U.S. Prepared Huge Cyber-Attack on Iran, In Case Israel Bombed Iran and a War Started

In his latest documentary, “Zero Days,” the award-winning Alex Gibney reveals that the Obama Administration believed an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities — which seemed in 2012 to be a very real prospect — would draw the United States into war.  To prepare, the NSA created a set of cyberattacks — code named “Nitro Zeus” — which could have crippled Iranian industry, transport, and other modern services.  

“Zero Days” was the opening feature of the AFI Docs festival in Washington, DC, on June 22.  Gibney was interviewed by Dan Raviv for the CBS News Weekend Roundup radio magazine; and Yossi Melman is seen in the film as an expert commenting on Israeli motivations in confronting Iran’s nuclear program.  Melman also credited in the film as a consultant.

Raviv and Melman are co-authors of five books, including the current history of Israeli intelligence — Spies Against Armageddon.

Here is part of an article Melman wrote for The Jerusalem Post in February 2016, when the documentary was first screened at the Berlin Film Festival.

Michael Hayden, former head of both the CIA and the NSA, is in the film and claims the goal of a potential Israeli strike on Iran would be to drag the U.S. into war.  The film also quotes other sources in the US intelligence community who accuse Israel of disrupting a joint covert operation to sabotage computers used in Iran’s nuclear program by acting rashly and in opposition to agreed-upon plans.  As a result, hundreds of millions of dollars that were invested in the operation went to waste.
A graphic from the documentary "Zero Days"

A graphic from the documentary “Zero Days”

The film contains testimony from NSA and CIA operatives who worked together with Israeli colleagues – from the 8200 Military Intelligence Unit and Mossad – to develop several versions of a deadly virus that penetrated computers at the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz in Iran. The testimony is delivered anonymously by an actress whose face remains hidden.

According to the claims in the film, the hasty Israeli action prevented the carrying out of a number of further planned actions that were intended to sabotage computers at a second, more fortified uranium enrichment facility at Fordow. The film also reveals another planned cyber unit covert operation code-named NZ (Nitro Zeus).

“We spent millions on this operation to sabotage all of the computers of the Iranian infrastructure in the instance of a war,” a source quoted in the film said. “We penetrated the government, electricity lines, power stations and most of the infrastructure in Iran.”

 
The deadly virus that was implanted at Natanz was named “Stuxnet” by computer security experts, but it had a different name among the Israeli and American intelligence communities: “Olympic Games” — as revealed by New York Times’ journalist David E. Sanger.
Conventional wisdom holds that the implanting of the virus marked the first time that a country, or two countries in this case (the U.S. and Israel), engaged in cyber warfare against another country (Iran). Up until then, the majority of attacks were carried out by individual hackers for their own enjoyment or for political purposes, by criminals for the purposes of fraud and thievery, or by companies engaged in industrial and commercial espionage.
Vice President Joe Biden is quoted in the film as saying in a meeting that the Israelis “changed the code” of the deadly virus’s software.  As a result, the virus spread from nuclear program computers to many other computers in Iran, and from there to computers around the world — even harming the computers of American companies.
The unplanned spread of the virus led to the exposure of the operation and enabled the Iranians, with the help of information security experts from Belarus and Russia, to invent a “vaccine” for their computers to better defend the nuclear program.

According to the film, the premature exposure of the operation caused by Israel’s action’s also caused the virus software, which was among the most classified and most advanced in the world, to leak to Russian and Iranian intelligence.

“Ironically,” it is said in the film, “the secret formula for writing the code for the virus software fell into the hands of Russia and Iran – the country against which it was developed.”

June 23, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

March 17, 2016

Mossad Has a New Chief — Smiling, Charming, and Surprisingly Public at the Start

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made his choice: the new head of the Mossad, Israel’s famed but secretive agency for espionage and innovative missions worldwide, will be Yossi Cohen.  Agency chief Tamir Pardo is retiring.

Israeli newspapers, impressed by  Cohen’s good looks and affable demeanor, note that he was a debonair operative for the Mossad starting in 1983 and was involved in a host of clandestine operations.

The result: headlines alluding to James Bond.  “My name is Cohen.  Yossi Cohen.  And I’m the head of Mossad.”  (To see him and judge for yourselves: click here and here.)

A few decades ago, it was illegal in Israel to name (or show a photograph of) the directors of the Mossad and the domestic security agency Shin Bet.  Now spy chiefs are like celebrities — although their work is still conducted in secret, and their deputies and agents are not named.

On a serious note, Cohen’s top priorities will include secret diplomacy — and what officials hint as “unprecedented, astounding cooperation” — with intelligence chiefs of Egypt, Jordan, and Arab countries that don’t have open relations with Israel (Qatar, the UAE, and even Saudi Arabia). Cohen is said to be fluent in Arabic.

Yossi Cohen already has a good working relationship with the Obama Administration.  As the head of Netanyahu’s National Security Council in recent years, he did a lot — to coordinate covert operations against Iran and its nuclear program — with his American counterpart, Susan Rice.  

He also worked with the Americans when he was deputy chief of the Mossad and head of the Operations Directorate. 

Cohen will have to keep the Mossad’s operational capabilities at a very high level, as Israel perceives itself surrounded by dangerous challenges. The agency is expected to continue as Israel’s clandestine long arm: for secret liaison relationships, collecting vital intelligence, and sabotage and assassinations where deemed necessary.

Yossi Melman (co-author of Every Spy a Prince and the current history of Israeli intelligence, Spies Against Armageddon, wrote for The Jerusalem Post):

The ascent of Yossi Cohen to serve as the twelfth head of the Mossad should not come as a surprise, because he was the leading choice among the three candidates. However, because the prime minister struggles to make decisions and postpones them until the last minute, on Monday evening Netanyahu delivered his statement on Cohen almost an hour after it was scheduled — causing unnecessary drama over the appointment.

In the past, the appointment of a new Mossad chief was made in a conversation between the prime minister and the various candidates, after which a written statement was released to the media and the public.

However, this time, perhaps in order to heighten the drama and paint himself as a decisive leader, Netanyahu made the announcement live on camera, in a sort of press conference, but without allowing reporters to field questions.

Already in the midst of Netanyahu’s address, in which he described his considerations in choosing the candidate, he spoke of the diplomatic experience required of a Mossad chief, who sometimes must act as a kind of “second Foreign Ministry.” The moment that the prime minister said this, it was clear that his choice would be Cohen.

Cohen has the experience in all three areas which the prime minister discussed: in the diplomatic field, from his time working as Tamir Pardo’s deputy Mossad chief, and also from his tenure as head of the National Security Council; in the intelligence field, from his time as the head of the most important branch of the Mossad, the organization’s “bread and butter” – Tzomet (intersection) – the division responsible for locating, enlisting and running agents in order to gather the intelligence necessary to make decisions; and third, the operational aspect, in which Cohen also has abundant experience.

During his three decades in the Mossad, the organization was focused on exposing Iran’s illict nuclear progress.  According to reports (and our book), impressive operations inside Iran included sabotage and the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists.

Other Candidates

Netanyahu deliberated about the other two candidates up until the final moment. They each served as deputy Mossad chief as well. Ram Ben-Barak, who today serves as director-general of the Intelligence Ministry and “N,” who served as deputy Mossad chief up until a few weeks ago, are no less capable than Cohen — and they were certainly worthy candidates.

However, the prime minister chose Cohen because he has been close to him for the last two-and-a-half years.  As Netanyahu’s National Security Advisor, Cohen led secret delegations abroad and provided recommendations on various issues tied to the prime minister’s activities.

Netanyahu held an orderly process of consultations, including personal meetings with the three candidates. He turned to outgoing Mossad chief Tamir Pardo and his predecessor Meir Dagan for their opinions of the candidates. Dagan told him that Cohen would be the best candidate.

A difficult task

Cohen, 54, is a married father of four and grandfather of one. He studied at a yeshiva in Jerusalem and joined the Mossad at the very young age of 22. In 1983 he trained to become a katsa (field intelligence officer), and from there began to climb the ladder of the organization.

He was the head of a station in Europe – locating, enlisting and operating agents from enemy states and terror organizations. He later served in various roles at headquarters near Tel Aviv, until he was appointed by Meir Dagan to be the head of Tzomet. He next was appointed Tamir Pardo’s deputy.

In announcing that Cohen would get the job, Netanyahu also discussed the importance of cyber warfare and the need to be at the technological forefront. Indeed, for more than a decade, the Mossad has leaned heavily on technology and its capabilities in the field do not fall short of the IDF’s Military Intelligence Unit 8200, although on a smaller scale.

