[On Friday September 21st, The Jerusalem Post newspaper published its review of SPIES AGAINST ARMAGEDDON by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman. The review was written by the newspaper's Berlin-based European correspondent, Benjamin Weinthal. Here is Weinthal's review of the book.]
But without sources, human sources within the enemy centers, you will never discover the kinds of plots that unfolded on September 11.” With these words, Markus Wolf, the former head of the now-defunct German Democratic Republic foreign intelligence service, explained to me 10 years ago in an eastern Berlin cafe the categorical imperative of perfecting human intelligence.
Wolf (1923-2006), son of the famous German Jewish playwright Dr. Friedrich Wolf, very likely knew that the Palestinian Black September group planned to take Israelis hostage at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. Famously known as “the man without a face,” he garnered the reputation as one of the great spymasters of the last century because of his enormous ability to engage in the granular intelligence work of infiltrating the highest levels of the Federal Republic’s chancellery and NATO with human resources.
Wolf’s departure point was human resource penetration – a straightforward albeit frequently neglected tactic by advanced Western services – which has been the overriding espionage method of the various Israeli intelligence services.
With their new book, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, Israeli intelligence journalist Yossi Melman and American CBS national political correspondent Dan Raviv travel deep into the weeds of Israel’s intelligence agencies and the people-intensive work of the men and women responsible for Israel’s security.
Melman and Raviv meticulously document “the Mossad’s reliance on human intelligence expertise – humint” over the span of the birth of Israel’s espionage work in the late 1940s to the reported Mossadengineered targeted killings of Iranian scientists working on the clerical regime’s illicit nuclear weapons program. It should be noted that the authors stress the plural over the singular when writing about Israel’s intelligence apparatus and its diverse divisions.
The book has garnered intense attention in the Islamic Republic of Iran and in the United States for its chapter entitled “Assassins” … A July New York Times article headlined “Tehran Abuzz as Book Says Israel Killed 5 Scientists” explored the reception in Iran.
Melman – widely considered to be the gold standard of Israeli news gathering and analysis on the opaque world of Israeli intelligence – and his co-author, Raviv, demystify the preconceived notions about the all-consuming mastery of the Jewish state’s espionage work. The blunders associated with the Lavon affair – an Inspector Jacques Clouseau-like operation – resulted in the capture of Egyptian Jews aiding Israel in 1954 within its most populous Arab neighbor, Egypt. As a result of the severe incompetence of the Israeli mission, the authorities hanged two Egyptian Jewish students and meted out long incarceration sentences to others.
Despite the setback of what Israelis would later call “esek bish” (a rotten affair) in Egypt, Israel’s intelligence services scored a series of impressive achievements in the decades ahead, catapulting its reputation into espionage stardom.
Melman and and Raviv bring to the fore the agents behind the capture in Argentina of Adolf Eichmann – the Nazi official largely responsible for overseeing the elimination of the vast majority of European Jewry. The joint Mossad-Shin Bet operation sent 67 agents to apprehend Eichmann and transport him back to Jerusalem for a trial. Israel’s judiciary sentenced Eichmann to death in 1962. The role of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) in the capture of Eichmann is part and parcel of the book’s analytical breakdown of special operations. There is no shortage of descriptions of colorful and lively intelligence agents and agency heads in the book. and anecdotes of their escapades abound.
What sets Spies Against Armageddon apart, however, is the attention to ordinary Israeli intelligence personnel who employ a revolutionary discipline to preserve their “country’s existence in a hostile world.”
The goal of Israeli covert action and intelligence gathering is, after all, to avoid military conflicts, to punish the murderers of Israelis and blunt Islamic-animated terrorism for its tiny population.
Take the example of Yehudit Nessyahu, the top female agent on the Eichmann team, who did not seek fame with a book about the mission. She was born in 1925 in the Netherlands, mastered several languages and, “as a religious woman… prepared only kosher food during the Argentina mission – even for the notorious Nazi.”
The peculiarity of Israel’s nascent intelligence services was underscored in the famous “revolt of the spies,” in which personnel from the Foreign Ministry engaged in labor defiance in the formative stage of reorganization, refusing to be transferred to the freshly minted Mossad division operated by Reuven Shiloah. Only in Israel could a group of covert agents exercise their right to strike! Israel’s interplay with American intelligence officers provides a window onto the court of US-Israeli intelligence cooperation and a relationship that would transform both countries into long-term allies. The authors excel at showing the ebb and flow of the US-Israel covert relationship.
John Hadden, the CIA’s station chief in Tel Aviv, neatly summed up the mix of admiration for Israel’s top leader coupled with his professional job to extract information.
In 1965, while visiting his wife, who happened to share a semi-private hospital room with David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, Hadden described his chats with “the old man” Ben-Gurion.
