[This analysis was written for the Israeli newspaper, The Jerusalem Post, by Yossi Melman, co-author of a history of Israeli security and espionage agencies, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.]
Turkey is the victim of a boomerang effect. The most recent terrorist attack – when a gunman opened fire on party-goers, killing 39 including an Israeli woman at an Istanbul night club Sunday morning – is just one more manifestation of the terrorism plaguing the nation.
The attack was most likely carried out by a member of Islamic State, or an avid supporter of the radical terrorist group. The gunman, armed with an automatic weapon, disappeared from the scene after the massacre and is now being hunted by the authorities.
This attack further proves that unfortunately, despite the alerts, warnings, careful surveillance and the extra security measures taken by the Turkish security services and police, it is almost impossible to stop a determined murderer unless there is precise early warning and accurate intelligence about his intentions.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is paying a heavy price for his manipulative and short-sighted policies.
Driven by its hatred of the Syrian regime when the civil war broke out nearly six years ago, it’s becoming evident that Erdogan either secretly collaborated with Islamic State, or at least turned a blind eye to its actions.
Prime Minister Erdogan
For him as well as for his regime, Islamic State was utilized as a tool to defeat Bashar Assad and stir chaos in Syria, which has a strong Kurdish minority sympathizing with Turkish-Kurds.
Erdogan was also motivated in punishing Assad personally, who in the past gave shelter to members of the PKK, the organization – listed as a terrorist group by NATO and the EU – which aims to establish Kurdish independence.
The Turkish government and its security services allowed individuals from across the world to use Turkey as a stopover on their way to crossing the border into Syria, where they later joined Islamic State.
Turkey has supplied weapons to Islamic State and purchased oil from them, thus providing the murderous group with the funds they needed in order to consolidate their horrific “state” in Iraq and Syria.
Some 18 months ago, Erdogan changed his policy. There are several reasons for this: After initially coming under pressure from the US, he then weighed the effect of Russian forces deploying in Syria. Then, the EU handed over billions to his administration under the condition that he stop allowing Syrian war refugees – among them hundreds of would-be terrorists – to enter Europe.
At that point, Islamic State added Turkey to its black list.
Since June 2015, Turkey has been the focus for terrorist attacks from both Sunni extremists and the PKK.
While the Kurdish fighters largely attempt to target the Turkish army, police and security forces, as they did a few weeks ago near Besiktas Stadium in Istanbul after a soccer game, Islamic State works indiscriminately, aiming to maim and murder as many civilians as possible.
In the last year and a half, more than 400 Turks and foreigners have been killed in various terrorist attacks. The biggest single incident took place in October 2015, in the Turkish capital of Ankara, where 100 people were killed by two suicide bombers. In fact, it was the deadliest terrorist attack in the history of Turkey. No group claimed responsibility, however, Turkish authorities suspect it was the work of Islamic State.
The group is also responsible for the terrorist attacks in the southeastern city of Gaziantep, near the border with Syria, where 50 people who attended a wedding ceremony were killed in August 2016.
Istanbul was also the target of a few attacks by Islamic State terrorists, including the attack at Ataturk International Airport in June, which resulted in the death of 44 people, and the March 2016 attack in which terrorists killed three Israeli tourists.
On the eve of the World War I in 1914, the Turkish Ottoman Empire was known as “the Sick Man of Europe.” Nowadays, modern Turkey has become the soft spot for terrorist attacks at the Asian-European crossroads.
January 2, 2017
[This analysis is adapted from an article written by Yossi Melman for The Jerusalem Post. In addition, Dan Raviv‘s 43-minute radio special on the March 22 terrorism in Brussels — and his interviews with pundits and experts on terrorism — can be heard by clicking here.]
TEL AVIV – There are eleven security and inspection points at Ben-Gurion Airport. They spread from a roadblock at the airport entrance, through the security checkpoints that all travelers expect, all the way to the gates where passengers board their flights.
That is a lot to do – involving plenty of personnel and other expense – but Israel considers it a necessary investment. Lives must be saved, and the travel industry must not be destroyed by bloodshed.
The multi-layered security is affordable — not just because Tel Aviv’s international airport is relatively small, but also because of a holistic security doctrine engraved by nearly 50 years of experience marked by blood and tears.
Since some early tragic failures, Israel has improved and upgraded its security measures on land and in the air. For decades, security experts from international airlines, police forces and security agencies have come here to learn Israeli know-how and doctrines.
Unfortunately, the non-Israelis stand up and take notice only after spectacular terrorist attacks — such as the 1988 Pan Am bombing and 9/11.
It took Western democracies a while to reach the conclusion that human life is at least as important as human rights. Most probably it will happen this time, too.
Three Muslim Bombers at Brussels Airport: The Man in the White Jacket Fled
Sure, there is no hermetically sealed security, and terrorists will always take advantage of gaps. But there is no need to be a genius to understand that what happened in Brussels this week was a colossal security and intelligence failure.
Belgian authorities admit that they knew there was a high probability of an “imminent terror attack.” Yet neither the country’s police nor its security forces increased their presence in the streets or by adding checkpoints at the entrances to the airport. No wonder three terrorists managed to enter with suitcases heavily laden with explosives, screws, and bolts. Two blew themselves up, within a minute of each other; and it was lucky that the third man lost his nerve and fled.
The Brussels tragedy – with more than 30 people murdered and almost 300 wounded – was the result of years of negligence.
For decades, Belgium’s police have been afraid to enter rough Muslim neighborhoods such as Molenbeek, in the capital. These areas first became havens for criminal gangs dealing in drugs, protection, and weapons. Then they turned into hotbeds of radical Muslim and anti-Western trends.
In recent decades, such neighborhoods across Europe have become fertile recruiting grounds for young Muslims attracted by the slogans of jihadist groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, or known by the Arabic acronym Da’esh).
Now, radicalized Muslims – hundreds and potentially thousands of them – are returning from the Syrian and Iraqi battlefields.
They are ideologically hardened and militarily trained. “For a terrorist,” former CIA deputy director Michael Morell says, “there is no better training than actually fighting in a war.”
To gather intelligence, security agencies need to penetrate terrorist networks, recruit agents, and intercept communications.
It seems that the Belgian police were either afraid or reluctant, or they lacked the determination to take the necessary steps. Perhaps all of these. These years of negligence resulted in a reality for which the Belgian public – and the world – pay the price.
Belgium’s security services lack necessary intelligence. The writing was on the wall for a long time. Since 9/11 – and then atrocities in Madrid, London, Turkey, Bali and more – the international community should have come to realize that it is at war.
Some measures were taken, but the leaders of major countries – and security agencies – were slow, even reluctant, to draw the necessary conclusions.
Islamic State surely puts its highest priority on maintaining and growing its “caliphate” straddling the Iraq-Syria border. But the group also seems determined to strike cities in Western countries. Some say that began only after the West started attacking ISIS. But exporting terrorism – and sending Muslim extremist recruits back to their home countries – was always going to be part of the ISIS playbook.
March 23, 2016
Meir Dagan, the head of Israel’s espionage service Mossad from 2002 through the end of 2010, has died at age 71. He had been battling cancer — the one enemy that he could not outwit and outrun.
Yossi Melman, co-author of Every Spy a Prince and the current history of Israeli intelligence, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, looks back at Dagan’s career — and his role as the key architect of secret sabotage aimed at Iran’s nuclear program.
On Thursday morning, after learning that retired General Meir Dagan had died, the current Mossad chief Yossi Cohen expressed — on behalf of the organization’s employees and its past chiefs — deep sorrow at the news of his death and sent condolences to the Dagan family.
Meir Dagan appeared on CBS’s 60 Minutes (with Lesley Stahl) after his retirement
Dagan, the tenth “Ramsad” (Rosh ha-Mossad, meaning Head of the Institution), was appointed by his close friend Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and served atop the organization from 2002 until December 2010.
He is most identified with clandestine operations to prevent and thwart Iran’s nuclear program and its intentions to produce an atomic bomb.
During Dagan’s tenure, he implemented far-reaching structural changes in the Mossad with the aim of making it a more operations-based organization.
While Dagan headed the Mossad, a number of operations were attributed to the organization, including the assassination of five Iranian nuclear scientists, sabotage of equipment in Iran’s nuclear facilities, and the implanting of viruses into the computers that operated the centrifuges to enrich uranium at the Natanz facility in Iran. Some of these projects — though not the assassinations — were conducted in cooperation with America’s CIA and NSA.
Another important intelligence feat that is attributed to the Mossad under Dagan was a huge amount of information obtained from a laptop computer used by the chairman of Syria’s Atomic Energy Commission. That intelligence was the smoking gun which shaped the decision by then-Prime Minster Ehud Olmert, with the tacit approval of President George W. Bush, to bomb the Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007. Israel has never publicly confirmed destroying that reactor.
Dagan enjoyed the privilege — which was very rare among Mossad chiefs, and other heads of world intelligence agencies — of befriending President Bush, who liked him and his creative mind very much.
Showing the Mossad’s impressive ability to operate in the capital city of the most hostile Arab country, Hezbollah’s military chief — Imad Mugniyeh — was assassinated in Damascus in 2008. Well placed sources described the operation as a joint effort by Mossad agents on the scene, with the CIA playing a role.
