Hezbollah’s Military Chief, Killed in Syria — By Whom? Many Enemies, Israel Among Them

[This post is adapted from an article for The Jerusalem Post by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars and other books.]

The circumstances of Hezbollah “Defense Minister” Mustafa Badreddine’s death are shrouded in mystery, as was most of his life in the underground. Hezbollah released an official statement on Saturday, saying that he was assassinated a few days ago by Syrian rebels near the Damascus airport.

This was startlingly different from previous assassinations of senior Hezbollah commanders.  The Lebanese Shi’ite group used to always — like a habitual reflex — blame Israel.

The official announcement seemed to clear Israel of responsibility for killing Badreddine — a mere eight years after his brother-in-law and powerful predecesssor, Imad Mughniyeh, was assassinated in Damascus.  The Mughniyeh killing was the result of a joint Israeli-U.S. intelligence operation, according to several sources, although neither government has acknowledged liquidating one of their most virulent enemies.

True, Arab media did quote a Hezbollah politician in Lebanon — as well as several former Iranian generals — as saying “the rebels” are working under the orders of “the Zionists.”  But all in all, it is clear that Hezbollah does not wish to escalate its war against Israel — not at this time.

It remains unclear how Badreddine was killed.  There are reports that he died in an artillery blast, and others which claim he was hit by a missile, and even some reports that the missile was fired from an airplane.  In any event, it is clear that those who planned and carried out the assassination had precise intelligence information.

Hezbollah Issued This Photo of Badreddine After His Mysterious, Violent Death

Hezbollah Issued This Photo of Badreddine After His Mysterious, Violent Death

Israel did not officially comment on who might have killed Badreddine, but politicians in the government in Jerusalem tried to add an air of mystery by acting as though the whole matter is too delicate to say anything about.

The United States government did state it was not involved in the Hezbollah leader’s death.

Yet it is strange that no one claimed responsibility for the killing — not even one of the Sunni Muslim rebel groups in Syria.

The list of those who wanted Badreddine eliminated was long.  In addition to the U.S., Israel, and Syrian rebels, the governments of France, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and others must be glad that one of the most cruel and wanted terrorists in the world is dead.

The possibility has also been raised that he was killed by one of his rivals within Hezbollah, but that is most likely disinformation being spread by some intelligence agency’s psychological warfare department.

However, it is reputed that Badreddine did have some sharp arguments with other senior Hezbollah commanders in recent years — as the Lebanese Shi’ites increasingly sustained losses in the Syrian civil war, obviously ordered by their Iranian paymasters to plunge into that war with gusto.

Badreddine is also said to have had disagreements with the Iranian Al-Quds Force, led by General Qassem Soleimani, who practically is in charge of Shi’ite militias and violent organizations around the world.  These arguments developed because of Badreddine’s operational ideas — which seemed to border on crazy hallucinations; as well as a reckless lifestyle that seemed to emulate his hero, the assassinated Mughniyeh.

Yet it has not been the practice of Hezbollah and Iran to settle accounts within their own ranks, within “the family,” so to speak, by liquidating non-conformists.

In rare cases, Hezbollah and Iran have put people on trial for espionage or treason — and those cases naturally ended in executions.  Yet in cases of disobedience, Hezbollah men are simply stripped of their positions.

It also would not make sense for Iran and Hezbollah to get rid of one of their most important commanders, right in the middle of a crucial stage in Syria’s civil war.  Three years ago, Hezbollah sent 6,000 combatants to fight the rebels — in order to save the Bashar al-Assad regime, an objective later backed emphatically by Russia’s military.

Killing Badreddine would require Hezbolla to replace him with a less experienced commander.

So who did it?  Similar to the outcome (spoiler alert!) of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, it is even conceivable that all of Badreddine’s foes — or an unusual group of them — teamed up to find him and eliminate him.

Israel may have had a hand in that.  Or not.  But further weakening of Hezbollah’s capabilities and morale is certainly a good thing for Israel’s strategy.

 

 

 

May 15, 2016

Hezbollah Military Chief Could Have Been Assassinated Earlier: Was It Foolish Not to Act?

[This article is based on an article written for The Jerusalem Post by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon and other books about Israeli security and diplomacy.]

In May 2000, the IDF’s Military Intelligence branch (the agency known as Aman) obtained reports and photographs from observation points and aerial patrols proving that senior Hezbollah figures were coming to tour southern Lebanon.  The Lebanese Shi’ite officials would be checking on the IDF’s preparations to withdraw from the security belt which Israel’s army had held since 1982.

Hezbollah believed the IDF would leave that July, and the group hoped to come up with a plan to sabotage the withdrawal and launch an attack on the retreating troops.

“They wanted to turn the withdrawal into an inferno,” says Brig.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilboa, who has written a new book that explores the issue: Dawn. The Real Story of the IDF’s Withdrawal from Lebanon (available soon, only in Hebrew).

“Dawn” was the IDF’s codename for the operation to withdraw from Lebanon.

The full menu of aggression planned by Hezbollah’s commanders included rocket launches, gunfire, setting off roadside bombs and car-bombs, and dispatching suicide bombers.

The IDF began a series of discussions about what could be done to stop senior Hezbollah officials from patrolling in southern Lebanon. On May 21, Military Intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. Amos Malka held a meeting that included “Little Mofaz.”  That referred to Shlomo, the brother of then-IDF chief Shaul Mofaz.

Shlomo Mofaz was the head of the terrorism department in Military Intelligence’s research division.

“Mofaz presented information that the most senior officials in Hezbollah are coming to south Lebanon.  It’s a certainty, and we have already made preliminary operational and intelligence preparations among ourselves.  This is a one-time opportunity to assassinate them, or at least, their most senior member.  We’ll present this to the IDF chief,” the book quotes Malka as saying.

“Shlomo,” Gilboa writes, “thought deeply about it and suggested that we transfer the responsibility to decide — from his brother the IDF chief, to the prime minister or defense minister,” who was then Ehud Barak.

The following day, a meeting was to take place to decide whether to take advantage of the opportunity and try to assassinate the senior Hezbollah officials.

What Gilboa does not write in his book and this writer has already published, is that the senior officials in question were “the Fab Five” of Hezbollah’s military wing.

They included the head of the military wing, Imad Mughniyeh, whom Israel, it was claimed, had failed to assassinate on a number of occasions.

Imad Mughniyeh's official Hezbollah portrait

Imad Mughniyeh’s official Hezbollah portrait

Also in the group: his deputies, Talal Hamia and Mustafa Badr a-Din (Mughniyeh’s cousin and brother-in-law), who is the Shi’ite group’s military commander today; and two others, one of whom was a senior officer in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards who was supervising Hezbollah plans against Israel.

