Dan Raviv, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, was a guest on the Jim Bohannon Show (on Dial Global Radio in the U.S.) on Wednesday night — and here is a five-minute interview summarizing the main points for Bohannon’s “America In the Morning” aired on Thursday (May 23rd).
Raviv and Bohannon discuss the Obama Administration’s revelation that its drone strikes killed four U.S. citizens, Secretary of State John Kerry’s renewed attempt to mediate between Israelis and Palestinians, new indications that Syria’s regime may be winning the civil war, and the IAEA report on Iran’s rapidly advancing nuclear work.
Benjamin Weinthal, a Berlin-based analyst, journalist, and fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (an American think tank), writes in National Review Online of his recent visit — during the Gaza mini-war — to experts in Israel, including Spies Against Armageddon co-author Yossi Melman.
During my interviews with leading military and intelligence reporters in Israel, there was a clear consensus that Israel had to respond to the growing violence from Hamas (including over 100 rockets fired into the south of the tiny Jewish country in November prior to the war). “Hamas eroded the cease-fire. Israel could not take it anymore,” Yossi Melman told me in Tel Aviv. Melman works as a commentator with the popular Israeli news outlet Walla, and is the co- author, with Dan Raviv, of the highly acclaimed Spies against Armageddon, which goes deep into the weeds of the enormously complex history of Israeli intelligence agencies.
Melman was referring to the cease-fire of 2009 which brought an end to Operation Cast Lead (Act I in the hot war), launched in 2008 to stop Hamas from raining rockets on Israel’s southern periphery. Hamas broke the cease-fire by shooting at Israeli patrols on the border and by its continued rocket fire.
That helps to explain why Melman dismissed as “rubbish” the view of some commentators that the head of Hamas’s military-operations, Ahmed Jabari, was a “moderate force.” He added that Israel’s pinpoint strike taking out Jabari caused turmoil within the Hamas leadership.
It took five years to reach a negotiated deal with Jabari to secure the kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit from Hamas in exchange for the release of over 1,000 Palestinian criminals and terrorists. Melman dryly noted that it would have perhaps taken ten years to negotiate a cease-fire with Jabari to end his rocket attacks on Israeli civilians. The targeted killing of Jabari was nothing short of a remarkable combination of Israeli human intelligence and military expertise.
The interview with Melman ended with a boom in the sky of Tel Aviv. We heard Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system intercept a Hamas rocket aimed at Tel Aviv. The Iron Dome had a spectacular 85 percent success rate in intercepting Hamas missiles.
There were a lot of moving parts, behind the scenes, when a ceasefire was hammered out between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist faction, Hamas. As is standard with covert, or “alternative,” diplomacy, the Israelis handled it through their foreign intelligence agency, the Mossad.
The director of the Mossad, Tamir Pardo, was in Cairo to be part of the negotiations. We have learned that he had meetings with the chief of Turkey’s national intelligence organization (known as MIT), Hakan Fidan.
Fidan has been a close confidant of Prime Minister Recip Erdogan for many years and took over as MIT director two years ago. Fidan seems to be intimately linked with a Turkish decision to cool — and even irritate — relations with Israel, while emphasizing Turkey’s Muslim identity in order to gain more prestige in the Middle East.
Still, many Israeli officials — and Western officials who hope this is not merely wishful thinking — see possibilities for restoring cooperative relations with Turkey. There used to be joint military exercises and frequent exchanges of security-related intelligence. The first steps toward cooperation could be covert, rather than open, but still that would be seen as very useful to Israel.
Israel and Turkey both are concerned about what may happen next in Syria, which is literally sandwiched between them. Neither the Israelis nor the Turks want Islamic radicals to be in charge of Syria, nor do they want chaotic civil war to continue forever.
They also could find common cause against Iran, which is trying to establish hegemony over the Middle East — while Jerusalem and Ankara could seen as rival power centers.
This past week in Cairo provided another example of how intelligence agencies can maintain productive relationships — even when diplomatic relations are severely frayed or even non-existent.
The entire effort, under the inexperienced Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, was coordinated by Egypt’s generally secretive intelligence agency. It had a lot of contact and joint projects with Israel’s Mossad during Hosni Mubarak’s decades in the presidency. The connection was not severed.
As our book reports in detail, the Mossad department known as Tevel (“Universe”) often acts as an alternative foreign ministry. It has had contacts, since the birth of the State of Israel 64 years ago, with Arab and Muslim leaders who would never admit having anything to do with the Jewish state. Tevel diplomacy in Morocco laid the groundwork for the historic trip to Jerusalem by Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat in 1977, and the Mossad has an unacknowledged presence in some of the Arabian Gulf nations.
