The Gaza War in 2014 — A Failure of Israeli Leadership, Or They Did the Best They Could?

[This analysis was written for The Jerusalem Post by Yossi Melman, co-author of the best seller Every Spy a Prince — and the current history of Israeli intelligence and security, Spies Against Armageddon (published by Levant Books).]

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not only concerned, he is worried and angry, which has led him to go on the offensive.

Netanyahu (government photo)

Netanyahu (government photo)

He is concerned by the request — by most of the bereaved families of Operation Protective Edge (50 out of 67) — to establish a commission of inquiry into how his government behaved, before and during the 2014 Gaza war.

In addition to this request, which came as a surprise to the prime minister, the state comptroller’s report on the war is expected to be published soon. A leaked draft of the report suggests that it will be critical of the government’s and the IDF’s preparations for the war.

Netanyahu and his aides fear that the bereaved families’ demand for an inquiry and the comptroller report will be used by ministers and MKs in the coalition and the opposition in order to attack him and undermine his authority and position, in particular when he also has a police investigation into corruption allegations hanging over his head.

Therefore, the prime minister held a nearly three-hour briefing with military reporters and analysts on short notice Monday. He laid out before us his strategic viewpoint on Israel’s situation, the challenges facing the country, the threats against it and its capabilities to face these threats.

However, the bulk of the conversation was spent on the prime minister’s attempts to deflect the bereaved families’ criticism. As a bereaved brother himself, Netanyahu understands how sensitive an issue it is to argue with such families and to thwart the comptroller report and similar criticism voiced by ministers such as Naftali Bennett and Avigdor Liberman.

Convening the military correspondents was a smart move by Netanyahu. It was intended to give more “professional” weight to his claims than they would have had if they were conveyed through political or diplomatic correspondents.

The prime minister spoke at times with excitement and at times in anger, accompanied by fist-banging on the table. He presented data and quotes which sought to prove that the government, the cabinet and he personally took the Hamas tunnel threat seriously, as well as the group’s other military capabilities – rockets, naval commandos and aerial vehicles.

In the seven months prior to the war, between November 2013 and July 2014, the cabinet met eight times, almost a third of all of the forum’s meetings in that period, to discuss the tunnel threat. The prime minister also toured the frontlines and held discussions with Gaza division commanders. The cabinet heard situation reports from IDF commanders and senior Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) officials on the subject. At the conclusion of some of the meetings, decisions were made and orders were given, including by Netanyahu himself to the IDF and the defense establishment to prepare militarily for the tunnel threat and to develop technology to thwart it.

In these cabinet meetings, as well as in other forums, there was an intelligence-based estimate that Hamas had dug at least 20 tunnels into Israeli territory. In The Jerusalem Post’s sister publication, Ma’ariv Sofshavua, I published in October 2013 that the IDF had even estimated that there were some 30 tunnels (during Operation Protective Edge 31 tunnels were uncovered and destroyed). If I knew about the threat, then the IDF and the cabinet definitely knew about it.

Therefore, in this respect, the prime minister is right. The claims that the cabinet was not informed, or that the IDF did not know, are baseless. It is true that the defense establishment (and this is also Netanyahu’s responsibility) could have prepared better technologically and started to more quickly look for a solution if they would have listened years ago to the warnings of the geologist Col. (Res.) Yossi Langotsky. The solutions that are now being applied to the fight against tunnels are exactly what Langotsky suggested ten years ago, but nobody listened.

The prime minister, (and then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon) managed the war in the correct manner – carefully and calmly, while setting reasonable goals that took into account an exit strategy for the war. Netanyahu’s strategy was to avoid mass casualties on the Israeli side and to minimize the harm done to the civilian population in Gaza, while delivering a harsh and painful blow to Hamas without agreeing to any of the group’s demands.

If the prime minister will be wise enough now to make the decision to prevent a humanitarian disaster in Gaza – the establishment of a seaport is the required step – chances are that the danger of another war will be pushed back several more years, and in retrospect, we will be able to say that Operation Protective Edge achieved good results for Israel.



July 30, 2016

Meir Dagan, Mossad Chief 2002 to 2010, has Died — A Strong Voice for Hitting Iran Quietly, and Keeping America Friendly

Meir Dagan, the head of Israel’s espionage service Mossad from 2002 through the end of 2010, has died at age 71.   He had been battling cancer — the one enemy that he could not outwit and outrun.  

Yossi Melman, co-author of Every Spy a Prince and the current history of Israeli intelligence, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, looks back at Dagan’s career — and his role as the key architect of secret sabotage aimed at Iran’s nuclear program.

On Thursday morning, after learning that retired General Meir Dagan had died, the current Mossad chief Yossi Cohen expressed — on behalf of the organization’s employees and its past chiefs — deep sorrow at the news of his death and sent condolences to the Dagan family.

Meir Dagan appeared on CBS's 60 Minutes (with Lesley Stahl) after his retirement

Meir Dagan appeared on CBS’s 60 Minutes (with Lesley Stahl) after his retirement

Dagan, the tenth “Ramsad” (Rosh ha-Mossad, meaning Head of the Institution), was appointed by his close friend Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and served atop the organization from 2002 until December 2010.

He is most identified with clandestine operations to prevent and thwart Iran’s nuclear program and its intentions to produce an atomic bomb.

During Dagan’s tenure, he implemented far-reaching structural changes in the Mossad with the aim of making it a more operations-based organization.

While Dagan headed the Mossad, a number of operations were attributed to the organization, including the assassination of five Iranian nuclear scientists, sabotage of equipment in Iran’s nuclear facilities, and the implanting of viruses into the computers that operated the centrifuges to enrich uranium at the Natanz facility in Iran.  Some of these projects — though not the assassinations — were conducted in cooperation with America’s CIA and NSA.

Another important intelligence feat that is attributed to the Mossad under Dagan was a huge amount of information obtained from a laptop computer used by the chairman of Syria’s Atomic Energy Commission. That intelligence was the smoking gun which shaped the decision by then-Prime Minster Ehud Olmert, with the tacit approval of President George W. Bush, to bomb the Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007.  Israel has never publicly confirmed destroying that reactor.

Dagan enjoyed the privilege — which was very rare among Mossad chiefs, and other heads of world intelligence agencies — of befriending President Bush, who liked him and his creative mind very much.

Showing the Mossad’s impressive ability to operate in the capital city of the most hostile Arab country, Hezbollah’s military chief — Imad Mugniyeh — was assassinated in Damascus in 2008. Well placed sources described the operation as a joint effort by Mossad agents on the scene, with the CIA playing a role.

Dagan was born in the Soviet Union in 1945 to parents who were Holocaust survivors who moved to Israel after the founding of the Jewish state. He lived in Bat Yam and enlisted into the Paratroopers Brigade, becoming the commander of the Rimon reconnaissance unit which operated in the Gaza Strip during the height of a Palestinian terror wave in the early 1970s. Afterward, he was promoted to fill a number of roles in the IDF command, reaching the rank of Major General.