“Imagine two weeks with Churchill,” he exclaimed. Hadden, however, did not secure any information from Ben-Gurion on Israel’s developing nuclear program.
James Jesus Angleton, a top CIA official who served as director of counterintelligence from 1954 to 1975, arguably made the greatest contribution to solidifying ties between US and Israeli intelligence. His bond with Amos Manor, then head of counterespionage within the Shin Bet and later its director, paved the way for the staying power of Israeli-American intelligence cooperation during the rocky period of US president Dwight Eisenhower’s administration. After Angleton’s death in 1987, Israel built a memorial honoring Angleton.
Spies Against Armageddon is packed full of information on key phases of Israeli covert operations, from the destruction of Syria’s nuclear reactor in 2007 to the reported assassination of Hamas weapons smuggler Mahmoud Abdel Rauf al-Mabhouh in a Dubai hotel room in 2010 to the Stuxnet computer worm that infected Iran’s nuclear computer technology the same year.
Though Markus Wolf did not dismiss the use of technology to enhance human intelligence, he consistently relegated sophisticated gadgets to an inferior status in the gathering of foreign intelligence information. Melman and Raviv write in their concluding chapter, “Into the Future,” that “The one thing that the opponents cannot match – at least, not so far – are Israel’s humint assets.”
In short, the world of Israeli covert operations is not governed by a situation like chess grandmaster Gary Kasparov’s defeat in 1997 to the computer Deep Blue. Israel’s intelligence services will have to both develop the Deep Blue technology of the future and at the same time have operatives in place in their neighbor’s back yards in order to stop new dangers.
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.
Dan Raviv, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, was invited to join a panel of experts at the Potomac Institute in the Washington, DC, area on Wednesday. An audience that included current and former security officers, retired heads of State Department counter-terrorism, and journalists heard presentations — including Raviv’s.
Raviv put together a list of basics that almost surely would be included in any Israeli advice to security planners at the Summer Olympic Games getting underway this weekend in London:
What’s the Israeli role in Olympic security?
Israeli experts are often consulted, because Israelis have acquired a lot of experience. Sadly, that’s because Israelis have frequently been attacked by terrorists. Also, Israel’s security and espionage agencies have developed strong counter-terrorism strategies.
Most dramatically and sadly, of course, is the fact that 40 years ago — at the Summer Olympics in Munich — 11 Israeli athletes were killed by Palestinian terrorists. (The terrorists called themselves Black September, but that was really just a disguise for Yasser Arafat’s P.L.O.)
What would Israel’s advice of expertise be?
There are the basics: Observe people arriving in the UK at ports and airports. Be alert for anything unusual, anything amiss.
Observe the crowds arriving at Olympic venues.
(It is not fashionable to admit, but Israel does use “profiling” : where people who look like Middle East terrorists might be subject to more interrogation or surveillance — but above all what the Israelis are looking for is someone acting in a suspicious way. They are “profiling” people’s actions : their travel patterns, for instance, and whether they seem evasive when answering a few simple questions. That’s why security guards at Israel’s airports — and before you board any flight to Israel — do question every passenger.)
Prepare good perimeter security, including CCTV and other observation systems. Have armed officers in the crowds, many of the officers in plainclothes.
Be aware of how to “shoot back.” Carefully choose your weapons, and have well-trained officers who know to shoot accurately.
Have a plan for crowd control, in case something terrible does happen.
Have a place prepared to bring any criminals or terrorists: every Olympic venue ought to have a place prepared as a jail or brig, to hold someone until the police can take them away to more secure locations.
Does Israel expect an attack at the London Olympics? Do you?
One of the Sunday newspapers had a big headline saying there’s a danger of an attack by Iranians or the Hezbollah radicals from Lebanon who are financed by Iran. That report said Israelis could be the targets.
But I don’t think Iran or Hezbollah have any strong reason to carry-out an attack on the Olympics. Hezbollah would prefer to hit a “softer” target — without so much security. They also prefer to be somewhere with a lot less police and military presence: thus leaving what experts call “a low signature,” trying — as in the suicide bombing in Bulgaria this month that killed 5 Israelis and a local bus driver — to leave very few clues.
I’m afraid that Hezbollah and Iran probably will keep trying to attack Israeli targets, and those usually would be civilians. Attacks were foiled recently in Thailand, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and even in Bulgaria early this year. That was a result of good intelligence — Israel’s “Mossad” working with the C.I.A. and other Western agencies.
But intelligence agencies cannot be perfect. They cannot pretend to be a kind of “insurance company” protecting every tourist who travels in the world.
Israel is determined to use covert action to stop — or slow down — Iran’s nuclear program. So a pattern of tit-for-tat violence may well continue.
But I don’t expect it to happen at the Olympics.
The danger, in London, is more likely from a lone wolf. Think, for instance, about the attacker in the cinema in Colorado last week (who killed 12 people). At the Olympic venues themselves, of course, we don’t expect anyone to approach with heavy guns and body armor.