Wikileaks revealed a diplomatic cable that included the ruler of Bahrain confiding to U.S. officials that the Mossad has a station in his country. We can also report with confidence that Meir Dagan, director of the Mossad from 2002 to 2010, met with officials of Saudi Arabia. It is noteworthy that the head of Saudi intelligence is Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, the former ambassador to Washington who made a point of being in cordial contact with American Jewish leaders. In Jordan in 2008, Prince Bandar met with Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and discussed Iran and the chances for peace with the Palestinians.
The Mossad’s general take on clandestine contacts can be summed up with the phrase, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
Thursday morning’s media reports from all over Israel reflected mixed feelings, with the start of a ceasefire that ended 8 days of violence between Israel and Gaza.
Residents of Ashkelon (a southern port city within range of Hamas rockets) told Israel Radio that they wish the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) had continued to pound Hamas — to weaken the enemy even more.
The defense minister, Ehud Barak, said the government is well aware that there’s still a possibility that the IDF will have to roll into Gaza. But he favored the ceasefire at this point, when weighing all the factors. As for the claim that the Hamas faction made major gains — practically being recognized as rulers of an independent state, when they negotiated with Egypt and had contact with other governments — Barak scoffed: “Oh, the last ceasefire [in 2009] was handwritten; this one was printed — that’s an achievement?”
Israel’s military and intelligence agencies are preparing, of course, for the next round — which most Israelis feel will occur at some point. Political leaders in Jerusalem (see below) congratulated the intelligence agencies for a job well done in the Gaza conflict that just ended.
Both sides — and a host of independent observers, including civilians living in Israel and in Gaza — told the story on websites and social networking tools such as Twitter. At around 1:50 a.m. Middle East time Thursday, the Israel Defense Forces tweeted a message and a list of accomplishments the IDF is claiming:
The latest round of violence between Israel and the Palestinian faction Hamas in Gaza began on Wednesday, when the Israeli air force with great specificity killed the Hamas military commander. Even as the death toll stood at 3 on the Israeli side, and kept rising to well over 40 on the Palestinian side, the conflict reached new levels of tension when rockets were fired from Gaza toward Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
We can now update the number of missiles that were fired at the greater Tel Aviv area (known in Hebrew as Gush Dan) on Saturday: not two, as previously reported, but three. One was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, which has made many Israelis feel very proud. Its radar and computer array calculates the eventual destination of a rising rocket — so that it doesn’t waste approximately $30,000 per intercept by firing at rockets that aren’t going to hit populated neighborhoods. Many people on the Tel Aviv beach on Saturday looked up and saw the explosion in the air, when the Iron Dome protected them by destroying an incoming projectile.
Since the start of this mini-war, six missiles were fired at Gush Dan. They are called Fajr missiles, and they are made in Iran. They were smuggled into the Gaza Strip by way of Sudan (where the Israeli air force is reliably reported to have carried out two air strikes — very far from Israel — in recent years, to disrupt smuggling routes that start with the arrival of ships from Iran). The last IAF attack on Sudan was three weeks ago, when a huge storage area was destroyed.
A Fajr missile is 6 meters (about 19 feet) long and weighs 900 kilograms (about 2,000 pounds, or one ton). The warhead itself weighs 180 kilograms, including 90 kg. of explosives.
Compare that with the rockets that have been fired, for years, at Israeli towns in the south — close to Gaza. Those are Katyusha or Grad rockets, carrying only 7 kg. of explosives.
The impact of a direct hit by a Fajr would be very significant. One might say that a Fajr is equivalent to more than 20 suicide bombers, as those people each carried 3 to 5 kilograms of explosives on their bodies.
The range of a Fajr is up to 72 kilometers (45 miles), so indeed Tel Aviv can be reached. Israel intelligence believes that hitting Tel Aviv is an explicit and important goal for Hamas.
It is estimated that Hamas and PIJ (Palestinian Islamic Jihad) still have two or three dozen Fajr missiles, after the initial Israeli air raids on Wednesday targeted the Fajr storage areas in Gaza with great accuracy. Intelligence about these long-range missiles had been collected — with a high priority — by Aman, the military intelligence agency, and Shin Bet, the Israeli domestic security agency that has a long history of penetrating and eavesdropping on terrorist cells and organizations. Israeli intelligence sees this as a success, as of now, using humint (human intelligence) and sigint (signals intelligence) capabilities.
Some assassinations by Israel have been kept secret, never confirmed by the Mossad (which doesn’t have a spokesman anyway) or other security agencies in Israel.
