Israel and Turkey Restore Relations: Key Goal is a Cooperative Trio with Egypt

[Yossi Melman, co-author of the best seller on Israeli espionage and security, Every Spy a Prince, and the current book Spies Against Armageddon, wrote this for The Jerusalem Post in early March.  Today (June 27), Israel and Turkey are announcing the restoration of diplomatic relations after long, difficult negotiations.  What’s likely to happen now?]

Even if Israel and Turkey soon announce an end to their diplomatic crisis, which began almost six years ago as a result of the Mavi Marmara flotilla ship incident, relations between the two countries will not go back to how they once were.

The golden era of cooperation in the security and intelligence fields between the two countries up until a decade ago will certainly not come back. 

Turkey was a large and important market for Israel’s security industries, which provided drones, intelligence systems, tank and planes upgrades, and more. For years, there was close cooperation between the Mossad and Turkey’s intelligence agency, the MIT, which included meetings, an exchange of each countries’ situational assessments and more.

This cooperation began in 1958 with the initiation of an intelligence pact between Iran’s SAVAK, under the Shah, the Mossad and Turkish intelligence. The codename in Israel for this pact was “Clil” (Complete).

Prime Minister Erdogan

Prime Minister Erdogan

These intimate relations were ended by Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he rose to power in 2002, first as prime minister, and currently as president. It was a gradual process that deteriorated after the Marmara incident. However, the 2010 flotilla was merely a symptom of a deeper issue. Yet, despite the security and intelligence disconnect and the diplomatic crisis, both commercial and tourism ties did grow under Erdogan.

The initiative for a turnaround in relations has come from Ankara … Erdogan’s foreign and defense policies have failed miserably. He saw himself as the renewer of the days of the Ottoman Empire and as a modern-day, 21st century Sultan. He aimed to turn Turkey into a regional power, and perhaps into the strongest force in the Middle East, but this did not happen.

Instead, Turkey finds itself in a conflict with Russia and Iran over Syria, where Erdogan hoped to see President Bashar Assad ousted. Erdogan supported the Muslim Brothers in Egypt and now he finds himself at odds with Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi. Because of Turkey’s uncompromising fight against its Kurdish population, as well as in Syria and Iraq, Ankara is also losing its influence with NATO and with the U.S.

 Turkey is now more isolated than ever and is therefore interested in renewing ties with Israel, in the hope that the Jewish state can help Ankara improve its standing in Washington. Turkey also needs natural gas from Israel in order to diversify its sources of energy and to reduce its dependency on Russian gas.

Most of the disagreements between Israel and Turkey stemming from the Marmara incident have already been rectified. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized for the incident in which nine Turkish citizens were killed. Israel has already made clear that it is prepared to pay some $25 million in compensation to the families of the victims. Turkey has deported senior Hamas military wing official Salah Aruri from the country and has tightened its supervision of the organization’s members at Israel’s request. Ankara has also agreed to institute special legislation that will prevent IDF commanders from standing trial for the Marmara incident.

However, the bigger problem to be solved is connected to Hamas in Gaza. Turkey is looking for a foothold in the Strip.  [The Israeli government view is that] Erdogan broke the rules, and therefore he bears the responsibility for rectifying the situation. Egypt’s Sisi as well is not prepared to easily forgive and grant Erdogan a prize for his behavior, as if nothing happened.

If the golden formula is found, and the crisis is indeed solved, it will be part of a three-way deal: Israel-Egypt-Turkey, in which the strategic alliance with Egypt is much more important to Israel than rehabilitating ties with Turkey.

June 27, 2016

History Revealed: Politicians Hesitated, Generals Pushed Action on Eve of June 1967 Six-Day War

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

One of Israel’s most worrisome concerns in the days preceding the 1967 Six Day War was that the Egyptian Air Force would attack the nuclear reactor in Dimona. This was revealed in the newly released and declassified secret documents of the IDF Archives, to mark the 48th anniversary of that war, which began June 5.

The war broke out with the Israel Air Force’s surprise preemptive strike, which within three hours destroyed the entire Egyptian Air Force, sitting like ducks on the tarmacs of its airfields.

On June 2, the government’s security cabinet convened for a tense and dramatic meeting with the IDF General Staff. It was the first session to include Moshe Dayan as the new defense minister, appointed only a day before.  Prime Minister Levi Eshkol had held the defense portfolio, but had just been forced due to public pressure to relinquish it.

Eshkol’s decision to step down as defense minister was a result of a confusing speech that he delivered during a live radio broadcast in which he stuttered. The impression on the Israeli public, already under tremendous fear of another Holocaust, was overwhelming.

The times were of extreme emotions and tension, referred to as the “waiting period.”

Roughly two weeks earlier the Egyptian Army broke the international agreement with Israel, signed a decade earlier after the 1956 Sinai Campaign, and entered the demilitarized Sinai Peninsula. A few days later, the Egyptians expelled the UN peacekeeping force and closed the Straits of Tiran, blocking Israeli and international ships from reaching the port of Eilat. Israel, naturally, saw that as an act of war.

Moshe Dayan: Knew It Would Take 6 Days

Moshe Dayan: Knew It Would Take 6 Days

Israel mobilized its military reserves, partially paralyzing its economy. The meeting of the cabinet ministers and the military echelon would later become known as the “generals’ putsch,” as some of these senior officers demanded of Eshkol and the cabinet to make an immediate decision to launch a preemptive strike.

As can be seen in the minutes that are public for the first time, the meeting opened with a briefing by then Military Intelligence chief Maj.- Gen. Aharon Yariv, who said that one of the battle scenarios was that the Egyptian air force would launch “a strike to destroy Dimona and airfields.”

Construction of the Dimona nuclear reactor began in 1958 and was completed in 1961. According to foreign analysts in the decades to follow, Israel — by the eve of the Six-Day War — had already managed to assemble one nuclear weapon.

Israel Air Force commander Maj.- Gen. Mordechai Hod revealed that Egyptian military planes had managed to infiltrate Israel’s air space on reconnaissance missions at least four times, photographing the port of Eilat on the Red Sea and another site – that was censored.

It can be assumed that their target was to take images of the nuclear reactor at Dimona.

Later, Yariv explained that efforts that the US or an international force would compel the Egyptians to lift their blockade had failed.

“We believe that the US doesn’t consider taking a strong and serious action to lift the naval blockade and solve the crisis,” he said, adding, “We believe that the US understands that we have to act.” Also, Yariv told the generals and cabinet members, “American experts estimate that Israel can win the battle.”

He stressed that “there are people in important places in the US who see an Israeli action as an easy solution for the US to get out of this entanglement.”

This remark by the chief of Military Intelligence can be interpreted as an Israeli understanding that the US administration was signaling Israel to launch the war.

Then IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Yitzhak Rabin – who had just returned to work after a nervous breakdown, which was hidden from the public and explained as “nicotine poisoning” – warned: “As time passes and Israel doesn’t act, Arab confidence is growing and our mission will be harder.”

Soldiers Prepare for the War, 48 Years Ago, that Changed History (IDF Archives)

Soldiers Prepare for the War, 48 Years Ago, that Changed History (IDF Archives)

Rabin added, “I feel that the military and diplomatic ring to strangle us is tightening.”

Nevertheless, he assured the meeting that “We can do it [win the war – YM], especially if the initiative is in our hands.”

Yet most ministers were not convinced.

They expressed concern that the Soviet Union might intervene if Israel launched a military campaign and asked questions about the defense capabilities of the IDF, especially the air force, to protect cities from Egyptian air raids and bombs.

Eshkol remained hesitant, which drove then Maj.-Gen. Ariel Sharon to use harsh words bordering on contempt for the government – a style that characterized him in years to come.

“Because of hesitations and our time wasting, we lost our main deterring factor – this is the Arab states’ fear of our army. We destroy it day by day. The loss of our deterrence is the most important factor,” Sharon said.

Moshe Dayan then had the floor for the first time. He said that, although there was no guarantee, the IDF could defeat the Egyptian Army in six days – exactly the same time it took to do it in the Sinai Campaign in 1956, when Dayan was chief of staff.

He added that extra days would perhaps be required to complete the task and conquer Sharm e-Sheikh, which overlooks the Straits.

“What are we waiting for?” Dayan asked, and his words were echoed by Maj.-Gen. Mattityahu Peled, who after the war became one of the first promoters of the notion of giving the Palestinian Arabs the West Bank and Gaza to be a state of their own.

Eshkol tried his best to calm the hot-blooded attitude of Dayan and the generals. He turned to Sharon and said, “I was disgusted by what you said.”

The prime minister continued to express concern that, despite the comforting words of Rabin that the Soviet Union most likely would not interfere in the war, it was still not known how the Soviets would react.

Eshkol explained that the waiting period was still important, because it helped to “engrave in [US president Lyndon] Johnson’s ears that we didn’t cheat him.

”I truly hope that we will not need him in the middle of the war.” Eshkol concluded.

The meeting dispersed after two and a half hours with no decision. Two days later, Eshkol and the cabinet gave the IDF the order to launch Red Sheet, the code word for the preemptive strike against Egypt and a war that changed the course of Israel’s history.