However, despite the Mossad’s impressive abilities, Cohen will have to adapt the organization to be able to face the new challenges posed by the shifting reality of the Middle East. This reality includes the disintegration of traditional states and the rise of terror organizations, including Islamic State, Sinai Province and Syria’s Nusra Front.

The Mossad, whose most basic strength is humint (human intelligence), will continue to operate as the main body in this field, but the goal of penetrating and enlisting agents in the new terror organizations will be much more difficult.

In the past, the Mossad, together with Military Intelligence, succeeded in gathering information and knowing what was happening in organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas (with the cooperation of the Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency). However, in the face of the unstable reality of brutal and religious terror organizations, such as Islamic State – this will not be an easy task.

December 8, 2015

Pollard the Spy — Freed Now, but an Escape Plan Ignored? And Who’s Escaping Responsibility?

[Yossi Melman — co-author of the best seller Every Spy a Prince and the current Spies Against Armageddon — continues his analysis of Jonathan Pollard, the American who spied for Israel and is now being released from a U.S. prison after 30 years.]

The Escape Plan

For years, veteran spymaster Rafi Eitan was accused of not preparing a genuine rescue plan for his valuable agent in the United States. But now Eitan reveals that such a plan was actually prepared. It included code words and phone numbers to be used in case of emergency.

According to the plan, Jonathan Pollard was instructed to take a bus to Canada.

Longtime Israeli spy Rafi Eitan, on RT recently

Longtime Israeli spy Rafi Eitan, on RT recently

But he never followed the instructions. In November 1985, when U.S. Navy counterintelligence and the FBI suspected him, Pollard was questioned. After the first session, he was allowed to go home.

Instead of rushing to the Greyhound bus station, he hesitated. He didn’t know how to get rid of a suitcase that was filled with documents. Precious time was lost. When he made up his mind, it was too late to execute the plan.

His ex-wife Anne Pollard (who served three years in prison) refutes Eitan’s claim, however, and says they did not have any rescue plan. She told me that the only escape instructions given to them were to go to the Israeli Embassy, which they did.

They panicked and decided to take their dog in their car and drive to the Israeli Embassy compound in Washington’s Van Ness neighborhood to seek asylum.  FBI agents were following, in their own cars.

“Right up until today,” says Eitan — who this month celebrates his 89th birthday, “I don’t understand what were his reasons for not immediately, when he felt at risk, executing the rescue plan.”

The Pollards managed to sneak in to the embassy’s forecourt when a security gate was opened for another vehicle. But by order of Eitan, who instructed the security officer at the embassy, they were asked to leave.

“I gave the order,” Eitan admits. “There was no other choice. Had Israel kept them hiding in the embassy, the situation would have only worsened.”

After the news broke out, Israel declared it was a rogue operation. But that was a lie. Israel had spied against the US and on US soil since its independence in 1948 and even before then.

The only unique element of the Pollard case is that he was a U.S. intelligence employee with access to a wide array of classified information.

Lakam also operated another spy in the US – Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, an Israeli whose company illegally purchased and smuggled components for Israel’s nuclear program.

Still, according to Eitan, Pollard — who is now 61 years old — could have been punished with a lighter sentence.

“He could have served no more than 10 years.” Eitan claims that an understanding between the US and Israeli governments was reached for a lighter sentence. But Israeli officials and Pollard, with their behavior, blew it.

Pollard’s interviews with Wolf Blitzer and with CBS’s Mike Wallace angered U.S. authorities — as the captured spy did not seem at all sorry for what he had done.

The Americans were also annoyed by the actions of the head of Shin Bet (Israel’s domestic security agency), Avraham Shalom, who was assigned together with lawyer Ram Caspi to negotiate with US officials the return of the documents Pollard had stolen. Shalom promised full cooperation and transparency but lied and was caught red-handed with his lies.

There were two other reasons for the heavy sentence of life imprisonment. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger wrote a letter to the presiding judge in the case, describing Pollard as one of the most damaging spies ever operated in America. In addition, the Israeli public campaign to release Pollard, accompanied by the visits of members of Knesset and cabinet ministers, contributed to the U.S. decision to retreat from behind-the-scenes understandings.

I asked Eitan if he has any regrets or remorse about the affair. “Of course” was his answer. “I am sorry for what happened to Pollard.”

But he rushes to clarify that he acted only after informing his superiors and that he was authorized to carry out the operation. If this is true, it means that running a spy in the heart of the U.S. intelligence community was approved by prime ministers Yitzhak Shamir and Shimon Peres and two defense ministers – Moshe Arens and Yitzhak Rabin.

Arens, still a very active commentator at age 89, completely denies that he had any knowledge about the operation.

Rabin was assassinated in 1995, and Shamir died a few years ago.

Peres, who was privy in the 1950’s to the decision to create Lakam. keeps insisting that running Pollard was a “rogue”operation.”

It is irrefutable, however, that the products of Pollard’s operations benefited the entire Israeli intelligence community: the Mossad, Military Intelligence and Shin Bet.

All these years later, it can be said with certainty that since 1985 all Israeli espionage operations on American soil have ceased. The political and social damage — including severely uncomfortable situations for the Jews of the United States — would be far too great to justify the risk.

November 19, 2015

Jonathan Pollard’s Release by the U.S. — Pain and Controversies of Spy Mission Revived

[This post is based on Yossi Melman‘s article in The Jerusalem Post on the release of Jonathan Jay Pollard, the American arrested in Washington in 1985 — caught spying for Israel.  Pollard, as we have written in Every Spy a Prince and our current book, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, was sentenced to life in prison — but the Obama Administration has decided to let him go, after years of requests by Israel’s somewhat apologetic government.]

On Friday (November 20) the American who notoriously spied for Israel in Washington — Jonathan Pollard — is being released from a federal penitentiary in Butner, North Carolina.

The White House has never said this is President Barack Obama doing Israel a favor.  His release is explained by the Federal Bureau of Prisons as a mandatory parole.  As a spokesperson wrote to JTA this past July:

“Under the laws in place at that time (and which are currently applicable to Pollard), a person with a life sentence is presumptively eligible for mandatory parole after 30 years unless the Parole Commission ‘determines that he has seriously or frequently violated institution rules or that there is a reasonable probability that he will commit any Federal, State, or local crime.’ Pollard is eligible for mandatory parole in November 2015.”

Jonathan Jay Pollard, circa 1984

Jonathan Jay Pollard, circa 1984

However, Pollard will not enjoy full freedom. His liberty is restricted.  It is understood that he agrees not to talk publicly about his espionage activities or about his work as a US Navy intelligence analyst before he was arrested. He is also barred from leaving the U.S. for a period of five years.

So his dream of moving to Israel — “making aliyah” — will have to wait.

(Some pro-Pollard campaigners said they were hopeful of a quick deal in which Pollard will give up his U.S. citizenship, and he would be permitted to make aliyah immediately.)

As of now, there is no guarantee that after five years he will be allowed to leave the United States. That depends on his behavior.

This is the reason his lawyers asked him not to repeat past mistakes by making public declarations. They clearly want him to lower his profile.

It seems that this time Pollard understands the rules of the new game and obeys them. Via the Public Committee for Releasing Pollard, which has campaigned for his release, he has asked to be allowed to remain invisible — living, it is understood, in New York with his second wife, Esther — so that he can rehabilitate his life.

It is regrettable that the policy of keeping a low profile and anonymity did not guide Pollard, the Public Committee, and Israeli politicians who visited him in his jail cell — loudly demanding that he be released, and some implicitly celebrating his actions as heroic — from the outset.

Had that policy been followed, Pollard’s situation would probably have been better. The Israeli right-wingers who embraced Pollard did him great harm.

Poster by campaigners for Pollard's freedom

Poster by campaigners for Pollard’s freedom

This is also the opinion of Rafi Eitan — the legendary Israeli spy (and later politician) who was the head of the disbanded Science Liaison Bureau (an intelligence-gathering unit generally known by its Hebrew acronym, Lakam), which recruited Pollard in 1984 and ran him for a year and a half until he was exposed and arrested.

“The visits, the public campaign and the Israeli behavior in general only caused him great damage,” Eitan told The Jerusalem Post ahead of the expected release of Pollard.

Still the question of who gave the order to run Pollard has remained a mystery. Lakam was founded in 1957 as a secret unit in the Defense Ministry to physically defend the construction of the nuclear reactor in Dimona and to guard the nuclear secrets. It later became the acquisition and procurement arm for clandestine purchases of materials such as uranium and equipment for the reactor and the entire Israeli nuclear program.

Eventually, Lakam was expanded and became Israel’s scientific, technological espionage agency. Its attachés under diplomatic cover and its emissaries around the world collected and stole data, technology, know-how and materials for Israel’s military-defense industrial complex.