But Wednesday’s targeted killing of Ahmed Jabari, the military commander of Hamas — the radical Islamist Palestinian faction in Gaza — was officially confirmed by the Israel Defense Forces. The IDF even issued a silent, black-and-white video of Jabari’s car being blown up: a rare instance of a nation boasting about an assassination and displaying it on worldwide TV and websites.
Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, speaking on Al Jazeera English television, said the killing of Jabari was the start of an offensive officially titled Operation Pillar of Defense. (In Hebrew, it is Pillar of Cloud, a Biblical reference to the form that God took when He led the Hebrews toward the Promised Land during their Exodus from Egypt.)
The IDF also said on Wednesday that its air force accurately struck at least 20 sites where rockets and launchers were stored underground by Hamas and by Islamic Jihad. The Israelis say the Palestinians had recently launched hundreds of rockets at Israeli towns, schools, and forces.
Based on previous occasions when senior Hamas men were killed by Israel — sometimes announced, and sometimes confirmed only by a wink and a nod by Israeli officials — there is reason to expect the Palestinian radicals to attempt harsh retaliation against Israelis. Hamas activists are hinting that suicide attacks and other creative and bloody responses may occur soon, as well as a likely hail of rockets on Israeli targets.
An Al Jazeera reporter in Cairo said (on Wednesday) that Egyptian officials consider the escalation of violence in Gaza to be “Operation Re-elect Benjamin Netanyahu.” Parts of President Mohammed Morsi’s Islamic Brotherhood party in Cairo clamored for him to break relations with Israel, and he did quickly withdraw Egypt’s ambassador from Tel Aviv.
As of Saturday night, some Israeli officials were expressing the hope that Morsi, after speaking on the phone with President Barack Obama, might help the United States by pressing Hamas for a ceasefire. Obama also reached out to Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, and he hurriedly arranged a trip to Cairo — for consultations and possible ceasefire contacts.
A former Director of Central Intelligence is one of the readers of Spies Against Armageddon who are praising the book by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman, who were the authors of a best seller on Israeli intelligence in 1990 titled Every Spy a Prince.
After reading Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, James Woolsey — who is well versed in the history of CIA cooperation with Israeli espionage and security agencies — wrote:
“Raviv and Melman have redefined the gold standard for nonfiction about intelligence. This remarkable history of Israeli intelligence from the War of Independence to Stuxnet calls it straight. By describing the roots of both the triumphs and the screw-ups thoroughly and fairly, the authors help us see not only how Israel’s survival has been effectively protected — but the huge debt the rest of us owe.”
The reviews at Amazon.com are uniformly 5 stars out of 5. One is by Joseph Gelman, co-author of a fascinating non-fiction book, Confidential: The Life of Secret Agent Turned Hollywood Tycoon, Arnon Milchan. Milchan is among the dozens of colorful characters in Spies Against Armageddon, in part because – before becoming one of the top movie producers in the world — Milchan took part in covert missions that helped Israel obtain materials it needed for its unacknowledged nuclear weapons. Shimon Peres, now president of Israel, coordinated much of that work and now has very high praise for Milchan. Here is what the author Gelman wrote about Raviv and Melman’s new book:
“A gripping read. Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman do it again! As a life-long student of Israeli intelligence history and capabilities, I have always found Raviv and Melman’s work over the decades to be indispensible and cutting-edge. ‘Spies Against Armageddon’ is chock-a-block with stunning material. I could not put the book down. For a sweeping history of Israeli intelligence accompanied by nail-biting descriptions of field operations, this is a must read.”
In 2004, during the Second Intifada, Israeli intelligence officers invited two journalists to a cafe to discuss corruption stories involving Yassir Arafat, with a view to smearing the then-Palestinian Authority leader.
As the conversations got going, a third, uninvited journalist dropped in to the café on a tip-off that the meeting was taking place.
Excited by the possibility of taking part in Mossad psychological warfare, he offered to pose as a foreign writer who would seduce and sleep with Afarat’s wife, Suha, in order to extract secrets from her.
Although Mossad declined this particular offer, this tale of espionage-sleaze is just one of many James Bond-worthy episodes in Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, a colourful new history of the history of the intelligence agency by journalists Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman.
The book was a “pure journalistic endeavour”, says Mr Melman. “I didn’t have to swear allegiance to any intelligence agency,” he says, although the book had to be submitted to Israel’s military censorship authority.
Spy-glamour aside, Spies Against Armageddon has a serious aim: to dispel myths about Mossad, the spy agency that inspires the greatest number of conspiracy theories in the world.
On the Munich Olympics murders in 1972, the widely-held view, as disseminated by books and at least two films, was that Mossad embarked on a global vengeance mission against those who carried out the attacks.
The book argues that Mossad targeted Palestinian cells not as revenge but as part of long-term strategy to disrupt the PLO terror infrastructure in Europe.
