel and the United States — of the need to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. President Barack Obama declared that he won’t tolerate Iran having a nuclear arsenal.
The former Mossad chief, Meir Dagan — though famously opposed to an Israeli air strike on Iran — has said that it’s a strong American interest not to let Iran get nuclear weapons. Even the left wing in Israeli politics believes that the radical Islamic regime in Teheran must not go nuclear. The question is how to stop it. Who should take action, and when?
For Netanyahu there seems to be no doubt that Israel should do it — and before the clouds close Iran’s airspace. The body which needs to decide is the Security Cabinet, which has 14 government ministers: about half of the full cabinet. Netanyahu has a narrow group of eight ministers, often referred to as “the Octet,” who generally are first to be consulted on very important issues. But the Octet has no official standing or decision-making authority; and so the decision must be made by the Security Cabinet.
In addition, Netanyahu feels that his chance of getting a majority among the 14 in the Security Cabinet — in favor of an attack on Iran — is higher than among the Octet. Only three ministers among the 14 are clearly opposed to an air strike: Benny Begin, Dan Meridor, and a former foreign minister, Silvan Shalom. They believe it would be a mistake to act in defiance of U.S. wishes. They favor letting tighter economic sanctions have an impact on Iran.
A fourth minister, former military chief of staff Moshe (Boogie) Yaalon, also has been opposed to an attack at this time; but Netanyahu has been making obvious efforts to bring Yaalon closer to him — including him, for instance, in events such as the official talks with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she was in Israel recently.
The defense minister, Ehud Barak, will likely be a decisive figure in this process. Lately he is showing some independence from Netanyahu’s views, and the center-left in Israel sees Barak as “the last great white hope” to steer Israeli politics away from Netanyahu. Yet opinion polls suggest that Barak and his party might win only 2 seats in the Knesset — out of a total of 120.
That is an improvement from the zero that was indicated in prior polls, but still Barak may well feel that his greatest chance of regaining political legitimacy — as a former prime minister — would be to vote in favor of an attack on Iran. If it goes very well, he’d be hailed as an Israeli hero. If the attack goes wrong, Barak would not be losing much politically. At age 70, his political career seems to have run its course, anyway.
Ministers will certainly heed advice from the military chief of staff, General Benny Gantz, who is quite new at that post; and from the air force commander, General Amir Eshel. Netanyahu also listens to his national security advisor — Yaakov Amidror — who has a record of being very hawkish on almost all issues.
If the prime minister decides to strike Iran, he will win a majority in the Security Cabinet. Barak will go along with him. But, except for perhaps Netanyahu himself, no one knows whether the prime minister will bring that issue to those 14 government ministers.
The key question, in other words, is whether Netanyahu sees the threat of Iran building a nuclear bomb as so severe that he is willing to risk severe friction with the United States, a severe blow to the Israeli economy, the possibility of a bloody regional war, and a hail of missiles from Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and perhaps Syria hitting Israel. Is that a set of risks that he believes Israel can stand?
August 10, 2012
By Yossi Melman and Dan Raviv
(published by The Guardian on Aug. 10, 2012)
Benjamin Netanyahu, usually an exemplar of self-restraint, lost his temper last week. In a closed-door meeting discussing the military and intelligence chiefs who oppose an air strike against Iran, the Israeli prime minister snapped, “I’m responsible, and if there’s a commission of inquiry later it’s on me,” according to well-orchestrated leaks by his aides.
Netanyahu seems to feel a historic – almost messianic – calling to stop Iran’s nuclear programme. Even if retaliation by Iran and its allies in Hamas and Hezbollah takes the form of a lethal rain of rockets on Israel, he is adamant that a nuclear-armed Iran would be far worse.
His latest set of outgoing signals seemed to suggest that an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities may be likely before America’s presidential election in November. It is unclear if that is a coincidence, because of assessments that Iranian progress in uranium enrichment and bomb design will have reached a highly dangerous point by then; or maybe it is based on Netanyahu’s calculation that President Barack Obama will be more supportive of Israel prior to election day – and perhaps not at all after he wins or loses on 6 November.
Some of Israel’s security chiefs, who do not hide their opposition to bombing Iran, say privately that they cannot discern if their PM is bluffing. Netanyahu may be creating the impression that an attack is imminent so as to goad the US into a firm promise to obliterate Iran’s nuclear plants. He is certainly sincere in his concern about Iran’s radical Islamists, who time and again call for the liquidation of the Jewish state. In this sense Netanyahu walks in the footsteps of Menachem Begin, prime minister from 1977 to 1983, who had a doctrine named after him: the absolute Israeli determination that no other nation in the Middle East will have nuclear weapons.