Eitan, whose escapades included the kidnapping of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, was appointed in 1981 by then-defense minister Ariel Sharon to be the head of Lakam — replacing its tight-lipped founder, the wily Binyamin Blumberg (Vered).

It should be borne in mind that this was not truly Israeli intelligence recruiting Pollard. The American Jew, born in 1954, volunteered to be recruited. He was a “walk-in.”

Since his childhood days, Pollard was fascinated by spy stories. When at age 16, in 1970, he studied at a summer camp at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, he asked around how best he could volunteer to be a secret agent for Israel.

At his high school in Indiana and at the universities he attended, Pollard boasted that he was “a colonel in the Israel army.”  On other occasions he astonished his colleagues when he said he was “cultivated” by the Mossad to be a spy in the U.S. government.

Pollard tried to join the CIA but was rejected — apparently based on the Agency’s personality tests. Unfortunately for the U.S., the CIA likely did not share this information with other securityagencies. Hence, Pollard found a job at a counter-terrorism center in Maryland run by U.S. Navy intelligence.

One evening in early 1984, while attending a party in New York City, he met Steven Stern, a Jewish-American businessman, and confided in him about his readiness to help his beloved State of Israel.

A few weeks later Stern introduced Pollard to Col. Aviem Sella, an Israel Air Force pilot who three years earlier participated in the attack that destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak. Sella was on a year’s sabbatical to study for a master’s degree at Columbia University and was considered a brilliant officer who had the qualities that could qualify him to be the future commander of the air force.

It was customary, in that era, for Israeli military personnel and civilian scientists on study leaves to be in contact with Lakam representatives.

Sella reported to his Lakam contact and air force superiors about Pollard — and the Americans’ intriguing readiness to supply Israel with information. Rafi Eitan requested that Sella maintain contact with Pollard for the time being, until a case officer could be assigned.

Because of his involvement, Sella’s career was ruined when Pollard was arrested in November 1985. The U.S. put pressure on Israel to cancel Sella’s promotion to brigadier-general, and the veteran pilot was forced to retire from the military.

Federal prosecutors also demanded to question Sella. Israel refused, and since then Sella has been blacklisted by the U.S. He fears that if he travels there, he may be arrested and indicted.

Eitan approved the operation to run Pollard, who was invited to Paris to meet with Eitan, Sella and his future handler, Yossi Yagur, the Lakam attaché at the Israeli Consulate-General in New York.

Pollard traveled to Paris with his fiancée (and future first wife) Anne Henderson. Pollard did not ask for money, but Eitan insisted and massaged his ego with an annual salary offer of $20,000 over a 10-year period. Eitan also showed Pollard an Israeli passport under the name of Danny Cohen that would be given to him upon the completion of his mission.

Sella encouraged Pollard to buy Henderson a diamond ring at the expense of the Israeli taxpayer.  That served not only as the engagement ring for his future bride. It also represented the “engagement” between Pollard and Israel.

Pollard felt that he was in heaven. His dream had come true. For Israeli intelligence, Pollard was a “gold mine” because of his unrestricted access to the databases of most of the agencies of the US intelligence community.

Pollard did not ask for financial reward, but Eitan insisted on paying him.  Pollard provided Israel with hundreds of thousands of precious documents about Arab armies, the PLO, the chemical and biological programs of Libya, Iraq and Syria, and Pakistan’s nuclear program. Pollard also handed over photos taken by US spy satellites, three years before Israel put its first satellite in orbit.

Pollard’s Motives

Pollard had volunteered to work for Israel for at least three reasons. First, because of the thrill and excitement he got from undercover work, as he was infected by what might be called “spy disease.” The second, very major, reason was his love for Israel — and he may well have denied in his own mind that he was betraying and harming his own country America.

Third, Jonathan and Anne were greedy and wanted extra cash to support a high-spending lifestyle which (according to prosecutors) included illegal drugs.

Their greed eventually led to their downfall. According to U.S. intelligence claims which were not proven, the Pollards realized that it was easy to steal documents so they decided to collect documents that were unrelated to the Israeli espionage operations. The accusation is that the Pollards planned to sell secrets to other countries, such as Australia, South Africa, and Taiwan.

November 19, 2015

Simmering Crises Surround Israel: U.N. in New York is One Battleground Among Many

In the weeks following Congress’s refusal to block the Iran nuclear deal, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has had to reshuffle his deck of diplomatic cards.

Among other aspects of the current game plan are these:

–Netanyahu will give his annual speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Thursday, Oct. 1, two days after the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas’s speech.  Abbas has promised a “bombshell,” which probably has something to do with declaring an independent State of Palestine even without agreed borders or sovereignty.  But, frankly, no one knows if anything significant will be said by either the Israeli or the Palestinian leader.

–Russia has begun a military buildup in Syria.  Netanyahu, alarmed that Russian and Israeli forces could somehow get into an unintended conflict in Syrian airspace, made a lightning-quick one-day visit to President Vladimir Putin.  Israeli military and intelligence chiefs went along on the trip, and one result was an arrangement to prevent collisions or hostile encounters.

Netanyahu Faces Several Potential Bombshells (photo: at UN in September 2012)

Netanyahu Faces Several Potential Bombshells (photo: at UN in September 2012)

Israel reiterated that its interests in Syria center mostly on preventing the transfer of “advanced weapons systems” to Hezbollah in Lebanon.  Yet when it was reported that Russia might be giving Syria’s army some tanks — and perhaps those could be passed on to Hezbollah — Israeli tacticians said they were unconcerned: Tanks are easily seen and hit; and it seems unlikely Hezbollah will deploy them.

–Israel needs a new national police chief, and the leading candidate for the job now is a man known publicly as “R” (the Hebrew letter reysh) — a reminder that identifying employees of Shin Bet (the domestic security agency also known as Shabak) continues to be illegal under Israel’s rickety, leaking censorship regulations.  “R” is Shin Bet’s deputy director, and it is somewhat interesting that he was considered to be the likely successor to the current director — Yoram Cohen.  It is legal to name the heads of the intelligence and security agencies.

–In Gaza, the Hamas leadership claims several of its senior radicals vanished while traveling through Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.  Hamas says it has concluded that they are now held secretly in Israeli prisons; adding that Egyptian military commandos snatched the men and handed them to Israel; or Israeli special forces swooped into the Sinai and grabbed them.  No comment from Israel, but it certainly could be true.

–On November 9 at the White House, President Barack Obama will meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu.  It is obvious that they will have to kiss and make up — to a degree — after their sharp, public disagreements over the nuclear deal with Iran.

Obama’s Democratic Party is concerned that the Republicans are making huge progress in winning votes among Americans who care deeply about Israel: whether Jewish, or not.  Obama also wants to decrease the chance that Israel will stage a military strike on Iran — which he would see as dangerous destabilization.  So he is expected to offer significant security and military aid to Israel.  We wait to see how Netanyahu handles the offer and the vital Israel-U.S. relationship.

(A self-serving reminder of our book chronicling the history of that from 1948 to 1994: Friends In Deed: Inside the U.S.-Israel Alliance.)

September 27, 2015

Israel Assigns Spy Agencies to Monitor, Oppose BDS Anti-Israel Activists

[This is adapted from an analysis written for The Jerusalem Post newspaper by Yossi Melman, co-author of Every Spy a Prince and the current history of the Mossad and Israeli security, Spies Against Armageddon.]

Israeli officials are increasingly concerned about the BDS — the “boycott, divestment, and sanctions” anti-Israel movement in many countries.  Now we unveil the role of Israeli’s intelligence community in investigating the BDS campaign — and fighting back.

by YOSSI MELMAN

A senior Israeli military source revealed recently that a special unit inside the Research Division of Military Intelligence has been assigned to monitor the activities of the BDS movement.

The unit was created as a result of lessons learned from the Mavi Marmara incident.

Israel's Evidence Mavi Marmara Turks Were Violent

Israel’s Evidence Mavi Marmara Turks Were Violent

In May 2010 a fleet of six boats organized by pro-Palestinian groups sailed from Turkish ports — vowing to lift the siege of Gaza. While the activists (of various nationalities) aboard five of the boats surrendered to the demands of the Israel Navy and stopped their voyage, the Mavi Marmara crew and passengers refused to obey the order.

Israeli navy commandos raided the ship and were surprised by heavy resistance. In the ensuing clashes, nine Turkish activists were killed and 20 wounded; 10 Israeli troops were wounded as well. This incident further poisoned the already deteriorated Israeli-Turkish relations.

The military operation fiasco also exposed an intelligence failure.

The Mossad,  Aman (Military Intelligence), and naval intelligence all had no information about the Marmara activists, most of them members of the Turkish Islamist IHH group, or their weapons of choice – knives, bats and chains, which they had prepared for the anticipated battle.