The proof of this, Mr Melman says, was that two of those assassinated post-Munich were only indirectly involved in the Olympic attack. They were, however, key players involved in ongoing operations against Israel.
“Most of Mossad’s work is in intelligence gathering. Only five per cent are special assignments, and very few of those involve killing,” Mr Melman says.
A case in point was Wolfgang Lotz, who joined Mossad in the early 1960s and was one of the agency’s true 007s. He almost certainly assassinated no-one – his skill was in using his “convivial nature” and “passion for women and wine” to work his way into Egyptian high society and extract defence secrets from generals. Using a tiny radio hidden in a riding boot, he telegraphed reports to Tel Aviv.
As John le Carré noted, the best spooks do not kill their enemies – they make friends with them.
The Summer Olympics in London aren’t over yet, but knock-on-wood there haven’t been any significant security issues. While Israeli officials have accused Iran and its terrorist allies of “warfare” against the Jewish state, the Mossad was not predicting any attacks at the Olympics.
(below: Israel’s Olympic team at the opening ceremony in London)
This year, however, Israel’s government says “excellent intelligence” has prevented attacks on Israelis in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Thailand, and other countries. In a litany of Iranian and Hezbollah sins, Israeli officials – to get the attention of Americans – always include the plot, alleged by federal prosecutors, in which an Iranian agent based in Texas was planning to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador by bombing a restaurant in Washington, DC.
The Olympics do always remind Israelis of their countrymen — 11 Israeli athletes — murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the Games in Munich, Germany, in 1972. But Israeli analysts did not feel that Iran or the radical group it finances, the Lebanon-based Hezbollah, had similar aims at the London Olympics. Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization – disguising its role in 1972 by having the attackers call themselves Black September – had concrete reasons to try to grab the world’s attention at the Olympics. The PLO felt that no one was doing anything to help the Palestinians, five years after Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza in the Six-Day War.
Western intelligence agencies do believe that Hezbollah and agents of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) are plotting more attacks against Israelis – after the rare, but shocking, success by a suicide bomber in Bulgaria last month that killed five Israeli tourists.
The Iranians, however, are more likely to select low-profile, soft targets. They have no need to confront the massive, multi-layered security mounted by the British army, among others, in London.
“It is a one-sided attack,” Israel’s President Shimon Peres insisted to CNN recently. “Israel is not threatening Iran.” He refused to comment on statements, from high-level sources familiar with Israel’s campaign against Iran’s nuclear program, that Israeli operatives have been committing acts of violence inside Iran. Specifically, the sources said, Mossad operatives – in the espionage agency’s special operations unit called Kidon (“Bayonet”) have assassinated at least four nuclear scientists in Tehran in the past three years.
The Mossad’s intention was to intimidate other scientists, so that they would shun the nuclear program. Peres would say only that Israel has a right of self-defense, and “our policy is prevention.” He seemed to be referring to possible retaliation for terrorist strikes such as the one in Bulgaria, but his words apply equally to what Israel’s intelligence community is doing inside Iran.
Well-placed sources have also pointed out an extra concern that Mossad’s Kidon (Bayonet) unit faces when it operates in Iran: the need to stay far away from Iran’s Jewish minority.
Kidon – somewhat comparable to America’s Navy Seals who found and killed Osama bin Laden last year – managed, over the decades, to infiltrate into several enemy capitals. In Damascus, Syria, in early 2008, Kidon operatives planted a car bomb which killed the Hezbollah military chief, Imad Mughniyeh. He had been on America’s list of Most Wanted Terrorists since the mid-1980s.
According to officials who have revealed a little bit about Kidon, it is a highly secretive group – its operatives never using their real names, not even around Mossad colleagues – that keeps to itself and might seem to be beyond the reach of the spy agency’s standard rules.
Yet the Kidon unit respects a strong, if unwritten, regulation: not to use local Jews as spies or saboteurs in their home countries.
There are approximately 25,000 Jews still living in Iran, long after most fled in the wake of the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Despite what some published reports have suggested – in part misreading hints in our book about transportation routes and safe houses – the Mossad has not used them in sabotage and assassination missions in Iran.
Israeli spies may well feel conflicted, however, because much of their work has involved protecting or rescuing Jews. Ever since declaring independence in 1948, the nation took upon itself the responsibility of being not only a Jewish democratic state, but the homeland for Jews anywhere on the globe.
Intelligence agency chiefs have always felt obliged to be guardians of their brethren, far and wide. This self-appointed duty can put Jewish communities in a delicate situation, as their governments and neighbors may accuse them of dual loyalty.