Among other things, Dagan is considered one of the developers of guerrilla warfare doctrine in the IDF, based on fighting — often ambushing — Palestinian terrorists in Gaza and later in south Lebanon.  These operations cemented his image as a daring combatant who was ready to sanction any means to achieve his aim or target, including the assassination of terrorists.

During his time in the IDF, and especially during the Yom Kippur War in 1973, Dagan was considered a confidant of General Ariel Sharon.  After Sharon became prime minister, he appointed Dagan to head the Mossad, despite some discontent expressed among the rank and file of the organization.

Dagan was known to have, at least in his early days, hawkish political views. He even joined the Likud Party.

However, during the course of his work for the Mossad, and after he left the organization, his world view became more moderate.  He urged that a peace agreement be reached with the Palestinians.  He argued with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-defense minster Ehud Barak about various security and diplomatic issues.

While in the Mossad, and even more so afterward, Dagan expressed his opposition to a military strike on Iran.

Dagan  last year addressed a political rally of  opposition parties that called on the public not to vote for Netanyahu.

In January of last year, Dagan expressed his fears about the future of Israel.  “I don’t trust the leadership. I think that the prime minister and [Jewish Home party leader Naftali] Bennett are leading Israel to be a bi-national state, which in my eyes is a disaster and the loss of the Zionist dream.”

Dagan warned that Netanyahu was damaging Israel’s relations with the United States and bringing the ties to the brink of disaster.  That, the ex-Mossad chief insisted, could be extremely costly for Israel.

Living in the shadow of the Holocaust — even showing visitors a photograph of his grandfather being humiliated by German Nazi soldiers — he was a strong advocate that Israel must have a  strong military.  Yet he also insisted that Israel needed to nurture its friendship with the United States and make peace with its Arab neighbors.

“I want to live in a Jewish state. I don’t want to be a slave master and have second class citizens,” Dagan said.

“Unfortunately, between the Jordan River and the sea, there are more than six million Palestinians, some of whom are Israeli citizens, and more than six million Jews.  The policy that we are employing is very problematic on the Palestinian issue.  And on the matter of our behavior toward our greatest ally, the United States. I am very worried,” Dagan added.

“After [the] Yom Kippur [War], I feared for the existence of the state of Israel. If we survived that and managed to make it, I was sure that we could deal with anything. I admit today that I have difficult questions about the directionin which the Israeli leadership is leading us,” the former Mossad chief said.


March 17, 2016

New Man in Charge of Israel’s Domestic Security — Who’s the New Shin Bet Chief?

[This item is based on an article originally written by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon and the best seller Every Spy a Prince, for The Jerusalem Post.]

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed Nadav Argaman on Thursday as the next head of the Shin Bet (the Israel Security Agency).

“Nadav Argaman has a rich track record of commanding and operative experience in the Shin Bet,” Netanyahu said. “I am certain that under his leadership the Shin Bet will continue to strengthen its operational and technological domains and continue to ensure Israel’s security.”

Nadav Argaman (courtesy Israel Security Agency)

Nadav Argaman (courtesy Israel Security Agency)

Argaman, 55, will become the 13th head of the internal security service, succeeding the outgoing Yoram Cohen (not to be confused with Yossi Cohen, who took the job of Mossad director just last month).

Argaman served in Shin Bet for 33 years and is a product of the agency’s operations department, which increasingly — in recent years — depends on signals intelligence (SIGINT): the use of intercepted communications for operations.

A native of a kibbutz in the Jordan Valley, he joined the agency in 1983, after serving as an officer in the IDF General Staff Reconnaissance Unit.

At Shin Bet, he rose through the ranks of the operations unit until he became chief of operations in 2003, a position he held for four years.  In 2007, he became the organization’s representative in the United States — so he surely knows a lot about America and how to cooperate with the FBI.

Afterward, he was appointed deputy head of the Shin Bet, and three years later, in September 2014, he was loaned to the Israel Atomic Energy Commission. (He is likely to have been involved in counterintelligence programs aimed at preventing foreign spies from closely examining Israel’s nuclear potential.)

Outgoing chief Cohen welcomed the prime minister’s decision, saying, “I’m convinced that Nadav’s wealth and range of experience gathered during his years of service in the security services, combined with his personal and professional abilities, will enable him to lead the organization successfully in the face of present and future challenges.”

President Reuven Rivlin congratulated Argaman on his appointment Thursday evening and said he is “standing behind him, right from this very moment.”

“You’re the right man in the right place,” Rivlin continued. “I am confident that your years of experience and your professional capabilities will allow Israeli citizens to continue to live life as normal as possible in these difficult times.”

Argaman has a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Haifa, a master’s degree in political science and another master’s degree in security and strategy from the same university, from which he graduated summa cum laude.

His appointment indicates the sea change the agency has been undergoing in the recent years.  Since the 1967 Six Day War, the Shin Bet has occupied itself primarily with the struggle against Palestinian terrorism.  Accordingly, the three chiefs over the past 16 years have emerged from the field of operations aimed at combating that threat to Israeli security.

While Shin Bet has learned to utilize more electronically intercepted communications, the agency has still remained focused on human intelligence – running agents on the ground.

Argaman has to fine tune the Shin Bet for the current wave of Palestinian terrorism – which is characterized by young “lone wolf” kind of perpetrators, with no organizational affiliation or signature. This makes the mission to collect information about their plans almost impossible.

During his term in the next five years, the Palestinian Authority may disintegrate or at least stop its cooperation in the security field with Shin Bet and the IDF.  Such a decision may lead the West Bank to complete chaos and anarchy and force the Shin Bet to become an even more repressive security service.

No less challenging is the danger that more Israeli Arabs will join Islamic State. In all these challenges, Argaman’s Shin Bet will have to walk the tightrope of balancing between Israel’s security needs and its democratic values.

Shin Bet also devotes time, energy, and planted agents to detect and undermine Jewish terrorism — including actual cells plotting attacks against Palestinians in order to intimidate them, or in the name of “revenge.”

February 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

Stabbings and Other Attacks Aren’t Stopping — Security Agencies Wish Netanyahu Would Act

The attacks by Palestinians on Israelis — using knives and cars — since October have embittered both sides, and there is no sign that peace negotiations might start between Israeli and Palestinian leaders.  Yet the attacks are morphing — most recently including infiltration of Israeli homes in the West Bank, by young men who brutally stab women.

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

There are commentators who rushed to draw broad conclusions about the nature of ongoing Palestinian terrorism after two Palestinian teenagers infiltrated two Jewish settlements in the southern part of the West Bank, not far from the city of Hebron this past week.

One Israeli woman — mother to four children — was stabbed to death, and in the second case a pregnant woman was wounded. One terrorist was captured after two days, and the other was shot on the spot by a Tekoa resident.

