Click here for full details of how (and where) to buy Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, the new history of the Mossad and Israel’s other security and espionage agencies.
The authors are Dan Raviv (of CBS News) and Yossi Melman (the longtime Haaretz expert on intelligence, who now is a defense, strategy, and espionage analyst for the Israeli news website Walla). This is their fifth book together. Their best seller (in 1990-91) about Israel’s intelligence community was Every Spy a Prince. They also wrote a character-filled history of U.S.-Israel relations, Friends In Deed.
To glance at readers’ reviews posted at Amazon.com, please click here. For example:
“Despite the book being over 350 pages, it goes by very quickly (I read it in a weekend). ” –daniel michael | 17 reviewers made a similar statement
“Highly recommended read for those interested in Middle East events. ” –zedillo99 | 15 reviewers made a similar statement
“Raviv and Melman have written a wonderful history of Mossad. It reads like a thriller, but conveys a thorough history of the Israeli intelligence agency.” –Kai Bird, Pulitzer Prize winner
SPIES AGAINST ARMAGEDDON is a powerful, vivid history of Israel’s intelligence community – led by the famous and feared Mossad – from the country’s independence in 1948 right up to the crises of today. Israel’s battle plan, aimed at stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program, may drag the United States into war and soaring oil prices. The plan is based on deception, sabotage, assassination, and intimidation. The book tells the story, never told before, of Kidon – the super-secret unit that is like a Mossad within the Mossad. Kidon carries out special operations, including assassinations and sabotage. Kidon had a daring role in destroying Syria’s nuclear reactor in 2007.
Israel’s methods and motivations can be fully understood only when seeing how they developed over the decades. Bold spies have penetrated enemy capitals, and secret agencies felt a historic responsibility to protect Jews worldwide. The authors chronicle major changes in Israeli intelligence agencies’ priorities – away from Palestinian peace prospects, shifting to Iran as the main focus. The book also exposes some episodes of which Israeli spies are ashamed; scandals they would prefer remain buried. Still, in the age of the internet and spy satellites, Israel is the most innovative nation in the use of espionage as an alternative to war.
Among the burning questions addressed and answered in SPIES AGAINST ARMAGEDDON are these: Who planted a powerful computer worm in Iran’s uranium enrichment centrifuges? Who has been motorcycling boldly through the streets of Tehran, assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists? Are Israeli spies regularly inside Iran and other enemy countries? Did the Mossad make a huge mistake when two dozen of its operatives were seen by hotel security cameras in Dubai, or was it a successful murder mission? Do the assassins, as portrayed in the movie “Munich,” really feel pangs of conscience? Have Israel’s enemies ever managed to plant agents in the Israeli government? Does the United States really trust Israeli intelligence, or is the relationship limited by mutual mistrust? Why do U.S. security agencies believe their close ally is spying on America? Is Israel trying to maneuver the U.S. into attacking Iran?
This book contains new information about the Mossad director from 2002 to 2010, Meir Dagan, and how he put “the dagger back between the teeth” of the spy agency. When he publicly declares that he opposes an Israeli military strike on Iran, what does he favor instead? The authors of this book have spoken with all the major players, and a multitude of minor players as well, to gain a balanced and deep understanding of Israeli actions at times of crisis – and Israel almost always feels it is in a crisis. Click here for reviews and more information on Spies Against Armageddon.
May 23, 2013
By YOSSI MELMAN in Tel Aviv
Despite pleas made face to face to President Barack Obama by Israel’s President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it appears certain that Obama is turning down their request that he order the release of Jonathan Pollard.
Pollard was the civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy who was caught spying for Israel in Washington in 1985. Peres was prime minister at the time, although he claimed not to know that a branch of Israeli espionage (not the Mossad) was running an agent inside the United States government. Peres and Obama, both Nobel Peace laureates, clearly respect and perhaps adore each other, but Obama has made clear – in recent public comments – that Pollard committed very serious crimes and should not get favoritism over other convicted Americans held in prison.
Thousands of Israeli have taken part in demonstrations, including one this week near the Obama-Peres talks in Jerusalem, demanding that Pollard – who was sentenced to life in prison and is behind bars in North Carolina – be set free.
While there is no sign that Obama will make such a decision before his presidential term ends in January 2017, Pollard’s supporters are finding some hope in their belief that he can petition the Justice Department in November 2015 – when he has been imprisoned for 30 years – for early release on grounds including good behavior and health problems. Pollard, in late 2015, would be 61 years old.
Behind the protest signs and slogans stands an Israeli organization, the Committee to Free Pollard. It operates as a charity, with an annual budget of 200,000 Israeli sheqels (a little over $50,000) per year. It is funded by contributions from the public, and the managers say they do not receive any government money.
The leaders of the committee are Effi Lahav, who served as office director for an Israeli justice minister, and Adi Ginsburg, who is the group’s spokesman. They are working as unpaid volunteers.
While Lahav and Ginsburg are known clearly as right-wingers on the Israeli political spectrum – suspicious of Arabs and unwilling to make concessions for often illusory progress toward possible peace – they have succeeded in totally changing the committee and its campaign to free Pollard. For years it aligned itself only with the political Right – even with radically nationalistic Jews in both Israel and the U.S. They practically ignored Pollard’s wife Esther (whom he married while a prisoner, after divorcing Anne Pollard, who was convicted of helping Jonathan’s espionage) and dictated the tone of the campaign.
It was highly political and often aggressive, making accusations against Israeli and American dignitaries who refused to join the cause. A U.S. official who chose not to call publicly for Pollard’s release might be labeled by committee activists as a “self-hating Jew” if he were Jewish – or an “anti-Semite” if he were not.
The change that occurred in recent years can be seen in the fact that Left-leaning Israelis are also interested now in Pollard’s prison conditions and in seeing him freed. Writers, artists, and jurists are on his side now. They do not generally hail him as a Zionist hero, but as a man who has been punished enough after 28 years.
The committee has broadened its campaign and has achieved a national consensus. The strongest sign of that came when 112 members of the last Knesset (out of 120 in the parliament) signed a resolution calling on the United States to release Pollard.
The campaign has also been helped by the fact that after decades of refusing to sympathize with Pollard in any way, there are voices emerging in U.S. military, intelligence, and political circles who call for his release. These include former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Schultz, and a former Director of Central Intelligence, R. James Woolsey.
Jim Woolsey, in recent interviews, stresses that Pollard committed serious crimes, but that 28 years in prison is enough. Woolsey points to others in America who spied on behalf of friendly countries such as South Korea and the Philippines. They typically were locked up for less than a decade, not serving a life sentence like Pollard.
The Israeli media have perked up at Lawrence Korb’s statements that Pollard should be released. A longtime defense expert and Pentagon official, Korb was a senior aide to Caspar Weinberger – the defense secretary at the time of Pollard’s arrest. Weinberger is believed more responsible than anyone else (except Pollard himself) for the severity of the spy’s punishment. The defense secretary wrote a memo to the judge in the case, which portrayed Pollard’s actions as extremely damaging to the United States.
The committee is hoping that the major news media in the U.S. will also take up the cause of freedom for Jonathan Pollard, and they are especially targeting the New York Times and its columnists. They suffered a setback this month when Bret Stephens, considered usually a pro-Israel columnist in the Wall Street Journal, wrote a piece that blasted the campaign to free Pollard. The suggestion was that Israelis should not be celebrating the actions of an American, who happened to be Jewish, who betrayed his country by selling secrets.
Still, the committee is continuing with its significant and successful shift away from stressing politics – or hailing Pollard as a hero – and instead speaking of the man’s deteriorating health and his miserable isolation. Freeing him is framed as a humanitarian issue.
An honest look at Israel’s attitude toward Pollard has to include some uncomfortable facts in the background, however. While the request now is for kind gestures toward the American who spied against his own country, this is the same Israel which was far from gentle and forgiving to Mordecai Vanunu – the Israeli technician who worked in the top-secret nuclear laboratories at the Dimona reactor in the Negev.
He provided photographs and details of his clandestine work to a British newspaper in 1986, and then-Prime Minister Peres made sure to order the Mossad to locate and capture Vanunu. A female Mossad operative seduced Vanunu in London and lured him to Rome, where an Israeli espionage team pounced on him, apparently injected him with a sedative – which has been in the Mossad playbook for over sixty years – and shipped him to Israel to stand trial. This happened to have been just a few months after Pollard was arrested by the FBI in Washington.
Vanunu was tried behind closed doors and imprisoned in isolation. Despite appeals by him and a raft of international sympathizers, Vanunu was compelled to serve his full 18-year term.
