White House Honor for Israel’s Peres, With Critical Issues Looming

By Dan Raviv originally posted in June 2012

Here in Washington, Israel’s President Shimon Peres is enjoying the highest possible American government accolades — receiving the Medal of Freedom Award from President Barack Obama.
shimon peres, israel spy, spies against armageddon, israel covert operationsThe 88-year-old, still in good health and mentally sharp, now holds a ceremonial post; but in past decades Peres was a senior defense official, a cabinet minister in several capacities, and prime minister of Israel.   He pops up often in our book, Spies Against Armageddon, as he was entrusted by Israel’s first prime minister — David Ben-Gurion — with carrying out the fateful, secret decision to develop nuclear weapons.
Peres also has been an active peacemaker, whenever peace efforts seem possible in the Middle East, and he calls on the current coalition government in his country to make stronger efforts at re-starting peace talks with the Palestinians.
In remarks prepared for delivery on Wednesday evening at the White House, President Obama praises the newest Medal of Freedom honoree:

“The United States is fortunate to have many allies and partners around the world.  Of course, one of our strongest allies, and one of our closest friends, is the State of Israel.  And no individual has done so much over so many years to build our alliance and bring our two nations closer as the leader we honor tonight—our friend, Shimon Peres.

“…in him we see the essence of Israel itself—an indomitable spirit that will not be denied. … Shimon knows the necessity of strength.  As Ben-Gurion said, ‘an Israel capable of defending herself—which cannot be destroyed—can bring peace nearer.’

“And so he’s worked with every American President since John F. Kennedy.  And it’s why I’ve worked with Prime Minister Netanyahu to ensure that the security cooperation between the United States and Israel is closer and stronger than it has ever been.  Because the security of the State of Israel is non-negotiable.  And the bonds between us are unbreakable.

“And yet, Shimon knows that a nation’s security depends, not just on the strength of its arms, but upon the righteousness of its deeds—its moral compass.  He knows, as Scripture teaches, that we must not only seek peace, we must pursue it.  And so it has been the cause of his life—peace, security and dignity, for Israelis and Palestinians and all Israel’s Arab neighbors.”

September 27, 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

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

In-Depth on the New Mossad Chief: Action Man Turns Strategist — Yossi Cohen’s Test Starts Now

[This article was written for The Jerusalem Report, a magazine published by The Jerusalem Post, by Yossi Melman, co-author of the best seller Every Spy a Prince and other books, including the current history of the Mossad and Israeli security agencies: Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.]

Yossi Cohen is taking over (on January 6) at Mossad headquarters in Glilot, north of Tel Aviv, as the intelligence organization’s twelfth director.  He is replacing Tamir Pardo who retires after 35 year in the agency, five of them as its head.

Yossi Cohen, Israel's new top spymaster

Yossi Cohen, Israel’s new top spymaster

For the last two and half years Cohen served as national security adviser to the prime minister and as head of the National Security Council. This capacity and proximity to Benjamin Netanyahu gave him the edge over two other senior Mossad officials in the running for the job.

Netanyahu trusts Cohen and assigned him secret and sensitive missions; among them mending relations with Turkey; improving ties with the Obama administration, which he did via his good contacts with his American counterpart Susan Rice; and clandestine meetings with Arab leaders and officials.

Cohen is 54 years old. He is a typical product of the Mossad, where he has served in various operational and managerial capacities since 1983; but he was not a typical recruit. He was born in Jerusalem in 1961 to a right-wing religious family with roots going back eight generations in the city. He graduated from schools affiliated with the National Religious movement, which is today represented by the right-wing Bayit Yehudi party.

When Cohen joined the Mossad as a young cadet it was rare to see a religious candidate wearing a kippa (yarmulka). Cohen, who later stopped wearing a head covering, was the only religious cadet in his class and as a result was the brunt of many jokes.

The Mossad, at the time, was practically off limits to people like him.

As years went by, he was labelled “The Model” by journalists for his dapper suits — with headline writers recently dubbing him “James Bond 007” — in stark contrast to the typically informal Israeli dress sense.

Cohen was communicative, charming, easygoing, focused and manipulative; all the traits needed to be a good case officer, known in Mossad parlance as “katsa,” the Hebrew acronym for a collection officer.  A Mossad case officer is expected to be able to establish contact with potential agents, and if successful in recruiting an agent, running that agent and extracting the required information the agent may possess. The case officer’s main responsibility is in the field known as HUMINT — human intelligence.

Cohen rose through the espionage agency’s rank and file. He began as a low-level case officer running Arab agents in Europe and later became chief of a Mossad station, operating from the Israeli embassy in a major Western European city. After returning to Israel he was appointed by Meir Dagan, then Mossad chief, as head of the Tzomet (Junction) department in charge of case officers and their agents.

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

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

Cohen was in charge of covert actions against Iran and its nuclear program.

The years 2006-2010 — before Dagan retired and was replaced by Pardo — were the heyday of Mossad operations to prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear bomb.

Dagan put Cohen in charge of these efforts. From his Tzomet office he ran a special operations center that coordinated with all the other relevant departments.

During that period at least five key Iranian nuclear scientists were killed – their deaths were attributed by foreign sources to the Mossad – a few more wounded and probably many more warned that they would be well advised to stop working for the secret military project.