[Another attempted stabbing of an Israeli security guard at a West Bank settlement made worldwide headlines on Saturday (Jan. 23), when the attacker — a 13-year-old Palestinian girl — was shot dead by the guard.  Israel said she had been in a dispute with her parents and rushed over to the settlement with the intention of ending her life.  Her parents said that was not so, and said she was just a little girl.]

Yossi Melman

Yossi Melman

Indeed, for the first time during the current wave of Palestinian terrorism – which can be called the “third intifada” – settlements were infiltrated. To that one can add the recent exposure of a terrorist cell in the West Bank that was recruited and sponsored by Juad Nasrallah, the son of Hezbollah’s secretary-general.

Essentially there is nothing in these events to indicate that Palestinian terrorism is changing its direction or its nature, or that it is rapidly escalating.

The above-mentioned cases are just new variants, additional manifestations of the same phenomenon. It began four months ago and so far has claimed the lives of 29 Israelis and 152 Palestinians. Nearly 350 Israelis and more than 1,000 Palestinian have been wounded.

It is difficult to characterize the nature of the current wave of attacks, since it changes constantly with new or additional elements.

So far its perpetrators have come from all walks of Palestinian life, though most of them were young. Most of them were single, but some were married with families.

Most were male, but there have also been female terrorists.

Some came from poor families, but others from middle-class and well-off ones. Some decided to resort to terrorism because members of their families were killed or jailed by Israeli security forces.

The terrorists also cannot be geographically defined. They originated from all over the West Bank and east Jerusalem, though 30 percent of the participants were from the Hebron area, which is known to be Hamas turf, or were deeply religious.

Their motives are also a mixed bag. Some were incited via social media. Some were influenced by religious sermons promising they would become martyrs in heaven.

Some were motivated purely by hatred of Jews and Israelis. Others wanted to avenge the death of their family members.

In a few cases, the decision to become a terrorist was made out of desperation over their poverty or even as defiance against parental authority.

Their weapons of choice were not very selective. They used knives, cars, stones, firebombs and, in only a few cases, firearms – in short, any tool that can kill, wound or cause bodily harm.

Israel is powerless in confronting this kind of Palestinian terrorism.

This helplessness was echoed in what Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said this week, when he addressed the annual conference of the Institute for National Security Studies.

He recalled the second intifada, which occurred a decade ago when he was commander of the IDF division in charge of the West Bank.

“What helped us then was a preventive anti-terrorist concept, based on intelligence superiority.”

In other words, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) managed then to penetrate terrorist cells, recruit agents among them, and bug and intercept their phone and computer conversations, e-mails and chats.

Thus, important information was gleaned, which led to the disruption of terrorists’ plans and the arrest of culprits.

This was possible because although the second intifada was a popular rebellion, it was initiated and organized by well known elements: the Palestinian Authority led by Yasser Arafat, the PLO-Fatah groups, and Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Israeli security forces and the IDF had intelligence and military addresses against which to strike back.

Today’s terrorist acts are mainly carried out by individuals who make their own decision to attack. They are neither initiated nor structured nor organized by others.

True, Hamas is trying hard to jump on the terrorism wagon and hijack it to advance its agenda – to inflict casualties on Israel and the settlers in the West Bank; to spread terrorism from the West Bank to Israel; and to provoke the Israeli security forces to turn against the PA, its arch-rival, and thus weaken it. And all this while almost completely maintaining peace with Israel on the Gaza frontier.

Since the last war in Gaza in the summer of 2014, Hamas has not fired a single rocket against Israel. All the rockets from Gaza – some two dozen – were fired by anti-Hamas Salafist and jihadist groups. While Hamas continues to rearm and regroup by manufacturing more accurate, longer-range rockets and to build tunnels leading to Israel, thus preparing for the next round, at the moment it has no interest in confronting Israel in Gaza.

So far, Hamas has failed in its attempts to escalate the violent situation in the West Bank and Israel — with ambitious plans to again use suicide bombers.

Hamas’s failure is due to several reasons. First, because of the efficiency of Shin Bet and the IDF (Israel’s army). Second, because the PA led by Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) continues to instruct its security services to cooperate with Shin Bet in the struggle against Hamas.

Third and most important, it is because the PA now — unlike in the time of Arafat — does not wish to join the terrorism and violent struggle. It doesn’t shed tears when Israelis are killed, and the West Bank media controlled by the PA have praised the terrorists (though, in the last month, much less vociferously), but it stops short of ordering its own personnel to take part.

Because of all these developments, it is impossible for Israeli security services to have early warnings and disrupt terrorists’ plans. Even the omnipotent Shin Bet cannot read the minds of the Palestinian individuals who decide — sometimes in a matter of hours, sometimes in a split second — to attack Israelis.

This harsh reality is also an outgrowth of what the government is doing or, to be more precise, not doing.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government doesn’t wish to negotiate with the PA. Netanyahu would be willing to do so, only under its own preconditions while continuing to build more settlements and confiscate Palestinian land – 150 hectares (370 acres) this week in the Jordan Valley.

Instead of trying to move with good faith to the negotiating table, all the government does is “maintenance” – maintain the conflict with the hope and self-delusion that it will somehow miraculously succeed in bringing security.

In truth, however, the situation is fragile and slippery. Palestinian terrorism will not stay forever on a low flame. Sooner or later it will escalate and get out of control, either by more Palestinians joining the circle of terrorism or by Hamas taking it over.

This is of great concern to the IDF and Shin Bet, whose chiefs beg the government in closed-door sessions not to stand still.

But so far their advice has fallen on deaf ears in Jerusalem.

January 24, 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

Censorship Lifted: Two Israelis Missing in Gaza — Shabby Treatment to at Least One Family

[Yossi Melman wrote this analysis for The Jerusalem Post.]

Once again, Israel’s security establishment proved how it disregards the right of the public to know. But the scandalous efforts to prevent the publication of the case of Avera Mengistu, the young Israeli of Ethiopian origins who went into Gaza — on his own — by climbing over the border fence, is nothing compared to the way the government treated his family and the entire Israeli Ethiopian community.

The family claims they were threatened by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and police officers not to talk to the media about the fate of their son. It turned out that they were rarely briefed by the authorities who were handling the case and that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bothered only Wednesday to call them.

The strong feeling is that if the skin color of the missing Israelis would have been paler or had he come from a different socioeconomic class, the security apparatus would have treated the case with less indifference.  We would have seen more care and consideration.

It is true that the government and the military establishment have set an important goal to deprive Hamas of having “assets” and “bargaining chips” — in order to reduce the price Israel would have to pay for the release of Mengistu and another Israeli of Arab origins who also infiltrated into Gaza and is missing.