Many Israelis would point out that Vanunu was not clamped into prison for life; but almost 9 years after his release from a jail cell he continues to be under a kind of house arrest – with limitations on his right to speak to journalists and many others, and a ban on his leaving Israel. In an ironic comparison with Soviet Jews who for decades were not permitted to leave the USSR, Vanunu could practically be labeled “a Prisoner of Zion.”
Authorities somewhat ridiculously claim that if he were allowed to move abroad and start a new life – apparently as a fervent Christian now – Vanunu could still harm Israel by revealing secrets.
The general tone is that Israel’s security and intelligence establishment is not forgiving toward Mordecai Vanunu. Yet they claim it would only be fair for the CIA and other U.S. agencies to drop their harsh attitude toward Jonathan Pollard and signal the President that it would be okay to set him free.
There are valid parallels. Both Pollard and Vanunu were convicted of betraying their countries’ secrets. They both appear to have had ideological motives: Pollard, believing he was protecting the Jewish state by providing information that the U.S. was not passing along to Israel; and Vanunu, who had sympathies with the Palestinians and was also alarmed by the dangers to the world of nuclear proliferation – seeing what he believed to be bombs being built right before his eyes at Dimona.
Pollard was recruited and run by a small intelligence and security unit within Israel’s defense ministry called Lakam – a Hebrew acronym for the Science Liaison Bureau. It specialized in gathering scientific and technical information, and Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars now recounts the history of how Lakam was tasked with acquiring the materials needed at the Dimona reactor for Israel’s clandestine nuclear weapons program. Lakam also protected the secrecy and security of the nuclear project – the cloak of silence that was pierced by Vanunu.
Lakam was run by a longtime Israeli security and intelligence operative, Rafi Eitan, who later in life would be a member of Knesset with his own small party devoted to the interests of senior citizens. Eitan, who could never visit the United States after the Pollard affair was exposed, continues to insist that everything he did was fully authorized.
The fact is that Israeli intelligence gathered information in the U.S. from 1948, the founding of the State of Israel, until Pollard’s arrest in 1985. Israel has publicly pledged not to do it anymore, but the line between espionage and simply using “open sources” — which are read, chatted with, collated and analyzed – can often be blurry. Records indicate that Eitan himself used to visit nuclear-related facilities in the U.S. as a visiting Israeli “scientist.”
After 1985 the FBI and other American security agencies became more suspicious than ever of Israeli actions and motives. Some in the FBI believed that Israel had more agents inside the U.S. government, and they also accused the Israelis of selling – or trading – to Russia many of the secrets acquired in America. There were dark whisperings about Pollard’s information eventually leading to the deaths of CIA agents in Russia.
Those accusations now appear to have been empty and rooted mainly in bitterness. A spy inside the CIA, Aldrich Ames, was responsible for giving Moscow the information that led to the execution of Russians who were secretly working for the West.
Pollard was working as a lone wolf. Eitan played him with valuable gifts, cash, and the promise of Israeli citizenship and a role in history as a Zionist hero.
Peres, after Pollard’s arrest, told the United States that the affair was a “rogue operation.”
The time has come for Israel to tell the full truth. Here is a new idea for the Committee to Free Pollard: recruit President Shimon Peres to your campaign. Also include former defense minister Moshe Arens (as the defense minister in 1985, Yitzhak Rabin, was unfortunately assassinated in 1994) and the men who led the intelligence agencies at the time: Nahum Admoni, who was director of the Mossad; Avraham Shalom, who served as Shin Bet chief (and is known to some movie audiences for his colorful interview in the documentary, “The Gatekeepers”); and the recently retired minister Ehud Barak, who in 1985 was commander of the military intelligence agency Aman.
Ask them to write a joint letter to their friends in the American intelligence community, to the Justice Department, and to President Obama.
I suggest the letter should open with these words, more or less: “We were responsible for the recruiting and running of Jonathan Pollard – or we knew about his work and benefited from it. That was for the sake of the security of Israel, as we saw it.” The letter should certainly include a sincere apology, a request for forgiveness, and a plea for Pollard’s release on humanitarian grounds.
That way the American authorities would not simply see the case as a haughty demand for early release by a notorious criminal who may or may not feel honestly regretful.
It is possible that an original and new approach such as this could touch the hearts of the even the most stony U.S. intelligence authorities who tend never to forgive “an insider” who betrays his legal obligations of secrecy as a trusted government employee.
Even if this approach does not help visibly, it surely could not hurt. A step toward the truth, with an honest plea, could lead the way toward putting this episode — a festering irritation between the United States and Israel — behind us.
March 21, 2013
Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu
President Obama doesn’t want Israel to do it. He’ll say so, in person, in Jerusalem this week. Israel is likely, once again, to restrain itself — reluctantly depending on Obama to strike Iran. If deemed unavoidable and unnecessary. Maybe next year.
When one assesses the make-up of Benjamin Netanyahu’s newly formed coalition in Jerusalem, there are several facts that lead to a prediction that Israel’s military will not attack Iran this year.
We humbly note that we published our assessment, a year ago, that no attack would occur in 2012. A very senior Israeli official, reacting to one of our articles at TabletMag.com, challenged one of us: “How can you be so sure?” His job, it seems, was to add to the impression — around the world and especially in the United States — that Netanyahu was very serious in warning that Israel might have to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities at any time.
Netanyahu’s partner in saber-rattling was Defense Minister Ehud Barak. But Barak, unable to find any traction for a new political party he tried to form, ended up quitting politics. He is not in the Knesset, and he’s no longer in the cabinet. Barak’s absence is the main indicator that Israel won’t be rushing its air force or missiles into an offensive against Iran.
The new defense minister, a former military chief of staff who is proud of leading the elite Sayeret Matkal commando force, is Moshe “Boogie” Yaalon. He is a hawk in most things, but it seems that he is in agreement with the current and former military and intelligence chiefs who are against a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran.
One reason is the assessment that Iran’s nuclear work would be delayed for only a while. Some officials say that is good enough. But, when balancing any gains against the likely damage, destruction, and deaths from Iranian retaliation, the military and intelligence chiefs have concluded that attacking Iran — and doing so without American participation — would be folly.
Retired Major-General Amos Yadlin, who was head of Aman (the Military Intelligence) agency until 2010 — and now heads an influential think tank in Tel Aviv — is trying to keep the military option extremely credible by telling the AIPAC conference in Washington that no one is talking about starting “a war” with Iran. (View the video here.) Yadlin said what’s being considered would be a “one-night operation.” It doesn’t appear that Yadlin favors a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran, but — as an officer who served as Israel’s military attache in Washington — he does want to keep America’s attention on the unacceptable dangers of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.
President Barack Obama has just repeated his firm intention to stop Iran from doing so, but his timeline is significantly different from Netanyahu’s. Obama told Israel TV that it would take more than a year for Iran to build a nuclear bomb — and he apparently meant after a decision by Iran’s leaders to step-up their uranium enrichment and bomb project. Both U.S. and Israeli intelligence assess that Iran has not yet made that decision.
Obama will arrive in Israel on Wednesday (March 20) for his first visit as President, and he’ll have plenty of opportunity to discuss this and other issues with Netanyahu — both at a press conference and behind closed doors. On March 21 he will visit leaders of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, and Obama will deliver a speech aimed at the Israeli people in a convention center in Jerusalem.
March 16, 2013
By YOSSI MELMAN in Tel Aviv
On a sunny, humid afternoon in June 2010, I sat on the plaintiff’s bench in Judge Hila Gerstel’s court in Petach Tikva, a town about eight miles east of this bustling city.
Opposite my lawyer and me were representatives and legal advisors of Israel’s security establishment. My goal, on behalf of the newspaper I then worked for, Haaretz, was to persuade Judge Gerstel to lift a gag order.
We lost the case. Judge Gerstel refused to consider even a compromise – to allow us to reprint news items published abroad about a mysterious Prisoner X. Because of the judicial gag, the episode was not included in the book which I later co-authored.
Twenty months later, I wonder what would have happened had the judge given her consent? Would that have prevented Ben Zygier from committing suicide? He was the Australian who moved to Israel and, as Ben Alon, reportedly worked for the Mossad until he did something that enraged the Israeli foreign espionage agency. Perhaps a glimmer of media attention would have offered some hope to a man in solitary confinement whose very existence was a state secret.
The 6 Former Shin Bet Chiefs (from Dror Moreh’s Oscar-nominated film “The Gatekeepers”)
He was arrested in February 2010, almost certainly by officers of Shin Bet – the domestic security agency spotlighted now in the Oscar-nominated documentary, “The Gatekeepers.” Zygier/Alon was interrogated, was represented by four lawyers, appeared before judges, was visited by his wife and other family members, and was eventually indicted. In December 2010 he was found dead in his high-security cell, originally constructed to house Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin. Authorities decreed that the prisoner somehow hanged himself. Every move and stage of this case was conducted in secrecy.
