John Brennan, the long-time counter-terrorism advisor to President Obama who this year became Director of the CIA, flew to Israel — on a working visit not announced in advance.
Officials suggested that the main topic, in consultations on Friday (May 17), was Syria: what might be done to prevent the transfer of chemical weapons and advanced missiles from the Syrian military to terrorist groups such as Hezbollah. Inevitably the United States and Israel would also be exchanging assessments of how long Bashar al-Assad’s regime may survive — and how to handle a possible transition to a new phase of radicalism and chaos.
Word was leaked to Israeli reporters that Brennan was spending time with Moshe “Boogie” Ya’alon, the defense minister in Benjamin Netanyahu’s reshaped government coalition. No one had to announce — and no one did — that Brennan was also getting together with Israel’s intelligence chiefs, notably the Mossad director Tamir Pardo.
A little noticed aspect of these secret talks involves Turkey. Barack Obama, during his first visit to Israel as President in March, made a point of cajoling Netanyahu and Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Erdogan to talk by phone and bury their growing hatchet.
Sources close to the situation say the CIA has had a major role in bringing together the Mossad and Turkey’s foreign intelligence agency MIT. For decades, mostly without public acknowledgment by their governments, the “alternative diplomats” of the spy services had kept in close touch — and embarked on cooperative projects, generally aimed at their common enemies.
Brennan spoke about Israeli-Turkish covert cooperation with Pardo, preparing the ground for stronger coordination among the CIA, the Mossad, MIT, Jordan’s intelligence services, Britain’s MI6 (now known as SIS), and the French foreign espionage agency DGSE.
Their immediate subject is Syria — notably the possibility that anti-Western radicals who may be affiliated with al-Qaeda could continue to grow in territory and power inside Syria. If the international community decides to become more involved in Syria’s civil war, then the Western and pro-Western intelligence agencies would have a central role.
Brennan also discussed Iran’s nuclear program with Pardo. American and Israeli assessments of what Iran’s scientists have accomplished, and what the Iranian political and military echelons may be planning, are not precisely the same. As is well known, the “timing” issues — when the U.S. or Israel might have to take extreme action — are not seen in identical ways in Washington and Jerusalem.
Analysts in both intelligence agencies, the CIA and the Mossad, feel it is clear that after Iran’s presidential election next month — which might, of course, require a second round of voting — the Iranians will face a crucial decision: whether to move more quickly toward assembling a nuclear bomb, and speeding up the machining and engineering needed to fit a nuclear warhead onto a missile that could reach Israel and other American allies.
Is something up — something imminent? In the Middle East, which is unusually volatile in the two years since the “Arab Spring” uprisings broke out, almost anything could happen at any time. But no, no one in authority is suggesting that the United States, Israel, or both are about to launch any violent, dramatic action.
May 17, 2013
It’s likely that the Mossad told ASIO — the Australian Security Intelligence Organization — what Ben Zygier allegedly did to endanger Israeli security. Zygier committed suicide in a high-security Israeli prison cell in December 2010. A native of Melbourne, Australia, he moved to Israel and reportedly became an undercover Mossad operative.
In this interview with Australia’s ABC Television (the Lateline program today), Yossi Melman — co-author of Spies Against Armageddon and previous books including the best-seller Every Spy a Prince — said Israeli intelligence may have been in a mood to share more information with ASIO than usual, because in early 2010 there was uproar in Australia over the revelation that Mossad operatives on an assassination mission in Dubai had used Australian passports, among others.
March 6, 2013
The foreign ministry in Australia — known as DFAT (the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) — has released a report on the death of Ben Zygier, the Australian Jew who moved to Israel, joined the Mossad, and eventually committed suicide in an Israeli high-security prison cell.
It seems that Australia does not have any established procedures for handling the arrest of one of its citizens in a foreign land: especially when a security agency in a friendly country (meaning the Mossad, in Israel) quietly informs Australia that the man arrested was caught up in security violations — and later, that he was mysteriously found hanged in the bathroom of his cell.
It is noteworthy in the DFAT report that Zygier, who was found dead just over two years ago, is said to have received 50 visits from family members during less than 11 months in prison awaiting trial — even while prison guards and authorities reportedly did not know his true name or the nature of his alleged crimes.
Note also the apology to Zygier’s relatives, who apparently did not want the tragedy of Ben’s hard-to-explain suicide exposed and analyzed.
Here is the official release from Canberra about Israel’s “Prisoner X”:
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Senator the Hon. Bob Carr
March 6, 2013
2010 CONSULAR CASE
I have today released the report from the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) into the consular handling of the case of Mr Ben Zygier – a dual Australian-Israeli citizen who was detained in Israel on January 31, 2010 and passed away in Ayalon prison on December 15, 2010.
The report examines:
DFAT’s knowledge of Mr Zygier’s detention and death; and how and when that information was received;
Government handling of consular aspects of this case; and
Lessons learned and recommendations for future improvement in consular services.
The report also raises questions regarding the nature of Australian consular responsibilities for dual nationals, and the use of Australian passports by dual nationals working for the government of their other country of nationality.
The Australian Government sought and relied upon assurances from Israeli authorities that:
1. the individual’s legal rights would be respected and,
2. he had legal representation of his own choosing;
3. the individual’s family members had been notified of his arrest and detention; and
4. he was not being mistreated.
· Mr Zygier was granted regular access to a lawyer and more than 50 visits by family members, while in detention in 2010.
- · There was no request from Mr Zygier, his family or his lawyer for Australian consular assistance;
- · Despite the above, there was a lack of clarity in Government decision-making over consular responsibilities; and
- · In the event, no Australian consular assistance was provided to Mr Zygier and there is no record in this report of any direct contact between Australian Government officials and Mr Zygier during this time.
The Zygier case was complex and outside the normal bounds of consular activity. However it is unsatisfactory that there was a lack of clarity over the exercise of consular responsibilities.
It is also unsatisfactory that details of assistance provided by Israeli authorities to Mr Zygier were not sought by or provided to DFAT until the commissioning of this report.