June 5, 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

The Sinai: For Israel, Long a Buffer but Now a Battlefield — Israel Firmly on Egypt’s Side

[This article was originally written for The Jerusalem Report by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon and other books.]

EILAT — The Israel Defense Forces’ Division No. 80 is stationed on the steep slopes of the Eilat Mountains, three kilometers west of Israel’s southern port and resort town, on the shores of the Red Sea.

The division, also known as the Edomite Division (named after the ancient tribes who lived in the area in Biblical times), is responsible for overseeing Israel’s longest borders — with Jordan and Egypt — which total a length of nearly 500 kilometers.

Both Arab countries have signed peace treaties with Israel: Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. Since then, they have maintained full diplomatic relations with Israel.

They have kept close through clandestine military, security and intelligence cooperation. This tight coordination is largely due to the fact that Cairo and Amman have identified important areas in which they share crucial common interests with Israel.

= = = = = 

Update: A newsletter based in France, Intelligence On Line, reports that Israeli military intelligence’s electronic intercept Unit 8200 is assisting Egyptian intelligence by eavesdropping on and tracking suspected terrorists now known as SP — the “Sinai Province” of the Islamic State, formerly Ansar Beit al-Maqdas. This group swore allegiance to IS a few months ago.

= = = = =

The shared interests with Egypt and Jordan are especially relevant due to dangers and threats posed by the rise of radical and militant Islamist groups, such as the Islamic State (IS), and the various jihadist factions affiliated with al-Qaeda and Hamas.

Still, there is a big difference between Israel’s perception of these dangers, and the reality facing Jordan to the east and particularly Egypt to the west.

Though the danger of IS — now struggling in its bloody battles in Syria and Iraq and turning its eyes on Jordan — indeed looms on the horizon, so far Israeli security sources see no evidence of its presence in the Hashemite Kingdom.

Thus, as far as Israel is concerned, the Jordanian frontier is indeed a real “peace border.” For the last several years, there have been no terrorist incidents or attempts to infiltrate Israel from Jordan.

Even the criminal activity – mainly drug smuggling – has been very low. The ultimate evidence for this tranquil reality is the fact that there is no fence separating the two countries. If and when the national budget permits it, Israel plans to erect a fence along the Jordanian border – but knowing Israel’s national priorities, especially after this month’s election, when social and economic matters may top the agenda, the notion of constructing a fence between Israel and Jordan is very far away.

The Egyptian border, on the other hand, is much less calm and much more worrying, despite the decades-old peace treaty.

Two years ago, Israel completed the construction of a 200 km-long fence from Eilat to Gaza. The construction costs topped 2 billion Shekels (about $500 million) and posed a serious engineering challenge, to overcome the natural topography of deep canyons and high mountains, set among sharp angles.

A visit to the area shows an impressive piece of work – a fence hundreds of kilometers long and 3-4 meters high, equipped with electronic sensors and cameras.

When the fence was originally planned and designed by the Israeli government under Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership, it was designated to stop the flood of African immigrants and job seekers mainly from Eritrea and Sudan.

Prior to construction of the fence, between 6,000 and upwards of 10,000 people – sometime entire families – were able to easily infiltrate Israel from the Sinai Peninsula. Last year, only 12 infiltrators managed to reach Israel. In that sense, the fence has proved to be justified and effective.

But in the last three years, the fence has become even more important to stop (or at least scale down) the threat of terrorism. In the twilight times between the toppling of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2011 (as part of what was termed the Arab Spring) and the installation of the Muslim Brotherhood regime of Muhammad Morsi (who is now sentenced to death by an Egyptian court), a terrorist group emerged in Sinai. It called itself Ansar Beit al-Maqdas (translated literally to mean Supporters of the Sacred House — generally a reference to the Muslim claim on Jerusalem).

An Islamic State flag (photo at MEMRI.org)

An Islamic State flag (photo at MEMRI.org)

The group renamed itself three months ago to become the Sinai Province (SP) of the Islamic State, after pledging allegiance to IS and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Two motives triggered its transformation: Ideology and a hope for financial infusion.

The Islamic State, which split three years ago from Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, introduced a new notion to radical Islam. Instead of advocating the idea of transcending global Jihad (holy war) – i.e. world terrorism with no borders — IS preached the creation of territorial units which would adhere to the 7th century fundamental ideas that ruled the region with the spread of the Prophet Muhammad’s Islam.

IS not only preached and talked.  In 2014, it began to walk the walk, and embarked on implementing its philosophy in the large areas which it conquered in Iraq and Syria.

The idea of territorial Islamic units had a great appeal for Ansar Beit al-Maqdas, but regardless of its name change, cosmetic alterations and facelift, the group’s aims have remained the same. First and foremost, its operations are focused on fighting the Egyptian government and military, with the goal of destabilizing the central regime, primarily to seize control of Sinai. Its secondary goal is to fight Israel.

The Sinai Peninsula is a huge arid desert of 60,000 square kilometers (more than twice the collective size of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank), which for centuries has served as a crossroads between Africa, Asia and Europe, carrying the weight of strategic importance and historical significance. It spreads between the Red Sea, the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea, bordering Israel and mainland Egypt, in close proximity to Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

(courtesy iris.org.il)

(courtesy iris.org.il)

Today the Sinai is home to 360,000 inhabitants, mostly nomads (Bedouin), of which 80,000 are Palestinians and foreigners to the peninsula. These inhabitants live below the poverty line, in conditions substandard even to the deteriorating Egyptian economy. The locals live basically in tribal societies, earning meager livings working for the declining tourist industry and from the smuggling of goods, drugs and weapons, as well as human trafficking.

The SP is considered to be a small group, consisting of fewer than 1,000 warriors, assistants and sympathizers. It draws its support from the local Bedouin tribes, the two largest being the Tarabin and the Azazma, which have branched family ties in the Israeli Negev desert. Its main presence is in the northern parts of Sinai around the district city of El Arish, with small cells in the central peninsula.

Despite its efforts, the group has no influence in the southern part of Sinai or in the Red Sea strip leading to Eilat, which is home to the bulk of Sinai’s tourism industry and is one of the most important sources of revenue generation for the Egyptian economy. As such, the Egyptian government tries its best to co-opt the local tribesmen by offering them jobs in order minimize the temptation of aiding SP. So far the policy has been successful.

Before pledging allegiance to IS, the SP supported its terror ventures by robbing ATM machines and banks, auto theft, trading in stolen goods, and drug smuggling. Western sources monitoring SP say that so far, there is no evidence that its merger with IS has showered it with the expected bonanza. For the short term, at least, it seems it has been forced to rely on its old and familiar sources of income.

Small though it is, the Sinai Province has turned out to be a lethal battleground.

Over the course of 2014, its militants killed 350 Egyptian soldiers, policemen, security servicemen and government officials. The group’s tactics have shown a constant improvement from small-size ambushes and casual rifle shootings to car bombings and relatively well-coordinated large-scale attacks against Egyptian military bases and police stations. Some of these raids were intended not only to kill, but also to capture weapons.

A milestone attack by SP occurred in January 2015, against the local headquarters of the Egyptian army in El Arish. It was a well-executed and coordinated operation, which included exploding car bombs and firing mortar shells.

Egypt's President Sisi, in his military days

Egypt’s President Sisi, in his military days

The incident ended in the deaths of 44 Egyptian soldiers and officers, and the looting of army weapons and armored vehicles. The attack shocked President Abdulfatah al Sisi, who openly declared war against SP, promising towipe out the group and restore law and order to the area.

Egyptian officials claim that SP is supported by foreign jihadists that entered Sinai from Yemen and Somalia. But Western intelligence sources have told me that there is no evidence of foreign presence. “Basically SP is a local organization,” said one.

The Egyptian government under Sisi has also accused Hamas of supporting SP. This accusation is understandable, judging from the war the president has raged against the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is a Gaza extension. But the Western intelligence sources say that although such ties between Hamas and SP existed in the past, they have all but ceased at the present. If at all, SP might maintain contact with some renegade radical Gaza Islamists – those which, incidentally, Hamas has been trying to eliminate.

In the last two months, there have been indications that the Egyptian army has intensified its campaign and managed to inflict heavy casualties to SP.

The success of the Egyptian offensive was clearly helped by Israel’s readiness to make some major concessions.

It was President Sisi himself who earlier this month revealed to the Washington Post that Israel had agreed to let his army deploy more troops and helicopters in Sinai, particularly in the northern part — well beyond the limits set by the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.  Sisi added that he regularly consults with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

This Israeli concession is no wonder. It is an essential Israeli interest that Sinai remain a quiet arena with no terrorism. But with all the upgraded security cooperation and coordination between the two countries along the border and at the military headquarters and government levels.

Israel cannot rely on Egyptian determination and capabilities to defeat SP.

The fence is just one measure Israel has implemented to secure its border. It has also built fortified posts along the border, manned by IDF troops, who day and night patrol the area and lay ambushes to prevent Sinai-based terrorists from attacking southern Israel.