We still don’t know the nature of his alleged crime. Did he betray fellow Mossad operatives – known as “combatants” — and compromise ongoing operations? Was he recruited by a foreign agency, perhaps an Arab entity or other enemy of Israel? Or, as Australian media now suggest, did he spill the beans to a basically friendly security service such as ASIO, the Australian Security Intelligence Organization?
Senior Israeli government officials, including current and former heads of the intelligence community, are saying: “Trust us. We don’t make any of our citizens simply disappear. The civil rights of suspects and prisoners are respected. But telling you anything about them would do severe harm to the security of the Jewish State.”
Yet the secrecy culture is clearly exaggerated and habitual, tarnishing my country’s image as a society based on freedom – boasting proudly that it is the only true democracy in the Middle East.
The deafening silence of the authorities about Zygier and his death for nearly two years, until they were forced by an Australian TV documentary to open the information portal slightly, made Israel look like a dark nation whose citizens can simply vanish from the face of the earth, as happens under tyrannical regimes. And we are not one of those.
In 2006, Amos Manor, who headed Shin Bet for 11 years beginning in 1953, told me that since the War of Independence in 1948, no Israeli prisoner suspected of security offenses had been executed in Israel. None, he said, had even been detained for long without trial.
Yet since the 1950′s Israel did operate an X Files system. When members of the Mossad or other security agencies and institutions were suspected of betraying Israel, they were typically held in solitary confinement under assumed names and isolated from the outside world. The media were banned from reporting about the arrests, word of which generally leaked to journalists in this small and intimately talkative land.
The prisoners’ interrogators threatened them that if they failed to follow these guidelines, they would be deprived of various rights, such as family visits.
The last known case of this disturbing practice was that of Professor Marcus Klingberg, the deputy scientific director of the top-secret Israel Institute for Biological Research. He was arrested in 1983 and convicted of spying for the Soviet Union. He had to play along with using a false name in prison and was known to his jailers as Greenberg.
Gossip about some of these cases naturally reached foreign correspondents, and the result was that readers around the world knew about some occurrences in Israel – often drawn in harshly negative tones – even while gag orders prevented Israelis from reading or hearing reports that were freely available abroad.
The age of the internet has made a mockery of the practice, as Israelis can click and read foreign websites. Yet judges and security agencies here cling to the old days when they thought they could control everything.
The ties that bind the intelligence community, the defense establishment, and law-enforcement authorities including the courts are too tight and too cozy. Espionage agencies that are rated among the world’s finest show only a Neanderthal knowledge of how information reaches the public in a high-tech era.
The Mossad and its sophisticated combatants display daring and courage behind enemy lines, and they know how to gather information. In the pre- and post-internet age, they have been very good at waging psychological warfare involving the dissemination of disinformation and rumors.
Yet the Mossad is less capable of handling crises involving the mass media. Attempting to conceal facts only serves to stimulate interest and draw even more attention. By treating every bit of information as a national secret, the Mossad and the other state security institutions have caused the number of secrets to multiply. And trying to protect all of these secrets has made it difficult for any secret to remain intact, including ones that really deserve to be.
Here is one example to prove the point. Victor Ostrovsky, a Mossad cadet who was ousted, wrote a book aggrandizing his own role and supposedly revealing Mossad secrets. He should never have been recruited by the secretive agency in the first place, since he had been a known swindler who was caught in a fraud scam. The Israeli government foolishly tried to block publication of Ostrovsky’s book in the United States, which naturally resulted in its becoming a global best seller in 1990.
The Mossad’s handling of the Zygier/Alon affair is reminiscent of what was said about French royalists more than two centuries ago: They forget nothing, yet they learn nothing.
As effective as Israel’s covert combatants have been, their chiefs repeatedly display a we-know-best attitude that crosses the border into harmful arrogance. The Mossad’s shiny image has been tarnished by this episode – with the agency seen to be desperately scurrying to close the barn door after the horse has bolted, perhaps because there are other embarrassing steeds and stories still tightly held.
Damage may also have been to ongoing operations. Iran and other enemies of Israel surely now are double- and triple-checking any contacts they had with Australian-accented men who resemble the published photographs of Zygier/Alon.
February 24, 2013
On Wednesday morning, Israeli authorities eased — but did not entirely lift — their ban on any discussion in the Israeli news media of a Mossad secret operative who hanged himself in an Israeli prison.
Ben Zygier/Allon (from Australia’s ABC)
On Wednesday night, the Ministry of Justice in Jerusalem issued a statement confirming that an Israeli-Australian dual citizen had been imprisoned and in 2010 was found dead in his cell. It said the man’s family had been informed after he was arrested. Only recently officials (without any public announcement) reached a conclusion that he committed suicide by hanging, but investigations continue into any failures, abuse, or wrongdoing by prison officials.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s “Foreign Correspondent” series had a half-hour report this week on the mysterious life and death of the man, born as Ben Zygier to a prominent Jewish family in Melbourne, Australia, who was known in Israel as Ben Alon.
On Wednesday morning, Israel Radio’s Keren Neubach phoned Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, seeking his analysis. Melman explained that two years ago, when he was working for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, he and the paper tried to publish an item — giving some partial details about a “Prisoner X” held secretly in an Israeli prison — based entirely on something that had appeared in a British newspaper.
Usually Israel’s military censor permits repetition of claims and information that have appeared in foreign publications, but — citing a gag order issued by an Israeli judge — the authorities did not allow Melman or the newspaper to say anything about Prisoner X.
Melman said on the radio that in the age of the internet and social networking — when any Israeli can go on the Web and read or watch what Australian TV revealed about Prisoner X and his suicide in 2010 — there is no point in banning any word of it in the Israeli news media.
Melman added, however, that the State of Israel does not “disappear” people. If someone is charged with a crime, however serious, that person is brought before a judge, a state prosecutor draws up charges, the person’s family is informed, and a legal verdict is reached by a court. In many cases touching upon the security and intelligence agencies, every step is however “behind closed doors.”
The Associated Press notes that the most recent case of a person vanishing — apparently through the action of Israel’s espionage agency Mossad and/or security agency Shin Bet — was that of an Arab who was last seen on a train in Ukraine. Dirar Abu Sisi was later confirmed to be in custody in Israel, where he faces charges of being the director of Hamas’s rocket attacks against Israel.
February 13, 2013
Less than a week after the end (for now) of the latest round of bloodshed between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas faction in Gaza, Israel’s defense minister has suddenly announced that he is ending his political career.
Barak’s official photo while prime minister
Ehud Barak, who is 70 years old, said he is willing to continue as defense minister until a new cabinet is installed after the January 22 election. He has been leading his own, very small political party but was not expected to win many or any seats in the Knesset (Israel’s parliament).
As leader of the Labor Party he was prime minister in 2000, when Israel and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat came very close to a peace agreement mediated by President Bill Clinton. As defense minister in recent years, he was perhaps the leading voice constantly warning that Israel might bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities.
As the election approached and Barak put distance between himself and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Barak left most of the saber-rattling to Netanyahu — including the prime minister’s famous speech at the U.N. General Assembly in New York this past September. Barak seemed no longer to favor an attack on Iran, at least not at this time.
Many officials in Barack Obama’s administration, and notably the President himself, seemed to find Ehud Barak much easier to deal with than Netanyahu. Obama has hinted that he has had private talks with Barak, and — with the prestige of being a peace-making former prime minister as well as Israel’s most decorated soldier — Ehud Barak was apparently able to explain Israel’s thinking (regarding Iran) to the American President.
Barak was a commando in the Israeli army’s elite unit, Sayeret Matkal. Here is an excerpt from our book which mentions him. This is from Chapter 10, “More than Vengeance,” which is mostly about the counter-PLO campaign of shootings and bombings by the Mossad after Israeli athletes were massacred at the Munich Olympics in 1972:
In April 1973, the PLO attacked an Israeli civilian plane in Nicosia, Cyprus, and the nearby home of the Israeli ambassador.
The Jewish state seemed to be retaliating the very next night – although the timing was probably pure coincidence, as this was a major operation on territory much more treacherous than Rome or Paris. The Israelis would now take the battle to PLO headquarters in Lebanon, an enemy country. They had concluded that liquidating Palestinian operatives and coordinators in Europe was not sufficient. Leading the way into the lion’s den, this time, would be army commandos. The Mossad would play a support role.