As a result, it  has since been decided to build an intelligence unit to follow and monitor radical international groups and individual activists who support the Palestinian cause.

Though the assignment is to track down civilian groups that operate mainly in Western countries, strangely enough the mission was assigned to Military Intelligence and not to the Mossad or, even more reasonably, the Foreign Ministry.

A senior security official explained to me the rationale behind the decision. He argued that the international organizations involved in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and in other activities aimed at delegitimizing the Jewish state are directed by one center – the Palestinian Authority. Thus, since Military Intelligence’s responsibilities include understanding the PA and its political processes, it was natural to assign it the new mission against BDS.

The senior security official also claimed that the smear campaigns to undermine the legitimacy of Israel, including expelling it from international bodies and appealing to the International Court of Justice, must be considered the “new intifada.”

This self-victimization, which began a few years ago, is characteristic of the consecutive of right-wing governments which claim that the entire world is against us.

Even without a formal cabinet decision, this political perception has trickled down to the intelligence community. The Mossad has a special unit that tries to “follow the money.” It is a task force devoted to monitoring financial transactions and movement of money from abroad to finance terrorism in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza as well as what Israeli security officials call “subversive acts” against the state.

The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) has two more units in charge of monitoring financial support for terrorists and preventing entry of what they refer to as “radical left-wingers and anarchists who are trying to come to Israel or the West Bank to spread chaos and havoc.”

The units also conduct research and follow groups identified with BDS and organizations involved in the attempts to delegitimize the Jewish state.

In recent years, there has been a substantial increase in reports of nationals, especially young people – not only of Palestinian or Arab descent – from EU countries and even the U.S. who were denied entry by the order of the Shin Bet.

Some of them tried to enter Israel to participate in Palestinian demonstrations and protest against the security barrier. Others came to express solidarity with nonviolent Palestinian civil rights organizations, and yet their entry was blocked and they were sent back.

On numerous occasions senior State Department officials in Washington and U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro in Tel Aviv have complained and demanded explanation from Israeli authorities for why Americans, of Palestinian or Arab origins, have been denied entry or badly treated at border points. The U.S. officials reminded their Israeli counterparts that the two countries are committed to reciprocity in respecting each other’s citizens.

A few months ago Ram Ben-Barak, a former deputy chief of the Mossad and currently director-general of the Strategic Affairs Ministry, submitted a comprehensive plan detailing how to make the battle against BDS and similar anti-Israeli groups more effective.

Ben-Barak, who aspires to be the next head of the Mossad when Tamir Pardo leaves his post by the end of 2015, suggests combining the efforts of various government agencies dealing with the same issue. Accepting his plan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced recently that the government would allocate for this purpose NIS 100 million (around $25 million).

But typical of Israeli bureaucracy, Ben-Barak’s plan has been subjected to fierce personal and political battles between various government ministries about turfs and responsibilities. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon is involved in political arm-twisting with his Likud rival Gilad Erdan, the public security and strategic affairs minister. Ya’alon and the IDF have refused to transfer the Military Intelligence unit to Erdan’s jurisdiction.

Yossi Cohen, chair of Israel's National Security Council

Yossi Cohen, chair of Israel’s National Security Council

In an attempt to close the political gaps and provide a sensible compromise, Netanyahu brought into the picture his national security adviser and head of the National Security Council, Yossi Cohen.

Cohen, a former deputy head of the Mossad and the leading candidate to be the next head of the organization, prepared a report that offers ways to bridge the bureaucratic divisions. Its key recommendation is to establish another small unit inside the Strategic Affairs Ministry which will coordinate between the various intelligence units dealing with the issue.

And still, no one seriously questions why a state that considers itself democratic has assigned its three leading security and intelligence agencies to fight a movement that — though it may well be damaging and bothersome — is overall nonviolent, political, grassroots-fueled, and civilian.

Perhaps the Israeli overreaction is another manifestation of right-wing radicalization and paranoia that unfortunately seem to be increasing their grip on Israeli society.

August 28, 2015

Did Netanyahu and Barak Truly Intend to Bomb Iran in 2010 and 2012? Barak Wants Us to Think So…

[This post is based on an article written by Yossi Melman — co-author of Spies Against Armageddon — for The Jerusalem Post newspaper.]

An Israeli TV station played audio recordings of Ehud Barak — the former prime minister who served as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s defense minister until March 2013 — in which Barak reminisces about three occasions in which Israel almost dispatched its air force to bomb Iranian nuclear sites.

As for why no attack took place, Barak blames the then-military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, his successor Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, and cabinet ministers Moshe Ya’alon and Yuval Steinitz, all of whom opposed a strike on Iran.

According to Barak associates, he feels betrayed by Ilan Kfir and Danny Dor – the authors of a Hebrew-language biography of the former defense minister. Barak let them record interviews, to help their writing process. But the tapes were never supposed to be played publicly.

Barak's official photo while prime minister

Barak’s official photo while prime minister

Prior to the report on Israel’s Channel 2, Barak tried to prevent the airing of the audio clips. He appealed to the Military Censor’s Office, which rejected his request to bar the broadcast. Once Barak revealed information about secret cabinet discussions to journalists, the question of whether he intended to have his position aired publicly is a secondary one – and certainly is not one that concerns the censor.

Even if he did not intend for the information to emerge in audio format, Barak intended to have his opinion known by the public. He is trying to shape the historical narrative by portraying himself as the figure who pushed hardest in favor of a strike on Iran – only to be overruled by the cabinet ministers and military commanders who opposed such a move.

According to Barak, General Ashkenazi told him in 2010 that the IDF simply did not have the operational capacity to execute an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

In 2011, Ashkenazi was succeeded as chief of staff by Gantz, who told Barak that the military did indeed have the operational “maturity” for a strike.

benny gantz, israel spy, covert operations, Iran nuclear, Israel-U.S.

Benny Gantz (courtesy IDF)

While Gantz made it clear that the IDF would carry out any directive issued to it by the civilian leadership, he was convinced that an attack was unnecessary.

Barak also said that he was surprised to see ministers Ya’alon and Steinitz “melt” at the last minute after he was led to believe by Netanyahu that the two men supported an attack plan.

Ya’alon and Steinitz instead chose to side with the opposing cabinet ministers – Dan Meridor and Benny Begin. As a result, Netanyahu and Barak were left without the necessary majority in the inner, security cabinet to back an attack.

A year later, Barak and Netanyahu tried again to convince the cabinet to approve an attack plan. This time, weather considerations limited the possible “windows of opportunity” to attack. There were two possible windows, but one of them coincided with a large-scale military exercise with the U.S. military (May to July 2012). The other was around the time of the U.S. presidential election in November 2012.

Barak’s comments should not be taken as absolute truth. They are just one version of events.

Other versions that have not been aired publicly include that of former Mossad director Meir Dagan, and those of Gantz and Ashkenazi themselves. Dagan and Ashkenazi have hinted that Netanyahu and Barak acted in a manipulative fashion on the Iran issue.

There was one claim, first reported by Ma’ariv, according to which Barak told the cabinet that he was personally informed by then-CIA chief Leon Panetta that the Obama administration had reversed its opposition to an Israeli strike on Iran.

When the Americans were informed of Barak’s claim, they were furious. They sent a special emissary to Israel with the exact transcript of the Panetta-Barak conversation in question.

Barak and Netanyahu allegedly went ahead, however, by instructing the chief of staff to “get the system activated” — in effect, to prepare for war.

That would involve mobilization of military reserves and ordering the air force, intelligence services, and home front authorities to take a number of preemptive measures.

“Activating the system” could take more than a month. It could lead to a “miscalculation.”

The risk is that Iran would notice these preparations and launch preemptive actions that would threaten to drag the entire Middle East, as well as the United States, into a regional war.

Was that what Barak and Netanyahu intended? Such a possibility should not be ruled out.

These conflicting versions of events remind one of the Japanese movie Rashomon, in which a number of characters recall events, each through his own lens. The narratives often contradict.

The truth may only be known 70 years from now, if at all, when official records of the meetings are made public. That is not a sure thing. In the most sensitive, secret discussions, there are those who seem talented at directing the conversations — and composing the transcript of meetings — with an eye to the history books.

Even if we were to believe Barak, it’s difficult to be swayed.

If the prime minister and the defense minister really wanted to win cabinet approval for a decision to attack Iran, they could have overcome ministerial opposition. Never in the history of the State of Israel has a determined, dominant prime minister been prevented from getting government approval for his decisions – especially those relating to existential issues – by opposition from other ministers.

One is left wondering whether Netanyahu and Barak really wanted to attack – or whether it was all bluff. If indeed it were a bluff, it was a successful one. They played a game of “Hold me back” with the Israeli public and – more importantly – with the Americans.