But authorities, during a high-profile time in London, should keep their eyes open — everywhere in the British capital, and perhaps everywhere in Europe.
Silva, on NBC’s Today, about Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman: “No one knows more about the Mossad than these two guys.”
On the NBC Today Show on Tuesday morning, as bestselling thriller writer Daniel Silva was discussing his brand new book, The Fallen Angel – again featuring his fictional Israeli intelligence officer and assassin, Gabriel Allon — NBC’s Matt Lauer asked Daniel to name his three favorite books for this summer.
The authors of Spies Against Armageddon, Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman, were as surprised as anyone at what Daniel Silva said in the last minute of his appearance on Today. He named Dan and Yossi and told Matt Lauer: ”I write about fictitious Israeli intelligence officers. They write about the real thing. No one knows more about the Mossad than these two guys.”:
It was part of a series on the Today Show called “Sizzling Summer Reads.”
And, from the Today Show website, here are Daniel’s responses, when asked for his favorite books to read this summer — and one of the non-fiction books he mentions is near and dear to this blog’s heart:
We took the opportunity to ask New York Times bestselling author Daniel Silva, whose new thriller, “ The Fallen Angel ” arrives in stores this week, about his choices for this summer’s sizzling reads for three specific criteria: a book for the beach, a book for a rainy day and a book for under the covers. Check out the titles he selected.
At the beach
“The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln” by Stephen Carter (Knopf)
“It’s great alternative history by a great American novelist and legal scholar who also happens to be a great friend.”
For a Rainy Day
“The Quality Instinct: Seeing Art Through a Museum Director’s Eye” by Maxwell Anderson (American Association of Museums)
Anderson is the Director of the Dallas Museum of Art. “Max will take you behind the scenes of a museum and teach you how to look at pieces of art and understand why they’re important, why they’re worthy of being displayed on a museum’s wall.”
Under the Covers
“Spies Against Armageddon” by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman (Levant Books) “I write about fictitious spies, but Dan and Yossi write about real Israeli operatives. These two journalists know more about the Israeli intelligence community than anyone.”
The White House has abandoned “nation-building” and opted for a “small footprint” strategy of special operations missions and drone attacks in the Middle East. If this is the direction for American foreign policy in the region (at least for the short-term), there’s a lot to be learned from the Israeli experience and Spies Against Armageddon offers a deeply researched account of how Mossad and other Israeli intelligence agencies operate when confronting threats to the Jewish state.
Take, for example, the sensitive topic of state-sponsored assassination (covered in detail in Chapter 22 of Spies Against Armageddon). It is a practice frowned upon by the international law community (which considers assassinations of suspected terrorists to be “extrajudicial killings”), but one that has been employed by the Mossad in its fight against terrorism.
Historically American political leaders have been queasy about endorsing assassinations and confronting the difficult legal and moral questions they raise, especially when the targets are far from armed conflict zones. After the revelation of CIA involvement in assassination plots in Cuba, Vietnam, the Congo and elsewhere, President Gerald Ford signed an executive order banning assassinations in 1976. In the aftermath of 9/11, the Bush Administration relaxed prohibitions against “targeted killings” arguing that they were a form of self-defense*. Predator drones began firing Hellfire missiles at Al Qaeda and Taliban militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan. President Obama has dramatically expanded these drone strikes, making them the central tactic in American counterterrorism efforts.
In fact, Obama’s enthusiasm for, and acceleration of, “drone wars” has disturbed many of his liberal supporters. The revelation that Obama himself reviews the “kill list” of targeted terrorists, and decides their fate, has been an unsettling image for many. In his Esquire piece “The Lethal Presidency of Barack Obama,” Tom Junod directly challenges the President’s current direction: “You are the first president to make the killing of targeted individuals the focus of our military operations, of our intelligence, of our national-security strategy, and, some argue, of our foreign policy.” Junod adds: “Since taking office, you have killed thousands of people identified as terrorists or militants outside the theater of Afghanistan. You have captured and detained one.”
In contrast, Spies of Armageddon argues that the Israelis take a more restrained approach to targeted killing. They prefer the scalpel to the hammer. Raviv and Melman note that:
The Israelis are very selective in their use of assassination as a foreign policy tool, despite the public perception (aided by movies like Munich) that they rely on hit squads. Raviv and Melman claim that since the creation of Mossad in the early 1950s “it has been involved in only a few dozen killing operations—certainly fewer than 50.”
Their targets tend to be key operational players in terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, or technical support people (bomb-makers, nuclear scientists). Spies Against Armageddonmade headlines around the world in reporting that it was Mossad agents, not Iranian rebel groups, responsible for the killings of Iranian nuclear scientists.
They don’t go after top political figures.
They won’t, and don’t, kill Israeli citizens.