I acknowledge DFAT’s contemporaneous assessment that Israel would not have granted direct consular access to Mr Zygier. However it would have been preferable for follow-up information to have been sought in in 2010.
· With the benefit of hindsight it would have been prudent to consult the Australian Head of Mission in Tel Aviv in February 2010 about the likelihood of Australia being granted consular access to Mr Zygier.
· A clear understanding within government about consular responsibilities in the case would have generated greater confidence in the decision-making around it.
· A more coherent system for handling intelligence information on individual consular cases would have assisted management of issues around Mr Zygier’s circumstances.
· Although a record of briefings in February 2010 would have assisted future handling of issues around the case, this would have been difficult given the briefing agency’s request that no written record be kept.
The report recommends that:
1. Subject to a specific exemption from the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Heads of Mission should be informed of the circumstances of any Australian citizen detained for any reason within the country of their accreditation if that information is available to any Australian agency.
2. The Department should lead whole-of-government development of a protocol for dealing with individuals detained on intelligence-related matters. The protocol could be modelled on a protocol developed in 2011 to handle cases involving Australians detained overseas in security-related circumstances.
3. A better system should be developed to ensure that senior consular officers can access written records, including intelligence, of sensitive cases.
4. A further review be held into the consular services that should be provided by Australia to dual nationals, particularly in circumstances where the individual is employed by the government of the other country; and
5. We await the outcome of the various inquiries underway or foreshadowed in Israel into the handling of the Zygier case by Israeli authorities before seeking further details from Israel, noting that the Australian government has no legal basis on which to conduct an inquiry in Israel into the circumstances of Mr Zygier’s detention or death.
I have directed that these recommendations be implemented.
I again express my condolences to the Zygier family in Australia and Israel for the passing of Ben Zygier and regret any distress caused by the necessary airing of this matter through this report.
March 6, 2013
Although Israel’s government has released portions of the official report on the death of Ben Zygier — and that is the only name being used for the Australian-born Israeli who was found hanged in a high-security prison cell in December 2010 — there is no confirmed information on what Zygier was doing for Israel’s foreign espionage agency, the Mossad. And no official word as to what was his alleged crime.
part of the ASIO agency website
In fact, considering that he was facing a prison sentence of greater than 10 years — based on one of his lawyer’s statement that a plea bargain would have included “a double-digit sentence” — it is difficult to believe that the “grave offense” was spilling information to a friendly intelligence service, specifically Australia’s ASIO.
Yes, identifying secret operatives or methods would be damaging — and Israel’s security agencies would punish any employee who did that.
But Zygier’s case glows with the sense of greater importance. A grave crime, in this field, would be unauthorized and intense contacts with hostile foreign agents, perhaps compromising an ongoing Israeli operation, or worst of all causing the death of Mossad personnel or their hired agents.
As for the fact that releasing almost any information on the Mossad’s work can be damaging, the revelations in the past week since Zygier’s identity was revealed by Australia’s ABC television include circumstantial evidence that he — and two other ex-Australians believed to have been working for the Mossad — were running a secret operation based in Italy.
a screen grab from Australian ABC’s documentary Feb. 12
The assumption is that the target country was Iran, and it seems only reasonable that a company in Europe serving as cover for the Mossad might be selling goods to Iran. We have reported that Israel managed, over the years, to see to it that faulty equipment was shipped to Iran’s nuclear program.
We can note also that Italy historically has been cooperative with Mossad efforts. Israel’s secret agency feels that its counterparts in Italy are quite friendly.
February 21, 2013
The constant tug of war between protecting the nation’s security and satisfying the people’s right to know — an important facet of Israeli life — is on display, as authorities gradually release details of Ben Zygier’s death: though not yet his life.
Ben Zygier (from Australia’s ABC “Foreign Correspondent”)
A judge approved the release of parts (though not all) of the investigators’ conclusion that Zygier — an Australian-born Israeli, reliably reported to have been a covert operative in the Mossad — hanged himself in his high-security prison cell on December 15, 2010. He tied a wet bedsheet to the bars of the window in the toilet-and-shower part of the cell, where cameras apparently were absent. The sheet was twisted tight around his neck.
The report also said that there was a small amount of a tranquilizer drug in his bloodstream, but the investigators stated that the drug had nothing to do with Zygier’s suicide.
The judge, however, declared that she is keeping the case open, because there is evidence of “culpability” by prison authorities. They should have known that preventing the possibility of suicide was a vital part of their job. But instead, according to The Jerusalem Post, they made their first priority isolating Zygier so that he could have no communication with other people.
The report might be considered surprising when it reveals that Zygier’s family was actively involved and kept informed during the death investigation. There is no indication, however, that the family was told anything at all about their loved one’s covert career — or what he might have done to anger the Mossad and Shin Bet (the domestic security agency).
Prime Minister Netanyahu
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu obviously sought to discredit media reports that Zygier’s violation was revealing information to the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) by issuing an unexpected statement: “between the government of Israel and all its agencies, and the government of Australia and the Australian security agencies, there is excellent cooperation, full coordination, and complete transparency in dealing with current issues.”
The situation seems to suggest again that Australian officials were not disturbed by Israel’s arrest of Zygier. Officials revealed last week that they were informed through intelligence channels when Zygier was locked up in February 2010. It is, at the least, a remarkable coincidence that around the same time the Australian government was criticizing the Mossad publicly for using Australian passports in its covert operations — including the murder, the previous month, of a Hamas operative in a Dubai hotel (the assassination mission in which up to 26 Israeli secret operatives were seen by security cameras).
Another reasonable conclusion, though admittedly not based on full facts, would be that Ben Zygier’s alleged crimes against Israel were considered very serious. One of the lawyers on his defense team has revealed that when Zygier was considering a plea bargain — a day or two before his death — the state prosecutors’ offer was a “double-digit sentence”: at least 10 years in prison.