Dagan was born in the Soviet Union in 1945 to parents who were Holocaust survivors who moved to Israel after the founding of the Jewish state. He lived in Bat Yam and enlisted into the Paratroopers Brigade, becoming the commander of the Rimon reconnaissance unit which operated in the Gaza Strip during the height of a Palestinian terror wave in the early 1970s. Afterward, he was promoted to fill a number of roles in the IDF command, reaching the rank of Major General.
Among other things, Dagan is considered one of the developers of guerrilla warfare doctrine in the IDF, based on fighting — often ambushing — Palestinian terrorists in Gaza and later in south Lebanon. These operations cemented his image as a daring combatant who was ready to sanction any means to achieve his aim or target, including the assassination of terrorists.
During his time in the IDF, and especially during the Yom Kippur War in 1973, Dagan was considered a confidant of General Ariel Sharon. After Sharon became prime minister, he appointed Dagan to head the Mossad, despite some discontent expressed among the rank and file of the organization.
Dagan was known to have, at least in his early days, hawkish political views. He even joined the Likud Party.
However, during the course of his work for the Mossad, and after he left the organization, his world view became more moderate. He urged that a peace agreement be reached with the Palestinians. He argued with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-defense minster Ehud Barak about various security and diplomatic issues.
While in the Mossad, and even more so afterward, Dagan expressed his opposition to a military strike on Iran.
Dagan last year addressed a political rally of opposition parties that called on the public not to vote for Netanyahu.
In January of last year, Dagan expressed his fears about the future of Israel. “I don’t trust the leadership. I think that the prime minister and [Jewish Home party leader Naftali] Bennett are leading Israel to be a bi-national state, which in my eyes is a disaster and the loss of the Zionist dream.”
Dagan warned that Netanyahu was damaging Israel’s relations with the United States and bringing the ties to the brink of disaster. That, the ex-Mossad chief insisted, could be extremely costly for Israel.
Living in the shadow of the Holocaust — even showing visitors a photograph of his grandfather being humiliated by German Nazi soldiers — he was a strong advocate that Israel must have a strong military. Yet he also insisted that Israel needed to nurture its friendship with the United States and make peace with its Arab neighbors.
“I want to live in a Jewish state. I don’t want to be a slave master and have second class citizens,” Dagan said.
“Unfortunately, between the Jordan River and the sea, there are more than six million Palestinians, some of whom are Israeli citizens, and more than six million Jews. The policy that we are employing is very problematic on the Palestinian issue. And on the matter of our behavior toward our greatest ally, the United States. I am very worried,” Dagan added.
“After [the] Yom Kippur [War], I feared for the existence of the state of Israel. If we survived that and managed to make it, I was sure that we could deal with anything. I admit today that I have difficult questions about the directionin which the Israeli leadership is leading us,” the former Mossad chief said.
March 17, 2016
A few weeks after The Washington Post and Newsweek scored scoops by revealing that the CIA worked jointly with Israel’s Mossad to assassinate Imad Mughniyeh – the notorious Lebanese Hezbollah military commander blown to bits by a bomb in Damascus, this week 7 years ago – there’s now a second phase of revelations. Israelis who are close to the intelligence community apparently were concerned that the American side was taking too much credit. This report (summarized first at CBSnews.com) is based on the version the Israelis are telling to Western officials and diplomats.
By DAN RAVIV (CBS News correspondent and co-author of Spies Against Armageddon)
“Pe’al!” ordered the senior Mossad commander in charge of this extraordinary mission. Translated from Hebrew, this meant Go. Act. Push the button. The expert sitting beside the commander obeyed the order. He pushed the button. One hundred and thirty-five miles (215 km.) away in Syria’s capital, Damascus, an explosion tore a notorious terrorist to bits.
Imad Mughniyeh had been one of the most wanted terrorists on earth, second only to Osama Bin Laden at the time. Mughniyeh was the military and operations chief of Hezbollah: in effect the number-2 man in the Lebanese Shi’ite Muslim faction that is heavily armed and financed by Iran.
The violent man’s life met its violent end, late at night on Tuesday, February 12, 2008: seven years ago this month.
A manhunt lasting a quarter of a century had come to an end. At Mossad headquarters at the Glilot Junction north of Tel Aviv there was great relief and even celebration.
In a most unusual example of operational cooperation, a CIA liaison officer was also in the Mossad HQ – part of the logistics and decision-making process for the assassination. The Israelis understood that officials at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, were also very pleased.
The leaks published in America last month – in one case, reportedly delayed for a year or more at the request of the CIA – highlighted the CIA’s leading role.
Yet Israelis close to their country’s intelligence agencies are telling Western officials something different: that the operation was almost entirely “blue and white” – referring to the colors of Israel’s flag – with hardly any “red, white, and blue.”
Some Israelis, it seems, object to seeing the Americans taking too much credit.
What follows is based on what knowledgeable Israelis have been telling Western officials and diplomats. They say the U.S. participated in the deliberations, the intelligence gathering, the surveillance, and some logistics of the assassination – but they call the assassination itself an Israeli operation: lock, stock, and barrel.
Imad Mughniyeh was born in 1962 in the Lebanese Shi’ite village of Tayr Dibba to a poor family of olive and lemon harvesters. He moved to Beirut as a child and despite his religious affiliation, he became active in the predominantly Sunni Palestinian al-Fatah movement.
In Lebanese Palestinian reports, Mughniyeh was even described as participating in the unit of bodyguards protecting then-PLO chief Yasser Arafat. But after the PLO chairman and his fighters were forced to leave Lebanon following the Israeli invasion in 1982 – just three years after the Islamic Revolution in Iran – Mughniyeh returned to his own religious cohort and joined Hezbollah, “The Party of God,” a heavily armed Lebanese faction established and nurtured by Iran.
He quickly involved himself in some of the most outrageous Hezbollah attacks, proving his loyalty and his skills. He was trained by the chillingly skilled Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.
In a bloody two-year period – between November 1982 and September 1984 – he was a key player in several car bombing attacks against Israeli, American, and French targets in Lebanon. Among his trademarks: videotapes made by the suicide bombers and their accomplices nearby. The terrifying impact was thus magnified.
The attacks of those years included two assaults on Israeli military headquarters in the southern city of Tyre, which killed 150 Israelis and Lebanese.
He orchestrated the suicide bombings of the U.S. Marines barracks and a French military building in Beirut, killing 241 American servicemen, 58 French paratroopers, and six Lebanese civilians.
He was also a major actor in the bombing of the 1984 U.S. Embassy in Beirut, which killed 63 people. And this was just the beginning. His career would mushroom over the next two and a half decades.
In 1985, Mughniyeh personally participated in the hijacking of a TWA airliner. After it was forced to land in Beirut, a U.S. Navy diver among the passengers – Robert Stethem – was tortured and killed.
The first image of Mughniyeh, then just 22 years old, was first seen in the pages of the Western press when photographed waving his pistol near the TWA pilot’s head in the cockpit. That photo was the key evidence used by U.S. law enforcement officials to indict Mughniyeh for murder in that incident. But for Israel, it would take another seven years to realize his significance.
The Hezbollah man was the architect of the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which killed 29 people – including seven Israelis, among them one Mossad agent. This was Mughniyeh’s revenge for the Israeli helicopter attack that had killed Hezbollah’s top leader, Abbas Moussawi.
The Buenos Aires attack led Israel to acknowledge two important facts: One, that Mughniyeh would avenge every Israeli attack on his organization; and two, that Mughniyeh had to be wiped out
These realizations were further strengthened by an attack two years later, when along with his Iranian patrons, Mughniyeh masterminded the bombing of the Jewish community center in the Argentinian capital, which devastated the building and left 85 people dead.
From that point on, Israel used every opportunity it could to try to get rid of Mughniyeh. Numerous tentative plans were drawn up, but only three came into fruition.
In 1994, the Mossad conspired a devious plan to obliterate Mughniyeh: Lebanese agents working for the Mossad planted a car bomb aimed at Mughniyeh’s brother Fuad. Anticipating that Mughniyeh would attend his brother’s funeral, Israel planned to carry out their assassination of the Hezbollah military chief then: But Imad Mughniyeh, probably paranoid about possible attempts on his life, did not show up at the funeral.
A few months after Fuad’s death, Israeli intelligence managed to obtain precise information that Imad Mughniyeh was scheduled to board a flight from Damascus to Tehran using a false name.
The Mossad informed the CIA of Mughniyeh’s whereabouts, and the Americans orchestrated a redirection of the flight to Kuwait and dispatched a military plane from Saudi Arabia to bring Mughniyeh to justice in the U.S. courts.
But the CIA made a cardinal error: It disclosed to the Kuwaitis the identity of the wanted terrorist. Fearing retribution from Hezbollah should they accede to the U.S. demand, the Kuwaitis declined to order the passengers of the plane to disembark. Kuwait permitted the flight to take off to Tehran.