In contrast to this selectivity, the drone programs operated by the U.S. military and the CIA have been aimed at thousands of militants in an increasing number of countries. Drones have been employed in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia. And most disturbingly, President Obama and his surrogates have claimed the authority to kill American citizens deemed to be terrorists without judicial review or due process. Attorney General Eric Holder has argued that administrative due process is enough—a bizarre position for the nation’s top legal official to take.
It’s not hard to see why the Obama Administration has turned to drones to counter Islamic jihadism. It avoids the costly, and unpopular, use of American combat troops in the Middle East. It does keep Al Qaeda and the Taliban off balance. And it does protect Obama politically from right-wing attacks that he is soft on terrorism.
Yet it doesn’t appear that policy makers have thought through the practical, legal, and moral issues surrounding their reliance on targeted killing. The Obama Administration’s position on targeting American nationals without judicial oversight is a terrible one, arrogating to the President the “power of kings” to kill his subjects). There’s also the question of how long this approach can be sustained. Boston University’s Andrew Bacevich, for one, has questioned this continuing “whack-a-mole” approach: “How many Hellfire missiles do we launch from drones before the last violent Islamic radical is either dead or decides that the cause is futile and puts down his arms and goes home?”
These aren’t easy issues to address. Spies Against Armageddon makes it clear that within the Israeli government there is a continuing debate over the limits of action and the ethical boundaries for intelligence agencies in a democratic state. It’s heartening to know that such debates are taking place in Jerusalem. We can only hope that they are happening in Washington as well.
*Lethal force may be employed in self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter.
Spies Against Armageddon, the new history of Israel’s intelligence community published in English on July 9, is about to be available in Hebrew.
Yediot Books in Israel is publishing a translation of the book — with the title, Milkhamot ha-Tzlalim: ha-Mossad v’Kehilat ha-Modiin, by Yossi Melman and Dan Raviv.
The title translates literally as “The Shadow Wars: The Mossad and the Intelligence Community.”
Articles based on the book will be featured in one of Israel’s top selling Israeli daily newspapers, Yediot Ahronot, which is affiliated with the publisher.
Israelis have, of course, read a lot about the espionage and security agencies tasked with protecting the Jewish state; but the new book by Melman and Raviv will reveal new stories — some from as far back as the 1950s, and others concerning Syria and Iran making new headlines now.
The new book in Hebrew is expected to be in bookstores all over Israel starting Monday, July 16.
In English, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars will be available at bookstores and is already sold through this site and at Amazon.com and other on-line bookselling sites — as a paperback and in all e-book formats.
“The shadowy men on motorcycles who were behind the assassinations of four Iranian nuclear scientists in recent years were Mossad agents,” writes Yaakov Lappin in The Jerusalem Post, “not foreign mercenaries, according to a new book on the history of Israeli intelligence services.”
The book in question, of course, is Spies Against Armageddon, the inside story of Israeli intelligence service and covert operations by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman. Melman was interviewed about the book here by The Jerusalem Post.
“This technique of hitting the scientists has worn itself out,” Melman told The Post. “It won’t stop the nuclear program. It is one tool in the box.”
Melman told The Jerusalem Post, speaking of the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists in Tehran: “It’s very hard to assume that such a delicate, sensitive mission was carried out by hired guns or mercenaries.”
Melman added: Iran “is not a hermetically sealed state. The agents operating in Iran face the highest level of danger. These people are endangering their lives more so than on missions in say, Lebanon, which is not a police state.”
Spies hit Iranians, book says
Columbia Daily Tribune … published today, authors Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman say Israeli operatives have killed at least four Iranian nuclear scientists, including targeting them with operatives on motorcycles, an assassination technique used by the Israeli spy service … See all stories on this topic »
Another wave of hangings by Iran’s Islamic government is expected, after officials announced recently that twenty Iranians were arrested, allegedly for helping Israel assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists.
Executions are just a matter of time, as Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) is out to show that it is not completely helpless in the face of four assassinations and one failed attempt in the streets of the capital, Tehran, over the last two years. Israeli officials refuse to comment on who specifically might be guilty or innocent, but they publicly expressed their joy that “God’s finger” had acted against Iran’s nuclear program. They also indicate that no credence should be placed in the “confessions” that will doubtless be televised by Iran.
Before Majid Jamali Fashi was hanged two months ago, as the convicted “murderer” of a nuclear scientist in January 2010, the 24-year-old kick boxer was shown on official TV reciting a tale of having been flown to Israel for training by the Mossad. His interrogators, who probably wrote the confession for him, had seen far too many B-movies about spies and were wrong on many details, including the location of Mossad headquarters.
In Spies Against Armageddon, our in-depth study of fifty years of assassinations by Israel’s foreign espionage agency—including conversations with current and former Mossad operatives and those who work with them in countries friendly to Israel—yields the conclusion that Fashi and the twenty other suspects now being held were not the killers. The methods, communications, transportation, and even the innovative bombs used in the Tehran killings are too sensitive for the Mossad to share with foreign freelancers.