February 20, 2013
By DAN RAVIV in Washington
A follow-up by Trevor Bormann suggests that Ben Zygier’s alleged crime stemmed from his contacts with the Australian security and intelligence agency, ASIO. Bormann is the reporter who scored a scoop on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation by revealing that a so-called Prisoner X held by Israel, who was found dead in his prison cell in late 2010, was an Australian-born Mossad operative.
a screen grab from Australian ABC’s documentary Feb. 12
Bormann’s original report made waves worldwide, but last week on TV he was unable to establish what Zygier — who renamed himself Ben Alon after moving to Israel but also is said to have used other names — may have done to anger his bosses at the Mossad.
Would Israel’s security authorities — both in the Mossad and in the domestic security agency Shin Bet — lock up one of their own covert operatives, on suspicion of revealing secrets to a basically friendly country such as Australia? Would such an arrest be kept totally secret, with a judge issuing a gag order to ensure that the Israeli news media would never mention the case?
The answer is yes. If, as the new report from the Australian ABC suggests, the Mossad had an ongoing operation against Iran, then silencing any leaks would be a high priority. Based on precedents, one may speculate that Israel would not kill or imprison forever such a person. Keeping him out of the picture for a few years would suffice from an operational point of view, and Israeli prosecutors and judges might add more prison time for punishment and to deter other Mossad people from spilling secrets.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is calling on “everyone” to stop revealing information about the case. As translated by Joel Greenberg of the Washington Post:
“The security and intelligence forces of Israel act under the full supervision of the legal authorities… In this combination of maintaining security and abiding by the law, freedom of speech is also maintained — but overexposure of security and intelligence activity can damage, sometimes even seriously damage, national security.”
Netanyahu added — and referenced what makes Israeli intelligence and its challenges so unique: “We are not like other countries. We are more threatened, more challenged, and therefore we must maintain proper activity of our security agencies. So I ask everyone: Let the security forces carry on their work quietly, so we can continue living in security and tranquility in the State of Israel.”
February 18, 2013
On Wednesday morning, Israeli authorities eased — but did not entirely lift — their ban on any discussion in the Israeli news media of a Mossad secret operative who hanged himself in an Israeli prison.
Ben Zygier/Allon (from Australia’s ABC)
On Wednesday night, the Ministry of Justice in Jerusalem issued a statement confirming that an Israeli-Australian dual citizen had been imprisoned and in 2010 was found dead in his cell. It said the man’s family had been informed after he was arrested. Only recently officials (without any public announcement) reached a conclusion that he committed suicide by hanging, but investigations continue into any failures, abuse, or wrongdoing by prison officials.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s “Foreign Correspondent” series had a half-hour report this week on the mysterious life and death of the man, born as Ben Zygier to a prominent Jewish family in Melbourne, Australia, who was known in Israel as Ben Alon.
On Wednesday morning, Israel Radio’s Keren Neubach phoned Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, seeking his analysis. Melman explained that two years ago, when he was working for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, he and the paper tried to publish an item — giving some partial details about a “Prisoner X” held secretly in an Israeli prison — based entirely on something that had appeared in a British newspaper.
Usually Israel’s military censor permits repetition of claims and information that have appeared in foreign publications, but — citing a gag order issued by an Israeli judge — the authorities did not allow Melman or the newspaper to say anything about Prisoner X.
Melman said on the radio that in the age of the internet and social networking — when any Israeli can go on the Web and read or watch what Australian TV revealed about Prisoner X and his suicide in 2010 — there is no point in banning any word of it in the Israeli news media.
Melman added, however, that the State of Israel does not “disappear” people. If someone is charged with a crime, however serious, that person is brought before a judge, a state prosecutor draws up charges, the person’s family is informed, and a legal verdict is reached by a court. In many cases touching upon the security and intelligence agencies, every step is however “behind closed doors.”
The Associated Press notes that the most recent case of a person vanishing — apparently through the action of Israel’s espionage agency Mossad and/or security agency Shin Bet — was that of an Arab who was last seen on a train in Ukraine. Dirar Abu Sisi was later confirmed to be in custody in Israel, where he faces charges of being the director of Hamas’s rocket attacks against Israel.
February 13, 2013
There were a lot of moving parts, behind the scenes, when a ceasefire was hammered out between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist faction, Hamas. As is standard with covert, or “alternative,” diplomacy, the Israelis handled it through their foreign intelligence agency, the Mossad.
The director of the Mossad, Tamir Pardo, was in Cairo to be part of the negotiations. We have learned that he had meetings with the chief of Turkey’s national intelligence organization (known as MIT), Hakan Fidan.
Fidan has been a close confidant of Prime Minister Recip Erdogan for many years and took over as MIT director two years ago. Fidan seems to be intimately linked with a Turkish decision to cool — and even irritate — relations with Israel, while emphasizing Turkey’s Muslim identity in order to gain more prestige in the Middle East.
Still, many Israeli officials — and Western officials who hope this is not merely wishful thinking — see possibilities for restoring cooperative relations with Turkey. There used to be joint military exercises and frequent exchanges of security-related intelligence. The first steps toward cooperation could be covert, rather than open, but still that would be seen as very useful to Israel.
Israel and Turkey both are concerned about what may happen next in Syria, which is literally sandwiched between them. Neither the Israelis nor the Turks want Islamic radicals to be in charge of Syria, nor do they want chaotic civil war to continue forever.
They also could find common cause against Iran, which is trying to establish hegemony over the Middle East — while Jerusalem and Ankara could seen as rival power centers.
This past week in Cairo provided another example of how intelligence agencies can maintain productive relationships — even when diplomatic relations are severely frayed or even non-existent.
The entire effort, under the inexperienced Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, was coordinated by Egypt’s generally secretive intelligence agency. It had a lot of contact and joint projects with Israel’s Mossad during Hosni Mubarak’s decades in the presidency. The connection was not severed.
As our book reports in detail, the Mossad department known as Tevel (“Universe”) often acts as an alternative foreign ministry. It has had contacts, since the birth of the State of Israel 64 years ago, with Arab and Muslim leaders who would never admit having anything to do with the Jewish state. Tevel diplomacy in Morocco laid the groundwork for the historic trip to Jerusalem by Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat in 1977, and the Mossad has an unacknowledged presence in some of the Arabian Gulf nations.