The next missed opportunity was completely the Israelis’ fault. After the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, the senior echelon of Hezbollah – known as the top five – paraded along the Israeli border on a victorious patrol tour. Mughniyeh was among them.
Israeli reconnaissance photographed the five and transmitted the images to Aman (military intelligence) headquarters in Tel Aviv. They were identified; and an attack plan was put into motion. Drone aircraft that could fire missiles were launched.
Western intelligence sources say they were told by Israelis later that this was a “rare opportunity to disrupt Hezbollah’s leadership.” But the order to kill never came. Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who was proud of ordering the Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon after 18 years of occupation, feared that the relative calm would be disrupted if he had Hebzollah’s top leaders eliminated.
Senior officers in the Mossad were furious. Years of painstaking information-gathering efforts were wasted. But they had no choice but to accept their political leader’s decision and to wait for the next opportunity.
Mughniyeh, as the years went by, became more cautious. Israeli intelligence learned that he went to a plastic surgeon in Beirut to alter his appearance.
He also moved to the safe haven of Tehran, where he enhanced his professional and personal ties with the Revolutionary Guards commanders – particularly with the charismatic General Qassem Soleimani, who was head of the elite Al-Quds force.
After returning to his Beirut headquarters, Mughniyeh continued to travel frequently among the triangle of the capitals of Lebanon, Syria and Iran.
The Mossad hunters, experts in human weaknesses and knowing that nobody is immune to error, waited patiently – but desperately.
Mughniyeh did indeed make mistakes, basically feeling too safe in the Syrian capital. He went to Damascus for both business and pleasure.
For his bloody business, he would meet with his master and friend, Iranian General Soleimani, to coordinate and plot strategy. Often joining them was General Muhammad Suleiman, top security adviser to Syrian President Bashar Assad and the man in charge of the regime’s nuclear reactor and its special military ties with Iran and Hezbollah.
After working hours, Mughniyeh would enjoy the pleasures that Damascus had to offer: good food, alcohol and women – most of which he would not risk indulging in back home in the religious Shi’ite neighborhoods of Beirut.
Mughniyeh had an apartment in the posh neighborhood of Kafr Sousa, home to Syria’s most wealthy businessmen and the military and intelligence cronies of the Assad regime. Feeling safe and secure due to his altered appearance and years of evading assassination attempts, Mughniyeh would travel in his SUV from Beirut to Damascus without bodyguards, often with his personal driver but sometimes alone.
Mughniyeh’s ease and confidence in the Syrian capital turned out to be hubris. The experts and spies in the Mossad and Israel’s military intelligence agency (Aman) slowly closed in on him.
The Israelis were surprised to learn, during strategic talks with their counterparts in Washington, that the Americans were just as eager to get rid of him.
Since 1975, the CIA had been forbidden by Congress to carry out assassinations – even of America’s worst enemies. But that policy changed after 9/11, when President George W. Bush ordered targeted killings using drone aircraft.
Nevertheless, in the eyes of the Bush administration – though not always understood by the Israelis – there was a huge difference between sending assassins and killing targets from the sky.
At a certain point during consultations with the Americans, then-Mossad director Meir Dagan proposed to his CIA counterpart, Gen. Michael Hayden, a joint operation to eliminate Mughniyeh.
Gen. Michael Hayden (as CIA director under President George W. Bush)
Hayden agreed, but he set two conditions: First, that no innocent people would be hurt: The Americans were very concerned by the proximity of Mughniyeh’s apartment to a girls’ school; second, that only Mughniyeh would be targeted – and that none of his Syrian or Iranian acquaintances could be touched. The United States was reluctant to stir up violent conflicts with sovereign states.
At least according to what Israelis have been telling Western officials, the Mossad did not need the CIA for active management of the operation. They had already gleaned all the details necessary about Mughniyeh’s daily routine and his hideout in Damascus.
The CIA was there, as they put it, to fill in any missing intelligence information and provide extra eyes in Damascus.
The Mossad certainly had its own excellent expertise, in its Kidon (Bayonet) special operations unit, when it came to killing terrorists. Still, the Israelis felt more comfortable having the CIA take part – even if the American role was seen as minor.
Ex-Mossad chief Meir Dagan (Dagan on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” 2012)
As agreed by Dagan and Hayden, a senior CIA official from its operations directorate was assigned to the Mossad team working on the project. The command center was in Tel Aviv.
Kidon operatives, along with Aman signals intelligence Unit 8200, monitored Mughniyeh almost around the clock, zooming in on his safe-house and the parking lot nearby. Based on previous operations, it can be assumed that the team had some physical presence in the area. It was decided that the weapon of choice would be a bomb planted in or on a car parked near Mughniyeh’s apartment.
The CIA-Mossad relations hit a bump, for a while, when the Americans got cold feet and pulled out of the operation. The CIA began to reiterate its fears of the collateral damage that such an assassination would cause – concerned, despite Israel’s assurances, about the girls’ school nearby.
The Mossad was sorry to see the CIA pull out, but the preparations continued. Nevertheless, then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ordered the Mossad to make sure that the “killing zone” of the bomb be very narrow, so that only Mughniyeh would be touched.
The “toy factory” of the Mossad and the Aman agency – their technological units – began designing, assembling and testing the bomb. It was a laborious procedure, requiring dozens of tests, until the results were satisfactory and matched the guidelines stipulated by Olmert. The process was filmed, time and again, for analysis and dissection.
Ehud Olmert, when prime minister
Contrary to the recent reports in the American media, the process of developing the bomb was carried out in Israel. Not in the U.S.
Once Olmert was confident that the bomb would be highly accurate, officials say they have learned from Israel that Olmert brought the video clips to Washington. He showed them to President Bush and asked him to bring the CIA back into the operation. The video clearly showed that the diameter of the “killing zone” was no more than 10 meters. Bush was impressed.
The next day, while he was still in the U.S., Olmert received a call from Dagan informing him that the CIA was back in.
The bomb was smuggled to Syria via Jordan, whose intelligence ties with the CIA and the Mossad had been tight and intimate for decades. The involvement of the CIA gave the Jordanians a sense of security in cooperating, in case of Hezbollah retribution.
There were two main obstacles to executing the operation. Mughniyeh’s visits to his Damascus apartment were random and could not be predetermined by the surveillance teams. Secondly, it was difficult for the teams to ensure that they would be able to secure a spot for their rigged car to be parked near Mughniyeh or his vehicle.
Eventually, the conspirators found an undisclosed operational solution which would give them enough warning time ahead of Mughniyeh’s arrival to prepare the trap.
The day of the assassination arrived: On the evening of February 12, Mughniyeh’s car was spotted pulling into the parking lot. The Mossad planners breathed a sigh of relief. The school nearby was closed for the night. Even if the bomb was unexpectedly flawed, the innocent school girls were not at risk.
But to the agony of the project managers, when the car doors opened, Mughniyeh was not alone: Iranian commander Soleimani and the Syrian nuclear coordinator Suleiman exited the vehicle with him. At the command center in Tel Aviv, the order was given: Hold.
The three buddies went up to the apartment. In Tel Aviv, the Mossad project managers and their CIA liaison waited, nervously biting their nails, on the verge of losing hope. A few hours later, the information arrived that Soleimani and Suleiman had left the apartment and been picked up by a car. The planners could now only pray that Mughniyeh would not remain in the apartment overnight.
About half an hour later, the surveillance team reported that Mughniyeh had entered the parking lot and approached his car.
In Tel Aviv, the order rang out: “Pe’al!”
The master terrorist, the Hezbollah commander whose trademark was car bombing, fell victim to his own craft in a blast of poetic justice.
Neither the United States nor America claimed responsibility for the attack, but Hezbollah guessed who was behind it and vowed revenge on Israeli and Jewish targets.
Mughniyeh’s successor, Mustafa Badr Adin, ordered attacks on Israeli embassies and tried to assassinate Olmert and senior Israeli military officers and officials.
But Badr Adin repeatedly failed. His only success was in 2012 at Burgas airport in Bulgaria, when a Hezbollah suicide bomber killed five Israeli tourists and their Bulgarian driver.
Olmert, who is now facing additional corruption charges after being indicted in an Israeli court, is loathed by the majority of Israelis. But analysts who watch the country’s security and defense policies believe that in those areas he was far-sighted, showed determination, and was willing to take risks.
In September 2007, just five months before ordering the assassination of Mughniyeh, Olmert unleashed Israel’s covert operatives and then the air force to destroy the Syrian nuclear reactor that North Korea had helped build in a remote area.
One can only imagine what the world would look like had the reactor been built and operated in an area now controlled by the brutal Islamic State (ISIS).
Six months after Mughniyeh’s assassination, Olmert approved a covert operation in which Israeli long-range snipers – apparently firing from a ship – assassinated Syria’s nuclear coordinator, Gen. Suleiman, while he dined with guests on the balcony of his villa overlooking the Mediterranean.
Days after Mughniyeh was killed, then Vice President Dick Cheney called Olmert and they exchanged congratulations for the successful operation. President Bush, too, held Olmert in high respect – reportedly telling someone he liked the Israeli leaders because “he has balls.”