One effect was the pressure felt by President Obama to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis — out of concern that Israel might strike and spark a regional war. The result has apparently been an “unintended consequence,” from Netanyahu’s point of view: a nuclear deal with Iran that he considers dangerous.

August 25, 2015

Russia Will Now Sell Advanced Anti-Aircraft Missile System to Iran — A Game-Changer Preventing an Israeli or US Attack?

by YOSSI MELMAN

(The co-author of the best seller Every Spy a Prince and the current history of Israeli intelligence and security, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.)

This time it’s final. After nearly a decade of delays, suspensions, pressures, and tough international battles, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov and the state-owned manufacturer Almaz-Anety now confirm that the sale of ground-to-air S-300 missile systems to Iran is a done deal.

What is still to be determined is the scope of the deal – whether three or four batteries will be sold.

There is here a great deal of irony. For nearly a decade Israeli prime ministers pushed hard at the gates of the Kremlin and urged Russian President Vladimir Putin not to sell the advanced missile and radar system to Tehran.

Until recently it seemed that the Israeli lobbying — backed by a U.S. tailwind — was paying off. Despite a signed contract and an advance payment, Russia found excuses not to honor the deal with Iran and even announced that it wouldn’t deliver the systems.

But now that the missile deal is under way — in the wake of the deal reached in Vienna to restrict Iran’s nuclear program — the depth of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s failure is exposed.

This story has several layers. The nuclear deal is a major part of it. In his opposition to the emerging agreement with Iran, Netanyahu designed a policy of “all out” on all international fronts. He embarked on a collision course with the President Barack Obama. He tried to appease Putin. He kept pummeling European politicians with stories likening Iran’s hostility to the horrors of Nazi Germany.

Netanyahu acted like a gambler with no exit strategy or fallback position.

But Obama and Putin, in the end, ignored him. Netanyahu’s miscalculations pushed Israel into an undesirable position. It had little influence on the content of the nuclear deal between Iran and the six world powers. It also left Israel with no levers to influence Russia or modify its decision to go ahead with the missile deal.

It didn’t have to be this way. A more cautious and sensible approach by Netanyahu would not have prevented the nuclear deal, but it could have given Israel a chance to influence its outcome and ensure the drafting of tougher clauses regarding the inspection of Iranian nuclear sites.

It was recently revealed that the world powers caved in, by leaving some of the inspection rules up to the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency. The IAEA, according to a secret side deal, will let Iranians provide photos, videos, and environmental samples from the Parchin site — although the IAEA says it will always be supervising and verifying that what it is handed is authentic.

Netanyahu Could've Influenced the Iran Deal

Netanyahu Could’ve Influenced the Iran Deal

Such verification is unlikely to be reliable.  Israeli and U.S. intelligence say Iran, in the Parchin military base, conducted unlawful experiments to test nuclear chain reactions — simulating, in effect, nuclear explosions.

Had Netanyahu been more measured and surgical in his public opposition to the nuclear deal, he may have been able to reach a secret understanding with Putin about which arms to sell to Iran and which should not be delivered.

Now it’s too late. The sale of the S-300 batteries is a game-changer.

The batteries belong to a family of missiles and radars that were first developed and manufactured by the Soviet Union in the mid ’70s and deployed by the Red Army in 1979. Since then, new generations and models have been upgraded and turned into one of the best of its kind.

True, what Russia agreed to deliver is not the state of the art in this line of batteries. There are already more advanced versions operated only by the Russian army.

But still, what Russia is selling is disturbingly good — providing sufficient grounds to be highly concerned. The battery’s radar is capable of detecting and spotting hostile warplanes at a distance of hundreds of kilometers — and then lock in and accurately launch guided missiles.

Iran is sure to deploy the batteries to defend its nuclear sites. Their presence will make it much more difficult for any air force – be it Israeli or American – to operate, if one day in the future a decision will be made to attack Iran.

President Obama himself has said that “the military option” is very much alive, if Iran violates the nuclear deal and “breaks out” to produce nuclear bombs.

Yet, despite the importance of the deal, the skies are not going to fall. In the cat and mouse game between an attacker and defender, the attacker almost always has the upper hand.

There is no doubt that the Israeli and American air forces will find a way, with clever technological and operational solutions, to circumvent the S-300 systems.

The Israeli and U.S. militaries, perhaps even working together, will be able to execute a mission — if so ordered by their governments.

The Russian deal also has larger implications. Just as we already witness long queues of international corporations courting Iran for lucrative deals in the civilian sectors, once sanctions are lifted next year, we can expect the same in the military field.

It is reported that China is thinking about selling Iran fighter planes, whichincidentally and ironically are equipped with Israeli-made avionics,including radars. These components were produced by Israel Aircraft Industries (now called Israel Aerospace Industries) 30 or so years ago for the Lavi project, the Israeli self-produced fighter plane. In the mid-’80s, under U.S. pressure, Israel canceled the project and sold some of its technological innovations to the apartheid regime of South Africa and to Communist China. The Chinese built their own J-10 fighter plane, based on the Israeli technology.

But will Iran have one of the most technologically advanced militaries in the region? No.

Despite enhanced Iranian efforts to use the nuclear deal as a launching pad to improve and modernize its armed forces, the ayatollahs will still be lagging behind their rivals and enemies in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states have much better and more advanced military hardware, and are now negotiating with the U.S. for packages to compensate them for perceived, added dangers from the Iran nuclear deal. And money is not a problem for the Gulf countries.

As for Israel, its defense forces — the IDF — continue to be the strongest military force in the region. Israeli weapons developers are the most innovative on earth. Also, despite political annoyance at Israel’s prime minister, President Obama has pledged to maintain — and even increase — the QME: Israel’s “Qualitative Military Edge” in the Middle East.

Even when Iran gets the S-300 anti-aircraft system and other military acquisitions, it will be no match for Israel.

August 23, 2015

Nuclear Irony: Roots of US Strategy Ignoring Israel’s Nukes Revealed in Documents

[This post is based on an article written for The Jerusalem Post newspaper by Yossi Melman, co-author of the best seller Every Spy a Prince and the current history of Israeli espionage and security, Spies Against Armageddon.]

Israel and the United States worked together to formulate the Jewish State’s nuclear doctrine, archival documents released Tuesday by the US State Department reveal.

The documents detail the secret discussions that took place on Israel’s nuclear program between officials of the two countries.

We would decide that we could tolerate Israeli activity short of assembly of a completed nuclear device,” one of the US memos declares.

The documents reveal that — according to American intelligence — Israel planned to have ten Jericho surface-to-surface missiles (based on a French missile) equipped with nuclear warheads.

The publication of the documents comes as part of a routine release of historical information by the Department of State. However, the timing of the revelations — against the background of the disagreement between Israel and the US over the nuclear agreement with Iran — gives them extra resonance.

There are those who would claim that the timing of the release is not a coincidence, and is in fact intended to embarrass Israel, which staunchly opposes the deal with Iran.

Perhaps pointing to Israel’s unacknowledged — by widely known — nuclear arsenal is an attempt to undermine Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who continues in his efforts to persuade Congress to reject President Barack Obama’ cherished deal with Iran.  Netanyahu argues that the Islamic Republic, partly because it supports terrorist groups, cannot be allowed to keep a nuclear infrastructure.

According to the American documents now released, which cover events from 1969 to 1972, Israel was asked to provide a written obligation neither to arm its Jericho surface-to-surface missiles with nuclear warheads nor to deploy them.

Up until that point, the official policy of Israel — enunciated to the US in the early 1960s by then-deputy defense minister Shimon Peres  — was: “We will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons in the region.”

This policy has been defined up until the present day as the hallmark of Israel’s “nuclear ambiguity.”

As a result of the “not be the first” pledge, it was agreed during the administration of President John F. Kennedy that American inspectors would visit — once or twice a year — the nuclear reactor in Dimona where, according to US suspicions, fissile material for a nuclear bomb was being made.

Golda Meir Visits Nixon and Kissinger

Golda Meir Visits Nixon and Kissinger

However, in 1969, as a result of the Six-Day War and on the background of the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union — as well as efforts to promote negotiations between Israel and the Arab countries — the administration of President Richard Nixon looked to formulate a new approach centered on preventing, or at least limiting, the further development of Israel’s nuclear program.

The Nixon administration asked Israel to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Israel had agreed several years beforehand to join the treaty — first signed by other nations in 1968 and in effect as of 1970.  However, Israel employed stalling tactics in order to get out of that obligation.

In secret meetings attended by officials of the Pentagon, the State Department, the CIA, and Nixon’s National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, American officials discussed how the US would react to a potential attack on Israel by the Soviet Union, which was arming the major Arab nations.