At a meeting between Barak and Gadi Eisenkot, the current IDF chief of staff who was then Barak’s military secretary, the following day, “Gadi got into a car with the prime minister and the defense minister and updated him on the planned assassination of senior Hezbollah officials that Malka was suggesting.  Barak listened, and his face lit up when he heard the name of the most senior Hezbollah official [Mughniyeh],” Gilboa writes.

Later, Malka presented the issue of the assassination at a meeting that included Barak and senior IDF officers, including Malka, Shlomo Mofaz, division commander Moshe Kaplinsky and Col. Benny Gantz, who was then the head of the IDF’s liaison unit in Lebanon.

However, it was clear to those present that Barak was distracted. After a few minutes, Barak stopped Malka and declared: “Continue with the intelligence gathering against the object of the assassination.”  His meaning was clear. Barak was not authorizing an assassination.

In Gilboa’s words: “The assassination that the meeting was meant to discuss was thrown in the garbage.”

IDF officers present at the meeting and senior Mossad officials who were aware of the plan, were disappointed since everything was ready.

Had Barak given his approval, the entire leadership of Hezbollah’s military command would have been erased from this Earth.  Hezbollah would have been beaten.

A golden opportunity was wasted, and it would take Israel eight more years and a war (The Second Lebanon War of 2006) until intelligence and operational feasibility would converge again to enable the assassination of Mughniyeh.

According to foreign reports, the assassination of Mughniyeh in February 2008 — in Syria’s capital, Damascus — was mainly a Mossad operation aided by and carried out in coordination with the CIA.

Barak had refused to approve the action in Lebanon because he feared the ramifications it would have on his bigger plan – to fulfill his election promise to bring the IDF back from its 18-year presence in Lebanon.

Initially, Barak had hoped the withdrawal would be carried out through an agreement or understanding between Israel and Syria mediated by U.S. President Bill Clinton.

However, in 2000, after just a few months, he understood that the chances of reaching such an agreement were slim, and Barak ordered IDF Chief of Staff Mofaz to prepare for a withdrawal without agreement.

The timing of the withdrawal was dictated mainly by the rapid collapse of Israel’s mostly Christian allies — the South Lebanon Army (SLA) — to which the IDF turned over control of some of the outposts it evacuated.

When Barak understood that the SLA could not hold the outposts, he gathered IDF commanders on the evening of May 22 – the same day on which he had earlier rejected the assassination operation – and announced that he had ordered Chief of Staff Mofaz and OC Northern Command Gabi Ashkenazi to complete “their preparations to withdraw all IDF forces and prepare them to redeploy starting tonight.”

“Mofaz almost fell off his chair — he was so shocked,” Gilboa writes.

As a strategic decision, the withdrawal could be considered the crowning glory of Barak’s achievements as prime minister and defense minister.  The IDF withdrew without casualties.  But the price of the withdrawal was indeed heavy.

In the security, political and social arenas, history will judge Barak unfavorably.

True, it was impressive that Hezbollah did not succeed in sabotaging the withdrawal. However, the pullout exposed Israel’s betrayal of the 2,500 SLA soldiers who had worked with the Jewish state for years in cooperation and coordination.  All of a sudden, in the dead of night, the SLA men and their famlies found themselves running for their lives to Israel.

In the wake of these events, the unanswered question remains: Did Barak err by not ordering the assassination of Mughniyeh and the other senior Hezbollah officials?  In 2000 it would have changed the reality between Israel and the Shi’ite organization that fought a frightening and bloody war in 2006 and now has armed fighters helping Syria’s regime in that country’s civil war.

March 14, 2016

Israel’s Official Intelligence Projection — Many Dangers, No Major War on the Horizon

by Yossi Melman [written first for The Jerusalem Report]

Is the glass half empty or is it half full? That is the question one is left asking, after hearing about the contents of Israel’s NIE — the National Intelligence Estimate for 2016.  Depending on one’s point of view, or even bias, Israel’s situation can be viewed in different ways. Objective analysis shows there are risks out there, but also opportunities.

The NIE was drafted by the research department of Aman (the large Military Intelligence agency) with input from the research departments of Mossad (the external espionage agency) and the Israel Security Agency (the domestic service – known as Shin Bet). The Estimate is not published, but the major points were described by senior military officers in strictly limited briefings.

Emblem of Aman (Israeli Military Intelligence)

Emblem of Aman (Israeli Military Intelligence)

The most important part of the new report is the assessment that the probability of war this year is low. Senior military sources tell The Jerusalem Report that this applies on all fronts: from Gaza in the South to Lebanon and Syria in the North. Neither Hezbollah nor Hamas have plans or any interest to initiate a war against Israel.

Hezbollah is bleeding in the killing fields of Syria.  Five years from the outbreak of the civil war there, the Lebanese Shi’ites of Hezbollah become ever more deeply embroiled in the conflict — with a permanent contingent of as many as 7,000 fighters, nearly half its conscripts, fighting alongside Iran to defend the regime of Bashar Assad.  The Russian air force has provided significant air support.

These Shi’ites from the neighboring nation also have 15,000 reservists who are called to duty for training or field missions for up to 40 days a year – similar to the IDF reserve system. So far, Hezbollah has lost nearly 1,500 soldiers, killed in action–many of whom belonged to its elite units– and more than 6,000 have been wounded.

Hezbollah’s losses are a heavy blow to its military capabilities and have dented its morale to go to war with Israel. That, of course, is good for Israel.

Furthermore, Hezbollah is suffering from a serious economic crisis. Its annual budget is estimated at around $1 billion, 70 percent of which comes from Iran and the rest from taxes and trade, mainly in drugs and contrabands of cigarettes and electronic appliances. Due to the sanctions imposed on Iran (most soon to be lifted), Tehran in recent years has had difficulties providing much financial aid to its Lebanese proxy.

In the South, Hamas has not yet recovered from the war in the Summer of 2014, which inflicted heavy casualties on its military forces and capabilities and, even more importantly, caused severe damage to the civilian population.

Since the end of that conflict, two dozen rockets have been fired from Gaza into southern Israel. But they all landed in open areas and caused no casualties or damage. None of them was launched by Hamas. All were fired by small renegade groups, either inspired by or identifying with the Islamic State (ISIS), which oppose the Hamas regime and try to provoke Israel into attacking Hamas.

In other words, deterrence is working both vis-à-vis Hezbollah, since the 2006 war in Lebanon, and Hamas, following Operation Protective Edge in 2014. Yet, senior military sources say there is a clear understanding that “deterrence is not forever” and that it is an elusive concept.