Over the last few years, armed groups — be they Palestinian militants, the local organization now known as SP, or drug smugglers — have attacked IDF positions and patrols, killing soldiers and civilians. Last year alone, 10 rockets were launched from Sinai in the direction of Eilat.

In 2007, before the fence was erected, a Palestinian terrorist carrying a bomb easily crossed the border and blew himself up in an Israeli bakery, killing three civilians.

“Our worst nightmare,” a senior IDF officer told reporters during a visit along the border fence, “is that SP will try to repeat its deadly attack from last January, but this time against our troops or against Eilat. Our mission is to prevent that. We are vigilant all year long, but especially now, before the Passover holiday [which begins April 3rd], when hundreds of thousands of Israeli and foreign tourists will visit Eilat.”

This mission is made all the more challenging by the fact that both Israeli and Egyptian intelligence admit that they know very little about SP, its structure, members and levels of command. They also admit that it is not easy to penetrate the group and collect information, considering the close-knit environment in which it exists.

March 20, 2015

Israel’s 2015: Egypt, Iran, and the Unresolved Palestinian Issue

[This is the continuation of an analysis of Israel’s strategic position at the start of 2015 — by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon and other books.  This is adapted from his recent article for The Jerusalem Post.]

< Israel and Egypt have developed military, intelligence, security, and operations cooperation beyond anything seen before.>

In the South has occurred perhaps the most interesting and important development of 2014. Israel and Egypt have developed military, intelligence, security, and operations cooperation beyond anything seen before, not even at the height of secret contacts between the two countries when Hosni Mubarak was president — and when intelligence minister Gen. Omar Suleiman felt very at home at the Mossad’s headquarters north of Tel Aviv.

Israel and Egypt, now under the leadership of Gen. Abdel Fatteh al-Sisi, see eye-to-eye on everything related to Gaza, Hamas, and terrorism in Sinai.

The regime in Cairo sees Hamas as a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which Gen. Sisi despises.  Egypt treats Hamas as an enemy that it must humiliate, subjugate, and isolate.

Egypt accuses Hamas of increasing terrorism in Sinai by helping Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, al-Qaida’s local branch, which has recently pledged allegiance to Islamic State (ISIS).

Egypt’s army and security forces, with strong backing from Israel — only a little of which is made public — are waging an uncompromising war of destruction on the terrorist organization in Sinai.

In the past year they have had important achievements, but Egypt has also suffered heavy losses. The war on terrorism in Sinai will continue in 2015.

Israel, of course, found itself at war with Hamas for over 7 weeks last summer. Because Hamas’s military strength was severely injured, that represents a gain for Israel.

Yet the Hamas of 2015 is not just another terrorist organization — as the Israeli government and the IDF (the Israeli military) call it.

It is a regime that controls a territory and organizes its forces as a semi-regular army. It is a mix between a guerrilla organization and an actual army. But it is a weakened army, that lost 2/3 of its rocket capabilities (some 6,000 rockets were destroyed or launched), and saw almost all of its attack tunnels into Israel destroyed.

Hamas is trying to rehabilitate its military power and to get out from under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, by swallowing its pride and crawling back into the arms of Iran.

Iran isn’t rushing to take Hamas back into the ayatollahs’ good graces.

Hamas is internationally isolated, and it is also gradually losing its main source of support, Qatar — because the Qataris recently are trying to make peace with the Egyptian regime.

Militarily, Israel is challenged, at least potentially, by three things: radical Islam, Hezbollah and Iran.

The extremist Islamist terrorist groups are near Israel’s borders. Jabat al-Nusra (al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch) controls almost all of the border strip from Jordan to Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights. Ansar Bait al-Maqdis is active in Sinai, not far from Israel’s border, and Islamic State is trying, unsuccessfully for now, to infiltrate Jordan.

All of these are potential threats, but at this time there are no signs that these terrorist groups are showing interest in Israel.  Their focus is on acting against the states they are currently in: Syria and Egypt.

Despite becoming weaker due to its involvement in Syria, Hezbollah is still considered a serious military power. The group has tens of thousands of missiles that cover almost every point in Israel, including airports, the nuclear reactor in Dimona, army bases, and power stations. Hezbollah fighters are also gaining experience on battlefields in Syria, which will give them improved military capability in the case of a conflict with Israel

Yet Israeli deterrence, which has existed since the Second Lebanon War in 2006, is still holding. Hezbollah does not want war with Israel.

The second threat to Israel comes from Iran. It has hundreds of Shihab-3 missiles, which can hit any target in Israel.

In the eyes of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, Iran is an existential threat to Israel — mainly because Iran seems intent on secretly developing nuclear weapons.

There are senior experts in the defense establishment who believe differently. They privately say that Israeli leaders — above all Netanyahu — make Iran into a life-or-death national threat for domestic political reasons.

Iran is already a nuclear threshold state, anywhere from a matter of months to a year away from having the ability to build its first bomb. If Iran wanted to, it could have already built a bomb.

However, as of now, Iran is not interested in building a nuclear bomb, mainly due to the economic crisis it is facing due to UN and Western sanctions, and also due to the falling price of oil, which is its main source of income.

<A nuclear deal with Iran would be the most

interesting development of 2015>

The first months of 2015 will be focused on the nuclear talks between the P5+1 group of world powers and Iran to reach an agreement that will end the nuclear crisis, which has continued for the past nine years. If an agreement is reached and Iran allows tight inspections and limitations for a number of years on its ability to enrich uranium, it will probably be the most interesting development in the international arena in the coming year.

If Washington renews relations with Tehran, Netanyahu’s foreign relations and security policy — built on inflating the Iranian threat, frightening the Israeli public, and abusing the memory of the Holocaust — will be rendered useless.

But it is still far from certain that such an agreement will be reached. The ball is in the court of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the power to decide to compromise at the cost of national pride — and in doing so save his country from  economic crisis and isolation.

Israel’s unquestioned military superiority stems from the deterioration of states in the Arab world (Libya, Yemen, Syria, and Iraq), from the radical Islamist threat on Arab regimes, and mainly from Israel’s constant efforts to preserve its technological and scientific advantage over regional opponents.

This qualitative edge was created with the help of the strategic alliance with the U.S., but in the past year there have been cracks in this alliance. True, relations and cooperation in the field of security and intelligence on the operative level of both states have been preserved and even improved. But Netanyahu’s confrontational approach to President Barack Obama and his government — as well as Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s overheard insults (for which he half-heartedly apologizes), are damaging Israel’s most important asset: its intimate relations with the US.

As a result of the policies of Netanyahu-Ya’alon (while Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has exhibited a serious and responsible approach on Iran-related matters and has looked like the gatekeeper), Israel is having difficulty leveraging its military advantage into strategic achievements.

The challenge is always how to combine military capabilities with foreign policy and international status.

Strategically, Israel has gotten weaker in 2014 because of the deterioration in relations with the US and — even to a greater degree — with European states.

This deterioration stems firstly from the government’s lack of desire to advance the peace process with the Palestinian Authority. Also, Netanyahu’s government stubbornly permits the expansion of settlements in the West Bank, to the point that, soon, any chance of an agreement that includes evacuating settlements and withdrawing from territories — in exchange for security arrangements and an end to the conflict — will be blocked.

On this matter, the end of 2014 saw the dam burst: European states, including traditional Israeli friends such as France, are prepared to recognize a Palestinian state and are not afraid of being blamed for having an anti-Israel or anti-Semitic approach.

The Palestinian issue remains Israel’s No. 1 problem and it will also be an important challenge, perhaps an existential one, in 2015.

Without the breakthrough of a diplomatic agreement, one of two scenarios is liable to occur — or perhaps both of them together: a popular Palestinian uprising in the West Bank, the buds of which we already saw in 2014; or Israel falling into a situation that will resemble the former apartheid regime in South Africa.  The latter label will be branded on Israel if the Jews are perceived to be a minority ruling over an Arab majority between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.  That is not the situation now; not yet.

That kind of labeling — especially if accompanied by a Palestinian uprising that evokes global sympathy — would mean the deepening of Israel’s international isolation, possibly to the point of sanctions being levied against it. It is conceivable that Israel would not be rescued by a veto by the United States — especially if the U.S. starts to feel that the absence of Israeli-Palestinian peace is mostly Israel’s fault.

January 2, 2015

‘Klinghoffer’ Opera Controversy in New York: Remember the Israeli Intelligence Role in Exposing PLO Hijacked the Ship?

New York's Met, Selling Tickets and Not Backing Down

New York’s Met, Selling Tickets and Not Backing Down

The Metropolitan Opera, in New York, is going ahead with the controversial opera by John Adams — “Klinghoffer” — which, according to critics, gives too much credit and dignity to the anti-Jewish and anti-Israel complaints of Arab terrorists.

Leon Klinghoffer, a wheelchair user at age 69, was shot dead by the Palestinian hijackers of a cruise ship, the Achille Lauro, in October 1985.  The innocent man from New York and his wheelchair were dumped overboard.

The opera performers who portray the terrorists sing, in “Klinghoffer,” about why they killed him — out of hatred for Jews and Israel.