The government wants to prevent the repetition of past prisoner swaps such as the 1985 Jibril swap, the 2004 swap for Colonel (res) Elchanan Tenenboim, who was lured to a drug deal and kidnapped by Hezbollah, and more recently the Gilad Schalit case with Hamas. On all these occasions, and others, the government found itself pressured by the public, families and lubricated PR campaigns, eventually caving in to both the domestic pressure and to the other side.

This conduct by the security establishment is rooted in a new obsession that began in the last Gaza war.

It is the desire to prevent the kidnapping of Israeli civilians or soldiers at all costs.

When it comes to soldiers in the battlefield, the IDF used an illegal and unethical method coded “Hannibal,” in which it employs unrestricted fire power to prevent attempts to kidnap soldiers, even though it could kill the soldier and many innocent civilians.

Indeed, Professor Asa Kasher, who wrote the ethical code of the IDF, claimed Tuesday that at least one soldier who was targeted for kidnapping by Hamas fighters was killed by Israeli fire. And indeed many Palestinians were killed by IDF fire under such circumstances.

And now we witness the cases of Menigistu and the other Israeli who went into Hamas-ruled Gaza. They are civilians, and not soldiers, and the methods used to hurt them are different: not friendly fire, but court gag orders and heavy censorship.

The overriding goal remains the same – not to surrender to Hamas.

But no matter how important that aim is, the use of dubious measures cannot be justified. If the government wishes to be tough and determined and not to cave in this time, it can do it by showing its will power in negotiations – and there are already secret negotiations underway via Egyptian and German intelligence officials – and not by ignoring the family and making a mockery of basic values in a democratic society.

July 9, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moshe Dayan: Knew It Would Take 6 Days

Moshe Dayan: Knew It Would Take 6 Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet most ministers were not convinced.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 5, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

<A nuclear deal with Iran would be the most

interesting development of 2015>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 2, 2015

No Surprises, but Much to Discuss, for Obama and Netanyahu at the White House

No surprises were expected, and there certainly weren’t any in the public remarks by President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — as they began a closed-door meeting in the Oval Office by posing for photographs.

Here is the text, as issued by the White House Press Office — Wednesday (1 October) around 11:40 a.m. in Washington:

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, it’s good once again to welcome the Prime Minister of Israel, Bibi Netanyahu.  Obviously, he’s no stranger to the White House.  I think I’ve met with Bibi more than any world leader during my tenure as President.

We meet at a challenging time.  Israel is obviously in a very turbulent neighborhood, and this gives us an opportunity once again to reaffirm the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel, and our ironclad commitment to making sure that Israel is secure.

President Obama, in a recent Oval Office chat with Vice President Biden and leaders of Congress (White House photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama, in a recent Oval Office chat with Vice President Biden and leaders of Congress (White House photo by Pete Souza)

Throughout the summer, obviously all of us were deeply concerned about the situation in Gaza.  I think the American people should be very proud of the contributions that we made to the Iron Dome program to protect the lives of Israelis at a time when rockets were pouring into Israel on a regular basis.  I think we also recognize that we have to find ways to change the status quo so that both Israeli citizens are safe in their own homes and schoolchildren in their schools from the possibility of rocket fire, but also that we don’t have the tragedy of Palestinian children being killed as well.

And so we’ll discuss extensively both the situation of rebuilding Gaza but also how can we find a more sustainable peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Our agenda will be broader than that, obviously.  I’ll debrief Bibi on the work that we’re doing to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL, and the broader agenda that I discussed at the United Nations, which is mobilizing a coalition not only for military action, but also to bring about a shift in Arab states and Muslim countries that isolate the cancer of violent extremism that is so pernicious and ultimately has killed more Muslims than anything else.

And we’ll also have an opportunity to discuss the progress that’s being made with respect to dealing with Iran’s nuclear program, which obviously has been a high priority for not only Israel, but also the United States and the world community.

So we have a lot to talk about, and I appreciate very much the Prime Minister coming.  It’s challenging I think for an Israeli Prime Minister to have to work so hard during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but I know that the Prime Minister’s utmost priority is making sure that his country is safe during these difficult times.  And we’re glad that the United States can be a partner in that process.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  Mr. President, first I want to thank you.  I want to thank you for the unflinching support you gave Israel during our difficult days and difficult summer we had — expressed in so many ways, but also in an additional installment of support for Iron Dome, which has saved so many lives, saved many lives across the border.  And I thank you for that, and for the continuous bond of friendship that is so strong between Israel and the United States.

I also want to thank you for this opportunity to meet with you and to discuss the enormous challenges facing the United States and Israel in the Middle East.  There’s definitely a new Middle East.  I think it poses new dangers, but it also presents new opportunities.

As for the dangers, Israel fully supports your effort and your leadership to defeat ISIS.  We think everybody should support this.  And even more critical is our shared goal of preventing Iran from becoming a military nuclear power.

As you know, Mr. President, Iran seeks a deal that would lift the tough sanctions that you’ve worked so hard to put in place, and leave it as a threshold nuclear power.  I fervently hope that under your leadership that would not happen.

Equally, I think that there are opportunities.  And the opportunities, as you just expressed, is something that is changing in the Middle East, because out of the new situation, there emerges a commonality of interests between Israel and leading Arab states.  And I think that we should work very hard together to seize on those common interests and build a positive program to advance a more secure, more prosperous and a more peaceful Middle East.

I remain committed to a vision of peace of two states for two peoples based on mutual recognition and rock solid security arrangements on the ground.  And I believe we should make use of the new opportunities, think outside the box, see how we can recruit the Arab countries to advance this very hopeful agenda.  And I look forward to our discussions on these and many other matters.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you very much, everybody.

October 1, 2014

A Nuclear Deal with Iran? The Palestinian Issue? At the U.N. and with Obama, Netanyahu Tries to Minimize the Damage to Israel

Israel has warned that Iran’s secret project to build nuclear bombs must be stopped. In fact on Monday (29 September), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the United Nations General Assembly that defeating ISIS — while at the same time letting Iran continue with its nuclear weapons program — would be “winning a battle, but losing the war.”

Netanyahu, leaving Tel Aviv on Sunday, said he would also speak about the Palestinian issue at the United Nations in New York — and indeed he countered “all the lies directed at us” during and after the 50-day war with Gaza’s Hamas rulers. He specifically rejected what Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said at the U.N., including a charge that Israel committed “war crimes.”

Are any breakthroughs toward peace with Abbas’s Palestiian Authority expected soon?  To put it simply — no. Netanyahu raised the possibility that moderate Arab countries would see that ISIS and Hamas are basically the same, and those nations could help cement Israeli-Arab peace. Netanyahu did not even mention the principle of a “two-state solution” for Israelis and Palestinians.

This analysis by Yossi Melman (co-author of SPIES AGAINST ARMAGEDDON, an updated history of Israeli espionage and securitywas written for The Jerusalem Post the day before Netanyahu started his visit to the United States.