The assassins were members of Sayeret Matkal, wearing civilian clothes. At least one of them, the future prime minister Ehud Barak, wore a wig and was dressed as a woman. In the middle of bustling Beirut, using vehicles and routes provided by the Mossad, the well-trained soldiers killed two organizers of PLO violence in their apartments and also shot dead the group’s spokesman. The intelligence about where they lived, and that they would be home, was perfect. So was the entry and exit plan by way of a Lebanese beach.
After a few years, Israel did not bother to deny this invasion of a neighboring country, and its code name Aviv Ne’urim (Spring of Youth) appears on official Israeli military websites as a notable and laudable event.
When Palestinian terrorists and activists were liquidated, relatives of dead Israelis were informed that a blow had been struck in tribute to their loved ones. The families, however, generally derived little joy from the fact that Arabs also had fatherless children now attending funerals.
November 26, 2012
Benjamin Weinthal, a Berlin-based analyst, journalist, and fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (an American think tank), writes in National Review Online of his recent visit — during the Gaza mini-war — to experts in Israel, including Spies Against Armageddon co-author Yossi Melman.
For the full article, click here. The title is “Did Israel Defeat Hamas?” Here’s an excerpt:
During my interviews with leading military and intelligence reporters in Israel, there was a clear consensus that Israel had to respond to the growing violence from Hamas (including over 100 rockets fired into the south of the tiny Jewish country in November prior to the war). “Hamas eroded the cease-fire. Israel could not take it anymore,” Yossi Melman told me in Tel Aviv. Melman works as a commentator with the popular Israeli news outlet Walla, and is the co- author, with Dan Raviv, of the highly acclaimed Spies against Armageddon, which goes deep into the weeds of the enormously complex history of Israeli intelligence agencies.
Melman was referring to the cease-fire of 2009 which brought an end to Operation Cast Lead (Act I in the hot war), launched in 2008 to stop Hamas from raining rockets on Israel’s southern periphery. Hamas broke the cease-fire by shooting at Israeli patrols on the border and by its continued rocket fire.
That helps to explain why Melman dismissed as “rubbish” the view of some commentators that the head of Hamas’s military-operations, Ahmed Jabari, was a “moderate force.” He added that Israel’s pinpoint strike taking out Jabari caused turmoil within the Hamas leadership.
It took five years to reach a negotiated deal with Jabari to secure the kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit from Hamas in exchange for the release of over 1,000 Palestinian criminals and terrorists. Melman dryly noted that it would have perhaps taken ten years to negotiate a cease-fire with Jabari to end his rocket attacks on Israeli civilians. The targeted killing of Jabari was nothing short of a remarkable combination of Israeli human intelligence and military expertise.
The interview with Melman ended with a boom in the sky of Tel Aviv. We heard Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system intercept a Hamas rocket aimed at Tel Aviv. The Iron Dome had a spectacular 85 percent success rate in intercepting Hamas missiles.
November 26, 2012
There were a lot of moving parts, behind the scenes, when a ceasefire was hammered out between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist faction, Hamas. As is standard with covert, or “alternative,” diplomacy, the Israelis handled it through their foreign intelligence agency, the Mossad.
The director of the Mossad, Tamir Pardo, was in Cairo to be part of the negotiations. We have learned that he had meetings with the chief of Turkey’s national intelligence organization (known as MIT), Hakan Fidan.
Fidan has been a close confidant of Prime Minister Recip Erdogan for many years and took over as MIT director two years ago. Fidan seems to be intimately linked with a Turkish decision to cool — and even irritate — relations with Israel, while emphasizing Turkey’s Muslim identity in order to gain more prestige in the Middle East.
Still, many Israeli officials — and Western officials who hope this is not merely wishful thinking — see possibilities for restoring cooperative relations with Turkey. There used to be joint military exercises and frequent exchanges of security-related intelligence. The first steps toward cooperation could be covert, rather than open, but still that would be seen as very useful to Israel.
Israel and Turkey both are concerned about what may happen next in Syria, which is literally sandwiched between them. Neither the Israelis nor the Turks want Islamic radicals to be in charge of Syria, nor do they want chaotic civil war to continue forever.
They also could find common cause against Iran, which is trying to establish hegemony over the Middle East — while Jerusalem and Ankara could seen as rival power centers.
This past week in Cairo provided another example of how intelligence agencies can maintain productive relationships — even when diplomatic relations are severely frayed or even non-existent.
The entire effort, under the inexperienced Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, was coordinated by Egypt’s generally secretive intelligence agency. It had a lot of contact and joint projects with Israel’s Mossad during Hosni Mubarak’s decades in the presidency. The connection was not severed.
As our book reports in detail, the Mossad department known as Tevel (“Universe”) often acts as an alternative foreign ministry. It has had contacts, since the birth of the State of Israel 64 years ago, with Arab and Muslim leaders who would never admit having anything to do with the Jewish state. Tevel diplomacy in Morocco laid the groundwork for the historic trip to Jerusalem by Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat in 1977, and the Mossad has an unacknowledged presence in some of the Arabian Gulf nations.
Wikileaks revealed a diplomatic cable that included the ruler of Bahrain confiding to U.S. officials that the Mossad has a station in his country. We can also report with confidence that Meir Dagan, director of the Mossad from 2002 to 2010, met with officials of Saudi Arabia. It is noteworthy that the head of Saudi intelligence is Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, the former ambassador to Washington who made a point of being in cordial contact with American Jewish leaders. In Jordan in 2008, Prince Bandar met with Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and discussed Iran and the chances for peace with the Palestinians.
The Mossad’s general take on clandestine contacts can be summed up with the phrase, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
November 24, 2012
Thursday morning’s media reports from all over Israel reflected mixed feelings, with the start of a ceasefire that ended 8 days of violence between Israel and Gaza.
Residents of Ashkelon (a southern port city within range of Hamas rockets) told Israel Radio that they wish the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) had continued to pound Hamas — to weaken the enemy even more.
The defense minister, Ehud Barak, said the government is well aware that there’s still a possibility that the IDF will have to roll into Gaza. But he favored the ceasefire at this point, when weighing all the factors. As for the claim that the Hamas faction made major gains — practically being recognized as rulers of an independent state, when they negotiated with Egypt and had contact with other governments — Barak scoffed: “Oh, the last ceasefire [in 2009] was handwritten; this one was printed — that’s an achievement?”
Israel’s military and intelligence agencies are preparing, of course, for the next round — which most Israelis feel will occur at some point. Political leaders in Jerusalem (see below) congratulated the intelligence agencies for a job well done in the Gaza conflict that just ended.
Both sides — and a host of independent observers, including civilians living in Israel and in Gaza — told the story on websites and social networking tools such as Twitter. At around 1:50 a.m. Middle East time Thursday, the Israel Defense Forces tweeted a message and a list of accomplishments the IDF is claiming:
IDF @IDFSpokesperson After eight days of fighting, the IDF has ended Operation Pillar of Defense. pic.twitter.com/nY610vig
November 23, 2012
by Yossi Melman
TEL AVIV—For the first time in the 61 years of the history of the Mossad, one of the directors of Israel’s foreign espionage and operations agency is claiming responsibility for an assassination attempt. General Yitzhak Hofi, who was head of the Mossad from 1974 to 1982, revealed that his agents tried to kill a Nazi war criminal who was hiding out in Syria’s capital, Damascus.
unconfirmed photo, said to be Nazi officer Alois Brunner
The target was Alois Brunner, an Austrian-born SS officer who served as Adolf Eichmann’s assistant and practically was his deputy during the Holocaust. Eiohmann was located and kidnapped in Argentina in 1960 by a combined team from the Mossad and Israel’s domestic security agency, Shin Bet. Considered the architect of Adolf Hitler’s “Final Solution” which murdered six million Jews, Eichmann was put on trial in Jerusalem, convicted, and hanged.
Brunner was infamous for being particularly cruel. He was a sadist who was directly responsible for the deportation and murder of at least 130,000 Jews from Austria, Greece, Slovakia, and France during the Second World War. He was condemned to death in absentia after the war by a French court, but he had managed to escape from Europe and found shelter in Damascus, Syria.
The strongly anti-Israel Arab government in Syria appeared to have welcomed Brunner, and he was employed as a security consultant for the Syrians, specializing in interrogations.
Consecutive Syrian regimes denied that Brunner — whose credentials as a Nazi war criminal were widely publicized by Israel and by Jewish organizations — was residing in Damascus.
But the Israeli spy agency located him. There may have been great temptation to kidnap him, perhaps in the hope that Eichmann and Brunner — the boss and his henchman — could stand trial together in the modern, free Jewish state of Israel.