Two units of Israel’s intelligence community – Nativ, which specialized in helping Soviet Jews, and Bitzur, part of the Mossad – organized Hebrew education, self-defense, and secret emigration to Israel. The Israelis learned – at a painful cost of seeing Jews tortured and executed in Egypt and Iraq in the 1950’s – not to use local Jews as spies inside what the Mossad calls “target countries.”
In Iraq, in late 1951, around one hundred Jews who had agreed to spy for Israel were arrested – and two were hanged. In Egypt, dozens of young Jews – involved in an Israeli sabotage campaign aimed at humiliating then-President Gamal abdel Nasser – were rounded up in 1954. Two members of the group were hanged, and six others were given harsh prison sentences. An Israeli intelligence officer, Max Bennett, committed suicide in an Egyptian jail cell.
In any Arab country where Jewish citizens were accused of spying for Israel, life quickly became intolerable for the entire Jewish community.
The Mossad felt that this applied to every nation on earth, not only Arab lands, and agency directors decided to avoid putting local Jews in sensitive situations anywhere. There were minor exceptions: A Jew might be used for a little bit of logistical advice or assistance – a low-level relationship which the Israelis referred to as being a sayan (“helper”) – but never to act as an agent or a spy in their own home country.
There was one glaring violation of the rule, and it has roiled United States-Israel relations for 27 years: the arrest in Washington of Jonathan Jay Pollard, a civilian who abused his job in U.S. Naval Intelligence to procure secret documents for Israeli handlers. It turned out that the Mossad did not run Pollard. He had offered his services to an Israeli military officer, and it was a special unit of the defense ministry in Tel Aviv that accepted Pollard’s offer.
The head of that unit, known as Lakam (a Hebrew acronym for Science Liaison Bureau), was Rafi Eitan, an unusually adventurous Israel intelligence operative whose career included the capture of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Argentina in 1960.
Eitan gambled, by running an American Jew as a spy; and it was the American spy who lost. Pollard was sentenced to life in prison. Other American Jews working in the defense and intelligence fields immediately found themselves under suspicion of disloyalty. Eitan, however, turned out fine: Lakam was disbanded, but he got a cushy government-sponsored job and later served as a cabinet minister.
The bitter Pollard experience only strengthened the Mossad’s resolve not to use Jewish locals as spies. Thus the agency carefully avoids contact with Jews living in Iran. Yet Israeli officials say privately that they will continue to act in innovative, secret ways against Iran’s nuclear program – because that is far preferable to having all-out war break out.
As readers worldwide receive their copies of Spies Against Armageddon, the new history of Israel’s intelligence services by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman, reviews are beginning to appear. The first one at Amazon.com, unsolicited by and unbeknownst to the authors, is written by a former Reuters correspondent who was based in Israel for a long time, Alan Elsner.
Here is what Elsner wrote:
israel spy, covert operations, Dan Raviv, Yossi Melman, Spies Against Armageddon
This detailed and exciting account of the history of the Israeli secret services, including the Mossad, the Shin Beth and others less well-known to the public, should be required reading for anyone interested in the history and politics of the Middle East. It is even more relevant because its opening chapter deals with the ongoing Iranian nuclear crisis and Israel’s clandestine efforts to derail and delay the Iranian nuclear program.
The book clearly benefited from detailed interviews the authors conducted with leading players, some now deceased. The authors themselves are a winning team of a well-known Israeli reporter and a veteran American correspondent (full disclosure, I was a reporter in Israel for several years in the 1980s and knew one of the authors quite well.)
Starting with the founding of Israel in 1948, the book runs through some well-known episodes such as the kidnapping of Adolf Eichmann from Argentina to stand trial in Jerusalem. But there are many other vignettes that were unknown to me — and I consider myself something of a professional student on Middle Eastern history. There is a comprehensive account of how Israel built its own nuclear program with help from France and others. The story of how Israel managed to persuade an Egyptian Air Force pilot to defect, bringing with him his top secret Soviet plane, could be the subject of a fantastic movie all by itself. Thus, Israel became the first Western nation to acquire a Soviet MiG-21 and it was a treasure trove for U.S. intelligence.
In another chapter, the authors describe Israel’s success in protecting its civilian aircraft from hijackers and bombers — and America’s refusal to imitate some of the Israeli techniques despite repeated warnings. Had our leaders listened, we may have averted 9/11.
The authors show that contrary to popular opinion, the Mossad has generally been reluctant to kill its adversaries. It preferred to threaten and deter them if possible, with assassination a last resort. But they state unequivocally that Israel has been behind the murders of several Iranian nuclear scientists in recent years.