The Mossad, together with the U.S. National Security Agency, was also said to have created the Stuxnet computer worm which targeted systems running the centrifuges in the uranium enrichment facility in Natanz, Iran: a cyberattack that caused severe damage.

Other operations included preventing shipments from reaching Iran; either by damaging the equipment at the port of departure; or by threatening companies not to do business with Iran, or by asking local security services to intercept the shipments.

Another important operation during these years was the killing in 2008 in Damascus of Imad Mughniyeh ,  the “Defense Minister” of Hezbollah, the militant Shiite-Lebanese organization. According to American media, the assassination was a joint Mossad-CIA operation but other foreign sources claim that though the CIA was privy to the planning and intention, its operational role was marginal and most of the work was “blue and white” – the colors of the Israeli flag.

mossad, kidon, spies against armageddon, israel covert operations, Iran nuclear

Mossad’s official logo

Yet, Cohen’s team was not immune to failure. The most damaging  of his failures was the case of Ben Zygier, an Australian Jew who was recruited to work for a European-based front company of the Mossad, which while selling equipment to Iran tried to penetrate its nuclear program. Zygier boasted about his role and exposed the operation. Agents had to be recalled and tens of millions of dollars were wasted. Zygier was jailed, and he committed suicide in an Israeli prison in 2010, causing some fuss when the case was publicized in the media.

It is hard to assess whether the daring Mossad operations, combined with international sanctions, prevented Iran from assembling a nuclear bomb or whether Tehran made a well calculated decision to stop short of an actual weapon.  Either way, Iranian scientists and military men have already mastered the know-how and acquired the technology, equipment and materials necessary to build a bomb should they decide to do so.

All these anti-Iran operations were carried out simultaneously and required above all agents in the right places, who needed solid and accurate information.  Although the reasons cannot be revealed, in 2011, then president Shimon Peres granted Cohen and his Tzomet team the Israel Security Award, and in the same year he was also promoted to deputy head of the Mossad.

Cohen’s return to the organization where he spent most of his career is being well received. Cohen knows the agency and most of its staff inside out.

The Mossad’s organizational behavior and culture are rooted in years of experience and meticulous care to detail, but the spy agency needs to be responsive and flexible in order to meet the challenges of the new Middle East reality.

This is a region where several states – Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Libya – are at various stages of collapse; American power and influence are dwindling and Russia is taking full advantage; new actors, such as ISIS and the Kurds are emerging, and the Sunni-Shia rift is widening.

These new realities create opportunities but also risks for Mossad’s new head. Although his years heading the prime minister’s National Security Council helped to upgrade his strategic understanding, Cohen is more of a skillful operative than a thinker and will have his work cut out for him.

Netanyahu decided (government photo)

Netanyahu decided (government photo)

Cohen wants to make the Mossad more combative and daring than it was under Pardo and return to the “good old days” when Dagan led the organization.

He strongly believes, like Netanyahu, that Iran remains Israel’s enemy number one – that it continues to support terrorism and has never abandoned its goal of obtaining nuclear weapons. One of his major tasks will be to monitor and to verify that Iran is not once again deceiving the international community and violating the July 2015 nuclear deal with the U.S. and other world powers.

Cohen will also continue to carry out — on behalf of Netanyahu, often authorized solely by the prime minister — sensitive missions. These may include delivering messages to the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Egypt, and Turkey. Netanyahu hopes to establish an anti-Iranian coalition with those countries, but their leaders are reluctant to go out into the open and be seen in the company of Israel unless there is progress on the Palestinian issue.

The Mossad has no input on the Palestinian issue, perhaps Israel’s most challenging front.

Colleagues who know Cohen from their work in the agency say that from an early stage he dreamed of reaching the top. Now his dream has come true, and his test will be to provide the prime minister who appointed him a true picture of the reality faced by Israel — and not one that is tainted by politics.

January 5, 2016

Archive: How Israel Caught a Top-Ranking Soviet Spy, Who Has Died at Age 97

[This blog post first appeared here at IsraelSpy.com in June 2012.  It is adapted from an article by Yossi Melman, then a correspondent for the newspaper Haaretz, published April 15, 2008.  Professor Klingberg — exposed as a spy for Communist Russia, tried and imprisoned in secret in Israel, and totally unrepentant when interviewed later in Paris by Melman — died in late November 2015 in the French capital at age 97.]

A Soviet spy-turned-double agent led to the 1983 arrest of Professor Avraham Marcus Klingberg, the highest-ranking Soviet spy ever caught by Israel.

double-agent, Israel spy, spies against armageddon, covert operations

Klingberg, who was the deputy head of the top-secret Israel Institute for Biological Research in Nes Tziona, immigrated to Israel in late 1948. Before immigrating to Israel, he had served and been wounded as a soldier in the Red Army during World War II. Klingberg initially told his Israeli interrogators that he began working as a Soviet spy in 1957, after being blackmailed by a Soviet operative, but Israeli intelligence believes he was already a Soviet agent when he moved to Israel.

In his book published in 2007, he said he was first enlisted in the early 1950s by a pro-Soviet Israeli while at a rehabilitation center, healing from injuries sustained in a car crash.

In his memoir, Klingberg wrote that during his trial for espionage, he saw a note that had been accidentally left on his file by the prosecution. The note revealed he had been exposed by a double agent. The military censor deleted this reference from Klingberg’s memoir.