Indeed, the NIE takes into account the potential for escalation deriving from a minor incident along the border with either Hamas or Hezbollah that could get out of hand and escalate into a major confrontation.

These scenarios take into consideration,for example, that a rocket fired from Gaza might kill several Israeli citizens. Israel then would retaliate forcefully against Hamas, which it holds responsible for the situation in Gaza. Hamas can’t stand idly by and responds; and the vicious cycle of rockets and Israel Air Force bombings rolls into another major war.

A similar scenario could apply along the northern border if Israel takes advantage of the war in Syria – as it reportedly has done on several occasions – and bombs another convoy of weapons being delivered to Hezbollah or kills another of its commanders near the Golan Heights; and Hezbollah then might retaliate with a salvo of rockets.

Both Hamas and Hezbollah are preparing for these scenarios.

Despite its financial and military troubles, Hezbollah has continued its preparation for a war against Israel, amassing an impressive arsenal of nearly 100,000 rockets and missiles capable of reaching every strategic and military site in the country.

But it’s more the quality — rather than the quantity — that is a major concern for Israel. Hezbollah, with the help of Iranian experts, is working hard to improve the accuracy of its missiles.

Israeli war planners estimate that, if war breaks out, Hezbollah will try, for the first time, to dig tunnels into Israel, to shift the battle to Israeli territory and try to conquer settlements near the border.

Thus, Hezbollah is considered the main military threat against Israel. The organization is therefore the prime target for intelligence efforts to gather information about its capabilities and intentions.

“The next war will be different from the wars we’ve seen in the past 20-30 years. The conflict will be very complex,” a senior military source told The Report. “It may last many, many weeks. Hezbollah has turned the majority of its Shi’ite villages in southern Lebanon into massive strongholds.”

The sources, however, warn that in case of war, Israel will take a different approach and strike, with all its force, against all Hezbollah positions including inside the villages. That, the source said, “will create a huge refugee problem in Lebanon.”

Though Hamas doesn’t want to be dragged into a new round with Israel and is not ready for it, that Gaza-based group also continues with efforts to improve its preparedness. Hamas is manufacturing rockets and prioritizing efforts to increase their range and accuracy. (In Operation Protective Edge, Hamas hit Tel Aviv and fired unsuccessfully in the direction of the northern port city of Haifa).

Though caught between Israeli and Egyptian blockades and close security and intelligence cooperation, Hamas has never given up its efforts to smuggle weapons, explosives, and rockets via tunnels between Sinai and Gaza — though that has become much more difficult. Hamas is also continuing to dig tunnels and the IDF estimates that some– probably more than 10 – are very close to the Israeli border and may penetrate inside Israel.

The NIE also notes, though in very vague words, that the changes and turmoil in the Middle East have improved Israel’s strategic posture.

Though they occasionally mention Israel in propaganda bulletins, the Islamic State movement — even the branch in Egypt’s Sinai — as well as al-Qaeda in Syria, known as Jabhat al Nusra — have no interest or intention to turn their weapons against Israel. They have other priorities and more immediate enemies.

The Middle East is characterized by the growing schism between Shi’ites and Sunnis, between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and rifts inside the Sunni world between zealots and terrorists such as Islamic State.

The Iran nuclear deal is also seen by the IDF as an opportunity of sorts, in blatant contrast to the perception and rhetoric of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“There are advantages to the nuclear deal,” an IDF source said. “True, a better deal could’ve been reached, and there’s a bit of frustration because the deal doesn’t take care of the Iranian involvement and efforts to increase its hegemonic aspirations in the region. But the fact is that the amount of enriched uranium has been significantly reduced, as has the number of centrifuges, and Iran’s capability to produce plutonium at its nuclear reactor in Arak has also been dismantled. These are dramatic developments with which you can’t argue.”

The intelligence estimate sees February as a critical time for Iran’s future. Elections for the Iranian parliament, the Majlis, as well as the Assembly of Experts – a small but important body that is in charge of electing or removing the Supreme Leader – will be taking place. Twelve thousand candidates registered, but the election committee disqualified 40 percent of them, eventually leaving just 30 moderate candidates.

The constant rifts and battles between the conservatives and reformists that have taken place in Iran since the death of Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, nearly 30 years ago, are reaching a peak. The elections will determine the direction Iran will take in the coming years with serious consequences not only for its own people but also for the rest of the Middle East, Israel included.

“It’s clear,” an Israeli military source said, “that the majority of the Iranian people want more freedom and openness to the West and less religiosity, but will the conservatives in the judiciary, in the religious circles and in the Revolutionary Guards allow it to happen?”

In addition, the IDF estimates that Iran is set to receive tens of billions of dollars from its frozen bank accounts abroad and from the lifting of sanctions. Most of the money will be invested in improving the economy. Some will be used to cover past debts. Nevertheless, oil prices have dramatically dropped from more than$100 per barrel to under $30, endangering Iran’s hopes for quick economic recovery

Yet, Iran hasn’t given up the dream of regional hegemony. It will use some of its bonanza to fund Hamas and attempt to gain a foothold in the West Bank. It is also guiding and paying for terrorist infrastructures in the Syrian Golan Heights.

Military Intelligence and Mossad will continue to monitor Iran to follow its expansionist aspirations and to make sure it doesn’t violate its commitments under the nuclear deal.

Regarding the Palestinians,the NIE is also not fully in sync with the government led by Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.

The estimate talks about a high potential for escalation in the West Bank if the peace process is not resumed. The IDF hopes that the government will at least continue with its current policy of economic incentives by allowing 120,000 Palestinians to work in Israel and in Jewish settlements — and that the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas will continue to permit the cooperation of its security agencies with Shin Bet and the IDF.

Whether all of the above should be seen as cause for optimism or pessimism is a test of one’s worldview.

February 3, 2016

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

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

Among other aspects of the current game plan are these:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 27, 2015

Israelis Call it a Lynching: Ambulance with Wounded Syrians Attacked by Israeli Druze — One Syrian Killed

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

A notorious name from the past is surprisingly linked, now, with the unexpected violence in northern Israel and the Golan Heights.

Samir Kuntar — the Lebanese Druze terrorist who was incarcerated for 29 years in Israel for murdering in cold blood a baby — and then released in a prisoner swap with Hezbollah in 2008 — is responsible for whipping up violence among Druze on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights. That’s what some Druze community leaders charged on Tuesday.

The comments came less than a day after Golan Druze carried out what Israeli authorities have termed “a lynching” of a wounded Syrian who was being transported by an IDF ambulance across the frontier late Monday. Some Druze activists have charged that the Israel Defense Force is helping the Nusra Front rebels in Syria (a branch of al-Qaeda, according to the United States) — clearly considered enemies of the Druze.