As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu departed to address the UN General Assembly in New York, and to meet with US President Barack Obama in Washington, fear in Israel was mounting with regard to the warming ties between Iran and the United States.

UN logoAmid the struggle against Islamic State (ISIS or IS), there were more and more indications that the US and the Western powers were willing to relax their position regarding Iran’s nuclear program. This impression became stronger, following the reports that the US is coordinating with Iran in its aerial assaults on IS in Iraq and Syria. 

Israel is worried that the offers made to Iran in the negotiations over its nuclear program, which Iran has rejected as unsatisfactory, demonstrate the world powers’ willingness to accept the Islamic Republic of Iran as a “threshold nuclear power” — just a screw’s-turn away from possessing a nuclear bomb.

Israel’s anxiety was apparent on Wednesday (24 September) when Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz revealed classified information — with the permission of the military censor’s office that is friendly to the government and more strict toward the media.

Steinitz revealed that Iran has used its Parchin military base as the site for secret tests of technology that could be used only for detonating a nuclear weapon.   

The reason why Steinitz came out with the information was to influence the world powers in the nuclear talks to delay the signing of an agreement with Iran that would leave Iran with significant capabilities to enrich uranium.

The negotiations with the “P5+1” countries – the US, France, Britain, Russia, Germany and China – are supposed to end with a permanent agreement in around two months. Over the last week, senior officials in the Obama administration leaked some ideas that could form the basis of an agreement with Iran.

One idea is that Iranian centrifuges will not be dismantled but will rather be disconnected from the system that fuels them and connects them together. Another idea under consideration is to allow Iran to keep some 5000 centrifuges, which would put Tehran in a good position to enrich high level weapons-grade uranium in the future if it chose to do so. These offers that are unsatisfactory to Iran have infuriated Jerusalem.

Israel’s position was that in any agreement Iran would have to dismantle all its centrifuges or only be able to keep around 1000 which would prevent it from enriching uranium to a high level.  The latest developments in the Middle East have hardened Iran’s bargaining positions in the nuclear talks.

Netanyahu's red line in New York (Sept. 2012)

Netanyahu’s red line in New York (Sept. 2012)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and the moderates around him are interested in a permanent agreement on the nuclear issue that will remove the painful sanctions against their economy. 

On the other hand, as the master of “bazaar-style” negotiating, Tehran senses that it can reach a better deal for Iran if it stands firm. Iran feels that the West wants to see it a de facto partner in the coalition that is forming against ISIS. Even the accomplishments of the Shi’ites in Yemen, who currently control large parts of the capital Sana’a, encourage the Iranians and give them hope that regional events and time are in their favor. 

And because for Prime Minister Netanyhu  relations between Iran and Israel are a zero sum game, any Iranian achievement and any Western concession to Iran is a loss for Israel.

In Netanyahu’s speech at the General Assembly on Monday and in his meeting with Obama, the prime minister will try to minimize the negative fallout for Israel. It is doubtful that he will succeed. The world knows that the military threats that Israel wielded successfully from 2011-2013 are no longer realistic.

September 29, 2014

After the Scandal Dust Clears, Unit 8200 Will Probably Return to Israel’s Usual Eavesdropping

Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, wrote an analysis of the latest spy scandal in Israel: the protest by reservists in Unit 8200 (specializing in electronic or signals intelligence) who say they can no longer stand eavesdropping on Palestinians — because, they claim, a lot of the information they glean from phone calls and other conversations is unfairly used against innocent Palestinians.

The entire analysis by Melman appears on the website of the weekly newspaper Forward, whicih is published in New York.

Here is an excerpt:

Yossi Melman

Yossi Melman

In their letter, the mutineers stated that they would not carry out their assigned duties because doing so involves, among other things, listening in on the phone calls of Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, including many who are uninvolved in violence, to gather information on their health, infidelities, sexual orientations, financial problems, sex habits and other private matters. As the mutineers noted, those nuggets of intelligence are then used to pressure and blackmail the targets, to force them to act as agents and collaborators for the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security service.

The forty-three letter signers also complain that information gleaned from Sigint, or signals intelligence, that they provide sometimes results in the killing of innocent Palestinians during military strikes based on that information.

Their protest shocked Israeli society and generated condemnation from across the Jewish political spectrum, including the mainstream dovish opposition.

“I’m not saying that there are no mistakes. It is certainly possible that there were,” Israeli Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog wrote on his official Facebook page. “But there are ways to complain and to ensure that such claims are examined and discussed.” Herzog is himself a former major in Unit 8200.

But even angrier were thousands of reservists and veterans of the intelligence unit. …

[Yet] despite the current storm, after the dust settles down Unit 8200 will continue with its traditional duties as Israel’s intelligence shield and a hotbed of technology.

[For the full article, CLICK HERE] : .

September 17, 2014

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

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

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

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

Emblem of Aman (Israeli Military Intelligence)

Emblem of Aman (Israeli Military Intelligence)

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

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

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

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

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

September 11, 2014

Israel Won the Gaza War: Hamas Practically Crawled to the Ceasefire Deal

[Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, wrote this analysis for Wednesday’s Jerusalem Post newspaper.]

If the cease-fire holds, and that is a big if, the results of the 50-day war in Gaza will mark an important and impressive achievement for Israel. 

Hamas was forced to accept Egyptian and Israeli dictates. Hamas crawled to the cease-fire. One should not be impressed by the well-organized victory festivities in Gaza.

Most of Hamas’s demands and preconditions were rejected from the outset. The cease-fire is unlimited in time and Hamas was not promised anything except that which had been offered at the start of the military campaign. 

Full of itself and arrogant, it miscalculated. If Hamas had not rejected the offers, Israel would not have launched a ground incursion. Hamas’s 32 attacking tunnels would not have been destroyed. Its rockets and mortar shells wouldn’t be reduced to a residual arsenal of one-third – from 10,000 to approximately 2,000. And most importantly, parts of Gaza wouldn’t have been destroyed.

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Unfortunately, Gaza has been set back decades. More than 5,000 houses were destroyed. Another 1,000 were damaged and on the verge of collapse. Gaza has been suffering water and electricity shortages. 

Three-hundred thousand residents – 15 percent of its population – turned into homeless refugees within the boundaries of the small enclave, which was already mostly one big refugee camp. 

Anger, despair and frustration are ruling the day in Gaza. Surely people will not go to protest in the streets. Hamas has established a reign of fear and terror.

Hamas’s highly publicized executions during the war, and in particular last week, of alleged traitors were not aimed at unveiling and disrupting Israeli intelligence operations. They were aimed at sending a clear message to the Gazans: We are Hamas and we are here to stay. Don’t dare revolt against us. 

But the locals have a long memory. They will remember who brought them the calamity.