Klingberg was suspected of being a Soviet spy as early as 1963, but he was exculpated after passing a polygraph test. Further information received aroused suspicion over Klingberg, but after having failed once, Shin Bet officials were reluctant to act prematurely.

The information from the double agent, received in 1983, was considered sufficient to prove Klingberg’s complicity. After being interrogated at a secret location in Tel Aviv, Klingberg admitted he had been working for the Soviets. He was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in jail. After having served 16 years in prison, he was released to house arrest.

In 2003, after the 20-year sentence was over, he was allowed to leave Israel and live with his daughter in Paris.

November 30, 2015

Before the Talks with Iran: U.S. and Israel Were Close on Sanctions and Sabotage, but Not on Assassinations (FLASHBACK)

[This is an adaptation from Chapter 1, “Stopping Iran,” in the history of Israeli espionage, Spies Against Armageddon by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman.  We pick up the story somewhere around early 2008.]

Israeli and American intelligence agencies evaluated the sanctions and determined that they were too soft.  The assessment was that only stronger, crippling sanctions might have some effect on Iran’s leadership.

It seemed that the kind of steps required would include a ban on buying Iranian crude oil and its byproducts.  China and Russia refused to lend a hand to that effort.  Sanctions thus were not hobbling the determination of Iran’s leaders to keep up their nuclear work.

Meir Dagan on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” 2012

The Mossad concluded that more drastic measures were needed.  Mossad director Meir Dagan’s battle plan called next for sabotage.  That took various shapes.  He encouraged joint planning and, eventually, joint operations on the Middle East’s clandestine fields of battle.

A CIA suggestion was to send a physicist, a Russian who had moved to the United States, to Iran to offer his knowledge to the Iranian nuclear program.  The caper was ridiculously mishandled when the CIA altered a set of nuclear warhead plans that the physicist was carrying, but neglected to tell him.  The Iranians would have received damaging disinformation.  Unfortunately for this scheme, the ex-Russian noticed errors and told the Iranians that something was flawed.  He simply did not know that the CIA wanted him to keep his mouth shut and pass along the materials.

Despite imperfect penetrations at first, the entire concept of “poisoning” both information and equipment was attractive; and the Mossad, the CIA, and the British kept doing it.  These agencies set up front companies that established contact with Iranian purchasing networks.  In order to build up trust, they sold Iran some genuine components.  But at a later stage,  they planted – among the good parts, such as metal tubes and high-speed switches – many bad parts that damaged Iran’s program.

The results of this international sabotage began to show.  Iran found itself having trouble keeping control of the equipment that it had bought from overseas.

The peak of these damage operations was a brilliantly innovative computer worm that would become known as Stuxnet.  Though its origin was never officially announced, Stuxnet was a joint project by the CIA, the Mossad, and Aman’s technological unit.  The malicious software was specifically designed to disrupt a German-made computerized control system that ran the centrifuges in Natanz.

The project required studying, by reverse engineering, precisely how the control panel and computers worked and what effect they had on the centrifuges.  For that purpose,  Germany’sBND– very friendly to Israel, in part based on a long habit of trying to erase Holocaust memories – arranged the cooperation of Siemens, the German corporation that had sold the system to Iran.  The directors of Siemens may have felt pangs of conscience, or were simply reacting to public pressure, as newspapers pointed out that the company was Iran’s largest trading partner in Germany.

For a better understanding of Iran’s enrichment process, old centrifuges – which Israel had obtained many years before – were set up in one of the buildings at Dimona, Israel’s not-so-secret nuclear facility in the southern Negev desert.  They were nearly identical to the centrifuges that were enriching uranium in Natanz.

The Israelis closely watched what the computer worm could do to an industrial process.  The tests, reportedly conducted also at a U.S. government lab in Idaho, took two years.

Virtual weapons of destruction such as Stuxnet can conceivably be e-mailed to the target computer network, or they can be installed in person by plugging in a flash drive.  Whether hidden in an electronic message or plugged in by an agent for the Mossad, the virus did get into the Natanz facility’s control system sometime in 2009.  Stuxnet was in the system for more than a year before it was detected by Iranian cyber-warfare experts.  By then, it was giving the centrifuges confusing instructions, which disrupted their precise synchronization.  They were no longer spinning in concert, and as the equipment sped up and slowed repeatedly, the rotors that did the spinning were severely damaged.

The true beauty of this computer worm was that the operators of the system had no idea that anything was going wrong.  Everything at first seemed normal, and when they noticed the problem it was too late.  Nearly 1,000 centrifuges – about one-fifth of those operating at Natanz – were knocked out of commission.

Iranian intelligence and computer experts were shocked.  The nuclear program was slowing down, barely advancing, and falling way behind schedule.  Stuxnet, more than anything else, made the Iranians realize they were under attack in a shadow war, with hardly any capability to respond.

In late 2011, they announced two more cyber-attacks.  One virus, which computer analysts called Duqu, showed signs of being created by the same high-level, sophisticated hackers who authored Stuxnet: U.S.and Israeli intelligence.

If that were not enough, like the Ten Plagues that befell ancient Egypt, the Iranians were hit by yet another blow – this time, a lethal one.  Between 2007 and 2011, five Iranian scientists were assassinated by a variety of methods.  One supposedly was felled by carbon monoxide from a heater in his home.  Three others were killed by bombs, and one by gunfire: four attacks by men on motorcycles.  That was a method perfected by the Mossad’s Kidon unit.