Hezbollah has still not fully recovered from the loss of Mughniyeh. He played vital roles for the Shi’ite movement. He was Hezbollah’s military chief, mastermind of its most vicious terror attacks, liaison to its patron Iran for its “special operations” abroad, and responsible for the protection of his boss, Hassan Nasrallah. In short, for both Hezbollah and Iran, Mughniyeh was priceless.
Ironically, his son Jihad was killed by an Israeli airstrike on a Hezbollah convoy in January 2015. The Israelis, who have not officially acknowledged the attack in Syrian territory near the Golan Heights, were apparently not aiming specifically at young Mughniyeh – nor at the senior Iranian officer, Abu Ali al-Tabtabai, who was also killed.
Diplomatic sources said Israel was able to tell Iran, through channels, that it did not intend to kill Iranian soldiers in that strike. In addition, when Hezbollah fired rockets into Israel as retaliation for the death of Jihad Mughniyeh, Israel did respond emphatically.
The Israeli message was that – at this time, at least – war on the northern border was best to be avoided.
Some Israelis close to senior political and intelligence circles were not, however, willing to let the Washington Post and Newsweek versions of the assassination in 2008 stand uncorrected.
February 15, 2015
Another new detail has emerged about the assassination of Hezbollah military chief Imad Mughniyeh — in Damascus, Syria, in 2008.
After the bomb blast that killed Mughniyeh — a “most wanted” terrorist from a U.S. point of view and an active enemy from Israel’s perspective — Vice President Dick Cheney telephoned Israel’s then-prime minister Ehud Olmert to say, in effect, “job well done.”
This was a rare, extremely high-level joint mission. It wasn’t aimed at gathering intelligence (as other joint missions have been) but at liquidating a joint enemy.
Cheney phoned Olmert to thank him for the cooperation. Leaders in both the U.S. and Israel were satisfied.
The intention, at the time, was to remain eternally silent about the mission.
January 31, 2015
In Damascus, seven years ago – before the civil war that has killed more than 200,000 people in Syria – the military chief of Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia was assassinated.
Israel never admitted responsibility for the killing of Imad Mughniyeh, who was responsible for many attacks on the Jewish State but also lethal bombings and hijackings that took the lives of hundreds of Americans.
Suddenly this weekend, CIA sources have been telling The Washington Post and Newsweek that American intelligence officers – acting surreptitiously and courageously in Syria’s capital – were primarily responsible for assassinating Mughniyeh.
The unofficial but reliably based Israeli version of events confirms that Israel and the U.S. were acting together. Israeli officials refuse to say whether Israeli (Mossad) operatives were on the ground in Damascus, but based on their successful similar operations in Beirut, Lebanon, it would seem logical – if daring – for the Israelis to be there.
The Israeli version confirms the new reports’ assertion that the signal to detonate the bomb that killed MUghniyeh was transmitted from Mossad headquarters in Tel Aviv; and that might reflect the CIA’s reluctance to engage in assassinations.
The new accounts say that in Washington the CIA had to make a case – because of U.S. legal concerns – that Mughniyeh continued to pose a potent, deadly threat to Americans. The Post reported that President George W. Bush enthusiastically approved of the killing, after CIA director Michael Hayden felt uncomfortable about the mission.
How this seemed different from the drone strikes that killed dozens of alleged terrorists is not clear.
In our book, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, we wrote of unprecedented cooperation in recent years between the Israeli espionage agency, Mossad, and the CIA – including joint operations which would have seemed unthinkable prior to 9/11.
*THEY COULD’VE GOTTEN A SENIOR IRANIAN
Sources close to the Israeli side of the mission confirm that the Mossad was acting jointly with the Americans – and they confirm that the CIA was very concerned that “collateral damage” be avoided, including the possibility of killing of a senior Iranian operative who was with Mughniyeh in Damascus. That man was identified as Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps officer in charge of liaison with Hezbollah.
The Israeli side suggests that its desire to include Soleimani in “the hit” was vetoed by the Americans.
Our sources continue to say that Mughniyeh was not as careful as he should have been, because in Syria’s capital he was “fooling around” with women. In Beirut, especially as a senior officer of the conservative Hezbollah (Shi’ite Muslim) movement, he would not have engaged in such reckless behavior.
In Damascus, Mughniyeh was visiting a girlfriend – and that was his fatal downfall.
January 31, 2015
[This is adapted from an article written for The Jerusalem Post by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon and previous books on Israeli intelligence and national security.]
While all eyes in the world were on Paris following the terror attacks this month, President Barack Obama announced the appointment of David Cohen to be the deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The CIA has been seen as a WASP stronghold since it was founded.
Just in the last decade-and-a-half individuals from minority groups in the US have begun to obtain middle and high-level positions at the agency. The number of Jews on staff at the CIA has been, and remains, relatively few. In the past, the CIA representative in Israel was Jewish. There was a Jewish man who was CIA director in 1995-1996, John Deutch.
David Cohen’s official Treasury portrait
Cohen can now be considered the second most important Jewish figure in the Obama administration following the Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew, who has been Cohen’s boss at Treasury.
Cohen will replace Avril Haines who was the first woman to ever hold the office of deputy director. Haines will join the White House as Obama’s deputy national security adviser.
The appointment of Cohen, who has no experience in an intelligence organization, also signifies the direction in which the CIA and other Western organizations — including Israeli intelligence — are headed in the face of new challenges.
One challenge is summed up by the catchphrase “follow the money.”
Cohen’s appointment is good news for Israeli intelligence units that track terror financing and that follow Iranian attempts to circumvent the sanctions regime. Cohen has visited Israel a number of times to discuss these issues with intelligence personnel who also met with him in Washington.
Cohen served in his prior position at the Treasury for the past three-and-a-half years and was responsible for overseeing the US sanctions regime against Iran in order to stop its nuclear arms program.
Cohen, 51, is married, has two children and is the son of a doctor. Raised in Boston, he does not give special mention to his Jewish background in interviews, seemingly in order not to be labeled by the Jewish community as “one of our own.”
He studied at Cornell and at Yale, where he completed his law degree and researched nuclear management. He served as a law clerk to a federal judge and then joined the ranks of a law firm specializing in white collar crime. After nine years he joined the US Department of the Treasury.
At the start of his career at Treasury, Cohen was a legal advisor. During the administration of President George W. Bush, Cohen was involved with the drafting of the USA Patriot Act of 2001 that limited civil rights in the aftermath of the September 11 terror attacks.
After he was appointed under-secretary at the Department of the Treasury, Cohen was involved primarily in the issues of terror-financing and the sanctions against Iran. His firm positions on these issues earned him the nickname, “the sanctions guru.”
Cohen worked with the US intelligence community and with those of US allies including Israel during this role. During his contact with Israeli intelligence officials he helped the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) in its efforts to stop the flow of money to Hamas, but especially in its efforts to follow the financing of Hezbollah and Iranian efforts to evade the economic sanctions against it.
Recently Cohen has placed an emphasis on the effort to dry up funding sources of Islamic State (ISIL or ISIS).
“The financing of ISIL presents a challenge for us that is different than ones we have faced in the past. It has accumulated a large amount of capital, unprecedented in its speed; and its sources of funding are different from most of the other terror groups in the world,” Cohen said in a speech three months ago.
“In contrast to al-Qaeda, for example, only a small amount of ISIS funds come from donors with deep pockets, so the funds are not dependent on international money transfers. Instead, ISIS accumulated its wealth from criminal and terror activities,” Cohen said, likely in reference to ISIS gains from ransom payouts and revenues from oil.
Assuming the West reaches a deal with Iran this year that curbs Iran’s suspected nuclear arms ambitions, in exchange for the removal of the sanctions regime, the greatest challenge facing David Cohen in his new role as deputy director of the CIA will be tracking the financing of the Islamic State.
January 19, 2015
[The following is adapted from an article written for The Jerusalem Post by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.]
Like insurance companies, intelligence agencies cannot guarantee full, fail-safe coverage.
The French security service can’t have information about every terrorist cell, certainly not about individuals or couples who conspire to carry out acts of terrorism. As a reminder, even the highly reputed and effective Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) didn’t know about the plan of a Hamas cell in Hebron to abduct Israelis last June, a terrorist incident that resulted in the murder of the three Israeli yeshiva students — then retaliation against an innocent Palestinian youth, and then a 50-day war between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers.
In the case of the kidnap which triggered a global crisis, it took the Shin Bet a few weeks until it tracked down the murderers and their helpers.
“Intelligence is not going to predict when a fanatic goes from being a radical thinker to a violent terrorist in most cases,” Bruce Riedel, a former top CIA analyst, told Reuters. He said French security agents cannot monitor all potential suspects “24 hours a day.”
These are wise words of truth. Yet it seems that this time the French services failed. Said and Cherif Kouachi, the brothers who murdered 12 people in last week’s attack against the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine in Paris, were known to the French security service and under surveillance.
Their names were on the list of TIDE, the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment. TIDE is the U.S. government’s central database on known or suspected international terrorists. It contains more than one million names. The CIA shares the list with its counterparts – including, of course, French intelligence.
Furthermore, the brothers were on another watch list of those banned from boarding flights.