In a sense, the Gaza war is reminiscent of what happened during the Second Lebanon War in 2006. Hezbollah was defeated. Its secretary-general admitted it in public. But then he heard Israeli defense commentators who criticized the war’s conduct by then-prime minister Ehud Olmert’s government. That made the Hezbollah leader regain his self-confidence.

Hassan Nasrallah told himself that if stupid Israel thought that it was defeated, so let it be – and he declared his false victory.

Eight years later, it is quite clear that “the Second Lebanon War” brought Israel significant gains at the strategic level. Northern Israel has enjoyed peace and tranquility. Hezbollah is deterred and doesn’t dare to initiate violent and aggressive actions against the Jewish state. Nasrallah himself is in hiding, fearing for his life.

As then, some of the veteran commentators in the 2006 war coverage now express the same criticism with the same weeping voices, claiming that Hamas defeated Israel.

Sooner or later it will emerge that as against Hezbollah, Israel will deter Hamas too.

As in the Second Lebanon War, the military campaign in Gaza unmasked some IDF tactical failures and gains for Hamas. The Islamist movement showed determination, and its combatants proved to be capable guerrilla fighters with some daring and innovative operations. Jerusalem Post logo ad

Hamas fighters stood up for 50 days against the mighty Israeli war machine. They paralyzed Israel’s international airport for two days. Israel’s economy took a relative hit. They tried to infiltrate in commando operations from the sea and the tunnels. But in most cases they failed and achieved nothing significant.

The bottom line is that Hamas failed to reach its strategic goals. Israel showed determination and except for some anti-war demonstrations, the Israeli home front was stubborn and did not break down.

Did Netanyahu Achieve His Gaza War Goals?

Did Netanyahu Achieve His Gaza War Goals?

The real index with which to check Israel’s gains is against the war’s declared aims. The leading trio – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz – who have shown reason and self-restraint in order to avoid more casualties, were determined not to surrender to populist voices, including from their cabinet colleagues who pulled out long knives to stab them in the back and demanded to “smash Hamas.” Netanyahu, Ya’alon and Gantz decided neither to occupy Gaza nor to topple the Hamas regime.

Having said all that, much depends on the cease-fire being honored.

Even if it is respected, there is a need to leverage the blows inflicted on Hamas into a brave and breakthrough move to increase the chances of a serious and genuine negotiation with the Palestinian Authority. The aim should be a deal over the West Bank.

Only then will it be possible to talk about the strategic victory of Israel and Zionist history. But such a step is under a heavy cloud of doubt. Can Netanyahu show the same willpower and determination he manifested in war to make peace?

August 27, 2014

‘Newsweek’ Magazine Cites Yossi Melman on Assassinations: Part of Israeli War Strategy?

In its latest issue, Newsweek magazine has an article by New York-based Benny Avni that explores whether targeted assassinations are a part of Israeli war strategy.

An airstrike : IDF photo

An airstrike : IDF photo

It certainly can be argued that in the flurry of events that led to a ceasefire — which seems to represent the end of the Gaza war after more than 7 weeks of bloodshed — highly targeted Israeli airstrikes made the big difference.

Based on precise intelligence, Israel managed to kill at least three — and probably more — senior Hamas military commanders in Gaza. Then, as seen on TV worldwide, Israel’s air force flattened three tall buildings in the heart of Gaza city.

Israel’s intelligence agencies and military (the IDF) seemed to be showing off their capabilities for precision — coupled with more effective early warning that prompted nearly all the residents of the doomed tower blocks to leave before the edifices were destroyed.

In Newsweek, Benny Avni wrote about why Israel decided to take the shots — and kill the Hamas commanders:

“This is not about revenge,” says Yossi Melman, a leading Israeli expert on counterterrorism and espionage. “Yes, revenge may play a role, but the main goal is to disrupt future attacks.

…But does it work? “Assassinations are pyrotechnics,” says Melman, co-author of the book Spies Against Armageddon. “There are no illusions on the Israeli side that it’s a cure-all. At best, it disrupts the enemy temporarily. But that’s the nature of the war on terror: Every victory is temporary.”


August 27, 2014

Israel Hasn’t Won or Lost the Gaza War — But Now Hopes to Kill Top Hamas Leaders: Victory?

After the latest ceasefire broke down — with Hamas and Israel both finding it pointless to keep negotiating in Cairo — Israel is attempting “shock and awe” tactics: first, with an airstrike that flattened an apartment building and aimed to kill Hamas’s military chief. Then came another airstrike, with impressive precision, destroying a house in which three senior military men of Hamas were meeting — and all three were killed.

On Sunday (24 August) word came that an Israeli missile destroyed a car driven by Hamas’s top finance official. But do targeted assassinations help, in the long run?

[Yossi Melman, co-author of the best seller Every Spy a Prince and the new, updated history of Israel’s intelligence agencies Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, wrote this article for Friday’s Jerusalem Post newspaper.]

Dead or alive? Was Muhammad Deif, legendary chief of the Izzedin Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing, eliminated in a targeted killing by Israel – or did he survive the attack?

Israelis and Palestinians have been asking that question since the early hours of Wednesday morning, when reports of an attempted assassination first surfaced. The assumption is that he was killed or gravely wounded, but more than 48 hours later, we remain in the dark.

Hamas’s websites and spokesmen declared Deif alive and kicking. Some of them even made a mockery of what they described as yet another Israeli failure to assassinate him.

Israel's air force: assassination weapons

Israel’s air force: assassination weapons

Indeed, like a cat with nine lives, Deif has survived at least four attempts by Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the military to kill him.

Israeli officials added to the aura of mystery by remaining ambiguous. They hinted he was most probably killed but weren’t sure, and they did not wish to commit themselves to a statement they would regret.

Let’s assume for a moment that Deif was killed in the attack: What would the implications and ramifications of such a hit be?

Already severely disabled due to earlier attacks, Deif had become in recent years more of an “honorary” commander of the military wing . Nevertheless, he was involved in the major strategic military decisions taken by the movement – including transforming Hamas into a semi-military organization with battalions and brigades (with two of its six brigade commanders killed in a joint Shin Bet-Israel Air Force operation this week after Deif was hit). Deif was also involved in the tunnel and rocket programs.

Thus, killing him could be a tactical gain for Israel, a boost to Israel’s morale during the frustrating Gaza war, and a psychological blow for Hamas.

The Gaza war has become more about public relations, images, and spin than about success in the battlefield. Every side aspires for an Iwo Jima-style “victory photo” – and killing Deif could provide that image for Israel.

There is a downside, however: If Deif managed to survive a fifth Israeli attempt on his life, it will elevate his godlike status not just within Hamas, but among the Palestinian constituency everywhere.

The larger question here is whether Israel’s assassination policy is paying off.

For decades, Israeli intelligence chiefs have debated the wisdom and effectiveness of the policy – a debate that is less of a moral or ethical deliberation, but a more practical one.