It was noteworthy that the United States flatly denied any involvement.  American officials even went so far as to publicly criticize the unknown killers for spoiling diplomatic hopes, because the chances of negotiations with Iran became slimmer after every attack.  The Americans, in private, said that they were chiding Israel.

July 13, 2015

Who’ll be Israel’s Next Spymaster? — Four Candidates for Mossad Director

[This article was originally written for The Jerusalem Post by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.  Note some details of Mossad personnel’s careers are limited by censorship requirements in Israel.]

The hush-hush conversations in the hallways of the Mossad headquarters in Glilot, a few kilometers north of Tel Aviv, over the last few weeks have danced around the question: Who will replace the agency’s director, Tamir Pardo?

Curiosity surrounding his would-be replacement intensified when Pardo replaced his incumbent deputy – whom the censor has asked only be identified as N. – by a new person now known as A.

These deputies came from the two most prominent Mossad operational units. N., like Pardo, originated in and later commanded the unit known as Keshet, which directs surveillance and break-ins into “static objects” – offices and equipment belonging to adversaries, where bugs and cameras are installed and computers infiltrated.

A. comes from perhaps an arguably more critical unit, Caesarea, which is in charge of sending agents on operations in enemy lands. Since a decade ago when the Mossad was restructured, the deputy head has also overseen the Operations Directorate, which houses all of the organization’s operational units.

Pardo is no stranger to hasty in-house shuffling. In his four-and-a-half years in office, he has had four deputies. In this sense, he has continued the atmosphere of restlessness that permeated the tenure of his predecessor, Meir Dagan, who whimsically replaced his deputies like a new pair of socks.

Tamir Pardo, the Mossad director - Who's next?

Tamir Pardo, the Mossad director – Who’s next?

Nevertheless, the answer to the question of who will replace Pardo depends on another issue: Will Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu extend Pardo’s term, which is due to expire at the end of 2015?

Unlike Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), where the head is legally limited to a five-year term with the option for the cabinet to extend it for another year, there is no Mossad law on the books. The Mossad, the Prime Minister’s Office, and the Justice Ministry have been struggling for the last seven years to draft such a law.

Witness the results: The almost-mythological Isser Harel held the office for 11 years until 1963; his successor, Meir Amit, lasted just five years. Yitzhak Hofi served in the post in the ’70s for eight; as did Dagan, who served from 2002 to 2010.

The media adviser in the Prime Minister’s Office declined to answer The Jerusalem Post’s questions on this matter. But insiders and officials familiar with the Mossad estimate that it is very unlikely Netanyahu will extend Pardo’s term beyond five years in December.

This is not to say that Pardo was a bad manager or failed in leading the Mossad in its new challenges and frontiers. While Pardo might lack some of Dagan’s charm and charisma, he has continued in the footsteps of his predecessor.

According to foreign media reports, the Mossad under Pardo was less involved in assassinations. Only one Iranian nuclear scientist was killed in 2011, in comparison to five when Dagan was in office.

But this does not indicate that Pardo is more hesitant and less daring than Dagan. It is more likely that those who were in charge of the assassination campaign – which was only one measure in a broader campaign to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons – reached the conclusion that the method was outdated and had exhausted itself as a useful tool.

Yet Pardo continued to see Iran as the Mossad’s number-one target — for gathering information, as well as other possible operations — with Hezbollah as the second.

Although the Mossad basically remained a human intelligence (humint) organization – recruiting and running agents as sources for information were its bread and butter under Pardo – it expanded its sigint (intelligence derived from electronic and communication messages used by the targets) and cyber capabilities; and it improved relations with its worldwide counterparts, especially America’s Central Intelligence Agency.

Indeed, last week CIA director John Brennan visited Israel and met with Pardo and other senior intelligence chiefs, exchanging estimates about Iran’s nuclear program and the likely impacts of the P5+1 negotiations – which are reaching a crucial point, as talks are set to conclude at the end of the month.

Another important development in the Mossad in the last five years is the enlargement and upgrade of its research and analysis department, to the degree that it is now almost equal to its big brother – the research department of IDF Military Intelligence, which is still charged with providing the cabinet with a national intelligence estimate.

It's entirely up to Netanyahu

It’s entirely up to Netanyahu

Yet Pardo will probably be replaced in six months, mainly because he didn’t get along well with Netanyahu. A well-noted incident occurred two years ago when Pardo, in a closed-door meeting with business executives, asserted that the Palestinian issue trumps Tehran as Israel’s biggest national security problem.

Saying that directly contradicted his boss, who time and again has beaten the Iranian drum, calling it an existential threat for the Jewish state.

In the corridors of the Mossad and the Prime Minister’s Office as well as in the media, four names are mentioned as potential successors to Pardo.

One is an outsider, Maj.-Gen. Amir Eshel, commander of the Israel Air Force, and the other three are from within the Mossad.

It’s more probable that the next head of Mossad will come from within the organization’s ranks – and the remaining three candidates served in the Mossad’s operational units. One such candidate is the above-mentioned N., who until recently was Pardo’s deputy.