One of the brothers flew in 2011 to Yemen and was trained by AQAP — Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the branch led by Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed that year by a U.S. drone strike.
The other brother was a recruiter trying to dispatch French volunteers to join the jihad in Iraq against U.S. forces.
It is interesting to note that while foreign experts such as Riedel are suggesting excuses in defense of the French security agencies — specifically the domestic service DGSI (DirectionGénérale de la Sécurité Intérieure) — French experts are much more critical. The French analysts are less hesitant to define as failure what happened last week when three jihadi terrorists with Kalashnikov assault rifles put a major European capital under siege.
“Our problem,” I was told by a senior French security and intelligence expert, “is in the structural reform of our security services.”
The expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity, explained that in 2008, the domestic security service DST merged with the intelligence units of regional police departments, known as RG. The merger created a new body known as DCRI, later in 2014 to be renamed DGSI.
Until the merger, DST was focused on the “big issues” of counterintelligence and catching foreign spies, and on “great” terrorism, big groups such as al-Qaeda. RG, on the other hand, was doing the leg work of sending undercover agents to mosques, listening to imams and mapping the terrain of radical Islamists in the neighborhoods.
But according to the French expert, “what happened after the merger is that the mentality of the DST – which considered itself a noble, aristocratic counterintelligence service – its state of mind has contaminated the entire DGSI and after the merger fewer resources were devoted to the methodical and patient intelligence collection that RG was doing before.”
In other words there is a dangerous irony: that as the radical Islamist threat has grown, its intelligence coverage has been weakened by structural malfunction.
Nevertheless, the French problem is not merely the structure and deficiencies of its security agencies. It is much broader and much deeper.
France, like the rest of western Europe, has to change its attitude and state of mind. It has to realize that it is in a state of war against those who challenge its culture, heritage and history.
To face the new challenge, France and Europe have to toughen their anti-terrorist laws and change their immigration policies. France must be ready to reevaluate the delicate balance between security and democracy, and between democratic values versus the need to defend the republic.
As happened in the U.S. after 9/11, defending security inevitably comes at the expense of some liberties.
January 12, 2015
• By YOSSI MELMAN [written for The Jerusalem Post, Thursday January, 8, 2015]
The writing was on the wall. European streets in general and French ones in particular are turning into a battlefield of radical, extremist Islamist zealotry. The battle is an extension of the Middle East front lines.
Not that anyone should have been surprised. The first wave was carried for several years after 9/11 in 2001 by al-Qaeda sympathizers and supporters, who pursued their ideology of global jihad in impressive terrorist attacks in Madrid, London, and Istanbul.
After a relative calm that created the illusion that Europe was relatively safe came the second, current wave.
This one reflects the rise of Islamic State and the weakening of al-Qaeda.
There are numerous bloody indications that Islamic State and al-Qaeda are back in action on European soil.
A soldier was stabbed to death in London; a gunman stormed a synagogue in Toulouse. Another gunman killed two Israeli tourists in the Jewish Museum in Brussels.
Two characteristics are commonly found in most of these terrorist incidents. One is that some attacks have been carried by young, local Muslims who were inspired by Islamic State or al-Qaeda.
The second is that some terrorist incidents are perpetrated by young European nationals who volunteered to fight in Syria and Iraq and came home after acquiring battlefield experience and being thoroughly brainwashed.
A scarred city: Paris (courtesy French tourist board)
There are thousands of European nationals fighting in Syria and Iraq who have become a major headache to the various European security services. This phenomenon is particularly widespread in France, which houses the largest and potentially the most violent Muslim community. French intelligence estimates that between 700 and 1,000 French volunteers are fighting alongside Islamic State and al-Qaeda.
It was a sad irony that, minutes before the attack, Charlie Hebdo’s Twitter published a cartoon wishing a Happy New Year “and particularly good health” to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of Islamic State .
The attack carried the pattern of targeted killing. The terrorists had a clear plan, knew what they wanted to achieve, and acted calmly – as the graphic footage of the cold-blooded execution of one wounded and helpless policeman shows. No doubt they were professional killers.
Regardless of who was behind it – al-Qaeda, Islamic State foreigners, or a local Muslim cell – this was a direct challenge to French and Western democracy and to the fundamental values of liberty and freedom of expression.
The West is slowly realizing that this is a clash of civilizations. It is a war declared by Muslim fanatics against what France and all of Europe treasure and stand for.
The answer has to be appropriate: better cooperation among Western security services, better intelligence on the terrorist groups, and new laws to limit the ability of the enemy to exploit and take advantage of democratic values.
The Paris massacre is France’s 9/11 – and à la guerre comme à la guerre.
January 7, 2015
The head of Shin Bet (the domestic security services also known as ISA, Israel Security Agency) — Yoram Cohen — has declared that Palestinians who have murderously attacked Israelis in recent months were not sent or authorized by any Palestinian organizations.
From Shin Bet’s Website shabak.gov.il
Cohen was briefing the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee of Israel’s parliament, the K’nesset, hours after two Palestinian cousins invaded a synagogue in West Jerusalem — using a meat cleaver and a gun to kill four rabbis (three of them who were U.S.-Israeli dual citizens) and a police officer.
Cohen said the two attackers did not train and are not known to have planned their assault.
When terrorists have no training camp and don’t visibly practice, it is of course very difficult for counter-terrorism forces — such as the ubiquitious and ever-watching Shin Bet — to detect a terrorist attack in the making.
Cohen’s analysis, based on Israeli intelligence’s best available information about the recent upsurge in Palestinian violence against Jews, is generally considered a significant disagreement with his boss — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The prime minister has repeatedly charged that the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas (also known as Abu Mazen), has been inciting violence — by spreading the impression that Israeli authorities plan a Jewish takeover of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.
Naftali Bennett, a rightwing cabinet minister who doesn’t believe it would be safe to create a Palestinian state in the West Bank, also blames Mahmoud Abbas for the upsurge in bloodshed. So does Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon, the defense minister who suggests Palestinians would be satisfied with some form of autonomy — but without independence and sovereignty.
In fact though Cohen told parliamentarians that Abbas does not favor violence — and has no reason to want a third intifada (uprising) — the Shin Bet chief also declared that Abbas’s statements about Jews trying to take over all of Jerusalem had incited attacks by Palestinians.
The security agency director also cast some blame on right-wing Jews. Cohen said there is a highly negative effect — igniting dangerous tension — when Jews act on their claims to the Temple Mount (known to Muslims as Haram ash-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary) by marching onto the area surrounding the famous golden- and silver-domed mosques that crown the holy city.
<Lone Wolves are Very Hard to Detect>
All in all, when terrorist attacks are carried out by individuals with no organizational affiliation — Shin Bet is now calling that “popular terror” — and the attackers don’t have jail records (so they are not on surveillance lists), it is very difficult for counter-terrorism agencies to gather information about them and prevent their murderous actions.
November 18, 2014
[This article was written by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, for The Jerusalem Report magazine.]
Israel’s former defense minister Ehud Barak (who also served as prime minister for a time) and former chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi have little in common. Given the bad blood between them, to say that they loath each other would be the understatement of the year.
Yet, both share the perception that the threat posed by the Islamic State is being grossly exaggerated by Western media, Middle East experts and, to a certain degree, political leaders.
And Israel is no exception. Barak expressed this view in a recent television interview, and Ashkenazi expressed his views to me in a private meeting. They are not alone.
In a series of meetings and interviews with Israeli, Western European and American intelligence and security experts who asked not to be named, a similar point of view was conveyed to me.
< ISLAMIC STATE “A PASSING EPISODE”, AL-QAEDA JUST “A NUISANCE” >
“With all due respect to IS’s recent military successes in Iraq and Syria, which cannot be written off, from a historical perspective, IS is no more than a passing episode,” one of these analysts told me.
ISIS (IS) Arrogance Flies High – May Flop (photo at MEMRI.org)
Drawing a comparison to al-Qaeda, the analyst said: “After 9/11, Osama bin-Laden and his group were perceived as the greatest existential threat to human kind. The US invaded Afghanistan, crushed al-Qaeda’s hard core and its scattered activists and sympathizers.
“True, the post invasion ramifications resulted in several bloody terror attacks in Indonesia, Madrid, London, Morocco, Istanbul — while other plots were prevented — but in the last five years the intensity of al-Qaeda operations and the threat posed by the group have dwindled.”
Another expert observed: “Intelligence communities worldwide have learned the modes of operation of al-Qaeda, managed to recruit agents and infiltrate it. Al-Qaeda is now no more than a nuisance that the world can live with.”
Sooner or later the same is going to happen to IS, said several of the interviewees for this article.
“Let’s not be mistaken or disillusioned. IS is not going to disappear and fade away overnight. It is going to stay with us for a few more years – certainly as long as the civil war in Syria continues. But sometime in the foreseeable future the Islamic State will weaken,” one of them observed.
Another former senior intelligence official described IS “as a trendy fashion and, like any successful fashion, it has succeeded in promoting and marketing its label as a unique product and thus attracted high demand.”