The attack on the ambulance (the second in two days) shocked Israel’s defense and political establishments, who have called for calm while taking pains to remind the Druze of the state’s historic commitment to their well-being. The Druze, a sect that are neither Muslim nor Jewish, neither Arab nor Jew, number around 140,000 in Israel (where their men serve in the Israeli military, often with distinction and making good advantage of their Arabic language) and 700,000 in Syria.

CIA's public map of Israel: see Golan Heights in upper right

CIA’s public map of Israel: see Golan Heights in upper right

“The man who is behind the incident that is fueling the violent events here is Samir Kuntar,” said Jabber Hamud, the head of the Sagur regional council who also serves as the chairman of the Druze and Circassian local councils. “We’ve known this for some time, and I call on the heads of the defense establishment to do all that is necessary.”

After his release from an Israeli prison Kuntar became a senior official in Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shi’ite movement. He was put in charge of the Syrian part of the Golan Heights, with a special emphasis on the Druze community there.

According to Israeli military sources Kuntar commanded in the past months a few terrorist attacks aimed at Israeli soldiers in the area.

Hamud was speaking at a meeting of Druze community leaders in the village of Nabi Shu’ayb, a holy shrine of the Druze community. The meeting was also attended by prominent Druze from the Golan Heights, including the Druze border village of Majdal Shams, where the attack on the Israeli ambulance — the “lynching” — occurred.

The Druze leadership called the meeting to convey the message that  they do not share the view that Israel is aiding Nusra Front jihadists in Syria.

Deputy Minister Ayoob Kara, he of Druze descent, sought to communicate the Netanyahu government’s position that Israel’s treatment of Syrians is a purely humanitarian matter.

A military source told The Jerusalem Post late Tuesday that the wounded Syrians who were attacked on the Golan Heights were not members of Nusra Front.

“As an Israeli Druze, I am spurred to answer the call to assist our Druze brothers in Syria,” said Salman Amar, the head of the Julis regional council. “We will do everything in our power to help them defend themselves against any attempt to butcher them solely because of their Druze background.”

“Thus far, almost 1,500 Druze have been killed in fighting in Syria, and we here did not say a word about it because the dead were soldiers and officers and fighters,” he said. “But once the community became a target for liquidation solely because of their Druze ethnicity, we cannot sit idly by. We will do what we can to protect them.”

Despite the emotionally charged atmosphere, Amar called on his fellow Druze to obey the law.

“The State of Israel is a country of laws, and everyone who breaks the law must be put on trial,” he said. “I call on the Israel Police not to hesitate in bringing the criminals to justice.

“Whoever attacks an IDF vehicle is a terrorist, and the attack was a terrorist act,” he added. “Whoever raises a hand to an IDF soldier must have that hand cut off, whether it is an extremist Druze, a Jewish fanatic, or a nationalist Arab. I will be a bitter enemy of whoever attacks the IDF, and it doesn’t matter what the excuse is.”

Kara told The Jerusalem Post that those responsible for the violence are “just a tiny minority” of the 15,000 Druze residents of Majdal Shams “who for a while now have been incited by the Assad regime in Syria as well as by Hezbollah, who have been disseminating deceitful propaganda about Israel’s supposed cooperation with Nusra Front.”

The goal of the campaign, according to Kara, is “to drag Israel into the civil war in Syria and to further divide the Druze community.”

Sources well-versed in the subject say that residents of the Syrian Druze town of Khader on the Syrian side of the Golan, 2 kilometers from Majdal Shams, have been told that no harm will come to them so long as they remain neutral in the civil war.

Nonetheless, there remain pockets of Khader that are solidly supportive of the Bashar Assad regime and even serve in its army. It is known that Syrian intelligence officers maintain a presence in the village, and there are quite a number of residents who enjoy either direct or indirect financial support from Damascus. That gives the Druze monetary incentive to back Assad.

The rebels fighting Assad have no desire to occupy the village. Instead, their goal is to gain control over the entire swath of area stretching from Khader to Damascus. In recent weeks, fierce gun battles have been reported on the main highway connecting Khader to Khan Arnabeh.

Israel’s strategy, however, remains the same as it has been manifested in the 50-months-long bloody civil war – to stay out and not intervene as long as peace, calm, and tranquility can be maintained along the Israeli-Syrian border.

June 23, 2015

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ehud Olmert, when prime minister

Ehud Olmert, when prime minister

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 15, 2015

Israel “Didn’t Know” It Was Hitting an Iranian General and a Famous Hezbollah Man — in Pinpoint Strike in Syria? That’s One Claim

An unnamed Israeli source told the Reuters news agency that Israel did not intend to kill high-level Iranians or Lebanese Hezbollah, when an Israeli airstrike destroyed a convoy on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.

But that doesn’t ring true.  Keep in mind that disinformation is a major part of the shadow wars — the spy-versus-spy, bomber-versus-bomber, assassin-versus-assassin battles that have gone on for years.

Gen. Allahdadi

Gen. Allahdadi

Iran’s official media have confirmed — with the man’s picture — that a general in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was killed in the Israeli airstrike in Syria.

A news agency run by IRGC said Gen. Mohammad Ali Allahdadi was in Syria advising that country’s government on how to combat Sunni Muslim rebels; adding that Allahdadi died “defending the people and holy sites of Syria.”

The IRGC’s role isn’t even being hidden anymore.  Lebanese reports said in addition to the general, several Iranian IRGC soldiers were killed by the Israeli airstrike.

Also killed were half a dozen Hezbollah fighters — including the 25-year-old son of Imad Mughniyeh, the notorious military chief of the Lebanese Shi’ite terrorist movement who was blown up by an Israeli Mossad car bomb in Syria’s capital in 2008.

Why would Israel’s military now hint — through a leak — that killing those senior men was just a coincidence?

First, Israel’s intelligence agencies don’t want their enemies to know precisely how much Israel knows.  Do the Israelis listen in to practically all cellphone conversations and intercept text messages?

Does it make sense that Israel — using a rocket-firing helicopter, according to the first leak, but now U.N. observers say they saw Israeli drone aircraft cross into Syrian airspace before the strike — would strike two jeeps, just because they were within a few miles of the Golan Heights armistice line?

Emblem of Aman (Israeli Military Intelligence)

Emblem of Aman (Israeli Military Intelligence)

We think it is more likely that Israel struck the convoy, because of information that senior Hezbollah men were in it.

The presence of the Iranians may not have been known, but it was always a real possibility.

The leak to Reuters is probably aimed at making a tense situation a lot less volatile — to soothe some of the anger. The suggestion is made of an intelligence mistake by the Israelis, hinting that they did not intend to kill a senior Iranian — and therefore Iran shouldn’t overreact.