The Nixon administration established a special committee to explore the issues. The committee determined that “our goal is to convince Israel to join the NPT by the end of the year. And to ratify the treaty.”

Later, a meeting was set up between administration officials and then-Israeli ambassador to Washington, Yitzhak Rabin. According to the documents, Israel was asked “to provide us with written assurances that it will stop creating and will not deploy Jericho missiles or other strategic missiles with nuclear warheads.”

Israel was developing into a pro-American ally, yet there was an assumption that — on nuclear matters — Israel would cheat.  One document expresses American concern that even if Israel joins the NPT, it is liable to continue covertly producing nuclear weapons and missiles.

Kissinger wrote in a memo: “We judge that the introduction of nuclear weapons into the Near East would increase the dangers in an already dangerous situation and therefore not be in our interest. Israel has 12 surface-to-surface missiles delivered from France. It has set up a production line and plans by the end of 1970 to have a total force of 24–30, ten of which are programmed for nuclear warheads.”..

Kissinger also pointed out: “When the Israelis signed the contract buying the Phantom aircraft [from the US] last November, they committed themselves ‘not to be the first to introduce nuclear weapons’ into the Near East. But it was plain from the discussion that they interpreted that to mean they could possess nuclear weapons as long as they did not test, deploy, or make them public.

“In signing the contract, we wrote Rabin saying that we believe mere ‘possession’ constitutes ‘introduction’ and that Israel’s introduction of nuclear weapons by our definition would be cause for us to cancel the contract.”

Kissinger claimed that the vow not to “introduce” was not enough, because Israeli officials took this to mean that they could have nuclear weapons as long as they didn’t carry out tests, deploy or make the issue public.

And so, a Kissinger memo suggested the United States would demand a new Israeli pledge: “Reaffirm to the US in writing the assurance that Israel will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Near East, specifying that ‘introduction’ shall mean possession of nuclear explosive devices. [For our own internal purposes, we would decide that we could tolerate Israeli activity short of assembly of a completed nuclear device.]  Give us assurances in writing that it will stop production and will not deploy ‘Jericho’ missiles or any other nuclear-capable strategic missile. [NOTE: I do not believe we can ask Israel not to produce missiles. Israel is sovereign in this decision, and I do not see how we can ask it not to produce a weapon just because we do not see it as an effective weapon without nuclear warheads. We might persuade them not to deploy what they produce on grounds that the rest of the world will believe that the missiles must have nuclear warheads.]”

Re-read that paragraph, written by Henry Kissinger on July 19, 1969, to consider the irony of the current issues with Iran: whether Iranian work on ballistic missiles and other military systems can indeed by prevented — whether as part of a nuclear restriction agreement or otherwise.

Did Israel make the commitment that Kissinger intended to demand in 1969 (six months after Nixon took office as president)? That is not clear from the documents just released.

Yet the fact is — as a result of a visit to the US by then-prime minister Golda Meir and her meeting with Nixon — the US stopped its inspections of the Dimona reactor in 1969.

In later foreign reports, it was claimed that ambassador Rabin and Meir promised that, in exchange for a halt to the inspections, Israel agreed not to be the first to deploy or arm nuclear weapons, and likely vowed not to conduct nuclear bomb tests.

To this day, Israel has yet to join the NPT, and it is believed to be, according to multiple foreign reports, the sixth biggest nuclear power in the world with a stockpile numbering around 100 nuclear warheads.

August 18, 2015

What Does Netanyahu Really Want? AIPAC Pushes Congress to Vote “No” — See Dan Raviv

Dan Raviv, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, a history of Israeli intelligence and security agencies, appeared on the CBS News television broadcast “Up To The Minute,” analyzing the nuclear deal with Iran — and why Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu is so vociferous in his opposition.

Also — this coming week, when Defense Secretary Ash Carter visits Israel — will significant U.S. “security compensation” be offered to Israel?

Watch the video from CBS News:

 

August 11, 2015

Israel Could Claim Some of the Credit for Delaying (at least) Iran’s Nuclear Bomb — but Chooses to Complain Bitterly

Tuesday (July 14) was historic and memorable, to be sure.  Israel was not able to persuade the United States and other world powers to walk away from a deal with Iran, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately branded the agreement “a mistake of historic proportions.”  

The tradition, in U.S.-Israel relations, is that — when the Israelis feel their security is diminished by something that America is doing — Israel requests and receive new security systems, weapons, intelligence, or even cash as a form of compensation from Washington.

Congress, where Israel has many supporters and sympathizers, will give the Iran nuclear deal a vigorous 60-day review.  As Republicans have the majority on both the Senate and the House, a vote to reject the deal may well succeed.  But then, as President Obama has already declared publicly, he would cast his veto.  Congress almost surely will not vote by two-thirds majorities to override that veto.

Yet the divisions and suspicions will persist.  The effort to restrict Iran’s nuclear work peacefully will be an issue in the 2016 presidential campaign.  But the deal will almost surely be a reality.

The analysis (below) is based on an article written for The Jerusalem Post by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars and other books including Friends In Deed: Inside the U.S.-Israel Alliance, also co-authored with Dan Raviv.  Note, near the beginning of the article, the Israeli minister’s eye-winking reference to Israel’s own nuclear capability.

In 2007 an Israeli cabinet minister told senior military officials that if a country wants nuclear weapons nothing will stop it.

“I know at least one country that did it,” he remarked.  He had just heard them agree on a strategy to do everything to keep Iran from getting the bomb.

Instead, he advised them to focus on delaying the nuclear program and to ask the U.S. for significant compensation.

Eight years later,  one can say that due to its successful diplomacy, sabotage and assassination operations attributed to Mossad and its demand for sanctions, Israel managed — so far — to prevent Iran from reaching the bomb.

It seems, though, that what Iran really wanted was to be a nuclear-threshold state and not to assemble warheads.  Thus one could say that Iran has succeeded in its goal — for now.

Of course, Israel was not alone in these efforts; it was an impressive international group that presented a unified front.

Another Israeli government could have appropriated the nuclear agreement as its victory. It could have said that as a result of wise diplomacy combined with daring covert actions, Iran was brought to its knees and forced it to sit down, negotiate and compromise on its nuclear program. Tehran had refused to do that from 2002 to 2013.

If we accept the calculations of the U.S. and other teams that negotiated the deal in Vienna, it will lengthen the amount of time it would take for Iran to amass fissile materials and produce a bomb to at least one year — for at least the 10-year term of the agreement.

It’s estimated that before Iran agreed to talk and clinch the interim agreement it was just two to three months from the bomb. The number of centrifuges of the old and outdated models at the uranium-enrichment sites in Natanz and Fordow will be reduced to a third of the current inventory: to 6,000 from 19,000.

Iran is forbidden to enrich uranium above 3.6%; its enriched uranium will be dwindled from 10 tons to a mere 300 kg.; and the nuclear reactor in Arak will be redesigned and won’t be able to produce sufficient plutonium as fissile material.

As for international inspection, even if it is not sufficiently intrusive, it still will be tighter than it is now.

If Iran honors the deal, the chance of a nuclear race in the Middle East by countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey will be slimmer.

Netanyahu's display at the UN in New York (Sept. 2012)

Netanyahu’s display at the UN in New York (Sept. 2012)

But Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has decided to take a different path. Instead of working hand-in-hand with the international effort to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions and claiming victory, it has preferred to stand alone.

Israel is opposed to the agreement. To any agreement with Iran, a lethal foe that declares it wants the Jewish State wiped off the map.

But Netanyahu tried to create a wedge between the US president and Congress and failed.  Israel exaggerated the Iranian threat and portrayed it in monstrous proportions.

Netanyahu was ridiculed, this week, for a tweet in which he declared that Iran not only aspires to impose its hegemony in the region, but to control the entire world.

True, it may have been better for Israel if the world were to keep harsh sanctions on Iran forever — strangling its economy until it surrendered all of its nuclear facilities, if one believes that Iran would ever have done that.

In any event,  Israel is not the center of the universe. The big powers have their own interests and sometimes they don’t listen to Israeli warnings — just as Israel, in many instances, is not attentive to requests from other nations, including its allies; for example, on the Palestinian question.

The nuclear deal is far from perfect, but the skies are not going to fall tomorrow.

Israel remains the strongest and most technologically advanced state in the Middle East. And, according to foreign reports that Israel declines to confirm, it has an impressive arsenal of nuclear warheads.

It is also true that lifting the sanctions will help revive the Iranian economy. But, according to estimates by US economists, the recovery will be slow. It is very unlikely that a dramatic shift in Iran’s rush for regional hegemony will be seen. Its ambitions are already high.