Wikileaks revealed a diplomatic cable that included the ruler of Bahrain confiding to U.S. officials that the Mossad has a station in his country. We can also report with confidence that Meir Dagan, director of the Mossad from 2002 to 2010, met with officials of Saudi Arabia. It is noteworthy that the head of Saudi intelligence is Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, the former ambassador to Washington who made a point of being in cordial contact with American Jewish leaders. In Jordan in 2008, Prince Bandar met with Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and discussed Iran and the chances for peace with the Palestinians.
The Mossad’s general take on clandestine contacts can be summed up with the phrase, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
November 24, 2012
by Yossi Melman
TEL AVIV—For the first time in the 61 years of the history of the Mossad, one of the directors of Israel’s foreign espionage and operations agency is claiming responsibility for an assassination attempt. General Yitzhak Hofi, who was head of the Mossad from 1974 to 1982, revealed that his agents tried to kill a Nazi war criminal who was hiding out in Syria’s capital, Damascus.
unconfirmed photo, said to be Nazi officer Alois Brunner
The target was Alois Brunner, an Austrian-born SS officer who served as Adolf Eichmann’s assistant and practically was his deputy during the Holocaust. Eiohmann was located and kidnapped in Argentina in 1960 by a combined team from the Mossad and Israel’s domestic security agency, Shin Bet. Considered the architect of Adolf Hitler’s “Final Solution” which murdered six million Jews, Eichmann was put on trial in Jerusalem, convicted, and hanged.
Brunner was infamous for being particularly cruel. He was a sadist who was directly responsible for the deportation and murder of at least 130,000 Jews from Austria, Greece, Slovakia, and France during the Second World War. He was condemned to death in absentia after the war by a French court, but he had managed to escape from Europe and found shelter in Damascus, Syria.
The strongly anti-Israel Arab government in Syria appeared to have welcomed Brunner, and he was employed as a security consultant for the Syrians, specializing in interrogations.
Consecutive Syrian regimes denied that Brunner — whose credentials as a Nazi war criminal were widely publicized by Israel and by Jewish organizations — was residing in Damascus.
But the Israeli spy agency located him. There may have been great temptation to kidnap him, perhaps in the hope that Eichmann and Brunner — the boss and his henchman — could stand trial together in the modern, free Jewish state of Israel.
Organizing a snatch operation in the capital of an enemy country would be much more difficult, however, than mounting a kidnapping in Argentina — with a team of dozens of Israelis involved in the Eichmann mission.
Instead, the Mossad twice sent parcel bombs to Brunner in Syria. The first time was in 1961, the same year Eichmann was found guilty of crime against humanity by the Israeli court and executed.
Brunner opened the letter, and it exploded. The notorious German lost his left eye, but he survived. He was 49 years old at the time.
In 1980, once again an exploding parcel was sent to him. Brunner, with obviously imperfect security or ignoring precautions, also opened this one. This time, at age 68, he lost a few fingers.
The two assassination attempts were attributed by the international media to the Mossad. But, as is standard practice in Israel, neither the espionage agency nor the government commented on the published stories.
Official Mossad photo of Yitzhak Hofi
Now, at the age of 85, Hofi chatted with an Israeli film crew preparing a documentary on his life and career. The former Mossad chief told the interviewers that “we dealt” with Brunner, “trying to kill him, but we failed.”
While Wikipedia has a birth date for Brunner in 1912 and does not say he has passed away, we have learned otherwise. An Israeli intelligence source told us that Brunner died of natural causes in 2008 in Damascus at the age of 96.
Spies against Armageddon, in chronicling the history of all the Israeli espionage and security agencies from 1948 until today, tells the stories of Mossad manhunts for Nazi war criminals from the early 1950′s to the 80′s.
November 1, 2012
Spies Against Armageddon details a highly unusual and complicated plot by Israel to enter Iraq
Saddam Hussein, later overthrown by the Americans and hanged
and assassinate Iraq’s then-president Saddam Hussein. He was considered a dangerous foe, and he had attacked the Jewish state with missiles that terrified Israelis — at the same time that an American-led coalition was pushing Saddam’s forces out of Kuwait in 1991.
Here is an excerpt from our Chapter 22, “Assassins,” which also has a lot of information about assassination missions conducted by Kidon (Bayonet), the ultra-special operations unit within the Mossad:
As the Gulf War was raging in early 1991, Saddam Hussein showered the Jewish state with 39 Scud missiles. Israeli leaders refrained from retaliating, because of restrictions imposed by the George H.W. Bush administration, and they felt humiliated. They believed that they somehow had to strike back – not simply for the sake of face-saving but to restore deterrence, always a key part of Israeli defense.
IDF Chief of Staff Ehud Barak, a lover of special operations, concocted yet another plan that was truly unprecedented: a plot to assassinate the leader of a foreign country. The target would be Saddam, and the plan would involve Israeli soldiers penetrating deep into Iraq. Barak brought the idea to Defense Minister Moshe Arens. They were both very frustrated by America’s handcuffing of Israel. Arens okayed the preparations.
Israel, except for one case, had never before considered killing the leader of a country. The exception was Egypt’s Nasser.
As a general rule, Israel’s own leaders concluded long ago that if they started down the path of targeting the leaders of states, it would change the rules of the game. The Middle East conflict would be even uglier, and the tactic could backfire.
Therefore, heads of state were out of bounds – even during the heyday of extreme hatred and state-sponsored terrorism.
This deviation, trying to eliminate Iraq’s dictator, was justified by the notion that he had violated two taboos: His missile strikes tried to hit Dimona; and he had targeted the largest of civilian targets, Tel Aviv, the icon of modern Israel.
Still, there was a great deal of hesitation on the Israeli side. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who had replaced Shamir and now also held the defense ministry portfolio, was reluctant.
Rabin found support in his skepticism from the Mossad chief, Shabtai Shavit, who succeeded Nahum Admoni in 1989. Rabin and Shavit concluded that it would be nearly impossible to get close to Saddam for a short-range hit by Kidon teams. They also knew that the Iraqi dictator rarely went out in public and often sent out body doubles instead.