IS “customers” are the organization’s thousands of volunteers – second or third generation Muslim immigrants to the West and tens of thousands of Arab and Muslim zealots. Both are seeking thrills, adventure, a meaningful outlet for their unfulfilled aggression, and easy and free sex with a stamp of religious authorization.
IS has managed to turn into the “talk of the town” as a result of impressive marketing adopted by its leadership: i.e. its cruel, horrific and seemingly uninhibited methods of sowing fear and terror in the West. These include massacres of rivals; death by beheading and stoning; torture; rape; and forced conversions – practically every measure that contradicts basic moral values and norms.
But that on its own is not enough. As veteran Israeli diplomat and cabinet minister Eliyahu Sasson observed some 60 years ago, “If you acted and didn’t report it, you hadn’t act.”
IS’s marketing experts are presumably unfamiliar with Sasson and his dictum, but they clearly know the art of propaganda and manipulation – they not only act brutally but also make sure that the brutal acts will be heard, seen and disseminated.
By using advanced-digital methodology, they produce short, fast, agile clips and load them onto the Internet to spread messages that appeal to their clientele among alienated, disfranchised young Muslims around the world.
There is no doubt that professionals are behind the frightening and cold-blooded digital campaign. Clearly, some of them, if not all, are Western- educated volunteers with experience, creativity and skill in modern PR.
It already has been reported that IS has a few “media centers” with names such as “Al Hayat” and “Al Itisam al Furqan” operating in secret locations in areas under IS control in Iraq and Syria. They are responsible for the production of the clips and messages and are assisted by a worldwide clandestine network of sympathizers who enhance the spread of the materials over all available platforms from YouTube to Twitter and Facebook.
What distinguishes IS from al-Qaeda are not only religious nuances or perceptions as to who is the enemy that should be targeted, but also the approach to mass media social networks and the ability to spread messages around the globe. In that sense, IS can be compared to a cheetah, fast and agile, and al-Qaeda to a plodding turtle. IS’s agility and ability to adapt have enabled it to repel cyber attacks against its on-line operations by Western intelligence agencies. IS rebuilt networks where they have been damaged.
However, IS’s successful propaganda and fear campaigns could paradoxically be the beginning of its own downfall. It is, in a way, reminiscent of the dialectic of the German philosopher Georg Friedrich Hegel, which states that in every thesis there is a built-in contradiction – the anti-thesis that is unleashed to destroy itself. IS’s advanced propaganda apparatus is generating its own demise.
In the first two years after its emergence, IS performed its despicable acts – beheading, raping, crucifying, and butchering its real or imagined enemies in Iraq and Syria – unnoticed by the West. The Western media and politicians didn’t care as long as Muslims were killing Muslims.
It all changed when IS started beheading Westerners and displaying the beheadings on social media.
“That was their biggest mistake,” one security expert told me. “It seems that they were so carried away by their initial successes in Iraq and Syria that they became very arrogant and self-confident that they could do the same to the West.”
This direct provocation shocked Western media and public opinion and was perceived as a threat that created a chain reaction.
Under public pressure, Western governments, led by US President Barack Obama could no longer sit idly by.
Thus, slowly and reluctantly, the US administration started to react. It created an international coalition to build a legal umbrella for military action and began a campaign of air strikes.
To military experts, certainly Israeli ones, the measured US and coalition air strikes seem somewhat inadequate. So far, over a period of six or so weeks, the air strikes only number a few hundred.
Nevertheless, the experts I talked to agree that despite the flaws and weakness, the airstrikes are causing damage to IS and slowing its advance – its tanks and heavy artillery are being destroyed, and oil production facilities, which are a main source of revenue for the organization, are being bombed, choking off its finances.
The Iraqi Kurds, thanks to the aerial umbrella, have managed to recapture the Mosul dam. Iraqi Shiite militias, supported by Iran, have retaken some towns. IS is far from conquering Baghdad.
In Syria, the Kurdish enclave of Kobani along the border with Turkey is holding on, and IS has failed to enter the city’s center.
But perhaps more important than success on the battlefield against IS is the fact that the world is awakening. For the first time in many years, there are signs that Western nations, Arab countries and even Iran see eye-to-eye and have a common interest in stoppingthe Islamic State.
Still, even if IS is defeated, the region’s problems and challenges are not going to go away.
“The Islamic State is not only a problem, it’s also a symptom of the disintegration of the Middle East as it was designed 100 years ago in the French-British colonial deal [the Sykes-Picot agreement] aimed at dividing the region into spheres of interests and influence,” said one intelligence analyst.
What began as the “Arab Spring” – a genuine drive by the masses for democratization, better and more equal distribution of national resources, and as a campaign against corruption – has turned into a volcanic eruption bringing in its wake disintegrating states (Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen are already dysfunctional entities) and threatening to bring chaos to others.
October 28, 2014
New York’s Met, Selling Tickets and Not Backing Down
The Metropolitan Opera, in New York, is going ahead with the controversial opera by John Adams — “Klinghoffer” — which, according to critics, gives too much credit and dignity to the anti-Jewish and anti-Israel complaints of Arab terrorists.
Leon Klinghoffer, a wheelchair user at age 69, was shot dead by the Palestinian hijackers of a cruise ship, the Achille Lauro, in October 1985. The innocent man from New York and his wheelchair were dumped overboard.
The opera performers who portray the terrorists sing, in “Klinghoffer,” about why they killed him — out of hatred for Jews and Israel.
A few days after the hijackers left the cruise ship — part of a deal that let them walk free in Egypt — Israel’s director of Military Intelligence (the agency known as Aman) gave reporters transcripts — and a snippet of audio — to “prove” that PLO leader Yasser Arafat had ordered the hijacking of the cruise ship.
The Aman director was a future prime minister, Maj. Gen. Ehud Barak. His rare revelations were written about in major newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times which noted that Arafat’s role was not absolutely proven — and “one well-informed Israeli source said there were arguments within the military over whether to release the transcript.”
Readers may recall that when a chartered aircraft left Egypt — to fly the hijackers to wherever they wanted to go — President Ronald Reagan ordered U.S. military jets to intercept that Egyptian airliner. It was forced to land at a NATO base in Italy.
It was Israel’s military intelligence — specifically its eavesdropping experts in Unit 8200 — that gave the United States government full details of the Egyptian plane that was about to take off with the hijackers aboard.
The Israelis were enraged — and the Americans extremely disappointed — when Italy then released the hijackers and their commander, Mohammed Abbas. Abbas, who had not been on the ship, was heard — in the Israeli recordings — chatting with and giving orders to the hijackers. Abbas, in subsequent interviews, would claim that he was merely mediating the hijackers’ peaceful surrender to Egypt.
One revelation out of the entire drama was that Israeli intelligence’s Unit 8200 could — and did — listen to virtually any radio communications in the Middle East.
Telephone calls, especially if they are on mobile (cellular) systems, are also relatively easy to intercept. As are e-mails.
Similar to what the NSA has said since the 2013 leaks by Edward Snowden, Israeli intelligence people say: “Our enemies know we are listening in on them, but still they have to communicate — and we have the electronic advantage.”
October 20, 2014
If — as an old saying goes — politics makes strange bedfellows, then in Middle East politics we surely find the strangest.
The latest undeclared and unintentional alliance is that of Israel and Iran. Both are strongly opposed to ISIS, and both are active supporters of the Kurds. The support is focused, in recent years, in the Kurdish autonomous region that is part of Iraq.
Yossi Melman, co-author of books including Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, wrote the following article for The Jerusalem Report, which is published in English in Israel.
– o – o – o –
On August 26, twelve hours before a ceasefire ended the 51-day Israel-Gaza war, a no less significant event took place a thousand kilometers away from Tel Aviv. This event, like the Gaza war, signifies the rapidly changing new reality in the Middle East – a reality that is replete with severe dangers for Israel but also opens windows of opportunity for a radically different regional lineup.
In Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met with the Kurdish President Masoud Barzani. In a joint press conference, the two revealed that Iran had agreed to supply weapons and ammunition to the Kurdish army, which is battling the extremist Islamic State (IS or ISIS).
The Kurds are fighting alongside the Iraqi army with the backing of the U.S. Air Force.
According to foreign reports, Israel in the past has supplied weapons and military advice and know-how to the Kurds. During the 1960s and 1970s, Iran (then a monarchy under the Shah) and Israel were strategic allies working together to assist the Kurds led by Mustafa Barzani (father of Masoud) in their battle for self-rule against Saddam Hussein’s government in Baghdad.
Thirty-five years after the creation of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which has demonized Israel as the “small Satan,” the two sworn enemies find themselves on the same side of a Middle Eastern front and sharing at least one national interest – to stop the advance of the bloodthirsty ISIS forces.
Even in Syria, where a civil war has raged since early 2011 (with the United Nations now estimated almost 200,000 deaths), Israel and Iran share a surprising set of interests.
They both want to stop the growing influence, beheadings, mass shootings, military victories, and territorial advances of ISIS.
Iran and its Lebanese Shiite proxy, Hezbollah, are deeply involved in the battle to keep President Bashar al-Assad in power. That has involved battling ISIS.
Israel is hoping — and preparing, if necessary, to take action — to prevent ISIS from taking control of the Syrian side of the 100-kilometer long stretch of border on the Golan Heights. The area had been mostly quiet for 40 years.