A few days after the hijackers left the cruise ship — part of a deal that let them walk free in Egypt — Israel’s director of Military Intelligence (the agency known as Aman) gave reporters transcripts — and a snippet of audio — to “prove” that PLO leader Yasser Arafat had ordered the hijacking of the cruise ship.

The Aman director was a future prime minister, Maj. Gen. Ehud Barak.  His rare revelations were written about in major newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times which noted that Arafat’s role was not absolutely proven — and “one well-informed Israeli source said there were arguments within the military over whether to release the transcript.”

Readers may recall that when a chartered aircraft left Egypt — to fly the hijackers to wherever they wanted to go — President Ronald Reagan ordered U.S. military jets to intercept that Egyptian airliner.  It was forced to land at a NATO base in Italy.

It was Israel’s military intelligence — specifically its eavesdropping experts in Unit 8200 — that gave the United States government full details of the Egyptian plane that was about to take off with the hijackers aboard.

The Israelis were enraged — and the Americans extremely disappointed — when Italy then released the hijackers and their commander, Mohammed Abbas.  Abbas, who had not been on the ship, was heard — in the Israeli recordings — chatting with and giving orders to the hijackers.  Abbas, in subsequent interviews, would claim that he was merely mediating the hijackers’ peaceful surrender to Egypt.

One revelation out of the entire drama was that Israeli intelligence’s Unit 8200 could — and did — listen to virtually any radio communications in the Middle East.  

Telephone calls, especially if they are on mobile (cellular) systems, are also relatively easy to intercept.  As are e-mails.

Similar to what the NSA has said since the 2013 leaks by Edward Snowden, Israeli intelligence people say: “Our enemies know we are listening in on them, but still they have to communicate — and we have the electronic advantage.”

 

October 20, 2014

An Achievement: Israeli Intelligence & Navy Intercepted Missiles on Ship — But It’s Bad that Iran Closely Stands with Hamas in Gaza

[This article is written by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon — with an updated edition published March 1, 2014 — for The Jerusalem Post website.]

The intercepted weapons shipment from Iran to Gaza could signal a renewal of ties between Tehran and Hamas. If so, Iran is likely to demand that Hamas pay a price for its patronage – the resumption of rocket fire on Israel.

The looming question which continues to evade Israeli intelligence regarding the Klos-C remains, for whom were the Iranian weapons intended? Inteligence analysts believe that the ship was destined to unload its cargo in Sudan, where the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force would have transferred the weapons onwards, over land.

Missiles and ammo said to come from Iran, displayed in Eilat (photo by IDF Spokesman)

Missiles and ammo said to come from Iran, displayed in Eilat (photo by IDF Spokesman)

The arms could have been intended for Global Jihad factions, operating in the Sinai Peninsula. The Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps has had contact with these and other al-Qaeda-linked factions for over a decade, using them when necessary to promote Iranian interests.

Yet, more than likely, the 40 powerful rockets and 400,000 bullets were intended for Gaza — perhaps for the Palestinian terror organization Islamic Jihad, which Tehran has sponsored for years. Still the possibility cannot be ruled out that the missiles were intended for Hamas.

In either case, even after all the praise for a successful military operation and the precise intelligence which enabled the successful seizure of the ship on Tuesday, the revelation of such a weapons shipment is a bad omen for Israel.

It indicates a renewal of ties between Gaza and Tehran. Indeed, it appears that the three-year break between the Shiite regime and the Sunni Muslims of Hamas, which began with the civil war in Syria, has been solved.

Until the war in Syria erupted, the senior Hamas leadership sat in Damascus, while Iran supplied weapons (sent in ships to Sudan and then trucked through Egypt and Sinai to Gaza tunnels) and provided military assistance to the organization.

With the outbreak of the civil war in 2011, Hamas condemned attacks by the Syrian regime, led by the Alawite Assad family (an offshoot of the Shi’ite Muslim faction), who ruled over the largely Sunni Syrian population. In response, the Syrian regime cut support for Hamas, ordered it out of the bunkers and safe-houses it had been using, and banned the organization from the city.

Tehran, for it’s part, aligned itself with the Assad regime and ceased its financial and military aid to Hamas. For a short period, Hamas found a sponsor in Mohamed Morsi’s Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood. However, with the military takeover in Cairo following massive protests and violence against the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas was once again isolated.

In recent months, Hamas leaders have been working to renew their old alliance with Iran and sent emissaries to achieve this. Does the capture of the Klos-C and its cargo of Iranian weapons indicate Hamas’s success in healing ties with Iran?

If this is the case, then the thawing of relations will come at a price which Hamas is apparently willing to pay. Secret talks and communications in clandestine circles indicate that Iran demands that Hamas resume the firing of rockets into Israel.

This resumption of hostilities will not occur immediately, and Israeli capabilities to strike back and thwart attacks weigh heavily on Hamas. Hamas knows that in the next war, Israel will push harder than it did in 2009 and 2012: This time Israel will seek to topple the regime. Nevertheless, as the saying goes, when the gun appears in the opening scene, the shot will be heard in the final scene.

The time to revel in the success of Israel’s operation is short-lived. According to several reports, the IDF has been operating in the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean for more than a decade, with vessels (ships and submarines) and aircraft. The navy took control of several ships which carried or were suspected of transporting weapons.

In recent years, reports have spoken of military strikes along Sudan’s coast and on ships and convoys transporting weapons which originated in Iran. These attacks have been attributed to Israel by the Sudanese government and foreign media, along with an attack on a Sudanese warehouse housing missiles.

As it is, we can and should admire the precise intelligence obtained by Israel (with the assistance of the U.S. whose intelligence capabilities in the Red Sea, Indian Ocean and Persian Golf outdo those of Israel). The fact that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu bothered to call and to thank not only the chief of staff, but also the Mossad’s director Tamir Pardo, more than suggests the part which that organization played in obtaining information on the Klos-C.

Indeed Israel’s intelligence certainly used an array of assets such as HUMINT (agents on the ground), SIGINT (communications and signals monitoring) as well as the air-force (with aircraft and satellites).

Israeli intelligence also assumes that some  M-302 missiles with a range of up to 125 miles — and capable of carrying a warhead of more than 220 pounds — are already in Gaza.  Borders are almost always porous, no matter how good Israel’s interception capabilities might seem.  How many might have gotten through in some previous smuggling missions?  Intelligence agencies cannot know what they do not know.

For Israel, such missiles — in the hands of Hamas or Islamic Jihad in Gaza — are a “game-changer.” Such missiles would allow terrorist organizations to launch the next missile campaign against, not only central Israel, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Dimona, but also northern Israel. The truth is, however, that such missiles have already been in the hands of Hezbollah, in Lebanon, for over a decade and were launched from Lebanon toward Haifa and Afula in the Second Lebanon War in 2006.

Military Intelligence chief Maj. General Aviv Kochav, said a few weeks ago that there are about 170,000 missiles and rockets aimed at Israel from all directions: from Lebanon and Syria in the North, Iran in the East, and Gaza and Sinai in the South. The seizure of several dozen missiles, impressive as it is, as well as Israel’s missile defense systems (the American-financed”Iron Dome” and “Arrow” systems, plus the future system “Magic Wand”) do not change the facts: Every military base, every airport, every strategic site, and all civilian communities, whether small or large, in Israel are within range of Israel’s enemies.

March 11, 2014

Israel Losing Patience, Warning Hamas: Another Gaza Invasion, Built on Pinpoint Intelligence?

[This analysis was written by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, for the website of the commercial multilingual TV news service based in Israel, i24news.tv]

There is a sense of déjà vu on the Israeli-Gaza border. Fourteen months after the second Israeli military invasion of Hamas controlled Gaza (codenamed Pillar of Defense) there is a feeling in the air that another – third round is just around the corner.

In the past three weeks 17 rockets were launched from Gaza targeting Israeli cities and rural communities. Luckily the attacks caused neither human lives nor damage to property. Some of the rockets did not reach their targets, others exploded in open space and some were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

The rockets were fired by the Iranian supported and financed Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and by some small, al-Qaida inspired renegade splinter groups.

But for Israel there is one culprit, meaning one address for heavy pressure — the Hamas government.

Israeli intelligence experts monitoring developments in Gaza are puzzled. They are trying to decipher the reasoning and motives behind the attacks.

There are some explanations and estimates. One is attributed to the weakening of Hamas. Since the civil war in Syria three years ago in which Hamas turned its back on the Bashar Assad regime and its Iranian ally, the Palestinian movement lost two major sponsors.

For a while, Hamas hung its hopes on Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood government. But soon Morsi was toppled. His government was replaced by a military regime led by Defense Minister Abdel Fatah al Sisi.

General Sisi, de facto ruler of Egypt

General Sisi, de facto ruler of Egypt

General Sisi and his military increased their secret security cooperation and intelligence coordination with Israel.  Both countries intensified their pressure on Hamas.

Sensing the weakening of Hamas government and its grip on power in Gaza, PIJ and the radical Islamist militant splinters feel they have more room to maneuver, that they can be disobedient and get away with it.