The Begin doctrine was successfully implemented twice: by Begin himself in June 1981, when Israel’s air force destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor; and in September 2007, when PM Ehud Olmert sent Israeli warplanes to flatten a Syrian nuclear reactor. Olmert’s decision was even bolder than Begin’s: President George Bush had refused to order an American air raid, but Israel went ahead anyway. And, unlike Iraq, Syria is an immediate neighbour and had thousands of missiles that could hit every conceivable installation in Israel.
Netanyahu may well be encouraged by the world’s reaction. In 1981, even the pro-Israel president Ronald Reagan denounced the bombing of the Baghdad reactor; but a decade later, during Desert Storm, the US was thanking Israel for having ensured Saddam had no nuclear arms.
In 2007 the initial reaction was less harsh, because the air raid on Syria was never acknowledged by the attackers in Jerusalem. But Israeli leaders justifiably feel that the international community might now be grateful to them again. There is concern in the US and Israel that Syria’s chemical weapons might fall into the hands of al-Qaida or Hezbollah. Just imagine if the danger now involved what proliferation experts call “loose nukes”.
The unspoken motivation of both attacks was to preserve Israel’s nuclear monopoly in the Middle East. While the Israeli arsenal is not confirmed officially, it is taken as a regional fact of life, even as Israel cannot countenance other nations in the region having the same weapons. For reasons both overt and covert, then, it should come as no surprise that Netanyahu may be feeling that a third time – in Iran – could be another attractive option. Hopefully it is not too late to prescribe an important dose of caution. Netanyahu and his few cabinet supporters – with defence minister Ehud Barak lately swinging back and forth between anti- and pro-attack positions – ought to know that the situation is different from 1981 or 2007.
Iran is not Iraq or Syria. The Iranians have drawn lessons from those two events. They dispersed their nuclear facilities and buried them underground, making them more difficult to reach and destroy. Success is thus less assured. Instead of a quick, surgical strike, Israel will likely find itself in a long war of attrition against Iran and Shia Muslims everywhere. In the name of national pride and defending its Islamic revolution, Iran was willing to lose millions of people in a long war against Iraq through the 80s.
Above all, perhaps, Israeli leaders must consider that striking Iran could drag the US into a war against its wishes. This would be bad for one of Israel’s core survival strategies: the defence and intelligence alliance with America. It would be far wiser for Netanyahu and Barak – Israel’s two prime decision makers – to focus their efforts on helping the international community – with America in the lead – do everything possible to eliminate the Iranian threat. They have to guard against talking themselves into a simple but bloody bilateral conflict that Israelis could well come to regret.
Netanyahu has already achieved a lot with his innovative campaign to garner global attention. He can be satisfied his sabre-rattling has persuaded the world that Iran cannot be allowed to procure nuclear weapons. One can understand his fears that the world will let down Israel, a nation that prides itself on taking care of its own defence. Yet the wiser course now would be to tighten the alliance with the US and stand together against a common enemy.
Yossi Melman and Dan Raviv are co-authors of the new history of Israeli espionage, Spies Against Armageddon.
August 10, 2012
The Summer Olympics in London aren’t over yet, but knock-on-wood there haven’t been any significant security issues. While Israeli officials have accused Iran and its terrorist allies of “warfare” against the Jewish state, the Mossad was not predicting any attacks at the Olympics.
(below: Israel’s Olympic team at the opening ceremony in London)
This year, however, Israel’s government says “excellent intelligence” has prevented attacks on Israelis in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Thailand, and other countries. In a litany of Iranian and Hezbollah sins, Israeli officials – to get the attention of Americans – always include the plot, alleged by federal prosecutors, in which an Iranian agent based in Texas was planning to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador by bombing a restaurant in Washington, DC.
The Olympics do always remind Israelis of their countrymen — 11 Israeli athletes — murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the Games in Munich, Germany, in 1972. But Israeli analysts did not feel that Iran or the radical group it finances, the Lebanon-based Hezbollah, had similar aims at the London Olympics. Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization – disguising its role in 1972 by having the attackers call themselves Black September – had concrete reasons to try to grab the world’s attention at the Olympics. The PLO felt that no one was doing anything to help the Palestinians, five years after Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza in the Six-Day War.
Western intelligence agencies do believe that Hezbollah and agents of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) are plotting more attacks against Israelis – after the rare, but shocking, success by a suicide bomber in Bulgaria last month that killed five Israeli tourists.
The Iranians, however, are more likely to select low-profile, soft targets. They have no need to confront the massive, multi-layered security mounted by the British army, among others, in London.
“It is a one-sided attack,” Israel’s President Shimon Peres insisted to CNN recently. “Israel is not threatening Iran.” He refused to comment on statements, from high-level sources familiar with Israel’s campaign against Iran’s nuclear program, that Israeli operatives have been committing acts of violence inside Iran. Specifically, the sources said, Mossad operatives – in the espionage agency’s special operations unit called Kidon (“Bayonet”) have assassinated at least four nuclear scientists in Tehran in the past three years.