David Kimche (1928-2010), photo by

David Kimche (1928-2010), photo by

The late David Kimche, a senior Mossad operative, told me more than a decade ago that he and his colleagues had discussed many times whether the organization should be involved in assassinations and targeted killings. Some argue against it, claiming that the Mossad is not a Murder, Inc., and killing terrorist leaders is counterproductive.

A quick reminder: Less than two years ago, Israel’s previous campaign in Gaza opened with the killing of Ahmed Jabari, then the operations chief of Hamas’s military wing, as Deif was still recuperating from his Israeli-inflicted wounds. Quickly enough, Hamas recovered from the loss of Jabari and replaced him with a new commander, Marwan Issa, who today is still the military wing’s acting chief.

There are many other examples, the most blatant being the 1992 assassination of Hezbollah secretary-general Abbas Moussawi; he was replaced by a more skillful leader, Hassan Nasrallah.

The long history of Israel’s war against terrorist leaders and military operatives reads like the final chapter of the Passover Seder: one killing leads to a new leader, who is then killed, followed by a new leader, and so forth.

But on the other hand, does a country fighting terrorism have a choice? The nature of asymmetrical struggle between a state and a terror group is that it is an ongoing battle – a kind of war of attrition with no knockout blow possible.

Israel – and for that matter, any other nation in a similar situation – doesn’t have the luxury of projecting an image of weakness and thus has to hit, retaliate, and assassinate the enemy’s operatives.

This is not in order to take revenge, but as a step to disrupt future plots and eliminate the other side’s most capable leaders and commanders.

Israel’s intelligence and security apparatus has for years tried to devise a doctrine detailing when and whom to target, based on how useful the termination would be. There are no textbook answers, only general observations.

Killing a leader of a small group – a nearly one-man show – can paralyze that organization. But when it comes to larger terrorist groups well-rooted in the community, sooner or later a new – sometimes even more talented and daring – chief will turn up.

Regardless of whether Deif is dead or alive, it will not change the reality of the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

Both sides need an exit strategy, a long-term agreement to end the violence. For that to happen, they must swallow their pride and agree to a compromise.

August 24, 2014

Gaza Talks in Cairo May Resume Sometime, but Israeli Leaders Assume Hamas Will Take Over the West Bank: Crises are Certain, Peace is Not

by YOSSI MELMAN in Tel Aviv

[Yossi Melman is co-author of the best seller Every Spy a Prince and the new, updated history of Israeli intelligence and security, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars. This is adapted from his article in Tuesday’s Jerusalem Post newspaper.]

There were five possible outcomes to the Gaza ceasefire talks in Cairo — which abruptly ended, when the violence resumed on Tuesday night (19 August): a long-term agreement, which is not very likely at this point; an Egyptian announcement that the sides had agreed to extend the truce; simultaneous announcements by Israel and Hamas that the truce would be extended;  a “narrow” agreement, which would allow for the truce to be extended while a number of measures are implemented in the field, such as the opening of crossings; or another 24-hour extension of the truce, in an attempt to reach a long-term arrangement.

However, in the background there was always an additional possibility that neither side seemed to desire: the resumption of the war.

Therefore, the IDF and the Israeli defense establishment were not taking any chances and were also prepared for this outcome. The train route from Sderot to Ashkelon, part of which is exposed to fire from Gaza, was shut down on Sunday. At some of the kibbutzim near Gaza, the kindergartens were reinforced with concrete walls (which begs the question: Why was this done at the last minute? The defense establishment had 14 years to do it.)

Most importantly, the IDF vowed to respond to every rocket with especially strong firepower. “One thing is clear. We will not accept a war of attrition,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon emphasized on Monday evening.

Israel’s updated military doctrine, in this Gaza war, is to hit back even harder whenever Hamas fires rockets: at the rocket launchers, of course, but also more broadly against key Hamas facilities and leaders.

Shin Bet — the domestic security agency — meantime clarified the timing of its revelation on Monday that Hamas was trying to create a potent military infrastructure in the West Bank: so as to launch major terrorist attacks against Israel from a new direction, but also to stage a coup d’etat that would remove the more moderate Fatah faction from power in the West Bank.

Shin Bet officials said the revelation — which received wide media coverage as a new claim by Israel — was not meant to affect the Cairo negotiations. It was mere coincidence, they said: connected to the filing of indictments against around 70 suspects in the terror ring.

Shin Bet contends that the release of the information on the terror plot was not meant to serve as propaganda or psychological warfare to drive a wedge between Hamas and the Fatah-led PA (the Palestinian Authority) on the day that the future of the Gaza ceasefire was being determined.

Now it is clear that even if the ceasefire were extended, the chances of reaching a long-term understanding between Israel and Hamas through the Palestinian Authority were (and remain) low.

Prime Minister Netanyahu

Prime Minister Netanyahu

The bitter truth is that the government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, which until now was dismissive of PA President Mahmoud Abbas and did everything it could to fritter away nine months of fruitless negotiations (mediated by America’s John Kerry), is now interested in putting Abbas in power in Gaza. It seems obvious that the Fatah faction would be better than the murderous, racist, implacable Hamas.

On the other hand, Israel’s government doesn’t hide its strong skepticism about Abbas and his ability to rule in the West Bank.

This government’s belief is that Hamas, either through the ballot box or by way of the gun, will eventually take over the West Bank.

Either way, the Israeli government does not truly want  a peace agreement or other understanding that it will obligate it to evacuate settlements and relocate settlers. Some in the government simply believe that the entire West Bank is rightfully Jewish territory — based on both the Bible and the lightning Six-Day victory in 1967. Others mostly stress the dangers that Israel would have to cope with, if Palestinians fully controlled the West Bank, leaving the Jewish state extremely thin and vulnerable.

Therefore, all the Netanyahu government does now is manage crises, like that occurring in Gaza today.  Israel will continue to jump from crisis to crisis.

August 19, 2014

Gaza Ceasefire Ended; No Deal — So Israeli Attack Aims at Hamas Leadership

Even before the scheduled end of the Israel-Hamas ceasefire at midnight, explosions erupted on Tuesday night — and the most significant was a long-distance assassination attempt by Israel.

Muhammad Deif, Hamas military chief

Muhammad Deif, Hamas military chief

Hamas said Mohammed Deif, the commander of its military wing, was the target of an airstrike that destroyed a house in Gaza City. Arab media said Deif’s wife and young child were killed. (It was not immediately clear whether Deif survived.)

A barrage of Hamas missiles — imprecisely aimed at Tel Aviv and at Ben-Gurion International Airport — was considered a retaliation for the assassination attempt. Dozens of rockets failed to kill any Israelis or cause significant damage.

And what of the negotiations in Cairo, where Egyptian mediators (with barely hidden advice from the United States) struggled mightily for a deal between Israel and Hamas?