Another explanation for launching the rockets is the ongoing  peace negotiation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority — brokered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

It is assumed that the negotiations are reaching a crucial moment; and though mild and vague, some sort of an interim agreement is possible.

The Palestinian militants, who oppose peace, have increased their operations to signal that agreements are not determined around tables but in the battle field.

One should not rule out, however, that the rocket fire is secretly sanctioned by Hamas in its efforts to please Iran and once again be taken under the Islamic Republic’s wings. Isolated Hamas leaders recently initiated contacts with Iran, according to intelligence sources, and Hamas is asking to regain political and financial support as well as arms shipments. In return, Iranian leaders asked Hamas to show their readiness to renew the hostilities against Israel by launching rockets.

Whatever the reasons are, for Israeli leaders and military commanders the rocket attacks are intolerable. They are erasing the reative peace produced by the last Israeli military campaign against Gaza.

Over this past weekend Israel conveyed a strong message via Egyptian intelligence. Hamas was told that if the rocket launches continue,  it’s just a matter of time before the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) once again invade Gaza.

And this time, unlike in the previous military campaigns of 2009 and 2013, the ultimate aim might be the toppling of the Hamas regime.

January 21, 2014

…And More on Eli Zeira, Ex-Aman (Military Intelligence) Chief and his 1973 War Mistakes

Further to the item (below) about ex-Mossad director Zvi Zamir and ex-Aman (military intelligence) commander Eli Zeira’s continued, bitter arguments about the Yom Kippur War, exactly 40 years ago in October 1973:

Zeira, from his own defensiveness and imagination, conjured up the notion that Ashraf Marwan — the incredibly well-placed Mossad agent in Cairo (a member of the elite Nasser family) — was a double agent and may have been ultimately loyal to Egypt.

Zeira was out to minimize his own responsibility for the intelligence failures that led to Israel being taken by surprise by Egypt and Syria.

He has even said that the political echelon — Prime Minister Golda Meir and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan — were chiefly to blame. By that logic, the Aman agency’s failure to take the Egyptian-Syrian threat seriously was not nearly as important as mistakes by Meir and Dayan.

Eli Zeira in his heyday (Ynetnews.com)

Another Zeira mistake highlighted recently — and he admits now that it was a wrong call — was not to activate technological capabilities which Israel intelligence had planted at key locations in Egypt: basically, the ability to tap into phone and radio communications. Because using the system would increase the chance of Israeli spies being discovered, it was generally switched off.

But, especially after Israeli intelligence intercepts discovered that Soviet military advisors — and certainly their families — were leaving Egypt, Aman should have realized that war may have been imminent. And the system for monitoring key military moves by Egypt should have been switched on.

When, about a decade ago, Zeira named Ashraf Marwan as the Mossad’s man inside the Egyptian government, Mossad veterans were livid. The security breach would, at the least, endanger Marwan. He did, indeed, mysteriously die in London in 2007.

Israeli police investigated the leak by Zeira, the former intelligence chief, but — apparently to be kind and honor the many years of service of an old retired general — they did not press charges against him.

In September 2004, Yossi Melman wrote in the Haaretz newspaper:

Zeira emphasizes that even if he is found to be correct about [Marwan being a] double agent, “I am solely responsible for the intelligence failure of the Yom Kippur War.”

In his partial apologia, marking the 40th anniversary of the shocking setback for Israel’s military — and society — Zeira has now revealed that he always had a note in his pocket that reminded him, as an intelligence officer, to be humble. On the note were the Hebrew words for: “And what if not?”, meaning that alternative explanations should always be considered.

Zeira admits he failed to consult that note, in the days leading up to the Yom Kippur surprise of 1973.

October 7, 2013

40th Anniversary of Yom Kippur War: Arguing Still About Israel’s Intelligence Failure

The director of the Mossad — Israel’s foreign intelligence agency — at the time of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Zvi Zamir, is emphasizing the reliability of his key Egyptian agent in Cairo.

It’s ironic, of course, to hear Zamir defend Ashraf Marwan — the son-in-law of the late President Gamal Abdel Nasser and a senior aide to President Anwar Sadat in 1973 who also was a paid agent for the Mossad. After all, one of the best inside tips in the history of espionage — a warning of a military strike about to occur — was practically ignored where it truly counted.

In a dramatic meeting in London on Friday, October 5, Marwan told Zamir that Egypt and Syria would — the next day — stage a coordinated surprise attack on Israel.

Ashraf Marwan, the high-level Egyptian who spied for the Mossad

Zamir believed it. Even now, he is saying (at a conference in Tel Aviv) that Ashraf Marwan’s warning should have been heeded, and if it was off by a few hours (in specifying the planned attack time) that was not some attempt by Marwan to mislead the Israelis.

The military intelligence agency Aman did not believe Marwan’s warning. The commander of Aman, who was forced to resign in disgrace the following year, is Eli Zeira. He was also at that Tel Aviv conference, listing several failures he felt sorry about — including a failure to understand the culture of Egypt, including the deep sense of humiliation caused by the Six-Day War of 1967 and Egypt’s intense desire to score a military triumph against the Israelis.

Two men in their 80s — Zamir and Zeira — are still arguing about it. An added element of the mystery is the still unexplained death of Marwan, who’d become a wealthy international businessman, but fell to his death from his apartment’s balcony in London in 2007.

Zamir came up with an extra fact that historians generally did not know: that Marwan also gave the Mossad a step-by-step plan of how the Egyptian attack in the Sinai would proceed, such as the schedule for the advance of Egypt’s tanks across the Suez Canal and past the Israeli defenses (the Bar-Lev Line) that had failed to hold.

October 6, 2013

Egypt — Which Ruled Gaza Until June 1967 — Might Send Its Army In, With Israel’s Okay

Egypt’s interim government — dominated by the military, which seems intent on crushing extremism related to the Muslim Brotherhood — seems to be planning a major move that Israel would almost surely welcome: an invasion of part of the Gaza Strip aimed at finding and killing Hamas-backed militants who have been active in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

The militants, who probably have bases in the Sinai but also in Hamas-ruled Gaza, are responsible for the deaths of dozens of Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai. Israel has allowed Egypt to station troops in the Sinai — far greater than the numbers permitted in the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty of 1979 — in the hope that the extremists will be wiped out.

In Cairo, Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy (a former ambassador to Washington) publicly warned Hamas to stop helping the Islamists in the Sinai — or face punishment by Egypt’s military.

Yossi Melman

Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, is quoted by Middle East Monitor — based on an article he wrote in Hebrew:

“Despite the fact that this scenario seems now unrealistic, it is likely that the tension between the Egyptian army and Hamas will escalate to the point where the Egyptian army launches a major military campaign in the Gaza Strip to overthrow the movement’s rule.”

Melman described the Egyptian army’s operations in northern Sinai as “unprecedented” in terms of their determination to resist “terrorists”; killing hundreds with aircrafts and commando troops. Melman pointed out that the Egyptian army was systematically eliminating those wanted — rather than arresting them. Melman predicted that the Egyptian army will justify any military action against Hamas by “claiming that it had received evidence which proves Hamas’ cooperation with Al Qaeda affiliated Islamic groups in Sinai and that Hamas provides these groups with weapons.”

According to Melman, “The Egyptian army receives intelligence from Israel which links Hamas to the Islamic groups in Sinai.”

He added that the Egyptian army had intensified its operations to destroy the tunnels which link Egypt to the Gaza Strip. On another level, Melman said the U.S. military currently trains and oversees the Egyptian army during their operations to demolish the tunnels. The Obama administration recently awarded an American company $10 million to develop equipment capable of detecting tunnels on the border with Gaza. Since 2009, Washington has spent $30 million on operations to detect tunnels in the area.

According to Melman, “The Egyptian army coordinates its operations in the northern Sinai with Tel Aviv and receives approval before it carries out any operation”.

 

October 3, 2013

Priority List for Israeli Intelligence: Spies and Analysts Anxious to Figure Out Iran’s Nuclear Intentions, Syria and Egypt’s Fate, Jordan’s Fragility — and Obama’s Next Move

Will he shake hands with Rouhani?

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will watch the start of delicate diplomacy at the U.N. this week from afar — including speeches to the General Assembly by Presidents Obama (U.S.) and Rouhani (Iran), and the possibility that they will shatter barriers by saying “hello” to each other.

But Israel’s political seismometer will acutely feel any political earthquakes that might occur at United Nations headquarters in New York.

Rouhani: Greet the Great Satan?

Ahead of Netanyahu’s own trip to the United States a week later — to see Obama at the White House and to address the U.N. — Israel’s leader will naturally want updated assessments from his intelligence agencies. The Mossad director Tamir Pardo and the head of the Military Intelligence agency (Aman), Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, are doubtless following these regional issues intensely:

1–Iran: Will the enigmatic Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, agree to stop nuclear enrichment in a verifiable way? He seems to be letting Rouhani try a charm offensive to pave the way for talks with the United States and the West. 

The chief aim for the Iranians is for harsh economic sanctions to be cancelled. The Aman agency chief, Gen. Kochavi, told analysts in Israel recently that above all, Iran’s rulers want to keep ruling. Staying in power could be more important than constructing nuclear bombs (which the Iranians publicly insist they have no desire to do — but no Western intelligence agency believes them).