A former Israeli military intelligence chief, retired General Amos Yadlin (who this week became the official pick for Defense Minister by the Labor Party-led coalition called “The Zionist List”), was asked if he would order the airstrike in the knowledge there was an Iranian general in the vehicles.

“We don’t check the identity cards or passports of people who are engaged in terrorism attacks on Israel,” Yadlin replied.

But a smart espionage community like Israel’s does, in fact, try to be entirely aware of whom it is striking — and what the consequences could be.

A lingering question is whether the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, may have ordered the airstrike in the belief that it would boost his reelection campaign.  Israelis will be voting in mid-March.

The Israeli government strongly denies that; and there is the reality that the blowback — retaliation by Hezbollah, Iran, or both — could be so disruptive and damaging that Israeli voters will not be happy about the airstrike.

Yadlin predicts that Hezbollah (probably with Iranian assistance) will hit back at Israeli facilities or citizens — but “far away from Israel and Lebanon.”

Indeed there are many indications that Hezbollah and Iran don’t want a hot shooting war with Israel at this time.

Still — just in case — the Israeli military is reinforcing the Northern front: along the frontier with Lebanon and on the Golan Heights.  The Israelis permitted publication of the fact that an Iron Dome anti-missile system was moved to the North to protect Israelis.  Hezbollah could, after all, rain down with tens of thousands of missiles.

(first published here at IsraelSpy.com on Jan. 20, 2015)

February 14, 2015

Here’s a New Detail About 2008 Assassination in Damascus by CIA and Mossad: Cheney Phoned Israel Afterward to Share Congratulations

Another new detail has emerged about the assassination of Hezbollah military chief Imad Mughniyeh — in Damascus, Syria, in 2008.

After the bomb blast that killed Mughniyeh — a “most wanted” terrorist from a U.S. point of view and an active enemy from Israel’s perspective — Vice President Dick Cheney telephoned Israel’s then-prime minister Ehud Olmert to say, in effect, “job well done.”

This was a rare, extremely high-level joint mission.  It wasn’t aimed at gathering intelligence (as other joint missions have been) but at liquidating a joint enemy.

Cheney phoned Olmert to thank him for the cooperation.  Leaders in both the U.S. and Israel were satisfied.

The intention, at the time, was to remain eternally silent about the mission.

January 31, 2015

Why Would the CIA Now Reveal its Role (with Mossad) in a Middle East Assassination?  To Remind Israel that it Still Needs the USA

One should ponder why American officials would suddenly leak details of the assassination of Hezbollah’s military chief, Imad Mughniyeh, seven years after the lethal explosion in Damascus.

Why would they decide to tell reporters on the espionage beat that the CIA acted together with Israel’s Mossad?  And why would they apparently emphasize that the CIA was on the spot in Damascus, doing the key job of planting the cleverly designed bomb – after the bomb was created and tested at a base in the United States?

The answer seems linked with the current, recently increased tensions between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

It is as though Obama wishes to remind Netanyahu that Israel still needs the United States: America’s expertise and long reach.

President Obama, annoyed at Bibi Netanyahu again

President Obama, annoyed at Bibi Netanyahu again

White House officials are obviously angry that Israel’s prime minister plans to come to Washington to address a joint session of Congress on March 3.  The event designed by Republican leaders in Congress is aimed at adding pressure to their desire for legislation that would threaten tougher sanctions against Iran.

Netanyahu would love for such a bill to pass, but he seems to be ignoring Obama’s strong opposition to the bill.

Obama has explained that if Congress insists on threatening more sanctions now, that might give Iran an excuse to walk away from the nuclear talks – with the U.S. and five other nations – and some in the world may blame America for derailing the process.

Benjamin Netanyahu Plans to Address Congress -- Over Obama's Objections

Benjamin Netanyahu Plans to Address Congress — Over Obama’s Objections

Obama claims he gives the talks with Iran only a 50-50 chance of success, and he says U.S. military action against Iranian nuclear facilities is a real possibility.

Netanyahu, for years now, hints at the possibility of unilateral military action against Iran by Israel.

He has been criticized by his opponents – in Israel’s election scheduled for March 17, a mere two weeks after the speech to Congress – for ruining relations with Israel’s all-important ally in Washington.

Netanyahu’s critics, both in Israel and in the U.S., say the tiny country of 8 million people seems to forget that it is the junior partner in an alliance with a superpower (of over 300 million people).

When American officials point to a joint mission with Israel to kill a notorious terrorist in 2008 – emphasizing the leading role played by the CIA, while the Mossad was the junior partner – that seems to include a political message that the Israelis should remember their place and their dependence.

January 31, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*THEY COULD’VE GOTTEN A SENIOR IRANIAN

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

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

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

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

January 31, 2015

Middle East Surprise: Israel and Iran Share Interests — De Facto Allies in Pushing Back ISIS

If — as an old saying goes — politics makes strange bedfellows, then in Middle East politics we surely find the strangest.

Flag of Israel CIAThe latest undeclared and unintentional alliance is that of Israel and Iran. Both are strongly opposed to ISIS, and both are active supporters of the Kurds. The support is focused, in recent years, in the Kurdish autonomous region that is part of Iraq.

Yossi Melman, co-author of books including Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, wrote the following article for The Jerusalem Report, which is published in English in Israel.Flag of Iran

– o – o – o –

On August 26, twelve hours before a ceasefire ended the 51-day Israel-Gaza war, a no less significant event took place a thousand kilometers away from Tel Aviv. This event, like the Gaza war, signifies the rapidly changing new reality in the Middle East – a reality that is replete with severe dangers for Israel but also opens windows of opportunity for a radically different regional lineup.

In Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met with the Kurdish President Masoud Barzani. In a joint press conference, the two revealed that Iran had agreed to supply weapons and ammunition to the Kurdish army, which is battling the extremist Islamic State (IS or ISIS).

The Kurds are fighting alongside the Iraqi army with the backing of the U.S. Air Force.

According to foreign reports, Israel in the past has supplied weapons and military advice and know-how to the Kurds. During the 1960s and 1970s, Iran (then a monarchy under the Shah) and Israel were strategic allies working together to assist the Kurds led by Mustafa Barzani (father of Masoud) in their battle for self-rule against Saddam Hussein’s government in Baghdad.

Thirty-five years after the creation of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which has demonized Israel as the “small Satan,” the two sworn enemies find themselves on the same side of a Middle Eastern front and sharing at least one national interest – to stop the advance of the bloodthirsty ISIS forces.

Even in Syria, where a civil war has raged since early 2011 (with the United Nations now estimated almost 200,000 deaths), Israel and Iran share a surprising set of interests.