However, quiet on the Golan seems to be becoming more elusive by the day. Two days after the fighting in Gaza came to an end, several incidents took place near the Israeli border that bode ill for Israel.
It began with extremist rebel forces, not including ISIS, fighting the Damascus regime and its Hezbollah and Iranian allies, taking over the Syrian side of the Quneitra border crossing with Israel. Three-hundred rebels stormed the compound, and the small Syrian army force on site fled.
On August 28, rebels from Jabhat al-Nusra (the Nusra Front) took captive dozens of UN peacekeepers from Fiji stationed in the demilitarized zone near the border. The captured Fijians are part of UNDOF – the UN Disengagement Observer Force – a mechanism that was put in place at the end of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
The UNDOF mandate, renewed every few years, was to ensure that Israel and Syria maintain the cease-fire and separation of forces. A demilitarized (buffer) zone was established on both sides of the border – banning the entrance of armor and overflights.
Jabhat al-Nusra is considered to be a branch of al-Qaeda operating in Syria and Lebanon. Nusra, numbering some 7,000 mostly Syrian fighters spread out across the country, reached the Golan about two years ago. The numbers in that area have grown over the last few months as ISIS forces took control of northeast Syria – of late overtaking the Syrian air base at Tabqa and declaring the city of Raqqa as their capital of a self-declared caliphate – thus pushing the Nusra fighters southward.
With the exception of a few isolated positions, the entire 100-kilometer border strip is controlled by rebel forces, much of it by Nusra units. Their hatred for Israel is strong. Like ISIS, they wave a black flag, aim to carve out a caliphate, and they also abduct foreigners.
Despite all of this, Israel has managed over the past year to develop reasonably neighborly ties with the various factions, including Nusra.
One factor that has helped to advance this relationship: more than 1,000 casualties from the civil war who have been brought into Israel for treatment at the Sieff Hospital in Safed, the Rambam Hospital in Haifa, and an IDF field hospital set up near the border.
The situation is reminiscent (if on a small-scale) of the “good fence” policy Israel had on the Lebanese border in the 1970s. The establishment of a hospital and transfer of humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees in camps in Jordan and Turkey — done by Israeli private donors and non-governmental organizations on the coattails of the government and the IDF — are part of a very clear approach to make every effort to preserve quiet along the border.
On the other hand, armed conflict and chaotic conditions have always presented opportunities for the other side to glean intelligence. Amid the uncertainties, where it is difficult to distinguish between friend and foe, it is easier to recruit agents from among a confused and desperate population, or to send in reconnaissance missions.
ISIS has no hold on the Golan Heights, but it does have a small force of fighters in a few of the villages near the border. This presence is not a strong source of concern for Israel, but the defense establishment is keeping a very close watch on developments.
The volatile situation in Syria in general and in the battles on the border in particular can change at any moment. The danger that the continued advance of ISIS in Syria will whet its appetite and lead them toward the Israeli border cannot be ignored.
To add to the chaos, while the UN hostage crisis remained unresolved, an Israeli anti-aircraft battery firing a Patriot missile shot down a hostile drone violating its air space near Quneitra.
Israeli sources could not determine whether the unmanned aerial vehicle belonged to Syria, Hezbollah, or Iran, but its purpose was the same. It was on a reconnaissance mission – not necessarily against Israel, but probably to assess and photograph the rebel positions on the Syrian side of the Golan.
This illustrates the irony surrounding the Syrian-Israeli border crisis: Israel doesn’t want the Islamists to control the border area, and Israel prefers Assad’s army as the devil it already knows. However, holding the regime officially responsible for violations of the disengagement agreement, the IDF shoots back at the Syrian army — regardless of who truly fired into Israel.
Israel’s policy of non-intervention in Syria’s civil war has not changed. Yet Israel has taken action more than half-a-dozen times: with air force attacks on convoys or weapons depots of the Syrian army to stop the transport of advanced missiles and radar to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Israel never claimed responsibility for these attacks, which has allowed both sides to preserve deniability and keep Assad’s regime from feeling humiliated and forced into attacking in response.
Despite Israel’s non-intervention policies, there are voices within the defense establishment and intelligence communities who have second thoughts about whether it is better for Israel that Assad stays in power.
At the outset of the Syrian war, the prevailing idea in the Israeli decision-making echelon was that it was in the national interest to see Assad go. It was then-defense minister Ehud Barak who declared that Assad’s days were numbered, giving him three weeks before being toppled. This attitude was based on the fact that Hezbollah and Iran – Israel’s most hated rivals – were on Assad’s side.
So the old dictum of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” prevailed.
Now, however, the same concept is pushing Israeli leaders to realize that Assad, Iran and Hezbollah – having such a dangerous enemy as ISIS – could, at least on one front, find themselves with an alliance of interests with Israel.
As such, in Syria – like in Iraq, with the Kurds – Israel might find itself on the same side as Iran.
The events in Iraq and Syria demonstrate the phenomenal changes the Middle East has undergone in recent years. Old alliances are disintegrating. Old interests are becoming unimportant. The ties between the various forces are changing, and new players are emerging onto the scene.
[The original article: http://www.jpost.com/Jerusalem-Report/A-web-of-alliances-374231]
September 3, 2014
Dan Raviv, CBS News correspondent (in Washington) and co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars and other books, spoke for 15 minutes about the radical group The Islamic State (ISIS) and how Western nations can develop innovative ways to confront and weaken ISIS.
Don’t expect Israel to have a major role in this, Raviv said, but larger countries can adapt — and enlarge — what Israel has done to penetrate and manipulate terrorist organizations. He pointed out that the hospital in northern Israel where selected Syrian casualties of the civil war are treated “is an intelligence bonanza opportunity.”
He told the audience of mostly diplomats and retired government officials at The Potomac Institute: “Use your imagination,” because excellent intelligence agencies do.
The 15-minute video, thanks to C-Span television, is below. Simply click to watch it.
August 30, 2014
In its latest issue, Newsweek magazine has an article by New York-based Benny Avni that explores whether targeted assassinations are a part of Israeli war strategy.
An airstrike : IDF photo
It certainly can be argued that in the flurry of events that led to a ceasefire — which seems to represent the end of the Gaza war after more than 7 weeks of bloodshed — highly targeted Israeli airstrikes made the big difference.
Based on precise intelligence, Israel managed to kill at least three — and probably more — senior Hamas military commanders in Gaza. Then, as seen on TV worldwide, Israel’s air force flattened three tall buildings in the heart of Gaza city.
Israel’s intelligence agencies and military (the IDF) seemed to be showing off their capabilities for precision — coupled with more effective early warning that prompted nearly all the residents of the doomed tower blocks to leave before the edifices were destroyed.
In Newsweek, Benny Avni wrote about why Israel decided to take the shots — and kill the Hamas commanders:
“This is not about revenge,” says Yossi Melman, a leading Israeli expert on counterterrorism and espionage. “Yes, revenge may play a role, but the main goal is to disrupt future attacks.
…But does it work? “Assassinations are pyrotechnics,” says Melman, co-author of the book Spies Against Armageddon. “There are no illusions on the Israeli side that it’s a cure-all. At best, it disrupts the enemy temporarily. But that’s the nature of the war on terror: Every victory is temporary.”
August 27, 2014
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) insist that the military has been aware, for some time, of the severe danger that Hamas tunnels from Gaza might pose.
IDF briefers have just revealed — without revealing when this occurred — that Israeli experts were dispatched on unannounced trips to countries that had experience with tunnels: Mexico, where smugglers of drugs and illegal immigrants used tunnels leading into the United States; and Korea, where the South’s military had discovered many intricate and solid tunnels built by the Communist North to prepare for a possible invasion in the future — threatening South Korea’s capital, Seoul.
The IDF even obtained and “test drove” a Russian-made radar system which is aimed down, into the ground, so that underground caves, tunnels, movements and sounds can be detected. But it seemed to work only to a depth of 3 or 4 meters (about ten feet), so that wasn’t good enough.
Israeli Troops Near Tunnel They Discovered (:IDF Spokesman)
Israel’s reconnaissance satellites also attempted to detect piles of soil, or changes in topography that might indicate tunnels. But that did not work.
Israeli military and electronics manufacturers are now working quickly to develop appropriate technologies.
One approach would depend on acoustics — a form of radar that’s familiar to pregnant couples who see an “ultrasound picture” of their unborn child in the womb. The other method would involve seismic detection – receiving an alert from vibrations below the Earth’s surface.
A critic, a retired colonel who is a geologist (Yossi Langotzki), says there is no need to re-invent the wheel, because seismic detection would be an approach ready to use right now. He says the existing seismic technology (used in the oil and mining industries) could be quite useful. Why waste time and money, Langotzki wonders, developing radar-based products that probably could not be ready for use for another two years or so?
As for how Hamas’s tunnels are destroyed after they are discovered by Israel – so far, 32 tunnels — the military is preventing full disclosure of its method for making them unuseable. It may be said with certainty, however, that they are not simply “blown up” with explosives — not all the tunnels. There are various ways of filling or blocking them.