There is also a vivid and full account of the decision to destroy a Syrian nuclear plant in 2007. I had no idea before reading this account how close the Syrians were to developing a weapon. Their graphite reactor would have gone operational and started to produce plutonium within weeks had the Israelis not taken it out in September 2007.
The Mossad and especially the Shin Beth are not perfect. They have made major blunders — such as failing to anticipate the start of the Yom Kippur War. The Shin Beth fell victim to excessive brutality against Palestinians in the territories and mishandled the two Intifadahs. Israel has made strategic decisions, such as invading Lebanon in 1982, that produced short-term success and longer-term disaster.
But what comes across to me most vividly in this book is the resourcefulness, courage and sheer inventiveness the men and women of these services have so often displayed. Israel is still at war, surrounded by enemies who wish to destroy it. These secret services are on the front lines. Often, what they do averts greater threats through their ingenuity.
Since its early days, Israel has developed a doctrine of not relying on others for the defense of the nation. This doctrine comes out of the painful lessons learned during the Holocaust. But the Iranian crisis is testing many long-held beliefs and assumptions, confronting policy-makers and especially the Prime Minister, with one of the most agonizing decisions any Israeli leader has ever faced.
This book will make readers more aware of the stakes, the opportunities and the dangers. (photo of Alan Elsner, now with The Israel Project in Washington DC)
“Spies Against Armageddon often reads like a thriller, but it’s non-fiction. These two world-class journalists take us to places we’ve never been before…. I learned so much reading this book. I know you will, as well.”
– Wolf Blitzer, CNN Anchor
“Wonderful. Great sourcing, and it reads like a thriller.”
— Bob Schieffer, host of CBS’s Face the Nation
“Raviv and Melman have redefined the gold standard for nonfiction about intelligence.”
— James Woolsey, former Director of Central Intelligence
“Buyer beware: Once you crack the cover of Spies Against Armageddon, you won’t be able to put it down.”
– Daniel Silva, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Fallen Angel
“The revelatory research amassed in SPIES AGAINST ARMAGEDDON is nothing short of stunning…. Highly recommended!”
Al Jazeera’s English-language TV service has a new documentary, alleging that there is evidence that Yasser Arafat may have been poisoned by a radioactive element, polonium-210. Naturally, people around the world paying attention to this – Palestinians definitely among them – suspect that Israel took a byproduct of its nuclear program and used it to turn Arafat into a sickly, weak man. Arafat died in a hospital in Paris in November 2004.
The Al Jazeera documentary, by an American reporter, Clayton Swisher, said the poisoning possibility is reminiscent of the slow but certain death suffered by a Russian dissident in London, Alexander Litvinenko, in 2006. An investigation discovered that polonium had been slipped into tea that he drank. British authorities suspect that a former KGB officer was sent from Moscow by Vladimir Putin to do the deed.
Now a Swiss laboratory, as seen on TV, tested some of Arafat’s clothing and detected unusually high levels of polonium: weak traces, it turns out now, but still a lot stronger than would be expected in the natural environment. The clothing was furnished to Al Jazeera by Arafat’s widow, Suha.
The Palestinian Authority says it now agrees to have Arafat’s body exhumed, so that more tests can be conducted for radioactive toxins.
In Spies Against Armageddon (Chapter 20, “Hope and Despair”), we turn to the issue of how Arafat died. And if he was poisoned, who did it: Israel? Or enemies within the PLO?
While his health was failing, in his partially destroyed presidential compound in Ramallah (on the West Bank), and then after he succumbed to whatever it was in the Paris hospital, speculation was flying high.
We reveal that the idea of killing Arafat was discussed by Israeli intelligence chiefs and the inner cabinet of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Senior officers in the army (the Israel Defense Forces) and in the military intelligence agency Aman were in favor of taking harsh action against Arafat – one way or another. The defense minister at the time, Shaul Mofaz, was overheard whispering into Sharon’s ear: “Let’s get rid of him,” meaning Arafat.
But – based on many interviews with Israeli officials, political activists, military officers, and intelligence professionals – it seems almost certain that Sharon rejected all proposals to kill Arafat or even to have elite military commandos “snatch” Arafat and expel him from Palestine.
Here is an excerpt from Chapter 20, which notes that Arafat did not leave his compound in Ramallah for three years, even as Israel’s air force bombed the building:
Living in crowded conditions, with poor hygiene and no running water, Arafat’s health deteriorated markedly. European peace mediators who visited him were worried about the world icon, in his mid-70s, apparently fading away from day to day. They asked the Israelis to permit Arafat to leave, so he could get medical treatment in Europe.
The intelligence chiefs convened a special meeting on the subject in late October 2004 and debated whether to grant a favor to the Palestinian leader. On one hand, it would make Israel look kind and just. But there were objections that he was not so terribly ill, and he would probably recover and then go on a worldwide propaganda tour.