Rabin gave Barak a green light only to practice the plan being developed, but without promising an okay for its final execution.
The plan, codenamed “Bramble Bush,” called for finding a day that President Saddam would be making a public appearance outdoors. Mossad and Aman collection units – which had the use of Israel’s first reconnaissance satellite – worked hard to keep track of Saddam’s schedule and movements.
Iraqi agents working for the Mossad provided the information that he would be attending a ceremony to inaugurate a new bridge over the Tigris River. The agents found a hotel that, while quite distant, would have a clear shot at the ceremony site.
A few Sayeret Matkal commandos were selected to be flown secretly into Iraq by helicopter, and agents would pick them up and drive them to that hotel. On a pre-chosen balcony, they would have a newly developed shoulder-fired missile dubbed “Beyond the Horizon.” Plans were made for alternate locations, as well.
On November 5, 1992, a year and a half after the Gulf War ended, the chosen commandos gathered at a large army training base in the Negev Desert for a dress rehearsal. In the audience sat the top brass of the Israeli military, including Barak, Aman chief Uri Saguy, and many intelligence officers.
Almost incredibly, considering their long track record of stunning successes, a fatal mix-up occurred. A missile that was supposed to be a harmless dummy, for what trainers called “a dry run,” was mistakenly the “wet run” missile. It exploded within a group of Sayeret Matkal soldiers, killing five of them.
The tragedy for Israel’s secretive commandos put an end to the plan titled Bramble Bush. Details started to leak out, as this accident was so major that censorship could not keep a lid on it. Non-Israeli newspapers reported that commandos died while planning to kill Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon. Within a few months, it became known that the intended target was Iraq’s Saddam.
Prime Minister Rabin had never given the green light for the assassination mission, and the idea was dropped. Israel, since then, has not gone after national leaders — not even Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who publicly advocated wiping Israel off the map.
October 2, 2012
by Yossi Melman in Tel Aviv
Israel has just come to a standstill for 26 hours. It’s the eve of Yom Kippur, and even for those who don’t attend Kol Nidrei services at synagogues it is a very quiet time – suitable for contemplation and reflection.
Yom Kippur is, of course, the Day of Atonement: the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.
For many Israelis, notably those who were in the army or the security agencies in the early 1970s, this is remembered as the 39th anniversary of Israel’s biggest military and intelligence failure. On that day, at least – October 6, 1973 – it was a defeat for the seemingly invincible forces of Israel.
Egypt and Syria took Israel by surprise, with coordinated attacks in the South and in the North. The Yom Kippur War – known to Arabs as The October War – cost the lives of nearly 2,700 young Israeli servicemen. Restoring some measure of pride to Egypt and its then-president Anwar Sadat, the war did also pave the way to a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979.
Ashraf Marwan was paid by Israel’s Mossad
Recently declassified documents in Israel reveal a large part of the intelligence failure: the refusal to believe information from a top-level spy in Cairo, an Egyptian who was very close to Sadat, who told the Mossad that Egypt and Syria would attack on October 6. Our book similarly tells the tale of that spy for the Mossad. His name was Ashraf Marwan, and he was a son-in-law of Sadat’s predecessor, Gamal Abdel Nasser. Israelis and Egyptians still debate whether Marwan might have been a double- or a triple-agent. Whom did he truly serve? His mysterious death in London in 2007 only deepened the debate.
That story is in our Chapter 12, “Surprises of War and Peace,” as is another entirely new and true tale of Israeli espionage inside Egypt in the years leading up to the Yom Kippur War.
The protagonist, whose family asks that he not be named, was an Israeli Jew who had linguistic abilities and was recruited by the Mossad. He was trained as an intelligence officer and sent into Egypt in 1969 under deep cover – with a most unusual “legend,” or false identity. His story, unfortunately, does not have a happy ending. Here is an excerpt:
“Serving in the Mossad was a big honor for him,” one of his controllers recalled. He was clearly willing to take on a notably dangerous assignment: living, under a false identity, in an enemy country. His destination would be Egypt.
He underwent an intensive course to learn the crafts needed to be an intelligence officer. That was the usual stuff taught to dozens of Israelis as they prepared to vanish into enemy lands. Unusual in his case was the cover story.
Thanks to especially warm relations with a small nation, the leader of which was a true friend of Israel, the Mossad arranged that A. would go to Egypt as a citizen of that country. Only the country’s leader and three of his top officials were privy to the secret.
Before A. left Israel, the head of Caesarea [the operations department], Mike Harari, tried unsuccessfully to persuade A.’s girlfriend to marry him and tag along on the adventure in Cairo. A married couple was considered safer – far less likely to be harassed or blackmailed – than a 30-year-old bachelor. Even worse, when Wolfgang Lotz [who spied for Israel in Cairo in the early 1960s] went to Egypt without his wife, he ended up marrying a second woman.
A. was very successful, from the Mossad’s point of view. He quickly became a prominent member of the expatriates’ circuit in Cairo, hosting parties and mingling with foreign diplomats and the Egyptian elites, including army officers.
He sent his information and observations in coded messages to Tel Aviv, using a transmitter hidden in the posh villa he rented in one of Cairo’s most prestigious neighborhoods. Some reports were sent in the mail to post office boxes rented by the Mossad in Europe.
When circumstances permitted, he traveled to European capitals for face-to-face meetings with his controllers, because then he could freely add details and respond to questions. He used some of those trips to fly to Israel for brief visits with his girlfriend.
Mossad headquarters began to realize that the fears about sending a bachelor were materializing. Several women in Cairo, notably the daughter of a European diplomat, were attracted by A., and he went out on dates with some of them.
His loneliness manifested itself in personal messages that he transmitted – along with his official espionage reports – asking that “birthday wishes” to his friends and regards to his girlfriend be passed along by the Mossad communications desk. His handlers, including Harari, found that to be excessive and reprimanded him; but they also grew increasingly concerned about his state of mind.