The New York Times reported in February 2013 that Egypt was making tunnels from Gaza impassable — or too disgusting to use — by flooding them with raw sewage which could be piped-in or trucked-in from elsewhere.
August 10, 2014
As was feared when America’s mediation efforts between Israel and the Palestinians fell apart in April, tensions have risen dramatically — and innocent people have died.
The three Israeli teenagers who vanished in the West Bank were found dead; and immediately after that a Palestinian teenager was abducted and murdered in Jerusalem by young, extreme right-wing Jews who thought revenge against a child was a good idea. Israel’s domestic security agency, Shin Bet, announced the arrest of six Jews on Sunday.
The murder of a Palestinian, of course, led to rioting and a new round of hatred.
The only silver lining on these dark clouds: words of sympathy exchanged between the bereaved Palestinian family and at least one of the Israeli families who lost their sons.
A pugnacious message from Israel’s army spokesman
With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government blaming Hamas for the murder of the three young Israelis, pressure on the Palestinian Authority has increased — apparently also from the United States government — to get the P.A. to cancel its recent unity agreement with Hamas.
Meantime, someone in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip has been launching dozens of rockets into Israel. The Israeli military intelligence agency, Aman, believed — as of this past weekend — that it was not Hamas firing the rockets. Hamas was, in fact, engaged in secret discussions to arrange a ceasefire.
This time, Israeli sources were blaming “Al-Qaeda,” meaning radicals in Gaza who see themselves as aligned with the late Osama Bin Laden’s terrorist group. They may well feel inspired by the Islamic State radicals: the Sunni Muslim fighters who’ve made advances in both Syria and Iraq.
Needless to say, they are as anti-American as they are anti-Israeli. The United States should want them to be defeated — preferably humiliated and annihilated.
Israel is looking for an opportunity to do that. The rocket-firing gangs in Gaza act as though they want to be invaded by Israel.
But it’s obvious, also, that the possibility of an Egypt-mediated ceasefire between Gaza (meaning basically Hamas) and Israel is a very tempting thing … at such a volatile and dangerous time.
July 7, 2014
[This piece was written by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon and many other books, for the website of the non-stop TV news channel that broadcasts from Israel, i24news.tv .]
The similar yet different cases of U.S. Sgt. Bergdahl and Israeli Sgt. Shalit
These are the similarities.
Both came from small communities. One in the Upper Galilee in Israel. The other in Idaho, USA. They were born the same year – 1986. Both were soldiers. The Israeli served in a tank battalion. The American as an infantryman. Both were held in miserable conditions in captivity by cruel enemies, and were subjected to psychological pressure and brain wash.
Both were taken prisoner under dubious circumstances without putting up any resistance. The Israeli did not fire a single bullet at his Hamas captors from Gaza and it remains unclear whether he fell asleep when he was supposed to be standing guard over his tank comrades, two of whom were killed by the terrorists who captured him. The American probably deserted his unit and went over to the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Both were held in captivity for about five years and eventually released in prisoner swaps between their respective governments and terrorist groups. For several years both governments had refused to bend to the terrorists’ demands and rejected proposed deals. Until the leaders of the two countries, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu of Israel and US President Barack Obama, changed their minds.
The swaps were controversial and generated heated political debate and public emotion. Israeli Sgt. Gilad Shalit was released in October 2011 in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian terrorists – hundreds of them serving life sentences or, as they are known in Israeli parlance, “with blood on their hands.”
American Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was released in May 2014 in exchange for five senior Taliban commanders known as the “Taliban Five.”
But here the similarities end. The differences are rooted in precedents, experience, national ethos as well as historical and cultural dimensions.
The Shalit family, funded by the Israeli government, accused the government of abandoning its son. From day one they campaigned publicly here and abroad for his release at any cost.
After crossing the border from Gaza and being flown into an Israeli airfield, Gilad Shalit was personally received by Netanyahu and later received a hero’s welcome in his village. The Israeli media was ecstatic, with live broadcasts on radio and television. Upon his release, Israelis swept their differences under the carpet and gathered around their national consensual “campfire.”
Very few politicians (mainly from the Israeli far right), military men or journalists dared raise questions about the wisdom of the deal, the heavy price paid by the state and the unclear circumstances of his capture.
His tank and platoon comrades refuse to divulge the truth about what happened the night Shalit was captured. He became a celebrity, was invited to trendy parties, was an item on gossip columns and a columnist for the influential. mass-circulation Yediot Ahronot.
In the United States, the opposite has happened. While in captivity, Bergdahl’s family was not seen in public. The media showed very little interest in the US prisoner.
Bergdahl was handed over by the Taliban to a Delta Force team and flown for medical treatment and intelligence debriefings to an American air base in Germany. The US media was not present and the US government did not release any imagery of the swap. The only footage made public courtesy of the propaganda department of the Taliban, which released a video recording showing its version of the handover.
Unlike the Israeli public, the American public remains highly polarized over the release and refuses to bury the tough questions surrounding Bergdahl’s capture.
His comrades rushed to open the closet and reveal Bergdahl’s skeletons. They said he was not taken in combat, but rather laid down his weapon and walked away from his unit and disappeared. For some, he is simply a deserter.
He may yet be court martialed, and it is thus doubtful that President Obama will greet him at the White House.
And still, one more common trait stands out. Israeli and American governments state with inflammatory rhetoric that “we shall never surrender to terrorists” and yet they do, time and again. Israel, though, does so more often and with greater readiness to pay a higher price.
June 8, 2014
By Saturday night, officials in Washington were offering a few details of two bold attacks by the U.S. military and the CIA against multinational terrorists — both surprise actions in Africa.
Whereas it had been widely expected that Kenya’s army would retaliate against the Al-Shabab terrorist group — blamed for the massacre of over 60 people in the Nairobi shopping mall last month — so an incursion by Kenyan forces into Somalia seemed likely, it turned out that the first counter-blow was landed by America’s Navy SEAL commandos.
They landed from the sea and attempted to kill or capture one of the Al-Shabab leaders. American officials said this was indeed a response to the Nairobi terrorist assault. Because an intense gunbattle developed in the Somali town, the SEALs withdrew before they could confirm whether their target had been liquidated.
Although U.S. counter-terrorism officials have frequently said, “There’s no bad time to strike hard against the enemy,” the timing of this mission — the 20th anniversary of the “Black Hawk Down” incident in Somalia that was highly embarrassing for the U.S. — seemed more than mere coincidence.
On the same day, Saturday, U.S. officials revealed that military commandos, the CIA, and FBI agents who specialize in capturing “most wanted” fugitives had managed to capture a senior al-Qaeda operative in Libya’s capital, Tripoli.
Al-Libi (FBI photo)
Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, known within al-Qaeda as Anas al-Libi (“Anas the Libyan”), was wanted by American prosecutors for his alleged role in the bombings that killed over 230 people and damaged the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam (Tanzania) in 1998.
The Libyan government, which has myriad problems and inconsistent control of its own territory, claims it was not informed beforehand by the United States. As for the attack by vaguely described terrorists in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11 of last year, that remains unpunished — although the U.S. is plainly trying to demonstrate that it has a long memory and a long arm.
When it comes to terrorism, that gutsy attitude is right out of the Israeli military and Mossad playbook.
October 6, 2013
Confronting a siege by heavily armed and murderous hostage-takers, Kenya has turned to the most experienced experts: Israelis.
Israeli soldiers: experience at sneaking up
The attack by Muslim extremists on an upscale shopping mall in Nairobi is a shock — and the ruthlessness of murderers who killed dozens of innocent people underlines how the Somalia-based Al-Shabaab (“The Youth”) wants to prove something to its ideological maestros in Al-Qaeda.
But before considering the strategic implications — and the likelihood that Kenya’s large army will do even more inside Somalia soon to kill Al-Shabaab militants as revenge — the government of that important, tourism-reliant East African nation has to end the hostage siege.
Israel’s government refuses to give details of what Israelis may be doing to help Kenyan authorities deal with the crisis in Nairobi.
But it’s become clear that expert advisors with specialized training and genuine experience — who are out of uniform, but work for Israel’s government and don’t go anywhere without the defense minister’s authorization — flew to Kenya, at the invitation of President Kenyatta, to give whatever help they can.
That kind of veiled contact with Kenya’s government is handled, on the Israeli side, by the Mossad. Israel’s foreign espionage and operations agency has made a point of building excellent relations with Kenya for many decades — as was shown in early July 1976, when Mossad operatives in Kenya helped set up the dramatic rescue of Air France hostages held by terrorists at Entebbe Airport in neighboring Uganda.
IDF men not believed to be part of a Nairobi assault
It’s understood that the Israeli experts are helping the Kenyans map out the area where the terrorists are holding hostages, examining possible entry points for an assault force, and advising on the kinds of weapons — and surprises — that may be necessary to enter the area and “take out” the Al-Shabaab gunmen before they can harm any more innocent victims.
Despite what some reporters are saying, on the scene, with the tense crowds not far from the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, top analysts of Israeli security and defense do not believe that the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) sent armed soldiers to take part in an assault.
September 22, 2013