Another is Ram Ben-Barak, also a product of the Keshet department. As a young operative, he was arrested together with three team members by police officers near a building in a European city under suspicious circumstances.

The incident didn’t stain his career, and he reached the top echelon to serve as a deputy to Dagan; he then went on sabbatical and worked for the Brookings Institution in Washington, and most recently was director-general of the Strategic Affairs Ministry.

But the leading candidate is Yossi Cohen, who specialized as a case officer in recruiting and running agents from Arab countries, was head of the department charged with these tasks and served as Pardo’s deputy until two years ago. He was then chosen by Netanyahu to be his national security adviser and lead the National Security Council. Cohen, who managed to develop friendly – even warm – relations with Netanyahu’s family, is the favorite for the Mossad top job.

In an interesting twist, if he is nominated at the end of 2015, two out of three Israeli intelligence agencies will be led by persons by the name of Cohen – with the prospective Mossad head joining Yoram Cohen of the Shin Bet. [In Jewish tradition, the Cohens — or Kohanim — were the high priests: in this case, the high priests, perhaps, of espionage.]

June 13, 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

Coming Clean: Why Israeli Military Intelligence Set Bombs in Egypt — Still a Blurry Truth

The IDF archives released dozens of previously secret documents, which shed new light on a tragic operation in Egypt in the 1950’s and may solve an enigma.

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

For nearly 61 years, Israel has been plagued by an unsolved intelligence and political mystery: The case of a sabotage and espionage network of agents it operated in Egypt.

The agents were exposed and arrested in July 1954; two of them were sentenced to death by hanging by military tribunal and six of their accomplices were locked up for long prison sentences. On Monday, the IDF archives released dozens of never before published documents, which shed new light on the tragic operation and may solve the enigma.

At the heart of the matter is a central question: Who gave the instructions and was responsible for the operation: then-defense minister Pinhas Lavon or Col. Benjamin Gibli, head of the Military Intelligence?

The purpose of activating the Egyptian agents – young and idealistic members of Jewish Zionist groups – was to use them to plant bombs in British and U.S. cultural centers and theaters in Cairo and Alexandria.

Perhaps Israel's most notorious defense minister, Pinhas Lavon (left) chatting with Gen. Moshe Dayan. Behind them is Shimon Peres, in 1954. (IDF/Government Press Office)

Perhaps Israel’s most notorious defense minister, Pinhas Lavon (left) chatting with Gen. Moshe Dayan. Behind them is Shimon Peres, in 1954. (IDF/Government Press Office)

The logic behind the operation was to try to smear the Egyptian regime of president Abdel Gamal Nasser and to portray it as unreliable and untrustworthy in the eyes of Washington and London. The operation, codenamed Susanna, failed. Israel was sucked into a black hole of mutual accusations, its top echelon trying to deflect the responsibility and placing the blame on each other.

The most dramatic document of the newly released materials is a transcript of a meeting in December 1954, five months after the operation, between Lavon and Gibli. In the conversation, Lavon accused Gibli of ordering the operation to be activated without his approval.

Gibli tried to defend himself by arguing that the defense minister gave the order.

According to the document, the defense minister warned Gibli not to complicate matters.

Gibli: “Maybe I’m already implicated.”

Lavon: “Don’t get further implicated.”

Gibli: “There’s still no sentence by hanging in Israel.”

Later, Gibli tried to convince his superior that he had been given the go-ahead to activate the operation in a meeting prior to its implementation.

Lavon immediately replied: “That meeting took place not before, but after, when you already had knowledge that the affair was over. I did not know. You did.”

At that moment, Gibli muttered six words: “Okay, I will accept this ruling.” This was the closest the mystery has ever come to being resolved.

However, Gibli later denied his responsibility, and in several commissions of inquiry, he repeated that he had acted under Lavon’s order.

The political ricochet of this affair resulted eventually in the resignation of David Ben-Gurion as prime minister, haunted the Israeli public discourse, and left open the tactical questions of what had really happened.

It begged the biggest question on a strategic level – namely the stupidity of Israeli decision-makers (whoever was behind it), to believe that setting of a series of home-made bombs in public spaces would actually change the course of Middle East history.

Nevertheless, history will probably never know for sure who was really responsible for this operation – even Gibli’s supposed confession, as recorded in the newly released transcript, does not reveal the truth. Gibli died, at age 88, in 2008.  Lavon had died, at age 71, in 1976.

May 11, 2015

Israel Will Keep Protesting, But Already Prepares for “The Day After” the Iran Nuclear Deal — Including Covert Action

[The “framework” reached with Iran by the U.S. and its partners is “a good deal” — according to President Barack Obama — which, if implemented and obeyed, will make the world (including Israel) safer.  Many Israelis — certainly the reelected leaders — strongly disagree with that.  Perhaps continued pressure by Israel can make the final details — in the deal to be negotiated by June 30 — a bit more acceptable.  In this analysis for The Jerusalem Post, Yossi Melman — co-author of Spies Against Armageddon — considers how Israel may have to prepare for “the day after” the nuclear deal with Iran.] 

Israel continues to ready itself for the stark reality at the end of the Iran nuclear talks.

Netanyahu consults with Ya'alon and others

Netanyahu consults with Ya’alon and others (GPO photo)

Officially, Israel continues to criticize the talks and the pending nuclear agreement between the world powers and Iran. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, each in his own way, keep bashing the negotiations.