2–Syria: Now that the civil war, raging since early 2011, has wider international involvement, Israeli espionage is surely hurrying to find out everything it can about the chemical weapons: Will Syria’s Bashar al-Assad really surrender them all? That would be a clear “win” for Israel (having hardly lifted a finger, unless one counts four unacknowledged air raids by Israel on weapons targets in Syria in the past year).

Also, Israel needs to update its assessment of who may emerge as the winner in Syria. If it’s the Western-backed Syrian Free Army under Gen. Salim Idris (totally supported by Senator John McCain and probably by the CIA now), Israel will want to influence Idris’s faction in some way. If it’s the anti-Western affiliates of al-Qaeda, Israel will want to establish ways of monitoring how well armed and organized they may be.

If President Assad survives, the Mossad and Aman agencies will seek to penetrate and monitor his reshuffled regime — in the hope that it is extremely damaged and less able to pose a threat to Israel.

3–Egypt: While the U.S. news media seem unable to pay attention to more than one Arab country at a time, Israeli intelligence has not forgotten Egypt. Will the military — which is cooperative and almost friendly with Israel — hang on to power in Cairo? Will the Muslim Brotherhood (inimical to Israel and seen as allies of the notorious Hamas rulers of Gaza) somehow stage a comeback?

4–Jordan:Israel has repeatedly warned the United States that the pro-Western King Abdullah, son of the much missed Hussein, is teetering on the brink of collapse. Political and economic support for his monarchy is fragile, at best. Now the presence of tens of thousands of refugees from Syria’s civil war makes things much more precarious for the West’s friend Abdullah.

Netanyahu and his cartoon “red line” at the U.N. last year

5–The United States: Israeli intelligence is, without doubt, trying to figure out — and if possible have advance warning — if Barack Obama will embrace Iran’s charm offensive and open talks with President Rouhani’s nuclear negotiators. Israel’s current leaders are concerned that the West, anxious to avoid a possible Middle East war, may accept compromises that would not necessarily prevent Iran from pushing ahead toward nuclear power in all its forms (including military).

Netanyahu — after watching Obama, Rouhani, and other leaders at the U.N. from afar — will try to use his own rhetorical firepower to frame an argument at the U.N. that no one can ignore.

September 22, 2013

Veteran Spy-Runner Moves from Mossad to be Netanyahu’s Chief Advisor on National Security — Iran Options Are a Key Focus

Word has just come from Israel (Wednesday afternoon) that Prime Minister Netanyahu has chosen a new National Security Advisor. The new key advisor will be Yossi Cohen, currently the deputy head of the Mossad.

Cohen, who still is known to be hoping to replace the Mossad director Tamir Pardo in about two years, made his career as a “case officer”: a spy-runner. His experiences will surely color his opinions and advice as to what can be covertly done to derail Iran’s nuclear program.

Yossi Cohen, “Y” of the Mossad

Cohen, who under censorship restrictions could only be referred to as “Y” (the Hebrew letter “yud”) until today, recruited and ran agents for Israeli intelligence in the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and Southeast Asia. He also headed the Mossad’s department for running agents, Tsomet.

Retiring Soon: Yaacov Amidror

Yaacov Amidror, the current head of the National Security Council under Netanyahu, will retire after the Jewish High Holidays next month. Amidror, who wears a kippah (yarmulka) and sports a rabbinic-style beard, has forged important connections in Washington, where he has visited often — frequently without any public announcement — for talks with officials in the United States military and intelligence community.

Wherever possible, Israel and the U.S. have coordinated their covert activities aimed against Iran’s nuclear program — as well as against Iranian-backed terrorism. Amidror was also key to sharing assessments with the U.S. on the civil war in Syria, political upheavals in Egypt, and other volatile developments in the Middle East in recent years.

Thus it will be a Mossad man — Yossi Cohen, completely schooled in the arts of getting things done secretly — who will advise Netanyahu on all the various policy and action options, while also handling what is and isn’t told to the United States government.

August 21, 2013

With Surrounding Countries On Fire, Top Israeli Ministers Have Strategy Session — Egypt & More

With the end of the Jewish Sabbath in Israel, official sources let it be known that on Friday afternoon, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a two-hour strategy meeting with the senior ministers in the “security cabinet.”

The most urgent topic was Egypt — including the multifaceted fallout that could affect Israel from the upsurge in violence in Egypt.

The two countries have had a peace treaty since 1979. Since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the Sinai Peninsula (occupied by Israel, as a buffer zone, from mid-1967 until that peace treaty) has become a free-range roaming ground for terrorists.

The Sinai is thus a security headache for Israel. Insurgents in the Biblically significant desert have fired rockets at the Israeli southern port, Eilat — a threat to the important tourism industry there.

israel spy, covert operations, spies against armageddon

Benjamin Netanyahu has plenty with which to grapple

Netanyahu and his senior ministers had plenty more to keep tabs on in their neighborhood. There is, of course, the continued civil war in Syria, with indications that Islamic radicals of the Al-Qaeda type may be dominating the anti-Assad rebel movement.

For various reasons — not least the sheer “good public relations” image — Israel has permitted the news media to report that Syrian civilians who are wounded in the fighting have been transferred across the border to Israeli hospitals for treatment. Jewish and Arab medical professionals in Israel are proud to be helping innocent victims of the civil war, notably quite a few children.

It’s important to Israel that Hezbollah — the Lebanese Shi’ite militants who are financed by Iran — have been fighting in Syria, apparently with some measure of success, to help their friend and patron, President Bashar al-Assad.

It’s noteworthy, too, that someone has been hitting back at Hezbollah. A massive car-bomb explosion in a Shi’ite neighborhood of Beirut killed around 20 people and wounded many more. Hezbollah is blaming Sunni Muslim militiamen (who apparently want to weaken Hezbollah’s quest for wider influence), claiming the attackers were directed by Israel. There is no indication of an Israeli role.

Another worry for Israel is the precarious state of affairs in Jordan. Having agreed to provide shelter to thousands of refugees from the Syrian civil war — and how could Jordan say “no” to fellow Arabs? — King Abdullah may find himself with a dangerous combination: a lot of hungry mouths to feed, and a growing number of Islamic radicals who could be foot soldiers in an effort to topple him. (Jordan and Israel have had a peace treaty since 1994.)

Israeli officials also have to consider whether the volatile nature of events in many surrounding countries make it more urgent — or less advisable — to push quickly for a breakthrough toward peace with the Palestinians. Israel, this past week, released a few dozen Palestinian fighters who had killed Israelis; and that “gesture” for the sake of the peace talks that have now resumed is deeply resented by some Israelis who wonder if it’s worth it.

Above all this is the vital issue — for Netanyahu — of his country’s relations with its superpower ally, the United States. Netanyahu and Barack Obama do not see eye to eye on many issues, and Egypt may have added one more. (See Yossi Melman’s article, below.)

 

August 17, 2013

Israel’s Delicate Balancing Act in Egypt — Covert Cooperation with Military Strongman al-Sisi

[This article first appeared on the website of the new Israel-based 24-hour news channel (broadcasting non-stop news and features in English, French, and Arabic) i24News.  The newscasts can be watched at this website: www.i24news.tv]

Israel finds itself in an undesirable position, cautiously watching the crisis in Egypt unfold

by YOSSI MELMAN in Tel Aviv

The Israeli political and military echelon is observing the tragic events unfolding in Egypt with deep concern and the frustrating knowledge that there is very little that it can do.

The best course of action that Israel can take is to take no action and lower its profile — while sitting and hoping that somehow law and order will return, and that at least the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt (which has survived for 34 years, some tumultuous) will somehow outlast the storm. But such a hope may well be no more than wishful thinking.

Yet there are two unseen courses of action that Israel has taken. On the diplomatic front, Israeli officials have attempted to persuade their American and European Union counterparts not to be too harsh in their condemnation of the violent actions by Egypt’s post-Morsi authorities.

General al-Sisi [courtesy DailyNewsEgypt.com]

They explained that Egypt’s ‘strongman’ General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the military had no choice but to topple President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood government. Their hand was forced by Morsi’s inability to halt the economic deterioration, his failure to keep the streets safe, and his efforts to “Islamize” the constitution while purging the judiciary and military branches and installing his cronies.

Israel only partially succeeded. The Obama Administration has agreed, for the time being, not to suspend the annual $1.5 billion of mainly military aid to Egypt. Yet Israeli officials expressed their disappointment at the strongly worded condemnation issued by President Obama and his decision to cancel  joint U.S.-Egypt military exercises.

Israeli officials — in private — went so far as to accuse President Obama of betraying Egypt, one of America’s most loyal allies in the region, twice: once, by siding with the protestors against President Hosni Mubarak in 2010-11; and now for the second time by practically siding with the Muslim Brotherhood.

A senior Israeli official said that “Egypt is just one recent example. President Obama has no direction, and he is always reacting too late and shows no leadership.”