Organizing a snatch operation in the capital of an enemy country would be much more difficult, however, than mounting a kidnapping in Argentina — with a team of dozens of Israelis involved in the Eichmann mission.
Instead, the Mossad twice sent parcel bombs to Brunner in Syria. The first time was in 1961, the same year Eichmann was found guilty of crime against humanity by the Israeli court and executed.
Brunner opened the letter, and it exploded. The notorious German lost his left eye, but he survived. He was 49 years old at the time.
In 1980, once again an exploding parcel was sent to him. Brunner, with obviously imperfect security or ignoring precautions, also opened this one. This time, at age 68, he lost a few fingers.
The two assassination attempts were attributed by the international media to the Mossad. But, as is standard practice in Israel, neither the espionage agency nor the government commented on the published stories.
Official Mossad photo of Yitzhak Hofi
Now, at the age of 85, Hofi chatted with an Israeli film crew preparing a documentary on his life and career. The former Mossad chief told the interviewers that “we dealt” with Brunner, “trying to kill him, but we failed.”
While Wikipedia has a birth date for Brunner in 1912 and does not say he has passed away, we have learned otherwise. An Israeli intelligence source told us that Brunner died of natural causes in 2008 in Damascus at the age of 96.
Spies against Armageddon, in chronicling the history of all the Israeli espionage and security agencies from 1948 until today, tells the stories of Mossad manhunts for Nazi war criminals from the early 1950′s to the 80′s.
November 1, 2012
Prime Minister Netanyahu today made it official: instead of continuing for a full 4-year term until next October, his government will dissolve parliament. A nationwide election will be held on January 22 — interestingly, just one day after the high-security, celebratory, probably very cold Presidential inauguration ceremonies in Washington.
Prime Minister Netanyahu
Israeli voters may be swayed by whether it is Barack Obama or Mitt Romney giving the inaugural address on Monday the 21st (one day after the official start of a presidential term, because January 20 falls on a Sunday). Opinion polls in Israel suggest that most people there don’t trust Obama or feel that he is more pro-Palestinian than pro-Israeli. Netanyahu is an old friend of Romney, so naturally there is the suspicion that the Israeli prime minister would prefer that the Republican win in America next month.
But Israelis (with the exception of dual citizens) don’t vote in America, and certainly Netanyahu doesn’t. He will have his hands full with his own election campaign: running more than 90 days, which is longer than it really needs to or normally would in a parliamentary democracy.
Israeli won’t vote until January 22? That allows plenty of time for surprises.
Dan Perry of the Associated Press today has a dispatch which points out several “wild cards” that could affect Netanyahu’s chances of building a stronger coalition. The article includes the role of a popular TV talk show host and columnist, Yair Lapid, as well as other Israeli politicians perhaps more familiar to Americans who follow the subject.
The AP’s Perry also writes: “A Netanyahu re-election could make an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear program more likely, risking regional war and global economic crisis.”
In addition, “Netanyahu’s circle is casting the election has a referendum on attacking Iran — or at least on Israel’s right to act militarily to prevent the Islamic Republic from achieving nuclear weapons capability.” Perry points out that Israelis, at election time, tend to be more hawkish than in between elections.
It is ironic that the political calendar won’t move more quickly, because — as Netanyahu himself has said, when questioning whether sanctions against Iran will be effective — Iran’s uranium centrifuges keep spinning, and Western intelligence agencies believe nuclear weapons designers in Iran are still at work.
October 14, 2012
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu announced that he will call early elections – “as quickly as possible” – way ahead of the scheduled end of the current parliamentary term in October 2013. Israeli political commentators believe that the parliament, the Knesset, will dissolve itself as elections are set for sometime in January.
On TV and radio, the official reason given by Netanyahu was the failure of his coalition to agree on a national budget. Our recent article in Newsday (the daily newspaper based on Long Island, New York) suggested that he wants to solidify his majority – so that he can claim the mandate to make fateful decisions, such as perhaps attacking Iran to disrupt or stop its nuclear program.
The URL for the article, which appeared in Sunday’s newspaper, is: http://www.newsday.com/opinion/oped/opinion-is-israel-still-bluffing-about-attacking-iran-1.4078992
Here is the text of the article:
Opinion: Is Israel still bluffing about attacking Iran?
By YOSSI MELMAN AND DAN RAVIV
When Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, used a red marker to draw a line at the United Nations in New York recently, the world thought it was seeing a warning of possible war against Iran — if that country enriches uranium beyond that red level to weapons-grade.
Now that the prime minister has returned home, it turns out that his message was also part of Israel’s domestic politics. Netanyahu is almost certainly going to reap the dividends of his carefully worded, expertly delivered speech by calling early parliamentary elections. Political sources expect that this coming February, he will consolidate his ruling coalition and win a fresh four-year mandate — just in time for fateful decisions concerning Iran and relations with the United States.
In some ways, his UN speech and his controversial use of a cartoon bomb to represent Iran’s nuclear program can be seen as a white flag of surrender. His new timetable suggests Iran will amass enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb by spring or summer of 2013, and that is a tacit confirmation that he has been bluffing.
The leader, nicknamed Bibi, and his defense minister, Ehud Barak, were thundering for years that they might have to attack Iran at any moment — because soon it would be too late. Many world leaders believed them and prepared for the worst-case scenario. The French embassy in Tel Aviv, for example, prepared a contingency plan to evacuate tens of thousands of French-Israeli citizens this past summer in case of a war. We found ourselves among a very small group of analysts who tried to explain that the B&B duo — Bibi and Barak — were bluffing and had no intention of ordering the Israeli air force to bomb Iran; certainly not this year.
Netanyahu’s new timetable is a tacit surrender to the Obama administration’s view that no military strike is necessary right now. B&B thus revealed that they were merely rattling sabers, with no intention of using them against Iran.
They might feel compelled to engage in some more bluffing in 2013, but the expected election campaign in Israel has already injected a measure of discord between Netanyahu and Barak, who leads his own small political party. Barak clings to the slim chance of winning a substantial number of seats in the Knesset.
Yet the big winner in the voting is far more likely to be Netanyahu, leader of the Likud Party. His warnings of war have frightened many Israelis, but one result is that more of them will vote for an apparently strong leader at a time of unprecedented insecurity.
As for delaying any likelihood of a military strike against Iran for another two or three seasons, some of Netanyahu’s cabinet ministers are highlighting their optimistic view that “Tahrir Square-type” protests are starting to break out in Iranian cities. Perhaps there is some validity in their hope that Iran’s government will feel extremely hard-pressed to have damaging sanctions lifted, so it will make a deal to freeze or reverse its nuclear work.
Israel’s “red line,” where the risk of triggering a regional war might be deemed necessary, was clarified by the prime minister’s speech. Saying that he was relying on published reports by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, Netanyahu said that if the Iranians continue with their steady pace of uranium enrichment, then within six to eight months they will have 250 kilograms of 20 percent, or “medium-enriched,” uranium. If this amount is further strengthened to 93 percent, it will yield enough highly enriched material for one nuclear bomb.
At least it is clear, now, that Israel is insisting that Iran be stopped before it produces 250 kilograms of the medium-enriched uranium. Netanyahu noted the American position that intelligence agencies would be able to detect a quick rush by Iran to high enrichment and assembling a bomb. Yet the Israeli leader suggested it would be too dangerous to rely on spies to give sufficient warning.
Friction with the Obama administration thus persists. The American president has devoted as much energy to restraining Israel as he has to stopping the Iranians. Relations with Washington may also suffer because of the widespread perception that Netanyahu would prefer that his old friend Mitt Romney win the White House.
Yet as long as Obama is determined that Iran not become a nuclear power, he and Netanyahu will probably find that they can get more done by working together. The United States and Israel have already cooperated — more than ever, according to officials on both sides — in covert projects aimed at slowing Iran’s nuclear progress. Sources told us that the Stuxnet computer virus, which caused havoc in one Iranian enrichment facility, was a product of such secret cooperation.
The Israeli prime minister can point to even broader benefits from his saber rattling. The world is paying far more attention to Iran’s nuclear program. Negotiations with Iran may again be attempted, and Netanyahu will be pleased if harsh sanctions hurting the Iranian economy are further tightened.
In 2013, we expect that Netanyahu will deploy his Cicero-like rhetorical talents to keep suggesting that war is inevitable — a sequel to the B&B bluff. He appears to hope that the United States and other countries will be convinced that if Israel is about to attack Iran, they might as well join in to make a more effective job of it.