The military suggested that it could forcibly evacuate Arafat: grab him, put him on a stretcher, rush him out of the building and take him to a clinic somewhere. Prime Minister Sharon rejected that, saying the hustle and bustle might kill Arafat – and that would look terrible for Israel.
The prime minister actually sided with the softer faction that leaned toward letting Arafat go. Sharon felt that leaving Arafat – certainly a celebrity and to many in the world a hero – to die in his smashed compound, without medical treatment, would do serious diplomatic damage to Israel.
So, France and Jordan were permitted to organize the Palestinian leader’s exit: on a stretcher, in a helicopter, in a wheelchair, and then onto a French military airplane. Apparently, it was too late to save him. He died within two weeks, in November 2004, but that sparked a new, mysterious controversy. What was the cause of death? The French military doctors treating Arafat refused to specify, at least in any public statement.
Rumors swirled that Israel had poisoned him, perhaps little by little adding lethal substances to the air in his compound in Ramallah or sneaking poison into his food. There also were rumors that Arafat was gay, and it might have been AIDS that killed him.
Israeli intelligence knew of indications that Arafat – who for decades had been “married to the movement” – was not intimately interested in women. This knowledge came into play during a rare encounter between Mossad officials and Israeli journalists, a few years before Arafat’s demise.
Intelligence officers invited two journalists to a private chat, mostly about Arafat. The Mossad clearly wanted to spread scandalous stories about Arafat being corrupt.
A third journalist, who was truly an intelligence junkie, made a point of dropping into the coffee shop where the conversation was taking place and practically invited himself to join in. Excited by the possibility of taking part in Mossad psychological warfare, he offered to pose as a foreign writer who could approach Arafat’s wife Suha and get secrets from her – and he volunteered to sleep with Suha as part of an espionage escapade.
The Mossad said no, thanks.
Prime Minister Sharon thought that the downside of being accused of killing Arafat was not worth the advantages of being rid of him. Arafat already seemed to be an irrelevant leader, a spent force, whose true traits – unreliability and slippery untrustworthiness – were discovered not only by Israel, but by the international community. Quite a few senior PLO members were fed up with him, too.
After his death, one fact that added to the rumors that Arafat might have died of AIDS was his wife’s refusal to allow the Palestinian Authority to conduct an autopsy. Was she afraid that her husband’s sexual orientation might be discovered? And what made her change her mind now, appearing on Al Jazeera to demand that his body be fully examined almost eight years later? Perhaps it is worth mentioning that at the time of Arafat’s death, his wife was suspected by senior Palestinians to have hidden away vast sums of money for her own comfortable life in Europe.
Why didn’t she send some of her husband’s clothing out for tests in 2004? It certainly is possible that someone, on her behalf or the instructions of others, tainted the belongings with polonium – after reading about the Litvinenko case in London.
Perhaps adding further confusion, a senior Palestinian intelligence officers, early last year, accused Arafat’s successor Mahmoud Abbas (known as Abu Mazen) of corruption. The accuser also mentioned that Arafat had been poisoned with polonium.
It seems that Abu Mazen is about to order that Arafat’s grave – a place of political pilgrimage in Ramallah in the West Bank – be opened, so that the longtime guerrilla movement leader’s remains can be examined. Will everyone accept the findings of such an examination?
Perhaps one of the mysteries of the past decade can be cleared up; but probably not. In the meantime, the real issues between Israel and the Palestinians – how to restart peace negotiations and work seriously for a compromise peace between the two peoples – are left again in a fog of distraction and disagreement.
We’re thrilled to have received some questions at SpiesArmageddon@gmail.com and through Twitter where we are @SpiesArmageddon—including folks asking where the book can be ordered. Well, official publication date is July 9, 2012, so no one’s supposed to have our book until then. But it can be ordered now!
israel spy, covert operations, Dan Raviv, Yossi Melman, Spies Against Armageddon
In the new world of publishing, including websites that have truly transformed the books industry, the roll-out of a new product is not perfectly predictable. But, to let you in on the process, here is the state of play.
First, we don’t mind sharing with you the decision by Levant Books, and we agree, to dispense with the expensive hardcover book stage. We believe there are some urgent issues and revelations in our book, and we wanted to make it available as widely, affordably, and quickly as we could. So Spies Against Armageddon will be a paperback right away—and an ebook, in all the various forms of ebooks.
At Amazon.com the paperback of Spies Against Armageddon can now be pre-ordered, for delivery on the publication date: http://amzn.to/MyVmTQ
We expect that the ebook version for Kindle will also be at Amazon, any day now.