The deal will not increase Iran’s grip on Hezbollah, which is already full. Its support for terrorist groups and its subversive attempts to undermine and destabilize countries will not necessarily be enhanced. They are already in full gear.

These efforts, after all, are a double-edged sword. The more Iran intervenes in other countries’ domestic problems, the likelier it will be bleeding itself. Look at what happens to Iran in the Syrian mud, Yemen’s slippery slopes, and Iraq.

It is rather surprising to hear our leaders expressing fears about what will happen upon expiration of the agreement 10 years from now when they cannot say what will occur two or three months down the road on our borders with Gaza, Golan, Sinai or Lebanon.

All in all, it is possible to estimate that at least two tangible results will emerge from the nuclear deal. Israel’s military-security establishment will demand that its budget be expanded; and Israel will ask the US to supply it with a security compensation package. That is basically what the cabinet minister suggested eight years ago in the military briefing.

August 10, 2015

White House: When Pollard is Freed, It Won’t be Obama Freeing Him

An interesting update, on this Saturday when President Barack Obama is visiting his father’s homeland, Kenya…

His close aides told CBS News that if Jonathan Pollard — the spy for Israel who was sentenced to life in prison — is released this year, it won’t be because the President is freeing him.

It Wouldn't be Obama Doing it

It Wouldn’t be Obama Doing it

They say the ordinary parole process will proceed, and in November of this year — 30 years after Pollard’s arrest — he will be eligible for parole.  (His lawyers will doubtless plead for his release, in part based on his poor health.)

The White House aides say there is no connection at all with the Iran nuclear deal — and no attempt to sway Israeli opinion by releasing the American who spied for Israel.

They do confirm that the Pollard issue has been an irritant, for years, between Israel and the U.S.  (This information was reported by CBS News Chief White House Correspondent, Major Garrett.)

July 25, 2015

Some Perspective on Jonathan Pollard, the American who Spied for Israel — and, 30 Years Later, Will be Released by the United States

[A few thoughts by Dan Raviv, co-author of Every Spy a Prince and the current Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars – on the case of Jonathan Jay Pollard, the American Jew who was a U.S. Navy intelligence analyst and delivered secret documents and photos to Israeli diplomats]:

Jonathan Jay Pollard, circa 1984
Jonathan Jay Pollard, circa 1984

I have been reporting on the Pollard case since the day he was arrested in November 1985 — trying, with his then-wife, to seek shelter in the Israeli Embassy here in Washington.  The Israelis turned him away, and the FBI arrested them both.   He’s my age — both born in 1954.  He was 31 when he was arrested, and (like me) he’s 60 now.

 I immediately wondered why U.S. prosecutors were so hard on him — demanding and getting a life sentence.  After all, he was spying on behalf of an American ally.   Other Americans who sold secrets to foreign powers sometimes got lesser sentences.

But, for Pollard, it was bad luck.   The federal prosecutors wanted to make an example out of him — so that other Americans who had top-secret clearances in their government jobs would not be temped to give or sell any secrets to anyone.

Pollard campaign poster

Part of the Campaign for Pollard’s Freedom

Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger wrote to the judge in the case, reportedly declaring that Pollard had done “incalculable harm” to the U.S.   The reasoning was that in the world of espionage, you never know where the secrets might go.  Israel might conceivably give some secrets — about U.S. military capabilities — to Communist countries such as Russia.  

When I did reporting on the story inside Israel — for the books I’ve co-authored with Yossi Melman about Israeli espionage and security — I found a lot of embarrassment.  The Mossad — the famous and successful spy agency — insisted that it would never spy inside the United States.  The Pollard caper was the overly aggressive idea of one particular agency: a Science Liaison Bureau (Lakam, in Hebrew), which collected science and technology secrets all around the world.

In our research, it became clear that the Mossad and Aman — the large military intelligence agency — benefited from the huge quantity of secrets that Pollard provided.  They must have known there was a spy, working for Israel, inside America’s defense or intelligence establishment.

Because of the embarrassment, Israel was slow to offer any support for Pollard.  Finally, in recent years, Israel has repeatedly asked the U.S. to release him.   Bill Clinton considered doing it, and so did George W. Bush.   But the CIA and Pentagon officials told the Presidents not to do it — not to forgive Pollard in any way, because it would send the wrong signal to other Americans who might be thinking of doing what he did.  The FBI and Justice Department officials, too, were clearly against releasing Pollard.

Yossi Melman and I wrote about the Pollard case in our 1990 best-seller

Yossi Melman and I wrote about the Pollard case in our 1990 best-seller

What the American president — in this case, Barack Obama — needs is some kind of excuse: so he can tell the U.S. intelligence community that “for vital reasons of U.S. national interests,” he chose to release Pollard.    It has seemed in the past that for the sake of keeping the Middle East peace talks going — to get some concessions from Israel that the Obama White House thinks are vital — Obama might grant clemency to Pollard and release him.

Now, a published report suggested, Obama may free Pollard in order to show some good will toward Israel, hoping that Israeli public opposition — and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s highly vociferous opposition — to the nuclear deal with Iran might soften.

Releasing Pollard would spark celebrations in Israel, where there’s a strong tradition of “doing everything necessary to bring home any soldier who’s caught behind enemy lines.”  

But there’d also be a little bit of pain — as the world, and specifically the American people, would be reminded that there’d been an American Jew who was hired by Israel to hand over secrets.   Israelis have explained to me that they are always living with their backs against the wall — so sometimes they have to do desperate and daring things that aren’t polite and gentle.

Spy cases are often embarrassing.  Yet the U.S.-Israel relationship survived the anger caused by Pollard’s arrest in 1985.  The relationship will survive the sharp disagreement over the deal with Iran.  But clearing the decks wherever possible — eliminating the Pollard issue by freeing him — would probably help. 

July 24, 2015

Before the Talks with Iran: U.S. and Israel Were Close on Sanctions and Sabotage, but Not on Assassinations (FLASHBACK)

[This is an adaptation from Chapter 1, “Stopping Iran,” in the history of Israeli espionage, Spies Against Armageddon by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman.  We pick up the story somewhere around early 2008.]

Israeli and American intelligence agencies evaluated the sanctions and determined that they were too soft.  The assessment was that only stronger, crippling sanctions might have some effect on Iran’s leadership.

It seemed that the kind of steps required would include a ban on buying Iranian crude oil and its byproducts.  China and Russia refused to lend a hand to that effort.  Sanctions thus were not hobbling the determination of Iran’s leaders to keep up their nuclear work.

Meir Dagan on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” 2012

The Mossad concluded that more drastic measures were needed.  Mossad director Meir Dagan’s battle plan called next for sabotage.  That took various shapes.  He encouraged joint planning and, eventually, joint operations on the Middle East’s clandestine fields of battle.

A CIA suggestion was to send a physicist, a Russian who had moved to the United States, to Iran to offer his knowledge to the Iranian nuclear program.  The caper was ridiculously mishandled when the CIA altered a set of nuclear warhead plans that the physicist was carrying, but neglected to tell him.  The Iranians would have received damaging disinformation.  Unfortunately for this scheme, the ex-Russian noticed errors and told the Iranians that something was flawed.  He simply did not know that the CIA wanted him to keep his mouth shut and pass along the materials.

Despite imperfect penetrations at first, the entire concept of “poisoning” both information and equipment was attractive; and the Mossad, the CIA, and the British kept doing it.  These agencies set up front companies that established contact with Iranian purchasing networks.  In order to build up trust, they sold Iran some genuine components.  But at a later stage,  they planted – among the good parts, such as metal tubes and high-speed switches – many bad parts that damaged Iran’s program.

The results of this international sabotage began to show.  Iran found itself having trouble keeping control of the equipment that it had bought from overseas.

The peak of these damage operations was a brilliantly innovative computer worm that would become known as Stuxnet.  Though its origin was never officially announced, Stuxnet was a joint project by the CIA, the Mossad, and Aman’s technological unit.  The malicious software was specifically designed to disrupt a German-made computerized control system that ran the centrifuges in Natanz.

The project required studying, by reverse engineering, precisely how the control panel and computers worked and what effect they had on the centrifuges.  For that purpose,  Germany’sBND– very friendly to Israel, in part based on a long habit of trying to erase Holocaust memories – arranged the cooperation of Siemens, the German corporation that had sold the system to Iran.  The directors of Siemens may have felt pangs of conscience, or were simply reacting to public pressure, as newspapers pointed out that the company was Iran’s largest trading partner in Germany.

For a better understanding of Iran’s enrichment process, old centrifuges – which Israel had obtained many years before – were set up in one of the buildings at Dimona, Israel’s not-so-secret nuclear facility in the southern Negev desert.  They were nearly identical to the centrifuges that were enriching uranium in Natanz.