If Netanyahu does win the election he is now expected to call this winter, there are more impacts for the Middle East. Barack Obama, if he is re-elected, may be tempted to relaunch American efforts aimed at Israeli-Palestinian peace. Mitt Romney indicated, elsewhere in the surreptitiously recorded “47 percent” talk, that he feels little or no hope for progress on that front. Either way, a politically strengthened Netanyahu would be in no mood to bow to American pleas for concessions. He would continue to point to Iran as the top priority; and, along with the dangerous unknowns of pro-democracy upheavals in the Arab world, he would reject taking risks by rushing toward a rickety agreement with the Palestinians.
What’s the true Netanyahu plan for dealing with Iran? Sabotage and covert action apparently continue. Sanctions may trigger unrest inside Iran. And, it is and has always been Israel’s hope that the United States will be the one to lead a military strike, if necessary, to eliminate the Iranian nuclear program.
Yossi Melman, a Tel Aviv-based journalist and analyst specializing in intelligence, and Dan Raviv, a CBS News correspondent in Washington, are co-authors of “Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.” They blog at IsraelSpy.com.
October 9, 2012
by Yossi Melman in Tel Aviv
Israel has just come to a standstill for 26 hours. It’s the eve of Yom Kippur, and even for those who don’t attend Kol Nidrei services at synagogues it is a very quiet time – suitable for contemplation and reflection.
Yom Kippur is, of course, the Day of Atonement: the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.
For many Israelis, notably those who were in the army or the security agencies in the early 1970s, this is remembered as the 39th anniversary of Israel’s biggest military and intelligence failure. On that day, at least – October 6, 1973 – it was a defeat for the seemingly invincible forces of Israel.
Egypt and Syria took Israel by surprise, with coordinated attacks in the South and in the North. The Yom Kippur War – known to Arabs as The October War – cost the lives of nearly 2,700 young Israeli servicemen. Restoring some measure of pride to Egypt and its then-president Anwar Sadat, the war did also pave the way to a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979.
Ashraf Marwan was paid by Israel’s Mossad
Recently declassified documents in Israel reveal a large part of the intelligence failure: the refusal to believe information from a top-level spy in Cairo, an Egyptian who was very close to Sadat, who told the Mossad that Egypt and Syria would attack on October 6. Our book similarly tells the tale of that spy for the Mossad. His name was Ashraf Marwan, and he was a son-in-law of Sadat’s predecessor, Gamal Abdel Nasser. Israelis and Egyptians still debate whether Marwan might have been a double- or a triple-agent. Whom did he truly serve? His mysterious death in London in 2007 only deepened the debate.
That story is in our Chapter 12, “Surprises of War and Peace,” as is another entirely new and true tale of Israeli espionage inside Egypt in the years leading up to the Yom Kippur War.
The protagonist, whose family asks that he not be named, was an Israeli Jew who had linguistic abilities and was recruited by the Mossad. He was trained as an intelligence officer and sent into Egypt in 1969 under deep cover – with a most unusual “legend,” or false identity. His story, unfortunately, does not have a happy ending. Here is an excerpt:
“Serving in the Mossad was a big honor for him,” one of his controllers recalled. He was clearly willing to take on a notably dangerous assignment: living, under a false identity, in an enemy country. His destination would be Egypt.
He underwent an intensive course to learn the crafts needed to be an intelligence officer. That was the usual stuff taught to dozens of Israelis as they prepared to vanish into enemy lands. Unusual in his case was the cover story.
Thanks to especially warm relations with a small nation, the leader of which was a true friend of Israel, the Mossad arranged that A. would go to Egypt as a citizen of that country. Only the country’s leader and three of his top officials were privy to the secret.
Before A. left Israel, the head of Caesarea [the operations department], Mike Harari, tried unsuccessfully to persuade A.’s girlfriend to marry him and tag along on the adventure in Cairo. A married couple was considered safer – far less likely to be harassed or blackmailed – than a 30-year-old bachelor. Even worse, when Wolfgang Lotz [who spied for Israel in Cairo in the early 1960s] went to Egypt without his wife, he ended up marrying a second woman.
A. was very successful, from the Mossad’s point of view. He quickly became a prominent member of the expatriates’ circuit in Cairo, hosting parties and mingling with foreign diplomats and the Egyptian elites, including army officers.
He sent his information and observations in coded messages to Tel Aviv, using a transmitter hidden in the posh villa he rented in one of Cairo’s most prestigious neighborhoods. Some reports were sent in the mail to post office boxes rented by the Mossad in Europe.
When circumstances permitted, he traveled to European capitals for face-to-face meetings with his controllers, because then he could freely add details and respond to questions. He used some of those trips to fly to Israel for brief visits with his girlfriend.
Mossad headquarters began to realize that the fears about sending a bachelor were materializing. Several women in Cairo, notably the daughter of a European diplomat, were attracted by A., and he went out on dates with some of them.
His loneliness manifested itself in personal messages that he transmitted – along with his official espionage reports – asking that “birthday wishes” to his friends and regards to his girlfriend be passed along by the Mossad communications desk. His handlers, including Harari, found that to be excessive and reprimanded him; but they also grew increasingly concerned about his state of mind.
Still unable to persuade A.’s girlfriend to join him in Egypt, Harari decided – for the sake of the important mission – to “marry him off.” The Israeli spy was instructed to fly to Europe on “vacation,” where he would meet a pretty young woman and bring her to Cairo. Harari sent a female combatant, whose first initial was M., to meet A., and they were “married” in Europe by virtue of documents she brought with her from the Mossad’s forgers.
Before their flight to Egypt, they lavished a lot of Israeli government cash on new furniture, bed linens, and tableware – just as any newlyweds might do.
Now the Mossad had two spies in Cairo. A. and M. worked in concert and helped each other achieve more than one person could. In the months leading to the October 1973 war, A. was able to photograph the military build-up from Cairo all the way to the Suez Canal.
A. reported that Egypt was preparing for war. Military intelligence analysts in Tel Aviv were not moved by his reports. They were sticking to their conclusion that Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat was not ready for a new war.
A. and M. would remain in Cairo during the war and had the strange experience of seeing the entire city rejoicing at setbacks for Israeli troops. This, frankly, was frustrating for two Jews in the middle of a crowded Arab country, however well trained they might have been to act dispassionate.
They stayed in Egypt for another two years. The Caesarea department decided in 1976 to remove the “couple,” after consulting with the Mossad chief who took over in 1974, General Yitzhak Hofi. A. was offered a new job as an instructor at the Midrasha [the Mossad’s training academy], as he would have many experiences to share with up-and-coming Mossad field personnel. But he declined and decided to leave the agency.
M., meantime, had actually fallen in love with A. and wanted to marry him. Harari, in a cruel manner, told her that even if A. were willing, the Mossad would not allow that to happen. “You were sent on a specific mission,” Harari told her, “which now comes to an end – not to falling in love.”
A. was not interested in marrying her. A series of quarrels ensued, and M. telephoned him several times, yelling at him and insisting that some of the household assets were hers.
A. instead married his longtime sweetheart, who had loyally waited for seven years. They had an ostensibly normal life, including two children. But his espionage years were bothering him. The Mossad’s “rehabilitation” effort, routinely offered to operatives who returned home after a long mission, seemed to have failed.
He was haunted by the secret life he had lived. A. could not help but be suspicious of everyone as a potential attacker or assassin.
On the other hand, in business, he genuinely was cheated by partners when trying to set up a plastics company. That failure depressed him. An even more scarring tragedy occurred when A.’s car struck and killed a pedestrian.
He asked the Mossad to help him with the obvious legal complications, but the agency refused to do anything for the former undercover employee. Feeling disappointed and bitter, A. left his wife and children and abruptly moved to his original homeland.
He did some odd jobs there, living hand to mouth. His life story was reminiscent of that of Wolfgang Lotz, who also became a lost soul after his secret years in Egypt. But in this case, the story had an even sadder ending. Sitting in a city park one day, A. committed suicide.
In his tale is further proof that very rarely did any spy who worked under deep cover return home as a happy, well-adjusted person.
[from the new book by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, pp. 159-161]
September 25, 2012
by Dan Raviv
The head of Iran’s delegation at the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna is boasting that Iran “sometimes” gives “false information” to the IAEA.
In the logic of Fereydoun Abbasi Davani (see Haaretz’s story at http://bit.ly/PCTLMR), the U.N. agency shares intelligence with spies from Israel, the United States, Britain, and other nations — and one result was the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists in Tehran. Therefore, Iran started lying, “to protect our nuclear sites and our interests.”
Richard Nixon and Prime Minister Golda Meir: He was willing to let her have nukes; the U.S. stopped asking.
Now, on the one hand, a cynic could point out that the history of Israel’s unacknowledged nuclear arsenal — told, in unique detail, in our book — included plenty of untruths and half-truths. As we write, after Richard Nixon became president in 1969, the United States more-or-less stopped asking Israel what it had built at the French-provided Dimona nuclear reactor.