It will take nearly three more months to flesh out the full details of a final and comprehensive agreement. President Obama says Iran’s nuclear program will be reduced and rolled back so that it would take one year to “break out” to assemble a bomb. In return the West and the UN’s sanctions will be gradually lifted.

Most Israeli experts, and certainly its leaders, have argued without hesitation that the current deal is dangerous to Israel’s interests.

But is it really? The blatant reality is that even before the deal Iran was already a nuclear threshold state. And if it really wants to, it can run off and produce nuclear weapons.

On the other hand, Israel is the strongest nation in the region. According to foreign reports, the only democracy in the Middle East boasts both a significant nuclear arsenal and submarines that are capable of executing second strikes — the capability to respond to a nuclear attack with powerful nuclear retaliation.

Four Arab states – Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen – are disintegrating. As a result, Israel’s strategic posture has improved, as many of the serious military threats facing Israel have dissipated.

Israel would have preferred that there be no negotiations on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and that sanctions would be in place forever. But that won’t happen.

Without admitting it, Israel is preparing itself for the “day after,” adjusting its position to the reality at the end of the negotiations.

The world will never hear an official admission, but deep in their heart Israeli leaders surely understand they failed to orchestrate an international campaign against the talks and the deal that has emerged.

It was an unnecessary campaign. Israel paid a heavy price in its confrontation with the US administration, and it caused great animosity between Netanyahu and President Barack Obama. Frankly, Israel had very little influence, if at all, on the talks.

The only tangible result was that Netanyahu won reelection last month, after convincing the public that only he knows how to deal with the threat of Iran becoming a nuclear state.

But now, with election season over and the deal with Iran being shaped, Israel has started clandestine diplomatic and intelligence initiatives to reach understandings and define red lines on how to deal with the upcoming reality.

Israeli bodies – the Defense Ministry, the air force, Military Intelligence and the Mossad – are already involved in discreet contacts with their American counterparts, as well as with EU countries, on how to prepare various responses in case Iran violates the deal.

-Iran is Likely to Cheat-

The best-case scenario is that Iran will adhere to the agreement. But anyone who follows Iran’s nuclear history and its relations with international bodies such as the International Atomic Energy Agency knows that it is unlikely to happen.

Most probably Iran will try to dishonor its obligations through deceptions and lies.

Israel, with its counterparts, is trying to define the possible responses needed if and when Iran’s deceptions are exposed. In the past, international media reported that Mossad chiefs met with their Saudi counterparts to coordinate joint efforts to stop Iran from building nuclear bombs. In these reports it said Saudi Arabia agreed that the Israel Air Force would use Saudi airspace for an attack on Iran’s nuclear sites.

This doesn’t mean that Israel is already coordinating a detailed military option with all those who are against the deal. These exchanges are more about reaching a basic understanding, should Iran seriously violate the deal.

Indeed, one should not hastily reach the conclusion that Israel is expediting its preparations to strike Iran. For now, Israel is still relying on the Americans. Ya’alon made it clear this week that Obama had promised that he would not allow Iran to have nuclear weapons.

But it is also clear that Israel will not tolerate a situation where Iran is on the verge of producing nuclear bombs. In such a worst-case scenario, it is most probable that any Israeli prime minister will make the same decision as previous leaders – Menachem Begin in 1981 and Ehud Olmert in 2007, who ordered to destroy Iraqi and Syrian nuclear reactors, respectively. Even though it’s reported that Israel does have nuclear weapons it can’t allow Iran, which advocates the destruction of the Jewish state, to have nuclear bombs.

April 4, 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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ehud Olmert, when prime minister

Ehud Olmert, when prime minister

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 15, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*THEY COULD’VE GOTTEN A SENIOR IRANIAN

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

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

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

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

January 31, 2015

Significant if True — Syrian Nuclear Experts Assassinated: Wouldn’t That Please Israel?

It’s only an unconfirmed report, but it is starting to get attention in parts of the Middle East: that five nuclear experts were killed in an ambush while riding a bus to their workplace in Syria’s capital, Damascus, a few days ago.

The story immediately fueled conspiratorial theories that Israeli intelligence, namely the Mossad, may have accomplished a daring mass assassination.

This all began with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which reported that this attack occurred on Sunday near the Barzeh neighborhood of Damascus.

Barzeh is the site of a small nuclear laboratory run by President Bashar al-Assad’s government. Barzeh has a Chinese-built miniature neutron source reactor, a compact research reactor copied from a Canadian design.

This reactor, from its inception, has been under the supervision of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency. IAEA inspectors have visited the site many times.

The CIA's Reconnaissance Photos of Syria's Reactor in 2007 -- Before and After Israel's Air Raid

The CIA’s Reconnaissance Photos of Syria’s Reactor in 2007 — Before and After Israel’s Air Raid

The truth — it turned out — was that the small Barzeh reactor, fueled by highly enriched uranium supplied in miniscule amounts by China and a few other nuclear facilities, served as a decoy. While its presence and work were fully registered with the UN’s IAEA, Barzeh was diverting attention from the secret construction of a much bigger nuclear reactor in eastern Syria being built by North Korea — the one that was bombed by Israel’s air force in 2007, with no announcement or official confirmation by Israel.