They both want to stop the growing influence, beheadings, mass shootings, military victories, and territorial advances of ISIS.

Iran and its Lebanese Shiite proxy, Hezbollah, are deeply involved in the battle to keep President Bashar al-Assad in power. That has involved battling ISIS.

Israel is hoping — and preparing, if necessary, to take action — to prevent ISIS from taking control of the Syrian side of the 100-kilometer long stretch of border on the Golan Heights. The area had been mostly quiet for 40 years.

However, quiet on the Golan seems to be becoming more elusive by the day. Two days after the fighting in Gaza came to an end, several incidents took place near the Israeli border that bode ill for Israel.

It began with extremist rebel forces, not including ISIS, fighting the Damascus regime and its Hezbollah and Iranian allies, taking over the Syrian side of the Quneitra border crossing with Israel. Three-hundred rebels stormed the compound, and the small Syrian army force on site fled.

On August 28, rebels from Jabhat al-Nusra (the Nusra Front) took captive dozens of UN peacekeepers from Fiji stationed in the demilitarized zone near the border. The captured Fijians are part of UNDOF – the UN Disengagement Observer Force – a mechanism that was put in place at the end of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

The UNDOF mandate, renewed every few years, was to ensure that Israel and Syria maintain the cease-fire and separation of forces. A demilitarized (buffer) zone was established on both sides of the border – banning the entrance of armor and overflights.

Jabhat al-Nusra is considered to be a branch of al-Qaeda operating in Syria and Lebanon. Nusra, numbering some 7,000 mostly Syrian fighters spread out across the country, reached the Golan about two years ago. The numbers in that area have grown over the last few months as ISIS forces took control of northeast Syria – of late overtaking the Syrian air base at Tabqa and declaring the city of Raqqa as their capital of a self-declared caliphate – thus pushing the Nusra fighters southward.

With the exception of a few isolated positions, the entire 100-kilometer border strip is controlled by rebel forces, much of it by Nusra units. Their hatred for Israel is strong. Like ISIS, they wave a black flag, aim to carve out a caliphate, and they also abduct foreigners.

Despite all of this, Israel has managed over the past year to develop reasonably neighborly ties with the various factions, including Nusra.

One factor that has helped to advance this relationship: more than 1,000 casualties from the civil war who have been brought into Israel for treatment at the Sieff Hospital in Safed, the Rambam Hospital in Haifa, and an IDF field hospital set up near the border.

The situation is reminiscent (if on a small-scale) of the “good fence” policy Israel had on the Lebanese border in the 1970s. The establishment of a hospital and transfer of humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees in camps in Jordan and Turkey — done by Israeli private donors and non-governmental organizations on the coattails of the government and the IDF — are part of a very clear approach to make every effort to preserve quiet along the border.

On the other hand, armed conflict and chaotic conditions have always presented opportunities for the other side to glean intelligence. Amid the uncertainties, where it is difficult to distinguish between friend and foe, it is easier to recruit agents from among a confused and desperate population, or to send in reconnaissance missions.

ISIS has no hold on the Golan Heights, but it does have a small force of fighters in a few of the villages near the border. This presence is not a strong source of concern for Israel, but the defense establishment is keeping a very close watch on developments.

The volatile situation in Syria in general and in the battles on the border in particular can change at any moment. The danger that the continued advance of ISIS in Syria will whet its appetite and lead them toward the Israeli border cannot be ignored.

To add to the chaos, while the UN hostage crisis remained unresolved, an Israeli anti-aircraft battery firing a Patriot missile shot down a hostile drone violating its air space near Quneitra.

Israeli sources could not determine whether the unmanned aerial vehicle belonged to Syria, Hezbollah, or Iran, but its purpose was the same. It was on a reconnaissance mission – not necessarily against Israel, but probably to assess and photograph the rebel positions on the Syrian side of the Golan.

This illustrates the irony surrounding the Syrian-Israeli border crisis: Israel doesn’t want the Islamists to control the border area, and Israel prefers Assad’s army as the devil it already knows. However, holding the regime officially responsible for violations of the disengagement agreement, the IDF shoots back at the Syrian army — regardless of who truly fired into Israel.

Israel’s policy of non-intervention in Syria’s civil war has not changed. Yet Israel has taken action more than half-a-dozen times: with air force attacks on convoys or weapons depots of the Syrian army to stop the transport of advanced missiles  and radar to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Israel never claimed responsibility for these attacks, which has allowed both sides to preserve deniability and keep Assad’s regime from feeling humiliated and forced into attacking in response.

Despite Israel’s non-intervention policies, there are voices within the defense establishment and intelligence communities who have second thoughts about whether it is better for Israel that Assad stays in power.

At the outset of the Syrian war, the prevailing idea in the Israeli decision-making echelon was that it was in the national interest to see Assad go. It was then-defense minister Ehud Barak who declared that Assad’s days were numbered, giving him three weeks before being toppled. This attitude was based on the fact that Hezbollah and Iran – Israel’s most hated rivals – were on Assad’s side.

So the old dictum of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” prevailed.

Now, however, the same concept is pushing Israeli leaders to realize that Assad, Iran and Hezbollah – having such a dangerous enemy as ISIS – could, at least on one front, find themselves with an alliance of interests with Israel.

As such, in Syria – like in Iraq, with the Kurds – Israel might find itself on the same side as Iran.

The events in Iraq and Syria demonstrate the phenomenal changes the Middle East has undergone in recent years. Old alliances are disintegrating. Old interests are becoming unimportant. The ties between the various forces are changing, and new players are emerging onto the scene.

[The original article: http://www.jpost.com/Jerusalem-Report/A-web-of-alliances-374231]

September 3, 2014

Hezbollah Terrorists in Thailand Targeted Israeli Passover Tourists — Iran Aims at Israelis

During this week-long Passover holiday, a large number of Israelis travel abroad.  Thailand is a popular choice.  Terrorists know it, and Thailand has announced the capture of a Hezbollah gang in Bangkok that had intended to kill Israeli tourists.

Israeli sources say Israeli intelligence had a key role in detecting the Hezbollah plot.  Israel informed Thai authorities of the danger, and Thailand made the arrests.

Thai Police Issued Photos of 3 Hezbollah Suspects - Photos from the Mossad?

Thai Police Issued Photos of 3 Hezbollah Suspects – Photos from the Mossad?

While Hezbollah is ostensibly a Lebanese group –Shi’ite Muslims from Lebanon who have sworn to wage war against Israel and Jews — Hezbollah’s financing and orders generally come from Iran.