Instead, the assassinations are likely the work of Israel’s special spy unit for the most delicate missions: a kind of Mossad within the Mossad called Kidon (Bayonet). Kidon operatives are even more innovative, braver, and physically fitter than other Mossad men and women. Again and again, they have fulfilled their missions without leaving much of a trace. The Israeli government has never confirmed Kidon’s existence or its actions.
The assassinations of physicists and nuclear scientists in Iran have been what Israelis call “blue and white” operations, referring to the colors of their nation’s flag. Without giving full details, senior Israeli officials have revealed that fact to counterparts in the CIA and the White House. In at least one instance, U.S. officials were obviously displeased that the Mossad took action at a delicate juncture in multilateral nuclear talks with Iran.
Although Iran has no diplomatic relations with Israel and bans any visits by Israelis, Mossad operatives seem to have no trouble entering and leaving the country. Despite being a heavily patrolled police state, Iran has long borders that stretch across mountains and wasteland. Two of the neighboring former Soviet republics, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, provide an excellent launching pad for cross-border penetrations. Also, for over half a century now, the Mossad has cultivated close cooperation with Kurds— who were stateless, but now run the Kurdish autonomous zone of northern Iraq which borders Iran. Israel used to secretly help Kurds when they were oppressed by Iraq’s government, and the Mossad has excelled in living by the ancient dictum that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
Israeli intelligence has also expressed an interest in collaborating with disaffected minority groups inside Iran. Meir Dagan—the director of the Mossad from 2002 through 2010—was quoted in a State Department cable obtained and released by Wikileaks. He is said to have told a senior American official in 2007 that disaffection among Baluchi, Azeri, and Kurdish minorities could be exploited by the United States and Israel. In addition, Dagan suggested supporting student pro-democracy activists, if only to cause unrest inside Iran.
The official summary said Dagan felt sure that the U.S. and Israel could “change the ruling regime in Iran and its attitude toward backing terror regimes,” and that “we could also get them to delay their nuclear project.” According to the cable, Dagan said, “The economy is hurting, and this is provoking a real crisis among Iran’s leaders.” The minority groups that the Mossad and CIA could support or exploit are “raising their heads and are tempted to resort to violence.”
Economic woes and high unemployment have only become worse in Iran, as U.S.-led sanctions have begun to bite. From the Mossad’s perspective, unhappy and aimless young males in Iran represent an opportunity to recruit sources of information, agents who can be trained, and even mercenary or rebel armies.
Yet for such a sensitive, dangerous, and daring mission as a series of assassinations in Iran’s capital, the Mossad would not depend on hired-gun mercenaries. They would be considered far less trustworthy, and there was hardly any chance that the Mossad would reveal to non-Israelis the unique methods developed by the Kidon unit.
Naturally, no one in Jerusalem was talking about any operational details of how Israelis entered and left Iran—or where they stayed while inside the Islamic Republic. Since the beginning of the State of Israel in 1948, its covert operatives have never found it difficult to masquerade as locals in every corner of the vast Middle East.
There were many possibilities. Obviously, Israeli operatives traveled using the passports of other countries, including bogus documents produced by skilled Mossad forgers and genuine passports where the photographs might be altered slightly. The spy agency’s use of phony, borrowed, and probably stolen non-Israeli passports has been inadvertently revealed several times, over many years. After a Mossad team led by Kidon assassins killed a Palestinian Islamist militant in a hotel in Dubai in January of 2010, the local police chief gleefully displayed video footage from security cameras that showed surveillance teams doing their shadowy work—frequently changing wigs and eyeglasses—and even the men wearing tennis whites, shorts, and others with baseball caps who were almost certainly the killers.
The police chief, General Dahi Khalfan, showed the visages of 27 men and women, displaying photos from their apparently bogus passports. Although the British, Australian, and Irish governments expressed anger at the Mossad for abusing their passports, diplomatic damage to Israel was minimal. In fact, Meir Dagan was fully satisfied with the outcome of the Dubai operation: The target—Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, in charge of arms acquisition for Hamas—was dead. All the Mossad operatives returned safely to Israel. And no one was arrested or even accurately named.
Over the years, some stories about Kidon’s prowess have leaked to the public. With the little that was known about them, The Team’s operatives were considered synonymous—in Israel and outside—with assassins, liquidators, and murderers.
More broadly, there is a Mossad mythology that is based on decades of half-truths and rumors. Many of those stemmed from the secret agency’s “war of the spooks” against Palestinian radicals in the 1970s all over Europe—as a response to the massacre of eleven Israeli athletes at the Summer Olympic games in Munich, Germany, in September of 1972.