Israeli officials say the head of the political wing of Hamas — Khaled Meshaal, who does his work from a hotel suite in far-off Qatar — intentionally sabotaged the negotiations, because he wants a united Arab stand to make much tougher demands. To show that Hamas gained something from this Gaza war, the radical Palestinian movement insists that a seaport and an airport should be opened quickly — while Israel and Egypt end the “siege” which strictly controls border entries and exits.

Khaled Meshaal

Khaled Meshaal

The core of the Meshaal obstacle, however, was his ego.  He appeared to be fighting for his honor, more than fighting for Hamas or the wider Palestinian people.

As the negotiations limped toward their latest deadline — after several extensions that were difficult for Egypt to arrange — Israel’s government honestly did not know what the outcome would be.

If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Defense Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon knew, then they were not sharing that knowledge with the public — and not even with the rest of the cabinet. Ministers felt left out, and that was never going to increase Netanyahu’s chance of getting the cabinet’s backing for any deals that might be complicated or concession-filled.

It turns out that the basic Egyptian concept was — and is — to have an indefinite extension of the ceasefire, with the Israelis and Palestinians promising to hold serious, comprehensive negotiations in a month’s time. Israel and Egypt, though clearly not feeling that Gaza has become moderate or stable enough to have full shipping and flight rights, agreed not to veto the seaport and airport concept.

August 19, 2014

Major Claim by Israel’s Shin Bet — Hamas Launched Serious Plot in West Bank to Overthrow Fatah’s Palestinian Authority

by YOSSI MELMAN in Tel Aviv

Israel’s domestic security agency, Shin Bet, claims that it uncovered a serious plot by Hamas – including unprecedented military preparations – to start an uprising in the West Bank: not only against Israel, but against the Palestinian Authority.

According to Shin Bet, Hamas’s goals in the West Bank included – at some stage – “a military coup” to topple the P.A., which is led by the late Yasser Arafat’s al-Fatah faction.  In the Gaza Strip in 2007, after winning an election there, Hamas fighters soundly defeated al-Fatah men – killing many and forcing the survivors to leave.

Shin Bet officials, in issuing details today, insist that this is all true – and not an Israeli invention aimed at jamming a huge wedge between Hamas and the P.A.  The officials deny any connection with the fact that all day Monday, there was high tension over not knowing if a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas would be extended to allow for more negotiations in Cairo.

Shin Bet's logo: Hebrew words mean "The Defender That Won't Be Seen"

Shin Bet’s logo: Hebrew words mean “The Defender That Won’t Be Seen”

Hamas is branded a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States, and many other governments. The Fatah faction, which as the P.A. has engaged in negotiations with Israel on-and-off for 21 years, is considered to be relatively moderate. (Rightwing Israelis argue that Fatah also backs terrorism and does not truly want to live in peace alongside a Jewish state of Israel.)

Shin Bet says its information about “military” organizing by Hamas in the West Bank is based on interrogations of recently arrested suspects. Information is being released at this time, because it is in legal documents that formalize charges against around 70 Hamas members.

The officials tell of 93 arrests in the current investigation, including a man who allegedly was recruited in Malaysia where he studied computer sciences. Hamas had him trained for code-breaking and cyberwarfare. 

According to information cleared by Israeli authorities for publication, the Hamas military organizing began in May – unrelated to the kidnap and murder of three young Israeli men in the West Bank a month later.

Over the weekend, the Israeli army destroyed the family homes of two Palestinians who are the prime suspects in the murder of the three Israelis. Human rights organizations complained that this was “collective punishment,” without any court indictments, trials, or convictions.

As for the “military” plot including a coup to take over the P.A., Shin Bet officials say the plan was hatched by Hamas activists in Turkey – with others in Jordan involved in the planning.

The plan included severe terrorist attacks inside Israel, launched from the West Bank, that would trigger harsh responses by Israel.  That, in turn, would lead – Hamas allegedly hoped – to the eruption of a widespread uprising by West Bank Palestinians: a third Intifada.

It seems that Israeli intelligence received some of its information on this plot from Jordan’s security agencies, which is believed to have spies inside various Palestinian factions – and Jordan is reputed to engage in harsh interrogations to extract information about alleged plots.

As part of the Israeli investigation in the West Bank, according to Shin Bet officials, dozens of weapons and hidden storage facilities were found.  Guns, valued at around half a million dollars, are believed to have been smuggled in from Jordan.

Shin Bet believes it broke up this plot before attacks on Israelis – or on the P.A. – could be carried out.  But one Shin Bet official said the information obtained proves that Hamas – and certainly its leadership outside the Palestinian territories – are deadly serious in their objective to take over the entire Palestinian movement.

August 18, 2014

How to Detect ‘Terror Tunnels’? Israel’s Tech & Military Industries Hurry Up — Mexico, Korea Visited & Russian Technology was Tried

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) insist that the military has been aware, for some time, of the severe danger that Hamas tunnels from Gaza might pose.

IDF briefers have just revealed — without revealing when this occurred — that Israeli experts were dispatched on unannounced trips to countries that had experience with tunnels: Mexico, where smugglers of drugs and illegal immigrants used tunnels leading into the United States; and Korea, where the South’s military had discovered many intricate and solid tunnels built by the Communist North to prepare for a possible invasion in the future — threatening South Korea’s capital, Seoul.

The IDF even obtained and “test drove” a Russian-made radar system which is aimed down, into the ground, so that underground caves, tunnels, movements and sounds can be detected.  But it seemed to work only to a depth of 3 or 4 meters (about ten feet), so that wasn’t good enough.

Israeli Troops Near Tunnel They Discovered (:IDF Spokesman)

Israeli Troops Near Tunnel They Discovered (:IDF Spokesman)

Israel’s reconnaissance satellites also attempted to detect piles of soil, or changes in topography that might indicate tunnels.  But that did not work.

Israeli military and electronics manufacturers are now working quickly to develop appropriate technologies.

One approach would depend on acoustics — a form of radar that’s familiar to pregnant couples who see an “ultrasound picture” of their unborn child in the womb.  The other method would involve seismic detection – receiving an alert from vibrations below the Earth’s surface.

A critic, a retired colonel who is a geologist (Yossi Langotzki), says there is no need to re-invent the wheel, because seismic detection would be an approach ready to use right now. He says the existing seismic technology (used in the oil and mining industries) could be quite useful. Why waste time and money, Langotzki wonders, developing radar-based products that probably could not be ready for use for another two years or so?

As for how Hamas’s tunnels are destroyed after they are discovered by Israel – so far, 32 tunnels — the military is preventing full disclosure of its method for making them unuseable.  It may be said with certainty, however, that they are not simply “blown up” with explosives — not all the tunnels.  There are various ways of filling or blocking them.

The New York Times reported in February 2013 that Egypt was making tunnels from Gaza impassable — or too disgusting to use — by flooding them with raw sewage which could be piped-in or trucked-in from elsewhere.

August 10, 2014

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