Here are excerpts from The Bangkok Post on the latest arrests:

“The Israeli embassy has asked the Metropolitan Police Bureau (MPB) to step up safety measures for tourists on Rambutri and Khao San roads until Tuesday after an alleged terrorist plot to attack Israelis [was foiled by the arrest of two foreign men]…

“MPB chief Kamronwit Thoopkrachang said he had received a letter from the embassy asking for extra protection for tourists staying on the popular backpacker roads in Bangkok’s Phra Nakhon district.  … The pair are accused of planning attacks on Israeli tourists on Khao San Road [at six locations], and of having close ties to Hezbollah.

“He said many tourists spend Passover in the backpacker district, where they gather at a synagogue to pray and sing, and visit Jewish restaurants and guest houses.”

This is not the first time that the Mossad — obviously tracking the movements and activities of Shi’ite Muslim terrorists — has discovered and foiled an Iran-backed plot in Thailand.

If Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper is correct in reporting that Thai authorities plan to deport the two Hezbollah men they’ve now captured, Israel will be sorely disappointed.  Here’s what The Daily Star wrote:

“One of the two suspected Hezbollah members held in Thailand confessed to planning an attack against Israeli tourists on April 13 …

“French-Lebanese national Daoud Farhat and Lebanese-Filipino national Youssef Ayad were arrested earlier this week on suspicion of having links to Hezbollah.

“The two arrived in Thailand several days before Passover which also coincided with the Thai festival of Songkran. Although it was Farhat’s first trip to the country, Ayad had visited Thailand 17 times before, the Bangkok Daily Post said.

“The Post quoted Assistant National Police Chief Winai Thongsong as saying that the men were arrested at different locations in Bangkok after Thai police received intelligence from Israel about a planned attack during Passover in Khao San Road, popular among Israeli tourists.

“The paper also quoted an anonymous investigator saying that police were in pursuit of at least nine people suspects of having links to Hezbollah.

“A source close to the investigation told the paper that Ayyad confessed his group entered Thailand to carry out a bomb attack against Israeli tourists and other Israeli groups…  ‘We are taking the holder of the Philippines passport to Rayong province to search for more bomb-making material kept there,’ the source added, noting that the arrest of the men foiled the attack.

“Winai said the two men would be deported back to the last countries they traveled from after police finalize their investigation.”

April 20, 2014

Three Years into Mossad Director’s Term: It’s Been Rough Going for Tamir Pardo

[This article was written by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon — a fresh history of Israeli intelligence from 1948 to the present day — for the website of the 24-hour TV news service that’s broadcast from Israel: i24news.TV.]

Tamir Pardo

Tamir Pardo

Recent new appointments at the top echelon of the Mossad have coincided with Tamir Pardo’s third anniversary at the helm of Israel’s foreign espionage agency. The names and identities of those who were promoted cannot be published because of security considerations, government policy and censorship.

The appointments are rather routine and certainly don’t signal any major shift in the Mossad’s policy. But three years in office means that Pardo has completed half his term. Now is the right time for a midterm report of his successes and failures.

Pardo, a 61-year-old chain smoker, walks more or less in the footsteps of his predecessor — Meir Dagan. If there is a difference between the two, it’s a matter of style and personality. Unlike the charismatic, smiling and controversial Dagan,Pardo is more, much more, reserved. He looks like a gray bureaucrat who has a businesslike attitude. He is not a man of small talk. But his looks are misleading

He is a professional intelligence officer and skillful operative who served nearly 30 years in the operational departments of the Mossad.

The Mossad – the lethal, feared, respected, almost mythological intelligence agency – is going through tough times, trying to cope with an unprecedented set of challenges for Israel at a time when the Mideast is in turmoil.

The year 2013 was not brilliant for the Mossad. It suffered an unprecedented blow when it was revealed that for the first time in its history, an operative had betrayed the organization and caused severe damage to its operations, morale, and omnipotent image.

The alleged traitor was Ben Zygier, an Australian-born Jew who immigrated to Israel and was recruited by the Mossad in 2005 to work, according to foreign reports, in operations against Iran. After being arrested in 2010, he was known in prison only as Prisoner X, his identity kept secret by Israeli censorship and judicial gag orders. Zygier’s story was unveiled only after he hanged himself in his cell.

Pardo’s unsuccessful damage control showed poor judgment and a misunderstanding of 21st century media. Follwoing the Prisoner X revelations, reports came out that another prisoner, nicknamed X2, was being held behind bars in secret, and his case was described as having “similar characteristics.” No details have ever come out about the second X.

The most important development for Pardo’s Mossad’s agenda was Iran. The Islamic Republic, with its Hezbollah proxy in Lebanon and Syria, remained at the top the Mossad’s action options. Yet these options were sharply reduced in 2013. Hezbollah amassed a threatening arsenal of 100,000 rockets and missiles, able to target every strategic site as well Israel’s urban centers.

Perhaps above all, 2013 witnessed the end of the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists — a 4-year campaign attributed (in our book) to the Mossad. The four-year campaign of assassinations ended in 2012 after the killings of five nuclear scientists in Iran. Four were assassinated during Dagan’s tenure and one under Pardo.

It became too dangerous. Iran’s counter-intelligence units were conducting an intensive manhunt, and the Mossad could not risk seeing its best combatants — Israel’s term for its most talented and experienced spies and assassins — arrested and executed. In addition, the Obama Administration signaled to Israel that it did not want acts of violence to continue inside Iran when negotiations with world powers were starting on the Iranian nuclear program.

For the time being, the “Pardo boys” (and some females, of course) are turning their intel gathering and operational capabilities to detecting whether — and how — Iran is cheating on its agreements with the United States and other Western countries  Israel intends to learn what Iran is really up to and could be expected to expose Iranian nuclear work.

The Israeli aim is to show that Iran, now ruled by the seemingly moderate President Hasan Rouhani, is — in the words of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — “a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” tirelessly trying to deceive the international community about the true nature of its nuclear program.

If need be, Pardo will not hesitate to resort to the old, violent ways. Like his predecessors, he is a true gatekeeper of Israel’s national interests.

February 22, 2014

The Missing Israeli Pilot — Still in Lebanon? Rumors of New Information Soon

There’s no reason to be highly confident in the accuracy of a report in a Kuwaiti newspaper, but almost everyone in Israel hopes it’s true that definitive information about Ron Arad could come soon.

Arad was the Israel Air Force aviator whose plane crashed over Lebanon in October 1986.  After ejecting by parachute, his IAF colleague was rescued; but Arad vanished.

Ron Arad in captivity - the photo that shocked and intrigued Israel in 1987

Ron Arad in captivity – the photo that shocked and intrigued Israel in 1987

Israeli intelligence received “proof of life” messages in 1987 — including photographs of Arad as a captive. It was believed that Lebanese Shi’ite Muslims — in the Amal organization, not Hezbollah — were holding him.  But, as often occurs among terrorist groups, one gang may have sold him to another, and even the mighty Israeli intelligence was unable to keep up with Arad’s movements.