“Our attitude was that in order to defend ourselves, we have to go on the attack,” former Mossad chief Zvi Zamir told us. “Those who accuse us of being motivated simply by revenge are talking nonsense. We didn’t wage a vendetta campaign against individuals. It was a war against an organization, aiming to halt and prevent concrete terrorist plans. We concentrated on what was expected to happen.”
Zamir’s analysts found it satisfying that PLO activists in Europe and at their headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon—rather than devoting their energies to terrorist planning—were now looking over their shoulders, out of fear that they themselves were about to be attacked.
The truth, however, about the myth is that since the Mossad’s creation in the early 1950s, it has been involved in only a few dozen killing operations—certainly fewer than 50. But the public imagination worldwide has been captured by the notion of constant assassinations, and the Mossad might find it difficult to refute the image with facts. So it does not bother.
Dagan clearly believed in assassinations, and he did not shy away from planning missions in the heart of enemy countries. A Kidon squad managed to plant itself in Damascus, Syria, long enough to locate and kill Imad Mughniyeh in February of 2008. Mughniyeh, the Hezbollah faction’s military chief and a veteran hijacker and bomber, had long been on America’s list of most wanted terrorists.
Overall, Dagan could be proud that during his eight years in charge, there were more killings by the Mossad in enemy or “target” countries—Lebanon, Syria, Iran, and the United Arab Emirates—than ever before. In the past, such activities had mostly been confined to the safer “base” countries where Israelis did not necessarily have to pretend to be something else. The change to a bolder pattern was the “dagger between the Mossad’s teeth” that Ariel Sharon, the prime minister who appointed Dagan, had demanded.
Despite tactical successes in Iran, the Mossad and its top political master—Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—know that the entire Iranian nuclear weapons program will not be demolished by assassinations of nuclear scientists and military officers.
Yet, any delay in Iran’s nuclear work represents an achievement for Israel. Their strategic thinking—exercised in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere—holds that temporary disruptions to an enemy’s dangerous projects are sufficient cause for taking significant risks.
This was even truer when it came to killing Iranian specialists, who worked on unique tasks that required years of study. These men were not available in abundant supply, despite Iran’s relatively large and advanced technological infrastructure. The assassinations have also had a strong psychological objective: sending a loud and clear message to scientists that working for the nuclear program was dangerous. The Mossad was telling them, in effect: Stay in your classrooms. Do your academic work. Get your research published. Enjoy the university life. But do not help Iran go nuclear. Otherwise, your career could be cut short by a bullet or a bomb.
Indeed, Israeli intelligence noticed that the assassination campaign was paying off, with what it called “white defections”: Iranian scientists were scared, many contemplated leaving the program, and some actually did.
With rare exceptions, they did not depart Iran and defect to the Western or Israeli side, but they dissociated themselves from the nuclear program. There were also indications of scientists being reluctant to join the program, despite lucrative terms offered by the Iranian government.
The intimidation campaign definitely showed an impact on foreigners. While in the past, Chinese, Russians, Pakistanis and others were happily accepting invitations—and high pay—to work in Iran, the only ones who still seemed attracted were North Koreans.
Mossad chief Dagan was pleased by the missions in Iran and the “cleanliness” of their execution: no clues, no fingerprints, not even motorcycles left behind. Iranian authorities could only guess who was attacking, in broad daylight, in their capital.
Yet the deeply intimidating impact that Dagan aimed to create in Iran seems to be exhausted. This is apparent to Tamir Pardo, the new head of the Mossad who had been Dagan’s deputy. (Dagan actually advised Netanyahu to appoint another candidate.) The baby-faced Pardo is soft spoken, but his body language is misleading. Pardo is no less shrewd and cunning than his predecessor.
But the new director has a reputation for knowing that one should not push one’s luck too far. Iran is becoming more dangerous for Mossad and other foreign intelligence operatives. One can expect a halt, at least temporarily, of the assassination campaign.
Dagan, in retirement, has become outspoken in his opposition to a military strike by Israel against Iran. He warns that retaliation by Iran and its proxies could be highly damaging to normal life in the Jewish state. Dagan also believes that an attack by Israel would unite most Iranians around their regime and would give Iran’s scientists and engineers a major reason to speed up their underground nuclear work.
His private advice boils down to pointing out that there is still plenty of disruption to be accomplished within Iran by sabotage, assassinations, and a truly innovative weapon—cyberwarfare. The worm called Stuxnet, that took over Iranian nuclear lab computers, was a product of Israeli and U.S. intelligence agencies working together; and it was not the only computer virus created by the highly skilled programmers in both nations.
While Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak seem highly skeptical that international economic sanctions will persuade Iran to cancel its nuclear bomb program, Dagan and other former and current intelligence officials believe that sanctions are biting and could be a major factor in the ayatollahs’ thinking.