Still, the fact is that the Middle East accustomed itself to the general belief that Israel has a potent nuclear force. While no one seems to know precisely why Israel has it — or, as a more precise question — when the Israelis might possibly use nuclear weapons — the region does not seem to fear that “the Jews” will drop an A-bomb on anyone on some sort of whim.
Israel’s leaders, on the other hand, study the official and religious declarations of the Islamic Republic of Iran; and they fear that Iran might feel moved one day to destroy the Jewish state. Really? Even though the blast and the fallout would surely kill many, many Muslims — Palestinians and others?
Most Israeli strategists conclude: Probably not. Iran would more likely use a nuclear arsenal for blackmail purposes — or as a kind of “umbrella” for aggressive political initiatives and support for terrorism and upheavals in various countries.
Yet Israelis don’t seem willing to take that chance, to base their lives or deaths on the whim — or religious doctrines — of Iranian leaders. All Israelis? Some Israelis? Most Israelis? It’s hard to tell, and Israel is the kind of country where 100 average citizens hold at least 125 contradictory opinions.
The decision, on whether to tolerate an Iranian drive to create nuclear bombs or instead go to war, rests with the prime minister in Jerusalem. Right now, that is Benjamin Netanyahu. He won’t choose to tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran.
And when Iran boasts that it is lying about the nuclear program, while that is no surprise to Israel and its intelligence services, the prevarications and inventions provide further justification for a hard line by Israel.
September 22, 2012
Since Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars was published recently, there’s an upsurge of interest in the Middle East on various incidents that had been cloaked in shadows — perhaps no event more than the destruction of a Syrian nuclear reactor in September 2007.
[in photo: Prime Minister Menachem Begin]
Israel’s air force carried out that raid, but Israel never announced it and has not officially acknowledged it.
Following publication of a Hebrew edition of Spies, the authors Yossi Melman and Dan Raviv are featured in a TV documentary — on Israeli television’s Channel 10 — about how and why Israel flattened that building in remote, northeastern Syria. As their book points out, then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decided to obey the Begin Doctrine: named for the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s decision in 1981 to destroy Iraq’s nuclear reactor, because he determined that no Middle East nation hostile to Israel should be permitted to develop nuclear weapons.
The Syrian example of five years ago offers clues, perhaps, on Israeli decision-making about Iran’s nuclear program. In 2007, however, the United States government did not mind the fact that Israel decided to act alone — after George W. Bush turned down a request by Olmert for U.S. air power to destroy the building. As of now in 2012, the Obama Administration is obviously urging Israel not to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities. Not now.
Melman and Raviv’s book in Israel is titled Milkhamot ha-Tzlalim, which is Hebrew for “The Shadow Wars.” To view the 45-minute documentary, which also features a former deputy national security advisor to President Bush — Elliot Abrams — speaking in English about the Olmert-Bush conversations regarding the Syrian reactor, please CLICK HERE.
August 27, 2012
By Yossi Melman and Dan Raviv
In his efforts to mobilize a majority vote in his 14-member Security Cabinet — if and when Benjamin Netanyahu decides that he wants to send Israel’s air force to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities — he has turned to the religious figure who holds more political power than any other rabbi in the Land of Israel.
Netanyahu, we have learned, sent his influential National Security Advisor — Yaakov Amidror — to brief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef [see photo]. At age 91, Yosef is the spiritual leader of a powerful political party that is part of Netanyahu’s governing coalition: the Shas Party. It represents Orthodox Jews whose families had their roots in Arab countries, in Iran (where Yosef was born in 1920) and in Turkey. For decades, Shas was fighting to get recognition and respect for Sephardic (“Oriental”) Jews, when political and other power seemed monopolized by Ashkenazi — or European — Jews and their families.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef has had a huge impact on many issues, notably education budgets and other controversies of concern to religious Jews. Though he generally steers away from matters of national security, he and his Shas Party followers are thought of as hard-liners: showing no interest in surrendering territories to Palestinian Arabs or neighboring Arab countries, and believing in the right of Jews to live in all parts of their Biblical homeland.
Among the 14 ministers in the Security Cabinet, who would be called upon to endorse or reject Netanyahu’s decision to attack Iran, are two Shas Party ministers. As of now, they are believed to be leaning against an attack on Iran.
Netanyahu’s emissary, Amidror, is a bearded, kippa- (yarmulke-) wearing retired major general who is also considered a hard-liner. He and the prime minister are clearly on the same wavelength, when it comes to matters of huge and long-lasting importance for Israel.
According to our sources, Amidror tried to persuade Rabbi Yosef that an attack on Iran is practically essential (“chiyuni” is the Hebrew word) for securing the future existence of Israel and its people. Amidror would have pointed out what he and Netanyahu posit as the real possibility that the Islamic Republic of Iran, if it builds a nuclear bomb, might use it to wipe out a significant portion of the Jewish state.
In the past, political leaders and even some foreign politicians have visited Rabbi Yosef to pay respects and court his support on domestic issues such as family law and education. It is very rare for Israeli politicians to try to draw him into debates on security and strategic issues. Ovadia Yosef traditionally has expressed caution in matters of war and peace, citing Jewish texts – including the Old Testament – and their appeals for wisdom to overcome bloodshed.
If Amidror managed to persuade the rabbi to instruct the two Shas ministers to vote “yes” — if and when Netanyahu brings a vote, in effect for war — then the prime minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak may be securing the majority they say they need: eight out of the 14 ministers in the Security Cabinet.
Others reliably reported to be in favor — agreeing with Netanyahu, apparently even if he opts for action before America’s Election Day in November — are: Gideon Saar, Yuval Steinitz, Yaakov Ne’eman, and Uzi Landau. As of now, that would give the prime minister six votes, including himself and Barak.
Reliably reported to be against attacking Iran at this time are: Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (although his vote might easily be swayed to Netanyahu’s side), Benny Begin, Dan Meridor, Silvan Shalom, strategic affairs minister Moshe (“Boogie”) Ya’alon, and Yitzhak Aharonovitz (minister of public security).
The two Shas Party ministers are Eli Yishai and Ariel Atias.
August 20, 2012
The new world of on-line book sales leads to pleasant surprises for readers, such as BN.com and Amazon.com both having lowered the price of the paperback of Spies Against Armageddon – the new history of Israeli espionage and security from 1948 to the crises of today.
- israel spy, covert operations, Dan Raviv, Yossi Melman, Spies Against Armageddon
It’s now on sale for $10.80, and the e-book on all sites is even more affordable. Some of the key subjects, including whether Israel’s air force might attack Iran — and what Israel has already been doing covertly inside Iran — are in the headlines right now, around the world.
The latest reviews posted at Amazon.com (where all twelve give the book a maximum 5-star rating) include one by a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and memoirist, Kai Bird — an American writer, living abroad, who is now working on a biography of the CIA’s top man in the Middle East, Robert Ames, who was killed when the U.S. Embassy in Beirut was blown up. Here are the latest reviews:
|5.0 out of 5 stars An invaluable contribution, August 13, 2012
5.0 out of 5 stars An invaluable contribution, August 13, 2012ByKai Bird (Kathmandu, Nepal) - See all my reviewsRaviv and Melman have written a wonderful history of Mossad. It reads like a thriller, but conveys a thorough history of the Israeli intelligence agency. The story is told through eyes sympathetic to the Israeli narrative, but the authors do not hesitate to write critically about Mossad’s mistakes, bungles and misjudgments. Their sources are wide and deep. It is astonishing how many old spies have agreed to divulge their stories to Raviv and Melman. The book is extremely timely, not only for its discussion of Mossad’s on-going attempt to derail the Iranian nuclear project, but also for the light the authors shed on Mossad’s operations against Lebanon’s Hezbollah. The book is an invaluable contribution to the literature on intelligence.
–Kai Bird, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of Crossing Mandelbaum Gate: Coming of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis.
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant read, August 11, 2012
Claude Fletcher (Kingstown, St Vincent & The Grenadines) - See all my reviews
This is an extremely well researched and well written book. I am very surprised that the writers had access to such detailed and obviously secret material. The writing is exceptional, it just gets more and more exciting. One would be hard pressed not to think this was fiction. I learned so much from this experience.
August 16, 2012
Newspapers in Israel are debating the pros and cons of sending the Israeli air force on a highly risky mission to bomb nuclear facilities in Iran. Many journalists are writing about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak sounding increasingly certain that Iran must be attacked — because, in the official Israeli view, diplomacy and sanctions are not working.