The Syrian government has not yet reacted to this week’s reports. The Iranian media also ignored it, until Iran’s Press TV put out a short item about the incident — although it fails to mention that probably one of the five dead experts was an Iranian engineer.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, which occurred in an area controlled by forces loyal to President Assad.

As exciting or intriguing as it may be to attribute the attack to Israel, there is no evidence to back up such an assertion. Israeli involvement is, in fact, unlikely.

Israeli analysts believe that after the nuclear reactor in northeastern Syria was destroyed in September 2007, when it was on the verge of being operational and capable of producing plutonium as fissile material for nuclear bombs, the threat of Syria becoming a nuclear power was removed.

According to foreign news reports, Israel has occasionally interfered in the civil war by sending its air force to bomb convoys of Syrian trucks transporting sophisticated weapons bound for Hezbollah in Lebanon. Israel perceives any ground, sea and air missiles supplied to Hezbollah as a threat.

But that is not how Syria’s practically non-existent nuclear program is seen.

Thus, there is no incentive for Israel to risk its intelligence-gathering operatives and military forces by launching an assassination mission. Put simply, Syria no longer poses a serious military – not to mention nuclear – threat to Israel. So why bother?

Furthermore, it is not the first time that Syrian nuclear scientists were targeted during the civil war. In a similar incident in July of last year, six people who also worked at Barzeh were killed in a mortar attack carried out by anti-government militants.

It thus seems likely that a murder of five nuclear experts was not the work of Israel — but another act of violence by one of the rival groups fighting the Assad regime.

We shouldn’t even rule out the possibility that it was an act of revenge – an inside job by the regime itself, for reasons unknown in the fog of a civil war that has raged for nearly five years.

November 11, 2014

Unprecedented: A Recruiting Video on Mossad’s Website — “Your Imagination is My Reality”

Perhaps inspired by the increasing presence of Israeli spies in popular TV — fictional (and not always attractive) characters on Covert Affairs, Homeland,  The Americans, The Honourable Woman, NCIS and other series — the real-life Mossad is now having its say. On video.

For the first time, the Mossad’s website features a video aimed at making the secret agency’s work look exciting, significant, and satisfying.

It’s in Hebrew, but here are some highlights for the non-Hebrew speaker:

The male and the female (who may be Mossad personnel or may be actors) are portrayed as family people. That has been a constant theme, when Israeli intelligence operatives and veterans have spoken about their careers — and why they decided to engage in work that they cannot tell anyone about: To strengthen their country and protect their families.

The woman in the video declares: “I learned about myself, things that i didn’t know.” Later, the man says the same thing — and he also says: “My friends think I work in marketing.”

Together they say: “I always know there’s someone by my side I can depend on.”

The woman has a provocative line: “Your imagination — is my reality.”

Making the job seem attractive they both say: “I know I’m in the right place.”

And as they head home to their families (including a kid who flies a small drone aircraft?), she has the final word: “This is my mission. And maybe it’s yours.”

September 22, 2014

Mossad’s Longtime Assassinations Chief Has Died: Mike Harari Recently was Talkative

Mike Harari, the longtime head of operations for the Mossad — and founder of the ultra-secretive and effective Kidon unit that specialized in innovative assassinations — has died at age 87 in Israel.

Below please read what we posted about him, this past April 6:

Mike Harari has decided to talk – and the longtime commander of Mossad operations is confirming many of the episodes detailed in our book, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.

The long-retired and long-silent head of the operations unit named Caesarea, Harari is now confirming that he led the assassination campaign against Palestinian terrorists – mostly in Europe – after the massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972.

In a TV interview after retiring, he revealed almost nothing, but now...

In a TV interview after retiring, he revealed almost nothing, but now…

It had been believed that Mossad gunmen and bombers killed 5 or 6 Palestinian targets, before a case of mistaken identity – when the wrong man was killed in Norway – ended the string of assassinations in 1973.  A new biography of Harari, published in Hebrew with his full cooperation, says the number was twelve.

Harari is now 87 years old and, to a degree, seems to have decided to set the record straight while he still can do so.

As is stated in our book, Spies Against Armageddon, Caesarea operatives bristle at the notion that the Mossad is considered a kind of Murder: Incorporated. Killing Israel’s enemies is but a small part of what the famed foreign intelligence agency does.

Harari is now revealed to have a Beretta pistol with a silencer framed at home – the very weapon used to kill the first Palestinian target in the post-Munich campaign.

But when he gave the Mossad some valuable advice about ten years ago – stepping out of retirement (as noted when he granted an interview to the newspaper Yediot Ahronot) – did that mission involve assassination?  Yes.  Israel’s spy agency was about to embark on a series of killings of Iranian nuclear scientists, and Mossad veterans with relevant experience were consulted.

Delving farther back into Mossad history, Harari’s new clarifications echo and amplify much of what we describe in Spies Against Armageddon and in our previous books.  He does indeed dismiss as rubbish the portrayal of the post-Olympics killings in Steven Spielberg’s movie, Munich.

Harari also says that the code names publicized by journalists for the series of assassinations – Gideon’s Sword and Wrath of God – are pure inventions. The codes for the individual missions actually were names of Mossad’s female operatives.