Dagan, in particular, seemed unconcerned by Barak’s public warning that Iran was entering a “zone of immunity”—a situation in which air raids by Israel’s limited air force could not reliably destroy a good deal of Iran’s nuclear potential. Dagan seems confident that, in order to prevent Iran from developing nukes, the United States would attack Iran. His analysis is guided by years of close ties with the George W. Bush and the Obama administrations. “I always prefer that Americans will do it,” he told the very few journalists he has met since he left office.
Dagan sees a strong possibility that, depending on circumstances, the United States will strike at Iran. He told Mossad staff members that economic factors in the modern world are powerful. He explained that he carefully studied the motivations of American leaders in formulating foreign policy and realized that the United States went to war in Iraq—twice—because of energy interests.
Dagan, it seems, has reached the conclusion that the U.S. would not allow Iran to have nuclear weapons—not only out of concern that a messianic Shi’ite regime might use the bomb or intimidate Israel—but mainly because Iran would become the most powerful nation among energy producers.
The United States, in the world according to Dagan, would not permit that to happen.
Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman, authors of the best seller Every Spy a Prince: The Complete History of Israel’s Intelligence Community (1990), are authors of a new book, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars (Levant Books: 2012). Available in paperback (Link: https://www.createspace.com/3905559 ) and all e-book (Link: http://amzn.to/MMT5Fx ) formats.
In a series of interviews about Spies Against Armageddon, Charles Grodin questions the book’s co-author Dan Raviv about the history of Israeli intelligence. In a brief way, it is Chuck Grodin’s return to interviewing.
Grodin — perhaps best known as an actor who starred in the hit movies Midnight Run (with Robert De Niro), The Heartbreak Kid (with Cybil Shepherd) and two Beethoven films (with a St Bernard dog) – had a nightly talk show on CNBC in the mid-1990s. He is a radio commentator, the author of several best-selling books, and an activist for prison reform and other issues.
#2. In the second of their four chats about Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, the book’s co-author Dan Raviv and interviewer Charles Grodin turn back to the late 1970s, when Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat broke every conceivable taboo by visiting Israel and launching peace negotiations. Dan covered the peace talks for CBS News. This conversation underlines America’s important role in helping Israel achieve peace with Egypt and, later, with Jordan. (runs 2:20)
#3. In the third of their four conversations about Israel’s security agencies, Charles Grodin asks Dan Raviv – co-author of Spies Against Armageddon – about Israel’s unacknowledged nuclear arsenal. Why does Israel have nuclear weapons? They discuss Israel’s intention of maintaining not only nuclear ambiguity, but also nuclear monopoly – not letting Iran or Syria develop the world’s most dangerous weapons. (runs 3:35)
#4. In their fourth chat about Israeli intelligence, interviewer Charles Grodin asks Dan Raviv – co-author of Spies Against Armageddon – about the Mossad’s reaction to the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972. Did Steven Spielberg get it wrong, in his movie, “Munich”? Chuck Grodin also asks whether Israel totally trusts the United States, in the spirit of Barack Obama’s statement this year, “I’ve got Israel’s back!” (runs 2:57)
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.
The neo-Nazi, Willi Pohl, is said to have helped Black September (actually PLO) terrorists in West Germany without knowing what they were planning. Pohl’s Wikipedia listing in German says he moved to Beirut, Lebanon, where a neo-Nazi apparently could feel comfortable living among sharply anti-Israel militants; and he is known for writing crime novels under pseudonyms.
Palestinian terrorists murdered 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, and many published accounts said Israeli government assassins then waged a revenge campaign against any Arab connected with the crime. True, there were assassinations by the Mossad. In Spies Against Armageddon, to be published July 9, Yossi Melman and I write that it was “more than vengeance.” The head of the Mossad at the time, Zvi Zamir, tells how targets were chosen — and this was a campaign meant to step-up the war against PLO terrorism in Europe, because European governments were not doing enough. When terrorists were caught and imprisoned in most European countries, authorities would release the Palestinians from captivity — sometimes because the PLO hijacked a passenger airliner and demanded their release.
The frustration felt by Prime Minister Golda Meir and the Mossad is clear now, and ex-Mossad chief Zamir also harbors resentment toward the Hollywood film director Steven Spielberg. Spielberg’s movie, Munich, suggested that one Mossad hit squad ranged across Europe on vengeance missions that, in the end, were pointless. And Zamir found it offensive that the movie — and the book upon which it was based (Vengeance, by George Jonas) — portrayed Israeli assassins who suffered pangs of conscience and were haunted by conflicted feelings. The ex-spymaster says that is nonsense.
Meantime, Israel has been rebuffed in its request that the London Olympics paused for a moment of silence, in memory of the 11 slain athletes from 40 years ago. A House of Representatives committee in Washington has publicly endorsed the call for a moment of silence.