This past Friday, the respected daily Ha’aretz published an excerpt from Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman.
The Hebrew edition of the book, Milkhamot ha-Tzlalim (“The Secret Wars”) by Yossi Melman and Dan Raviv, is a best seller in Israel.
The newspaper published key parts of Chapter 24, “Enforcing Monopoly,” which reveals how and why Israel identified a nuclear reactor being built in a remote part of Syria in 2007 — and how Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decided to bomb the reactor in September 2007. First, Olmert asked President George W. Bush to bomb the site, but the American leader refused to do so.
Another Israeli newspaper — the best selling tabloid, Yediot Ahronot – on Monday wrote, in detail, about the revelations in Melman and Raviv’s Chapter 24. A front-page headline reads: “The Atomic Mistake of Ehud Barak,” with a photograph of the defense minister. This is a fairly obvious attack on Barak, highlighting his initial opposition in 2007 to bombing the Syrian site.
Inside Yediot Ahronot, a two-page spread has a big headline suggesting a Jekyll-and-Hyde situation torn from the pages of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic: “Dr. Ehud and Mr. Barak,” the headline blares. The accompanying article focuses on the analysis — in the book, Spies Against Armageddon, that Defense Minister Barak, in 2007, may have wanted to hold off on attacking Syria because of his own political ambitions.
Other decision-makers, including Olmert and the Mossad spy chief, Meir Dagan, reached the conclusion that Barak was hoping to replace Olmert as prime minister in 2008 — and then Barak could be the big hero who would bomb Syria and eliminate a nuclear danger.
Barak’s critics now are wondering if political calculations outweighed defense considerations in 2007, and if so, should anyone take seriously Barak’s apparent gung-ho attitude now in favor of bombing Iran and its nuclear facilities — the sooner, the better?
August 14, 2012
Readers who have bought Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars occasionally post reviews at Amazon.com, and so far all 11 are rating the book 5 stars out of a maximum 5. Here is a sampling of the latest:
5.0 out of 5 stars Thorough, Thrilling, Thought-Provoking
, August 4, 2012
By Larry Constantine “AKA Lior Samson”
Raviv and Melman’s Spies Against Armageddon is not the first history of Mossad and the Israeli clandestine services, but it is far and away the best and most readable. By dumping strict chronology while sticking to history, Raviv and Melman tell a more engaging and exciting story that makes it easier for readers to connect the dots and make sense of who and what are connected in a complex narrative. Written in a highly readable but disciplined style, this book is both a comprehensive resource and a thrilling read. Much of the story has been told before, but even familiar capers are enriched by insider insights and fresh details that bring the politics and practice of secret operations alive. Of particular note are up-to-the-minute disclosures, including confirmation of the German BND involvement in the cyberattack on Iran’s nuclear facility at Natanz. The authors go beyond mere recounting of facts to delve into the reasons and intentions behind operations. Their treatment of all sides of the issues and all players is impressively well-balanced. Triumphs and screw-ups are presented with equal candor. Theirs is neither a knee-jerk defense of Israel’s positions and actions nor an unduly critical attack. As a writer of thrillers about clandestine operations, I wish I had the benefit of this remarkably rich source earlier. Highly recommended for absolutely anyone interested in the Middle East or in the role of clandestine ops in the modern world–which should mean just about everyone.
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic book!, August 6, 2012
By daniel michael
An absolutely incredible book. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in Israeli history and/or espionage in general. Very well researched and filled with great stories. Although this book is non-fiction, it is written in a very entertaining narrative that will surely keep you interested. Despite the book being over 350 pages, it goes by very quickly (I read it in a weekend). The book is split up into chapters, all covering different themes and periods of history; it makes it very easy to stay focussed and aware of everything going on.
As someone already familiar with the history of the Mossad, this book contained tons of stuff I had never heard about before. Regardless of your familiarity with the various Israel intelligence services, the book is sure to contain new information for you. Although I suspect that this book will more popular with zionists, it really is accessible and made for everyone. No bias – no hidden agenda – just the history of the Mossad (or atleast what has been accessible to the outside world).
Reading this book makes me curious about all the other stuff that goes on that the public has no idea about.
August 13, 2012
by Yossi Melman
The month of October is already on the horizon. And it’s usually characterized by difficult weather conditions, especially for an attack. Thus there’s the explanation that if there’s a decision to attack Iran, it’ll be done within less than 3 months. Will Benjamin Netanyahu act?
The French novelist Jules Verne, in the nineteenth century, wrote Around the World in 80 Days
, which was thought of as science fiction. That is, more or less, the time frame that Israel has to work with — at one of the decisive moments in its history. The next eighty days are the window of opportunity in which Israel could attack Iran, until the end of October — and the weather only gets worse in November. After late October, even if Israel’s government wishes it, it would be difficult for the air force to carry out the intended attack. The climate conditions over Iran at the end of autumn and the start of winter are mostly cloudy — and thus they’re not amenable to an air attack.
Prime Minister Netanyahu is more certain than ever that an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities will be necessary. Some commentators are describing that attitude as “ideology.” They believe that the PM, when it comes to Iran, has a fixed worldview. They believe that he is concerned that if Iran obtains nuclear weapons, it would use them — so he is determined to prevent a second Holocaust.
But Netanyahu has never had a genuine “ideology.” He just wraps his decisions in justifications and explanations that appear ideological. That’s how it is with economic issues, and that’s how it is regarding a possible Palestinian state, and so it is also on Iran.
Yet despite his general image as a man who is cautious and avoids major risks, when it comes to Iran he is ready to gamble. That’s because he believes that an attack would put him into Israel’s national Pantheon, with leaders such as David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin. Begin, of course, ordered the air raid that destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981.
There’s no doubt — not in Israel and not between Israel and the United States — of the need to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. President Barack Obama declared that he won’t tolerate Iran having a nuclear arsenal.
The former Mossad chief, Meir Dagan — though famously opposed to an Israeli air strike on Iran — has said that it’s a strong American interest not to let Iran get nuclear weapons. Even the left wing in Israeli politics believes that the radical Islamic regime in Teheran must not go nuclear. The question is how to stop it. Who should take action, and when?
For Netanyahu there seems to be no doubt that Israel should do it — and before the clouds close Iran’s airspace. The body which needs to decide is the Security Cabinet, which has 14 government ministers: about half of the full cabinet. Netanyahu has a narrow group of eight ministers, often referred to as “the Octet,” who generally are first to be consulted on very important issues. But the Octet has no official standing or decision-making authority; and so the decision must be made by the Security Cabinet.
In addition, Netanyahu feels that his chance of getting a majority among the 14 in the Security Cabinet — in favor of an attack on Iran — is higher than among the Octet. Only three ministers among the 14 are clearly opposed to an air strike: Benny Begin, Dan Meridor, and a former foreign minister, Silvan Shalom. They believe it would be a mistake to act in defiance of U.S. wishes. They favor letting tighter economic sanctions have an impact on Iran.
A fourth minister, former military chief of staff Moshe (Boogie) Yaalon, also has been opposed to an attack at this time; but Netanyahu has been making obvious efforts to bring Yaalon closer to him — including him, for instance, in events such as the official talks with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she was in Israel recently.
The defense minister, Ehud Barak, will likely be a decisive figure in this process. Lately he is showing some independence from Netanyahu’s views, and the center-left in Israel sees Barak as “the last great white hope” to steer Israeli politics away from Netanyahu. Yet opinion polls suggest that Barak and his party might win only 2 seats in the Knesset — out of a total of 120.
That is an improvement from the zero that was indicated in prior polls, but still Barak may well feel that his greatest chance of regaining political legitimacy — as a former prime minister — would be to vote in favor of an attack on Iran. If it goes very well, he’d be hailed as an Israeli hero. If the attack goes wrong, Barak would not be losing much politically. At age 70, his political career seems to have run its course, anyway.
Ministers will certainly heed advice from the military chief of staff, General Benny Gantz, who is quite new at that post; and from the air force commander, General Amir Eshel. Netanyahu also listens to his national security advisor — Yaakov Amidror — who has a record of being very hawkish on almost all issues.
If the prime minister decides to strike Iran, he will win a majority in the Security Cabinet. Barak will go along with him. But, except for perhaps Netanyahu himself, no one knows whether the prime minister will bring that issue to those 14 government ministers.
The key question, in other words, is whether Netanyahu sees the threat of Iran building a nuclear bomb as so severe that he is willing to risk severe friction with the United States, a severe blow to the Israeli economy, the possibility of a bloody regional war, and a hail of missiles from Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and perhaps Syria hitting Israel. Is that a set of risks that he believes Israel can stand?
August 10, 2012