Still unable to persuade A.’s girlfriend to join him in Egypt, Harari decided – for the sake of the important mission – to “marry him off.” The Israeli spy was instructed to fly to Europe on “vacation,” where he would meet a pretty young woman and bring her to Cairo. Harari sent a female combatant, whose first initial was M., to meet A., and they were “married” in Europe by virtue of documents she brought with her from the Mossad’s forgers.
Before their flight to Egypt, they lavished a lot of Israeli government cash on new furniture, bed linens, and tableware – just as any newlyweds might do.
Now the Mossad had two spies in Cairo. A. and M. worked in concert and helped each other achieve more than one person could. In the months leading to the October 1973 war, A. was able to photograph the military build-up from Cairo all the way to the Suez Canal.
A. reported that Egypt was preparing for war. Military intelligence analysts in Tel Aviv were not moved by his reports. They were sticking to their conclusion that Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat was not ready for a new war.
A. and M. would remain in Cairo during the war and had the strange experience of seeing the entire city rejoicing at setbacks for Israeli troops. This, frankly, was frustrating for two Jews in the middle of a crowded Arab country, however well trained they might have been to act dispassionate.
They stayed in Egypt for another two years. The Caesarea department decided in 1976 to remove the “couple,” after consulting with the Mossad chief who took over in 1974, General Yitzhak Hofi. A. was offered a new job as an instructor at the Midrasha [the Mossad’s training academy], as he would have many experiences to share with up-and-coming Mossad field personnel. But he declined and decided to leave the agency.
M., meantime, had actually fallen in love with A. and wanted to marry him. Harari, in a cruel manner, told her that even if A. were willing, the Mossad would not allow that to happen. “You were sent on a specific mission,” Harari told her, “which now comes to an end – not to falling in love.”
A. was not interested in marrying her. A series of quarrels ensued, and M. telephoned him several times, yelling at him and insisting that some of the household assets were hers.
A. instead married his longtime sweetheart, who had loyally waited for seven years. They had an ostensibly normal life, including two children. But his espionage years were bothering him. The Mossad’s “rehabilitation” effort, routinely offered to operatives who returned home after a long mission, seemed to have failed.
He was haunted by the secret life he had lived. A. could not help but be suspicious of everyone as a potential attacker or assassin.
On the other hand, in business, he genuinely was cheated by partners when trying to set up a plastics company. That failure depressed him. An even more scarring tragedy occurred when A.’s car struck and killed a pedestrian.
He asked the Mossad to help him with the obvious legal complications, but the agency refused to do anything for the former undercover employee. Feeling disappointed and bitter, A. left his wife and children and abruptly moved to his original homeland.
He did some odd jobs there, living hand to mouth. His life story was reminiscent of that of Wolfgang Lotz, who also became a lost soul after his secret years in Egypt. But in this case, the story had an even sadder ending. Sitting in a city park one day, A. committed suicide.
In his tale is further proof that very rarely did any spy who worked under deep cover return home as a happy, well-adjusted person.
[from the new book by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, pp. 159-161]
September 25, 2012
by Dan Raviv in Washington
Because of the tragic deaths of four Americans, including the courageous and popular Ambassador Chris Stevens, in Libya on the 11th anniversary of 9/11, media interest in the Middle East is high. In many large Arab cities, protests aimed at U.S. embassies continue to flare. The 14-minute “movie” that the crowds may think they are protesting was ridiculous, immaturely done, mean, and — until this furor — barely noticed by anyone. Yet that video, insulting the Prophet Muhammad, has done its damage.
On CBS TV on Sunday evening (Sept. 16) ”60 Minutes” re-aired Lesley Stahl’s interview with Meir Dagan, the director of the Mossad spy agency who recently retired. He made headlines by speaking out against the notion of Israel’s military attacking Iran at this time. <That interview: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7401688n >
Our book seeks to explain what Dagan may have in mind. We believe that he was advocating a lot more sabotage — including covert action inside Iran and more use of sophisticated cyberwarfare. As we wrote in Chapter 1, “Stopping Iran”:
The Mossad – and Dagan himself – devoted a lot of energy to learning everything possible about Iran’s domestic public opinion and pressures within Iranian society. While half of Iran’s population was Persian, the country was a multiethnic tapestry with Azeris, Kurds, Arabs, Baluchis, and Turkmen. The minorities were all oppressed, to one degree or another, and could be seen as weak links in the Iranian chain.
Such tensions could be exploited by psychological warfare, to stir up discontent inside Iran. Identifying deeply unhappy citizens also provided a pool of potential paid informants for the Mossad.
Covert action could take many forms: recruiting high-quality agents in Iran’s leadership and inside the nuclear program, sabotaging nuclear facilities, and assassinating key figures in the program. The overall philosophy of this comprehensive action plan – in Dagan’s analysis, voiced by him and others in the Mossad – was “to define and use tools to change the mind of a country.”
Top-level Iranians would have to be persuaded, by actions and not just words, that pursuing nuclear weapons would backfire. They would have to be convinced that it would make their regime less likely to survive, not more. In the mentality of the Mossad, pressure and persuasion – by no means always gentle – would be a far better strategy than a massive air raid on nuclear facilities.
(end of excerpt from our book)
(The radio magazine show I anchor, CBS News Weekend Roundup, led with news and analysis of how foreign affairs issues invaded the presidential election campaign this past week. To listen to the 40-minute radio program: bit.ly/O5AdE8 .)
September 18, 2012
Dan Raviv, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, was questioned about Mossad methods — going back sixty years, and right up to the crises of today, such as Iran — on the CBS News overnight TV show, “Up To The Minute.”
The host is Terrell Brown. He and Dan chatted for 5 minutes.
The spot is part of continuing coverage of the book, including interviews by Charlie Rose on CBS and Wolf Blitzer on CNN.
WATCH VIDEO HERE.
September 10, 2012
Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, is cited as an expert and then quoted directly in coverage of the U.S.-Israel dispute in this piece in The New York Times. A new report from the International Atomic Energy Agency was the catalyst for the coverage.