The Mossad’s intention was to intimidate other scientists, so that they would shun the nuclear program. Peres would say only that Israel has a right of self-defense, and “our policy is prevention.” He seemed to be referring to possible retaliation for terrorist strikes such as the one in Bulgaria, but his words apply equally to what Israel’s intelligence community is doing inside Iran.
Well-placed sources have also pointed out an extra concern that Mossad’s Kidon (Bayonet) unit faces when it operates in Iran: the need to stay far away from Iran’s Jewish minority.
Kidon – somewhat comparable to America’s Navy Seals who found and killed Osama bin Laden last year – managed, over the decades, to infiltrate into several enemy capitals. In Damascus, Syria, in early 2008, Kidon operatives planted a car bomb which killed the Hezbollah military chief, Imad Mughniyeh. He had been on America’s list of Most Wanted Terrorists since the mid-1980s.
According to officials who have revealed a little bit about Kidon, it is a highly secretive group – its operatives never using their real names, not even around Mossad colleagues – that keeps to itself and might seem to be beyond the reach of the spy agency’s standard rules.
Yet the Kidon unit respects a strong, if unwritten, regulation: not to use local Jews as spies or saboteurs in their home countries.
There are approximately 25,000 Jews still living in Iran, long after most fled in the wake of the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Despite what some published reports have suggested – in part misreading hints in our book about transportation routes and safe houses – the Mossad has not used them in sabotage and assassination missions in Iran.
Israeli spies may well feel conflicted, however, because much of their work has involved protecting or rescuing Jews. Ever since declaring independence in 1948, the nation took upon itself the responsibility of being not only a Jewish democratic state, but the homeland for Jews anywhere on the globe.
Intelligence agency chiefs have always felt obliged to be guardians of their brethren, far and wide. This self-appointed duty can put Jewish communities in a delicate situation, as their governments and neighbors may accuse them of dual loyalty.
Two units of Israel’s intelligence community – Nativ, which specialized in helping Soviet Jews, and Bitzur, part of the Mossad – organized Hebrew education, self-defense, and secret emigration to Israel. The Israelis learned – at a painful cost of seeing Jews tortured and executed in Egypt and Iraq in the 1950’s – not to use local Jews as spies inside what the Mossad calls “target countries.”
In Iraq, in late 1951, around one hundred Jews who had agreed to spy for Israel were arrested – and two were hanged. In Egypt, dozens of young Jews – involved in an Israeli sabotage campaign aimed at humiliating then-President Gamal abdel Nasser – were rounded up in 1954. Two members of the group were hanged, and six others were given harsh prison sentences. An Israeli intelligence officer, Max Bennett, committed suicide in an Egyptian jail cell.
In any Arab country where Jewish citizens were accused of spying for Israel, life quickly became intolerable for the entire Jewish community.
The Mossad felt that this applied to every nation on earth, not only Arab lands, and agency directors decided to avoid putting local Jews in sensitive situations anywhere. There were minor exceptions: A Jew might be used for a little bit of logistical advice or assistance – a low-level relationship which the Israelis referred to as being a sayan (“helper”) – but never to act as an agent or a spy in their own home country.
There was one glaring violation of the rule, and it has roiled United States-Israel relations for 27 years: the arrest in Washington of Jonathan Jay Pollard, a civilian who abused his job in U.S. Naval Intelligence to procure secret documents for Israeli handlers. It turned out that the Mossad did not run Pollard. He had offered his services to an Israeli military officer, and it was a special unit of the defense ministry in Tel Aviv that accepted Pollard’s offer.
The head of that unit, known as Lakam (a Hebrew acronym for Science Liaison Bureau), was Rafi Eitan, an unusually adventurous Israel intelligence operative whose career included the capture of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Argentina in 1960.
Eitan gambled, by running an American Jew as a spy; and it was the American spy who lost. Pollard was sentenced to life in prison. Other American Jews working in the defense and intelligence fields immediately found themselves under suspicion of disloyalty. Eitan, however, turned out fine: Lakam was disbanded, but he got a cushy government-sponsored job and later served as a cabinet minister.
The bitter Pollard experience only strengthened the Mossad’s resolve not to use Jewish locals as spies. Thus the agency carefully avoids contact with Jews living in Iran. Yet Israeli officials say privately that they will continue to act in innovative, secret ways against Iran’s nuclear program – because that is far preferable to having all-out war break out.
August 7, 2012
Spies Against Armageddon: Israel’s Secret Wars has details previously unknown even to news junkies in Israel — a country heavily populated with news junkies. Readers of the weekend magazine in the newspaper Ha’aretz are reading an adaptation of the book’s chapter about the destruction of a Syrian nuclear reactor by Israel’s air force — preceded by covert action on the ground inside Syria — five years ago.
Here are before-and-after satellite photographs of the Syrian building — a reactor project being built in cooperation with North Koreans — in a dossier released by the CIA in April 2008:
August 4, 2012