Negotiations with Lebanese groups — through European intermediaries, usually — failed.

The newspaper in Kuwait, As-Siyassa, claims that Iran has now stepped forward with a meaningful offer to solve the mystery. Iran would, as part of a deal, receive definite information about four Iranians — three diplomats and a journalist — who vanished in Lebanon in 1982.

The report says if any or all of the five men (including Arad) are dead, then information will be exchanged on the location of their graves.

The recovery of missing or captured soldiers and agents is a traditional, high priority for Israel’s military and intelligence community.  If Israelis die behind enemy lines, then the Jewish state makes major efforts — even, in the past, releasing Arab prisoners — to gain the release of the corpses.

Ron Arad - before he vanished in Lebanon

Ron Arad – before he vanished in Lebanon

Unfortunately for Arad’s wife — and for many other Israelis who have campaigned to keep “Remember Ron Arad!” at the forefront of their country’s thinking — there is not likely to be any breakthrough at this time.

It’s reliably reported that the four Iranians were arrested by the Christian Phalangists — then powerful in, at least, their sector of Lebanon — and were tortured to death. Their bodies were dumped in an unmarked pit, and sometime later a building was constructed on the site.

When the last swap between Israel and the Lebanese Shi’ites of Hezbollah — closely allied with Iran — was mediated around five years ago, Hezbollah and Iran were given that information.

Hezbollah was supposed to furnish details of Arad’s fate, as part of that deal, but they gave the Israelis nothing. That is what senior Israeli security officials have revealed to us, over the years, and they add that the burden of proof — in order to receive anything in return — is up to Iran and its Hezbollah clients.

October 30, 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

Iran’s Recruit to Spy in Israel: An Anti-Zionist Ultra-Orthodox Jew — Yes, Really

An ultra-Orthodox Jew — an Israeli citizen who’s part of a group that finds religious reasons to oppose the existence of the State of Israel — has been arrested for spying on behalf of Iran.

The way this Israeli was hired by the Iranians and run by his spymasters shows the low quality of Iran’s efforts to dig into the hidden secrets of Israel.

The man’s arrest has just been publicly confirmed by Israeli officials, but he is not being named. He is a member of the Neturei Karta sect. The men look like classic Hassidic Jews: with large black coats, beards, long sidelocks, and usually with large furry hats.

Neturei Karta visited Hamas’s leader in Gaza

Perhaps one would think that someone with such a “Jewish” appearance would be above suspicion — and therefore might be an excellent choice to be a spy. But Neturei Karta members have made quite a splash with their anti-Zionist activities such as visiting Iran and praising the Palestinian radicals of Hamas.

In any event, this man — while visiting Germany — offered his services to the Iranian embassy in Berlin. He had two motives, according to interrogators of Shin Bet (Israel’s domestic security agency): hatred for Israel, and financial rewards from the Iranians. He acted on his own — not sent by Neturei Karta colleagues.

At Jerusalem’s district court, officials said the accused is 47 years old. The charges against him include contact with a foreign agent and “intention to betray” Israel.

Prosecutors, based on what the man told Shin Bet, allege that he offered to “murder a Zionist,” if that is what the Iranians would want him to do. In an early misunderstanding, the Iranians thought he was asking for political asylum.

They also visited and embraced Iran’s Ahmadinejad

For some reason, when three Iranian diplomats — probably the embassy’s intelligence officers — engaged the wayward Israeli in conversation, he chided them for failing to defend their own country against “the Zionists.” He specifically needled them over the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists in Tehran (a series of operations our book describes as Mossad missions).

One of the three Iranians, using the code name “Hajji Baba,” said he would be the Israeli spy’s point of contact. They gave him a password for a “dead e-mail box,” which the two sides can share without even sending e-mails to other addresses. That is where he would look for messages.

The man returned to Jerusalem and tried to communicate with his Iranian handlers from internet cafes and even from public phone booths.

It is worth noting that ultra-Orthodox Jews are forbidden by their religious leaders from using computers — one of the strictures meant to insulate them from “promiscuous” elements of modern, secular life.

In terms of tradecraft, the would-be James Bond was a rank amateur. Israeli officials say no damage was caused. He was arrested before he could provide the Iranians with any information — if he, in any event, was able to collect anything that a newspaper reader or TV viewer would know.

The indictment happens to mention what he was wearing when he entered Iran’s embassy in Berlin: white shirt, black trousers, long fringes (“tzizit”) from an undergarment visible from his midsection. Perhaps he himself provided that description — but it’s equally likely that Germany’s intelligence agency, BND, photographs the entrances of Iran’s embassy on a 24-hour basis. The BND has a long history of close cooperation with Israel’s Mossad and Shin Bet.

The Iranian side behaved professionally. The “diplomats” didn’t reject him right away and gave him a coded means of communication. But they also seemed to be suspicious that he might be an agent of provocation sent by the Mossad or the BND. The Iranians were fairly cautious.

This was the third case in which an Israeli Jew initiated contact with Iran. The two previous cases took place in Turkey.

There also were a few cases in which Arab citizens of Israel were recruited by Iran — either by that nation’s own intelligence agency or by the Shi’ite Muslim radicals of Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Luckily for Israel, all in all, Iranian intelligence coverage of the Jewish state is very poor.

 

 

August 2, 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

It’s Worldwide: Israeli Intelligence Helped Nigeria Bust an Armed Hezbollah Cell

Nigeria’s secret service said Thursday it had discovered a Hezbollah “cell” in a house in Kano (northern Nigeria), where Lebanese  citizens had concealed weapons to be used for attacks against “Israeli and Western targets” in Nigeria.

The Hezbollah weapons seized in Kano (BBCnews.com still)

Nigerian authorities said they had arrested three Lebanese in that area, on suspicion of being members of Hezbollah, and that a raid on one of their residences had revealed a large stash of weapons.

We have learned that the exposure of the cell was possible due to close cooperation between Nigeria’s security service and the Israeli intelligence agencies, Mossad and Aman (military intelligence).

The Israelis are monitoring Iranian and Hezbollah activities all over the globe — part of the significant shift by Israeli intelligence, just over ten years ago, toward focusing on threats from Iran.  That (as described in our book Spies Against Armageddon) includes, of course, Iran’s nuclear program.

The  Nigerian incident is the tenth case in which Israeli intelligence — working with local security services — foiled attempts by Hezbollah and Iran to strike against Jewish and Israeli targets. Previous cases occurred in India, Cyprus, Thailand, Georgia, and Azerbaijan.

May 31, 2013


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