The Times wrote: “Though Mr. Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are crucial to making the final call, attention has turned to a group of 14 ministers known as the inner cabinet, or security cabinet. Yossi Melman, an author of ‘Spies Against Armageddon,’ a history of Israeli intelligence, said military actions typically required “a solid majority” of 12 or 13 members of this group, which is currently divided.
“Remember, it’s whether to attack now or attack later; it’s not between peaceniks and warmongers,” Melman told The Times. “The argument against is don’t hurt the U.S. relationship, don’t risk relations with the president just for the satisfaction of conducting an attack before the election.”
August 28, 2012
[This is an adaptation from Chapter 1, "Stopping Iran," in 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 inGermany.
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.
August 26, 2012
[Adapted from Chapter 22, "Assassins," in Spies Against Armageddon by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman]
Whether it is a mini-Mossad within the agency, or even a planet of its own, the fact is that operatives in Kidon (Hebrew for “Bayonet”) are obscured by strict secrecy and further protected by military censorship of the Israeli media. Yet, an accurate window into the structure of Kidon, its modes of operation, and the moods and psyches of its members can be found in the pages of a novel.
- [official emblem of the Mossad]
The author is Mishka Ben-David, and a thorough dossier describing the Kidon unit is nestled in a seemingly innocent book of fiction he wrote, Duet in Beirut, published in Hebrew in 2002. Ben-David, though, is not just a novelist. He was an intelligence officer. He was in the Mossad. And if that is not real enough, then consider that he was the chief intelligence officer of Caesarea, the agency’s operations department that runs combatants – Jewish and non-Jewish – who penetrate such enemy countries as Syria, Egypt, and Iran.
Caesarea also has, at its service for special occasions, Kidon. This “Bayonet” unit is kept small but sharp, and it recruits men and women who already have proven themselves in their military service or in other intelligence work. They are judged, through a process that includes copious psychological profiling, to have excellent self-discipline. Even more importantly, they have the skills needed for operations that are on the edge. Many of them come from special forces units, such as Sayeret Matkal and Flotilla 13.
They are trained by highly motivated instructors and work in small teams of two or four – each of them known as a khuliya (a Hebrew word for “team” or “connected link”). Although Kidon’s overall size has never been published, there are several dozen khuliyot, and the entire secretive organization is referred to as “The Team.”
They are so compartmentalized that their office is not inside the Mossad headquarters at the Glilot junction north of Tel Aviv. They hardly ever go there, and even with the very few Mossad operatives with whom they interact, they use assumed names – so as to be anonymous even to them.
In the field, they use a third name, and sometimes even fourth and fifth identities.
Their training includes almost anything one might imagine is needed for a thorough intelligence operation: surveillance, shaking off surveillance, and how to study an object – things, buildings, or even people – and memorize everything about it.
They become proficient at remembering codes and securely communicating during missions without raising suspicion. On top of conventional communication gear, this can include an agent touching her nose or pulling her earlobe, or some other form of sanitized signal to colleagues.
One of the skills is to remain cool as a cucumber in all circumstances, and not to be shaken by any unexpected interruption, question, or approach by people – never hinting that you are involved in anything unusual.
In Ben-David’s adventure novel, a female Kidon combatant and the senior man who trained her are sent to penetrate a factory in a foreign country that manufactures parts for Iran’s nonconventional weapons. They are interrupted when another Kidon team, serving as their perimeter guard, informs them with urgency that unexpected guests are arriving. The guards disperse, according to plan, and the duo know precisely where to go to meet a car that is waiting there for such an eventuality. Everyone keeps their cool. Panic is not in their lexicon.
Kidon personnel excel at the manual skills that are often required in the field: picking or breaking a lock, surreptitiously taking photographs, and planting electronic devices. They also learn to master a variety of vehicles: not only cars and vans, but also motorcycles, which have become Kidon’s vehicle of choice – almost a trademark of a team that leaves few traces.
The Team’s members are constantly practicing the use of weapons, and as wide a variety of weapons as has ever been invented. They are very good at firing pistols, often with silencers, whether while standing, running, driving, or riding a motorcycle. They know how to shape, plant, and detonate explosives, including innovatively designed bombs. They are well practiced at stabbing enemies with knives, injecting them with hypodermic needles, or administering poison by way of newly minted delivery methods. In addition, well trained in martial arts, Kidon operatives are adept at using their own hands and feet as weapons.
The description of their skills may seem torn from a James Bond novel or movie, but they are not figments of a writer’s imagination. Kidon men and women are authentic intelligence officers who are taught a wide range of crafts. It is a barely concealed fact, within the Mossad, that they are Israel’s assassins. Moreover, they are considered to be supreme intelligence officers for all seasons – not simply a death squad.
August 24, 2012
A former Director of Central Intelligence is one of the readers of Spies Against Armageddon who are praising the book by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman, who were the authors of a best seller on Israeli intelligence in 1990 titled Every Spy a Prince.
After reading Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, James Woolsey — who is well versed in the history of CIA cooperation with Israeli espionage and security agencies — wrote:
“Raviv and Melman have redefined the gold standard for nonfiction about intelligence. This remarkable history of Israeli intelligence from the War of Independence to Stuxnet calls it straight. By describing the roots of both the triumphs and the screw-ups thoroughly and fairly, the authors help us see not only how Israel’s survival has been effectively protected — but the huge debt the rest of us owe.”
The reviews at Amazon.com
are uniformly 5 stars out of 5. One is by Joseph Gelman, co-author of a fascinating non-fiction book, Confidential: The Life of Secret Agent Turned Hollywood Tycoon, Arnon Milchan
. Milchan is among the dozens of colorful characters in Spies Against Armageddon,
in part because – before becoming one of the top movie producers in the world — Milchan took part in covert missions that helped Israel obtain materials it needed for its unacknowledged nuclear weapons. Shimon Peres, now president of Israel, coordinated much of that work and now has very high praise for Milchan. Here is what the author Gelman wrote about Raviv and Melman’s new book:
“A gripping read. Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman do it again! As a life-long student of Israeli intelligence history and capabilities, I have always found Raviv and Melman’s work over the decades to be indispensible and cutting-edge. ‘Spies Against Armageddon’ is chock-a-block with stunning material. I could not put the book down. For a sweeping history of Israeli intelligence accompanied by nail-biting descriptions of field operations, this is a must read.”