One of Washington DC’s most popular tourist attractions — the International Spy Museum (link: SpyMuseum.org) – is about to focus on Israel’s unique and innovative intelligence community,
Dan Raviv, the CBS News correspondent–co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars–will be the lecturer at the International Spy Museum for a lunchtime program on Tuesday, July 10, 2012. Raviv plans to highlight some of the main points in the new book, officially published just the day before his lecture appearance. He will be taking questions, as well.
One of the highlighted topics will be what he and Yossi Melman have been able to find out, for Spies Against Armageddon. a full twenty-two years after their history of Israel’s intelligence community, Every Spy a Prince, became a national best seller for four months.
Raviv will be taking questions from the audience at the Spy Museum, and for those unable to attend — all around the world — video of the program will be posted afterward at SpyMuseum.org and also at IsraelSpy.com.
Tickets to the lecture are free. The program begins at 12 o’clock noon.
Steven Spielberg’s new film is based on the Walter Mitty tales of a former El Al gate guard.
In 1984 the blood of the Israeli intelligence operatives and the Palestinian terrorists they hunted in “the war of the spooks” was still congealing in the back alleys of Europe when a young Israeli named Yuval Aviv teamed up with the Canadian George Jonas, a budding journalist. Aviv claimed to be a freshly defrocked Mossad assassin with a true tale to tell, and the game began.
Their resulting bestseller, Vengeance, was a detailed account of Israel’s response to the Munich massacre. In September 1972, PLO terrorists introducing themselves as the hitherto unknown group Black September stormed the Israeli dormitories at the Olympic village and took hostage a dozen members of the Israeli team. They demanded the release of their comrades from Israeli prisons. After two days of negotiation, a failed rescue attempt by German police left 11 Israelis and five terrorists dead. Israel’s prime minister, Golda Meir, summoned General Zvi Zamir, the head of Mossad, and instructed him to kill all the PLO operatives directly and indirectly involved.
Seen through the eyes of “Avner”, Aviv’s undercover persona, the story told by the book seemed to marry well with factual newspaper accounts of how Israel eliminated the Black September killers. It was made into a film – Sword of Gideon – and Jonas and Aviv reaped substantial rewards for their “scoop”.
However, our investigations show that Aviv never served in Mossad, or any Israeli intelligence organisation. He had failed basic training as an Israeli Defence Force commando, and his nearest approximation to spy work was as a lowly gate guard for the airline El Al in New York in the early 70s. The tale he had woven was apparently nothing more than a Walter Mitty fabrication.
How, then, did Steven Spielberg and his producer, Kathleen Kennedy, choose Aviv’s tale as the source for their film Munich? Last July, when we approached the film’s producers, the Spielberg PR machine denied any connection to Aviv. But the film’s opening scene states that it was inspired by real events, and at the end it gives a credit to Jonas’s book.
During shooting, numerous offers to provide the production team with the facts of the case were rebuffed. More than 30 years had passed since those days of deadly cat and mouse (which now seem quaint compared with the daily horrors of the war on terror) and participants on both sides were ready to talk. Yet the men who held the secrets were never contacted. The phone never rang at Zamir’s house, though he could have clarified the myths in an hour. Mike Harari, who supervised the hit teams as head of Mossad’s operations, did not receive an inquiry from Spielberg’s team. The women who represent the families of the murdered Israelis were disappointed not to be approached. Even Mohammed Daoud, the former Black September chief widely accepted as one of the Munich masterminds, was dismayed no one spoke to him.
So far, reactions to Munich have been predictable and essentially emotional. Some find it balanced, while others view it as overly sympathetic to one or other side. But what we find disturbing is that it is substantially a fiction – which, given Hollywood’s influence, may soon be regarded as a definitive account. The troubling question emerging from the film is whether there should be an obligation to historical accuracy in a work of art that portrays real-life figures such as Golda Meir and uses documentary footage to support its thesis. We believe that the answer is yes.
Fearing that influential US Jewish organisations and Israeli public opinion will criticise the film and brand it as anti-Israeli, Spielberg hired two prominent lobbyists: Dennis Ross, a former assistant secretary of state, is trying to persuade the Jewish community in America that Spielberg and his film are not hostile to Jewish and Israeli sensitivities; and Eyal Arad, a powerful PR man from Tel Aviv who works as a special strategist to Ariel Sharon, says that even if Aviv is a charlatan (Aviv himself refused to comment), the film is a piece of art and that’s how it has to be judged, like Marc Antony’s speech in Julius Caesar.
Spielberg is a man of artistic power, and with that comes responsibility. For a director who delivered such historical works as Schindler’s List, his conduct in this case resembles that of a cub journalist who chooses to run a great story rather than confuse us with the facts.
· Yossi Melman specialises in intelligence affairs with the Israeli daily Ha’aretz; Steven Hartov is editor-in-chief of the US quarterly Special Operations Report