As Spies Against Armageddon declares, there was no formal “Committee X” to consider death warrants for terrorists – despite reports by other writers over the years. Rather than a tribunal, there was a list of targets composed by the Caesarea unit – with the help of the military intelligence agency, Aman. Some of them were involved in the planning of the Olympics massacre, and others were just activists in or key helpers of the PLO and its shadowy Black September.

As for the mistake that left the wrong man dead in Lillehammer, Norway – and several Mossad operatives in a Norwegian jail – Harari now offers new details. He says 7 Israelis – a majority of the assassination squad sent to Scandinavia –misidentified the victim. Before the shooting, they declared certainty that the man was Ali Hassan Salameh – a crafty and dangerous Palestinian militant was very close to PLO leader Yasser Arafat.

Other members of the Mossad team, referring to the same photo of Salameh, felt that the man they had located was not the PLO man they were seeking.

Harari’s mistake was going with the majority.

He reveals that he and his boss – then-Mossad chief Zvi Zamir – submitted their resignation, but Prime Minister Golda Meir refused to accept it.

September 22, 2014

Rebellion in the Ranks in Israel’s Unit 8200 (Similar to NSA): A Refusal to Furnish Blackmail Material to Security Agencies

Dozens of officers in Unit 8200 — the part of Israel’s Military Intelligence agency (Aman) that specializes in intercepting communications — say they’re refusing to serve, because of how some of the data they obtain is used.

A joint letter from 43 mid-rank officers and sergeants (though including one Major) in the Army reserves states that they will not carry out their assigned duties, because some of the information Unit 8200 harvests — largely by listening in on the phone calls of Palestinians — has to do with their health or their sexual orientation; and those nuggets of intelligence are then handed over to Shin Bet.

Reading between the lines, it seems that Unit 8200 — equivalent to America’s NSA — collects information which enables Shin Bet (domestic security) recruiters to put pressure on individual Palestinians. 

Emblem of Aman (Israeli Military Intelligence)

Emblem of Aman (Israeli Military Intelligence)

Blackmail is commonly one way to “persuade” someone in the enemy camp to become your spy.

The letter was addressed to the Director of Military Intelligence, the Minister of Defense, and even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Shin Bet (the initials for “The Security Services,” usually known to Israelis by the Hebrew acronym Shabak) is similar to America’s FBI or Britain’s MI5 — a combination of domestic intelligence and law enforcement. Shin Bet has most of the responsibility for monitoring Palestinian radical organizations and activities.

Unit 8200 — formally known to its English-language foreign partners as ISNU (Israeli Sigint National Unit) — is equivalent to America’s NSA (the National Security Agency) and Britain’s GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters).

The 43 protesters — some of whom have shown their letter to Israeli and foreign journalists — also complain that information gleaned from Unit 8200 signals intelligence (sigint) is used to designate targets for attack; and they say some innocent Palestinians have been killed in those strikes.

September 11, 2014

“Not an Episode of ‘Homeland'” – Will Take Patience & Imaginative Espionage to Penetrate and Counter ISIS: Raviv to Potomac Institute

photo (7)Dan Raviv, CBS News correspondent (in Washington) and co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars and other books, spoke for 15 minutes about the radical group The Islamic State (ISIS) and how Western nations can develop innovative ways to confront and weaken ISIS.

Don’t expect Israel to have a major role in this, Raviv said, but larger countries can adapt — and enlarge — what Israel has done to penetrate and manipulate terrorist organizations. He pointed out that the hospital in northern Israel where selected Syrian casualties of the civil war are treated “is an intelligence bonanza opportunity.”

He told the audience of mostly diplomats and retired government officials at The Potomac Institute: “Use your imagination,” because excellent intelligence agencies do.
The 15-minute video, thanks to C-Span television, is below. Simply click to watch it.
http://www.c-span.org/video/?c4507318/potomacinstraviv28aug2014

August 30, 2014

Iran ‘Shot Down an Israeli Spy Drone’? Probably Just Propaganda and Doesn’t Add Up: Analysis

Israelis who work on their country’s unmanned aircraft programs are shaking their heads at the official Iranian video of a smashed aircraft — said by Iran to be “an Israeli drone, a Hermes model, shot by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).”

The Israelis say: “It doesn’t look like one of ours.”

First, there’s the matter of the maximum flying range for an Israeli-made drone.  Natanz — the nuclear enrichment center south of Tehran — is too far away for a drone operating from Israel, if one adds up the flying distance and the reconnaissance time that would be needed over the target.

It is true, as an official Iranian report on that country’s Press TV is suggesting, that Israel could fly recon missions out of a country much closer to Iran. Israel is reliably reported to have a close intelligence relationship with Azerbaijan.

Official Iranian Photo

Official Iranian Photo

However, David Harari feels that this story doesn’t add up. He is a former head of the drone division at IAI — Israel Aerospace Industries (the former Israel Aircraft Industries, which makes airplanes and more for both civilian and military uses).

Harari headed the drone division from 1977 to 1993 and keeps up with developments.

He says the smashed device seen in the official Iranian video looks like a drone, but a very small one — a “mini drone.” That makes it very unlikely that it’s an Israeli device, he says.

Harari adds that it surely doesn’t look like a Hermes — the model specifically named by the Iranians.

“It’s strange,” he adds, “very strange.”

There are other nations, of course — not only Israel — that would keep an eye on Iran’s nuclear facilities and might want to test the air defenses around them.

August 25, 2014


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