Israel’s concern is that the condemnation and lack of a coherent, clear U.S. policy will further weaken the fragile government controlled by General al-Sisi, toughen the brinkmanship of the Muslim Brotherhood, and strengthen the will of Islamic radicals to prevent any political solution.

Ultimately, Israeli officials fear the peace treaty and security arrangements between the two countries will be eroded. Israel and Egypt share a border of 270 kilometers (160 miles) stretching from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea resort of Eilat. To maintain peace and tranquility, Israel and Egypt have reportedly cooperated in the field of intelligence. The cooperation has to remain secret to avoid being manipulated by General al-Sisi’s opponents who might portray him as a “collaborator.”

(made by artishok.co.il for Debka)

The second action taken by Israel was to allow the Egyptian army to bring reinforcements to the demilitarized Sinai, including armored vehicles and gunship helicopters to try to uproot the al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists’ nests and cells, which have found shelter in the vast and usually unpopulated desert. Their numbers vary in different estimates from hundreds to three thousand. Most of the terrorists and their associates are local Bedouin Arabs, but they have been backed by “volunteers” from Yemen, Somalia, Iraq and “defectors” from Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza.

Israel has been very cautiously adhering to a passive policy in the war against the Sinai jihadists. Israel has deployed the Iron Dome anti-rocket battery to intercept rockets fired in the direction of Eilat. The Israeli rationale is not to violate Egyptian sovereignty, which would undermine General al-Sisi’s efforts on two fronts: at home against attempts by the Muslim Brotherhood to wreak chaos and havoc, and in Sinai against the Jihadists.

Israel has, however, deviated twice from this policy in the last year. The first was in August 2012 during a hot pursuit against terrorists who had infiltrated Israel, where an Israeli helicopter penetrated the Sinai airspace and fired a missile which killed the terrorists but also five Egyptian soldiers. Israel apologized for the incident.

The second time was a week ago when, according to foreign media reports, an Israeli drone aircraft fired missiles and killed four terrorists on the Egyptian side of Rafah, a town split between Egypt and Gaza ruled Hamas. The terrorists were attempting to launch rockets against Israeli territory. Israel considers such terrorists a “ticking bomb” and feels it’s within her right to self-defense to preempt. Yet Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, without taking responsibility, remarked that “Israel respects and will respect Egyptian sovereignty.”

This sentence epitomizes Israeli policy towards Egypt. However, that policy is clouded with a growing fear that Israel is not only sitting on the edge of volcano on its northern border, facing Hezbollah and the civil war in Syria, but that the lava is slowly spreading in its direction from Egypt.

[Original URL of this article: http://www.i24news.tv/en/news/israel/diplomacy-defense/130817-analysis-israel-s-delicate-balancing-act-in-egypt]
August 17, 2013

Did Israel’s Air Force Secretly Hit Arab Terrorist Gunners in the Sinai? — With Egypt’s Okay?

(courtesy BBC News)

UPDATE, Tuesday August 13: Overnight, radicals in Sinai launched a rocket at Eilat — Israel’s southern port city, a popular resort for foreign tourists. It was destroyed above Eilat, apparently by Israel’s “Iron Dome” missile interceptor system. Air raid sirens sounded. (Click here for Reuters report.)

by Yossi Melman (in Tel Aviv)

[A similar article by Melman, co-author of Every Spy a Prince and the new Spies Against Armageddon appears on the website of the new 24-hour video news channel broadcast from Israel in English, French, and Arabic at i24news.com . Click here to see the blog post.]

The press office of the Egyptian Army denied (Friday night) media reports that Israel attacked an al-Qaeda position in the northern Sinai – the territory occupied by Israel from 1967 to 1979, which has become a free-roaming zone for terrorists since President Hosni Mubarak’s fall in 2011.

The spokesman in Cairo also denied suggestions that such an attack was a result of secret Israeli-Egyptian military and intelligence coordination.

Yet the circumstances of what appeared to be a military strike – which killed five or six Sinai-based al-Qaeda men – remain mysterious. They were killed near Rafah, a city that is split between Egypt and Hamas-controlled Gaza.

The first report Friday was by a Bethlehem-based Palestinian news agency which is known for its close links with the Palestinian Authority (which is Hamas’s bitter rival).

The news agency claimed that an Israeli drone fired a missile at a depot of the local al-Qaeda group in Sinai, where Grad rockets were stored. The report was picked up by the AP news agency and later by most of the Israeli media outlets.

Israeli experts commented that if such a strike was executed it must have been coordinated with the Egyptian authorities. They explained that Israel would not jeopardize its fragile peace treaty with Egypt, at this sensitive time when Egypt is in the middle of a domestic political crisis.

The Israel Defense Forces and the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv refused to comment on the story, thus leaving the incident in a “zone of deniability” for both sides.

It is possible, however, that the attack was conducted by the Egyptian armed forces, which are certainly conducting a massive military campaign in Sinai to uproot al-Qaeda cells: mostly local Beduin Arabs, supplemented by volunteers from Yemen and Somalia, as well as radical Palestinian Islamists from Gaza.

(made by artishok.co.il for Debka)

So far nearly 100 terrorists and 20 Egyptian soldiers died in fierce battles in the Sinai: both in the central mountains and on the northern coast. Israel agreed to raise no objection, as Egypt sent in reinforcements with armored vehicles and used helicopter gunships – actions which would violate the Israel-Egypt peace treaty of 1979.

Suddenly on Thursday, the IDF ordered that the civilian airport in Eilat – a popular Red Sea resort for European and Russian tourists – be shut down. Flights were diverted for a few hours, and rumors abounded that intelligence suggested Sinai-based terrorists would try to shoot down airliners over southern Israel.

A source in the IDF, who asked not to be identified, confirmed that there was indeed a threat to the airport and to civilian aircraft. Authorities had recently announced that anti-missile missiles were installed near Eilat. Some rockets fired from Sinai had exploded near the Israeli resort and port.

First it was suggested that the alert was based on communications intercepted by America’s NSA; but other sources indicated later that the intelligence tip came from Egyptian authorities.

So who was behind the latest strike in Rafah, and what kind of rockets were stored there by the local al-Qaeda offshoot? The mystery remains.

Yet eyewitnesses reported that the depot was hit from the air by a missile launched from a distance – a skill suggesting that Israel was responsible. Ironically, sources said the rockets that were destroyed had an impressive range (for a terrorist group) of nearly 50 miles.

If Israel carried out the strike, this would be the first time since the 1979 peace treaty that Israel’s military operated on Egyptian soil.

In recent years — according to foreign (non-Israeli) sources and reports — the Israeli Air Force and the Navy have been very active in long-range missions in the Red Sea area, targeting boats at sea and truck convoys in Sudan which tried to smuggle weapons from Iran to Hamas in Gaza. The reports also indicate the IAF has been very active, also destroying Syria’s nuclear reactor in 2007 (though still without any official Israeli announcement or confirmation), and hitting convoys and depots in Syria – at least four times in the past 8 months, as weapons were being moved to Lebanon’s Hezbollah during Syria’s civil war.

Once again the Israeli government neither confirmed nor denied the reports, but Defense Minister Moshe (Boogie) Ya’alon and his predecessor Ehud Barak dropped hints which left the impression that Israel was responsible for these hits in Syria.

In the Israeli military parlance, such clandestine operations by the IDF are defined as CBW –- campaigns between wars.

August 13, 2013

A New Israeli Ambassador in DC, Israeli Attacks in Syria, and Al-Jazeera Pushes Al-Qaeda Fears

by DAN RAVIV in Washington

The Middle East seems like an iceberg again: only about 10% of what’s really going on is visible.

Map from DP-news.com

One noteworthy example: Officials in Washington are increasingly convinced that Israel’s military is continuing to pound targets in Syria — not to help the rebels there, but to prevent anyone from getting new and potent weapons. The latest example: mysterious explosions at a Syrian port on July 5, soon after Russian vessels delivered advanced missiles that can strike ships offshore.

CNN and ABC News reported that, according to U.S. sources, Israel attacked the Syrian port. The Sunday Times of London reported that an Israeli submarine carried out the attack, which would be a new and dramatic technique.

Israel refuses to say a word about it. The pattern of silence about operations in Syria was firmly set in 2007, when Israel’s air force demolished a nuclear reactor being built in a remote site in northeastern Syria — and Israel has never confirmed what the CIA and other credible sources affirmed: that Israel did it to preserve its nuclear monopoly in the Middle East.

The dynamic moving parts now in the region are in Arab countries — with ambitions, tensions, and violence ignited by the Arab Spring movement that began in 2011. The future of Egypt and Syria: still unknown.

The United States and Israel, maintaing close consultations and publicly stressing their alliance — a history of which we wrote in 1994 (the book, Friends in Deed) — are reacting quite differently.

Departing Ambassador MIchael Oren

That’s the situation that Ron Dermer will be inheriting, when he becomes Israel’s ambassador to Washington in September. Replacing another American-born Israeli, Michael Oren — a historian and professor who had a fascinating 4 years that surely will spawn books and lectures — Dermer is well known to Obama Administration officials. Dermer is so close to Benjamin Netanyahu that the prime minister has often sent Dermer to Washington as his personal envoy on touchy issues.