August 22, 2012
The buzz about Spies Against Armageddon, the new book about Israeli covert operations continues with this interview with Scripps-Howard News Service.
“Those seeking to understand Israel’s saber-rattling have a new piece of required reading,” writes Isaac Wolf. “In their rich volume, ‘Spies Against Armageddon,’ published by Levant Books, veteran reporters Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman tell the history of Israel’s intelligence community. It’s one cast from the horrors of the Holocaust and steeled by their Arab neighbors.
“Raviv, who has over 30 years of experience as a CBS News correspondent, and Melman, a longtime Israeli newspaper reporter on military and intelligence issues, trace the growth of Israel’s intelligence community, showing the long-standing tension between Israel’s efforts to gain respect from American spies as it simultaneously tries to trick them.”
August 20, 2012
by Dan Raviv
Many Israelis frequently say that their behavior — and even their declarations — are better than those of their violent, hostile neighbors in the Middle East. That’s a way of trying to stand together with the democratic countries of the West. But, in a region full of hostility, Marquis of Queensbury rules rarely endure.
Our book reports a long history of covert Israeli action which crosses many lines of international law and gentlemanly behavior.
Then, early Thursday morning, a tweet from @GPOIsrael — that is, Israel’s Government Press Office — called our attention to this less savory history.
That turns out to be a few ripe quotations of the military chief of staff — Israel’s top general, Benny Gantz [see photo] — threatening Iran. In the parlance of the Middle East, if one side bellows that it has every intention of striking you, the least you can do is bellow back.
There was no hint as to whether Israel might attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, either before or after the ultra-sensitive date of November 6 — America’s Election Day. As published by the news site Ynet:
IDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz on Wednesday conveyed a warning to Iran saying that “whoever will try to harm us will face our devastating might.”
Addressing recent statements by Iranian leaders in the backdrop of reports of a possible Israeli strike in Iran, Gantz said, “We are hearing explicit threats over Israel’s security and wellbeing of its people – threats that demonstrate an underestimation of our capabilities.”
He further added, “Anyone who thinks they can get rid of Israel and hurt our nation will discover the IDF’s devastating force. We stand steadfast along our borders in the face of threats. The IDF has the world’s best soldiers and commanders.”
August 20, 2012
By Dan Raviv
No one familiar with the history of modern state of Israel can think of a situation as extreme as the choice facing the Jewish state’s leaders now: whether to order their air force to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities — distant, well protected, and partially underground — so as to delay the suspected Iranian nuclear bomb program for a year or two.
[Israel's president, Shimon Peres, now 89 years old]
Senior figures in Israeli politics — as well as, more privately, in the military and in intelligence agencies — must feel that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are close to a decision: because opponents of an airstrike are stepping up their rhetoric to warn that it would be a terribly dangerous thing to do.
This week, the president of Israel — Shimon Peres, with a long history of involvement with secret projects such as Israel’s own nuclear capability — marked his 89th birthday with a very provocative interview, apparently defying Netanyahu and Barak. Peres said that he puts his trust in President Barack Obama’s declaration that the United States will not allow Iran to acquire or make nuclear weapons.
“I am convinced this is an American interest. I am convinced (Obama) recognizes the American interest and he isn’t saying this just to keep us happy. I have no doubt about it, after having had talks with him,” Peres told (Israel’s) Channel Two television.
“Now, it’s clear to us that we can’t do it alone. We can delay (Iran’s nuclear program). It’s clear to us we have to proceed together with America. There are questions about coordination and timing, but as serious as the danger is, this time at least we are not alone.”
A flurry of comments by Israeli officials and media reports over the past week have put financial markets on edge by appearing to suggest an attack could be launched before the U.S. presidential election in November.
An unidentified top “decision maker”, widely believed to be Barak, told Haaretz newspaper last Friday that Israel “cannot place the responsibility for its security and future even in the hands of its greatest ally”, a reference to the United States.
Peres said in the interview that he did not believe Israel would launch an attack on Iran before November.
As president, Peres, 89, has little political power in Israel. But he has won the respect of many Israelis while serving in the post and his opposition to any unilateral action poses an additional challenge to Netanyahu.
A political source close to Netanyahu issued an angry response to Peres’ comments shortly after the president’s interview was aired.
“Peres has forgotten what the role of Israel’s president is. He has forgotten that he made three major mistakes in regard to Israel’s security … his greatest mistake was in 1981 when he thought bombing the reactor in Iraq was wrong and, to the fortune of Israel’s citizens, Prime Minister Begin ignored him,” he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
On Friday night, also on Israel’s Channel Two, a former general who served as defense minister — and, for a short time this year as a deputy prime minister to Netanyahu during a failed attempt to govern with a very broad coalition — warned more explicitly against attacking Iran at this time. Shaul Mofaz seemed to be speaking as though Netanyahu and Barak might order an attack at any time, perhaps ignoring the reported, private appeal by Obama to Israel’s leaders not to attack — thus sparking a possibly global crisis — before America’s Election Day in November.
[Retired general, Shaul Mofaz]
Again, we quote Reuters, which reports that Mofaz warned against starting “a disastrous war”:
[He] said on Israeli television he thought Israel was “planning a hasty, irresponsible event”.
As a member of Netanyahu’s security cabinet for two months, Mofaz was privy to deliberations on Iran’s nuclear programme.
Naming both Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, he said he was “very worried at what they are preparing”. He added: ”I hope very much we don’t reach such a war because it would be a disaster.”
Days after he quit the cabinet late in July in a dispute about military conscription policy, Mofaz, who heads the centrist Kadima party, cautioned he would not back any Israeli military “adventures”.
His comments echoed those of other former Israeli security officials who have spoken against any unilateral attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, with some saying such an assault could spur Tehran to speed up uranium enrichment.
August 18, 2012