At BN.com our book is now available as an ebook for the Nook, and we hope you will find $7.55 to be an attractive price: http://bit.ly/MsYwqY .
You will also see there our previous book, about U.S.-Israel relations, called Friends In Deed.
Another ebook site we can recommend is Kobo, which has a strong following in Europe. Our books are at: http://bit.ly/Opocrf
Thank you for your interest, and as authors we are finding the new world of publishing quite interesting. We hope you’ll see us in the media, discussing Israeli espionage, the West’s confrontation with Iran’s nuclear program, and other Middle East issues, starting around July 9.
The massacre at the Munich Olympics in 1972 was a shock to the entire world — and certainly to Israel. Palestinian terrorists killed two Israeli athletes in the Olympic Village, and then another nine were massacred later at a German airfield.
Many published accounts say the Mossad — Israel’s secret agency for foreign operations — then embarked on revenge: sending hit squads to Europe and Lebanon to kill any Palestinian involved in planning the Olympics attack. But, our book Spies Against Armageddon reveals, it really was a tactical move: to step up a war against the PLO and its secret offshoot Black September. Israel believed that European governments were not doing enough, so the Mossad was assigned to kill key Palestinian militants and demonstrate that Israel would not turn the other cheek.
Mosab Hassan Yousef—the son of the founder of Hamas, is back in Israel for a a month for a speaking tour and trip to Israel’s Parliament, according to The Washington Post.
In his autogiography, entitled “Son of Hamas,” Yousef told stories of the times he prevented suicide attacks and worked as a spy for Israel. His father, Sheik Hassan Yousef, is in an Israeli prison and wants nothing to do with his son. The son is now a Christian living in California, according to the paper.
“In his memoir,” according to The Post, “Yousef described growing up hating Israel and admiring the violently anti-Israel militant group his father helped found more than two decades ago. Israeli forces imprisoned him in 1996 after he bought weapons, but he says he became disillusioned with Hamas while in prison. He began working with Israel’s Shin Bet security service, which routinely tries to recruit Palestinians of all factions as informers, including those in prisons, by using blackmail or promising benefits, such as work or travel permits.”
Shin Bet is one of the agencies scrutinized in detail in Spies Against Armageddon, the forthcoming book by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman about Israel intelligence and covert operations.
Catching up with new technologies, Yossi Melman and Dan Raviv — whose next book, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, won’t be out until July 9 — now have their book on U.S.-Israel relations available for the first time as an ebook. See: http://amzn.to/LVOPlk
Friends In Deed: Inside the U.S.-Israel Alliance, 1948-1994 is now available on Kindle, and very soon will be found on all ebook platforms. In 1994, this was their follow-up book to their national best seller, Every Spy a Prince.
Friends In Deed, in the Melman-Raviv style, is filled with colorful true-life characters who forged the powerful relationship between one of the world’s largest and most powerful countries and one of the world’s tiniest nations. What does the United States see in Israel, and vice versa?
In 1994, Library Journal wrote: This is one of the most readable accounts of U.S.-Israeli relations in recent years. Both authors have impeccable credentials in the field of journalism and Israeli politics and successfully coauthored Every Spy a Prince, which detailed the activities of the Israeli intelligence community. As they chronicle the political give-and-take between the two countries from Harry Truman’s presidency onward, fascinating pieces of the hardball reality that is international politics float to the surface. Thus, we learn that it was the Israelis who suggested focused bombing raids to eliminate Saddam Hussein during Desert Storm; during the 1980s, Israel was so well received in Washington that Secretary of State George Shultz and others would solicit Israeli help in getting certain pieces of legislation passed by Congress. Eminently readable,Friends in Deed is highly recommended for all libraries with collections in this field. (by David P. Snider, Casa Grande P.L., Ariz.)
Publishers Weekly wrote: Raviv and Melman here examine the growth of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington, the spread of American popular culture in Israel, the profound effect of the Six-Day War on American Jews, the importance of the link between American Christians and Israel, and many other events and developments in the unique, complicated partnership between the two countries. The authors explore tensions in the relationship, such as defense secretary Caspar Weinberger’s attempt to torpedo relations between President Reagan and Prime Minister Menachem Begin, the strain placed on the alliance by the arrest of secret agent Jonathan Pollard by Israel in 1985, and the “hate at first sight” reactions of both President George H.W. Bush and Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. Raviv and Melman suggest that the Jewish community in America is becoming less of a rock-solid base of support for Israel and that each succeeding generation shows signs of being less connected to the Jewish state. Readable and informative, this account will have an even wider readership than the authors’ bestselling Every Spy a Prince. Raviv is a CBS News correspondent; Melman is an Israeli journalist.