Appointed ambassador, Ron Dermer

Mideast-watchers in Washington are referencing Dermer’s feisty right-wing views. Folks who are skeptical of the Oslo Accords, the notion of a two-state solution with the Palestinians, and most anything the New York Times writes love Dermer’s sardonically polite explanation to the Times of why Netanyahu would not write an op-ed article for the paper.

Obama Administration officials are probably not going to hold Dermer’s views against him, because his closeness to “Bibi” is a lot more significant. Their disagreements are mostly over re-starting negotiations with the Palestinians — and, more essentially, whether a Jewish state and a Palestinian Arab state can respect fair borders and live side-by-side in peace.

Syria, Egypt, and Iran’s nuclear program are far more pressing issues right now.

our book from 1994, filled with American and Israeli characters

The Obama Administration, after all, knows that anything America says and does will be closely watched worldwide: Send weapons to the rebels? Train them in neighboring countries, Turkey and Jordan? Set a deadline for toppling President Bashar al-Assad? Operate only through a multinational coalition, as the U.S. chose to do during Libya’s civil war?

Israel, sitting just to the southwest of Syria and buffered only by the Golan Heights which Israel captured in 1967, cannot afford to sit and watch with its proverbial hands under its rear end.

The only policy lines which Israeli officials have declared are: (1) Israel isn’t taking sides, as to which faction should win in Syria.  (2) Any attempt by the Assad government to move advanced weaponry or chemical weapons to Lebanon or to any guerrillas will not be tolerated. (3) No Syrians will be allowed to fire toward Israelis on the Golan.

Number 1 seems to be true, in part because Israeli officials — including analysts in the intelligence community — are unusually confused as to what outcome they would prefer in Syria.  At first, it was clear that weakening Assad by distracting him looked great. The possibility that he would be overthrown would probably shatter Syria’s alliance with Iran — and perhaps even with Israel’s bitter enemy, the Hezbollah in Lebanon.

So one would think that Israel would like “the rebels” to win. Yet as it became clear that there were all kinds of rebels — and some might put hostility toward “the Zionist entity” near the top of their priorities — Israeli analysts realized that they didn’t like any of the rebels, either.

Some Israeli officials privately say what Israel has traditionally thought when Arab and Muslim nations are fighting against each other in the Middle East: “Let them keep on fighting each other. It’s only good for us.” Others honestly feel terrible that tens of thousands of civilians have been killed in Syria — and recognize the volatile danger that over a million Syrian refugees can represent in other countries.

It is traditional that refugee crises give intelligence agencies fantastic opportunities. Western agencies almost certainly are planting spies among the refugees — to learn what can be gleaned about politics and military positions inside Syria, and perhaps to go with the Syrians when they eventually reenter their country. It’s a great time to recruit agents and place long-time moles in place.

It was noteworthy (Saturday, July 13) that Al-Jazeera English is emphasizing a story about Al-Qaeda-affiliated rebels in Syria having killed a commander of the Free Syrian Army.  “Rebels are fighting each other,” the TV news said, and the reporter who told the story practically urged Western nations to arm the FSA before it’s too late. A commentator added that Western policies are inadvertantly helping Al-Qaeda by starving the relatively pro-Western FSA.

July 13, 2013

Egypt’s Coup — Fragile Situation, but Good for U.S. Interests and Good for Israel

A simple and quick analysis of the coup in Egypt — the removal of the Islamic Brotherhood president, Muhammad Morsi — is that it’s good for the United States.  And it surely does seem to be good for Israel.

The U.S. and Israel, through all the tumult of the past 30 months, have maintained their close ties with the Egyptian military.

Morsi was Important, but he Failed

The rise of the Islamic Brotherhood – and indeed the downfall of Hosni Mubarak – was often explained by analysts who said the best organized political force inside Egypt was “the Brotherhood.”  Most Egyptians might not favor strict religious law in their daily lives – though many probably would – but in the search for leaders who seemed to be incorruptible, the Islamic Brotherhood seemed like a clean and shiny choice.

Incorruptible, perhaps – but also incompetent.

Among the secrets, in the background, is the extent of United States support for the Egyptian army as it reached its decision to seize power.

In 2011, when Mubarak fell and chaos seemed likely, Egypt’s army seemed to hold the country together – but with an apparently sincere refusal to stage an outright coup and control Egypt forever with tanks and martial law.

Once again, now, the army is portraying its dramatic move as temporary.

Who will be relieved, so far?  The Obama Administration would never say it publicly, but out of all the political elements in Egypt, Washington’s closest contacts are in the military.  Most of the U.S. aid to Egypt (lately around $1.5 billion per year, to an economy that’s been starved of tourism revenues) has gone to the military.

The American government managed to keep relations quite cordial – although not warm – with Morsi’s government. When then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wanted Egyptian help, in late 2012, in stopping Hamas rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, President Morsi came through and helped the Americans.

By extension, he was also helping the Israelis.  But his colleagues in the Islamic Brotherhood (closely allied with the Palestinian radicals of Hamas in Gaza) generally hate and resent the Jewish State.   There was no warmth in that relationship, but as a matter of security – for Morsi’s own stability, not to mention keeping the peace along Israel’s frontier with the volatile Sinai Peninsula – Egypt and Israel forged a measure of cooperation.

In truth, though, Israel’s main, agreeable contacts were with the traditional partners in Cairo – not with President Morsi. Egypt’s intelligence services maintained their quiet, but sometimes intense and useful liaisons with Israeli intelligence.  And Israel never broke off its cooperative contacts with Egypt’s military, including the very same generals and brigadiers who are now running the Arab world’s most populous and influential nation.

July 3, 2013

Egypt’s New Pharoahs are Army Generals — Third Time’s the Charm?

yossi melman, spies against armageddon, iran nuclear

Yossi Melman

Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, wrote this analysis for TheTower. org (a website of The Israel Project), where he is a senior contributor.

“There was no other way but for the army to intervene,” says Danny Yatom a former general in the Israel Defense Forces who also served as director of the Mossad (Israel’s foreign espionage agency) in the late 1990s. “Egypt was and still is on the verge of a civil war and bloodshed. Only the army can prevent it.”

Former Mossad chief, Danny Yatom

Yatom and other Israeli experts think that the Egyptian army is the most – and maybe only – credible institution in that country.

“Without military intervention,” Yatom adds, “the two camps, the opposition and the Muslim Brotherhood-led government of President Mohammed Morsi, cannot reconcile with each other and find a common ground. It is now probably too late.”

The Egyptian army – its official name is the Egyptian Armed Forces (EAF) – is a professional force. It has nearly half a million soldiers and officers, making it the largest force in the Arab world and Africa.

It is also a relatively modern army, built on mainly American weaponry and technology. The military’s top echelon received training and education in the United States and the United Kingdom, with the result being pockets of Western-oriented officers. Some services, including and especially Egypt’s air force, field advanced equipment.

It is a proud force with a long military tradition. It counts relative achievements such as Egypt’s 1973 war against Israel alongside defeats to the Jewish state in 1948 and to a French-British Israeli coalition in 1956. The army has also played major roles in some United Nations peacekeeping missions.

If the EAF takes formal control of Egypt, it would mark the third time in the country’s modern history. In July 1952 young officers, traumatized by the defeat Egypt sustained during the country’s 1948 war against newly-independent Israel, rebelled against the monarchy and toppled King Farouk. The military, with the elderly General Mohammad Naguib as its figurehead, ruled for a year and half until Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser, the real force behind the revolt, officially took the reins of power. Nasser became president and changed Egypt into a socialist republic. He ruled until his death in 1970.

The military interfered in the political sphere a second time in 2011, when it forced President Hosni Mubarak to step down — despite Mubarak’s status as a former commander of the air force and his longtime support from the United States.

But the Egyptian army is not just a military force. It is also an economic empire. It owns factories, food stores, agricultural farms, and it has even built cities for its members and veterans.

“It is clear that any military intervention is not only a genuine effort to save Egypt from collapse, but also to preserve the military’s human and economic interests,” explains Lt. Colonel Udi Levy, an Israeli military intelligence specialist who focuses on Egyptian affairs among other issues.

The leader of the Egyptian Armed Forces is General Abdul Fatah Khalil al-Sisi. The 59 year old also held the position of Minister of Defense in the Morsi cabinet. He is a 1992 graduate of the the General Command and Staff Course hosted by Britain’s Joint Command and Staff College, and a 2006 graduate of the U.S. Army War College.

“He is a professional soldier,” says an Israeli security official who has known Al-Sisi. “He is a real Egyptian patriot.”

The EAF has been explicit in declaring that it has no intention of holding onto power, and it is instead responding to overwhelming public demands for the removal of Morsi from office. The consensus of experts appears to be that the situation will stabilize, and that once it does the army will hand over authority to a civilian government and call for new elections. That would be similar to the events of 2011, but this time perhaps with a different outcome.

[This blog post by Yossi Melman was slightly edited for IsraelSpy.com.]
July 3, 2013


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