The Israelis closely watched what the computer worm could do to an industrial process.  The tests, reportedly conducted also at a U.S. government lab in Idaho, took two years.

Virtual weapons of destruction such as Stuxnet can conceivably be e-mailed to the target computer network, or they can be installed in person by plugging in a flash drive.  Whether hidden in an electronic message or plugged in by an agent for the Mossad, the virus did get into the Natanz facility’s control system sometime in 2009.  Stuxnet was in the system for more than a year before it was detected by Iranian cyber-warfare experts.  By then, it was giving the centrifuges confusing instructions, which disrupted their precise synchronization.  They were no longer spinning in concert, and as the equipment sped up and slowed repeatedly, the rotors that did the spinning were severely damaged.

The true beauty of this computer worm was that the operators of the system had no idea that anything was going wrong.  Everything at first seemed normal, and when they noticed the problem it was too late.  Nearly 1,000 centrifuges – about one-fifth of those operating at Natanz – were knocked out of commission.

Iranian intelligence and computer experts were shocked.  The nuclear program was slowing down, barely advancing, and falling way behind schedule.  Stuxnet, more than anything else, made the Iranians realize they were under attack in a shadow war, with hardly any capability to respond.

In late 2011, they announced two more cyber-attacks.  One virus, which computer analysts called Duqu, showed signs of being created by the same high-level, sophisticated hackers who authored Stuxnet: U.S.and Israeli intelligence.

If that were not enough, like the Ten Plagues that befell ancient Egypt, the Iranians were hit by yet another blow – this time, a lethal one.  Between 2007 and 2011, five Iranian scientists were assassinated by a variety of methods.  One supposedly was felled by carbon monoxide from a heater in his home.  Three others were killed by bombs, and one by gunfire: four attacks by men on motorcycles.  That was a method perfected by the Mossad’s Kidon unit.

It was noteworthy that the United States flatly denied any involvement.  American officials even went so far as to publicly criticize the unknown killers for spoiling diplomatic hopes, because the chances of negotiations with Iran became slimmer after every attack.  The Americans, in private, said that they were chiding Israel.

July 13, 2015

Netanyahu Can Breathe a Little — Iran Nuclear Talks Not Ending June 30

[The following article was written by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, for The Jerusalem Post.]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can be temporarily satisfied. Due to good intelligence the Iran nuclear talks will probably not be finalized before the deadline on Tuesday.

Netanyahu at UN in New York, September 2012

Netanyahu at UN in New York, September 2012

Every day that passes has to be considered an achievement for Netanyahu and anyone else who opposes an agreement. It is very likely the talks will be extended – although not forever.

The US seems anxious to clinch a deal in a matter of days.

If it is achieved by July 4, Congress will have only 30 days to review the agreement. If there is no agreement by July 9, the congressional review period will be 60 days and, then, anything can happen.

Thus, President Barack Obama wishes to stamp the deal as quickly as possible. But it is not entirely in his hands. The power broker is Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. He calls the shots.

After three extensive meetings with Secretary of State John Kerry, Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif left the talks in Vienna and flew home for consultations with Khamenei.

Zarif and his team feared that their communication lines were intercepted. They don’t even trust their secured and coded phones and computers.

Media and experts publications claimed Israeli intelligence was eavesdropping at the hotels where the various rounds of talks were taking place.

Zarif’s trip is also evidence that he doesn’t have the authority to finalize a deal; a deal that most of its clauses, including the stumbling blocks, have been known for months. Judging from past precedents, it is not sure that Zarif will return to Vienna with his supreme leader’s blessing. In the past, Khamenei authorized his nuclear team to sign an agreement, and then due to domestic pressure from his radicals he backed off. Khamenei’s approach may well be revisited – first let’s sign and then we’ll see.

One has to be completely stupid to dare predicting the chance of a deal being finalized.

The gaps, as stated by the foreign ministers of Germany, France and UK, remain large.

They revolve around all well-known controversial topics: the demand that Iran opens its suspected military sites for international inspection; that it makes its scientists, especially those involved in suspicious military programs in the past available for international questioning; and to accept that sanctions are not lifted until Iran meets its obligations according to the agreement once it is signed.

In short, the chance of clinching a deal remains to be seen.

Yes, logic says an agreement is an Iranian imperative and yes, the US administration is very hot to have it. But once again with Iran’s leader having the final word anything can happen.

Nothing is assured.

June 29, 2015

Longtime #2 in CIA: Warm Intelligence Relations with Israel — Mossad Doesn’t Spin Us

[This article and interview are adapted from an item written for The Jerusalem Post by Yossi Melman, co-author of books including Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars — a history of the Mossad and other security agencies.]

Michael Morell, the CIA veteran who recently retired and wrote his memoirs, understands why Israel’s prime minister rejects President Obama’s strong desire for a deal with Iran. And, having heard that Israel may have some tacit understandings with the al-Qaeda affiliate, Syria, Morell strongly counsels against that path.  

Morell Michael

Michael Morell (on CBS This Morning)

From his vantage point of 33 years as a professional intelligence officer, Morell has strong advice for to Israel. “Don’t make deals with them. Pressure them. Fight them. Turn against them, otherwise they will turn against you.”

The former deputy director of the CIA’s comments were made in response to a question regarding reports in the Arab and international media that – in order to maintain peace and tranquility along its border with Syria — Israel has reached some understandings with the Nusra Front, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda.  Nusra controls most of the Syrian side of the border along the Golan Heights.

“From my experience following al-Qaeda, I think and believe that you must not try to cut deals with them. Pakistan tried to do it with these guys telling them: ‘We won’t attack you if you don’t attack us.’ But it is a dangerous game. Even if you cut a deal with them, they won’t honor it.”

Morell knows the Israeli intelligence community very well. He has visited Israel and met in Washington many times for professional meetings with his Israeli counterparts from the Mossad, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and Aman — the military intelligence agency known in foreign encounters as Israeli Defense Intelligence.

Last week, he granted a special interview to The Jerusalem Post, the first of its kind to an Israeli media outlet. It coincides with the publication of his book, The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism – From al Qaeda to ISIS, which he wrote with Bill Harlow, a former longtime spokesman for the Central Intelligence Agency.

Morell was born in 1958 in a small town in Ohio. He finished his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics from the University of Akron and Georgetown University, respectively, and was recruited to work as an analyst in the CIA.

He spent most of his career in the Directorate of Intelligence of the agency, and in addition to reaching the No. 2 position in the CIA, he also served twice as acting director: once in 2011, after director Leon Panetta became secretary of defense, and a year later, after Gen. David Petraeus stepped down as a result of his extramarital affair.

After Morell’s retirement two years ago, he joined the private sector as a consultant to Global Beacon Strategies and to CBS News.

One of his most exciting and prestigious assignments was to serve as the CIA’s daily briefer for “Customer No. 1” – the agency’s nickname for the President of the United States. In that capacity, after nine months on the job he found himself traveling with President George W. Bush to visit a school in Florida. It was September 11, 2001. At 8 in the morning, Morell walked into the President’s hotel suite.

“Michael, anything of interest this morning?” Bush asked his intelligence briefer.

“On the most important day of President Bush’s tenure,” recalls Morell, “his intelligence briefing was unremarkable, focusing on the most recent developments in the Palestinian uprising against Israel. Contrary to media reports, there was nothing regarding terrorist threats in the briefing.”

With impressive honesty, Morell admits that when he first heard that an airplane had hit one of the twin towers in New York City, “my guess at the time was a small plane had lost its way in bad weather and, by accident, had crashed into the World Trade Center.”

Later, the Secret Service rushed the President and his staff to Air Force One, and they took off to an undisclosed destination. America was under attack.

Morell was aboard, trying to figure out what really was happening.

When the media reported that the Democratic Front for Liberation of Palestine, led by Nayef Hawatmeh, was responsible for the attacks on U.S. soil, Morell told Bush that the DFLP “is a Palestinian rejectionist group with a long history of terrorism against Israel, but they do not possess the capability to do this.”

A little later, while the information was still blurry, Morell was ready to take a risk and speculate, “I would bet every dollar I have that it’s al-Qaeda.”

Nevertheless, he doesn’t conceal his self-criticism that 9/11 exposed the failure of the American intelligence community, led by the CIA, to anticipate and prevent the attacks.

At the same time, he is very proud of the agency’s success in eventually tracking Osama Bin Laden and killing him in 2011 in his Pakistani hideout.

Yet the CIA, according to Morell, can’t rest on its laurels. He thinks al-Qaeda is still a very dangerous organization posing a serious threat to the U.S. and the West.

Question: More than Islamic State?

“I distinguish between the two only because everyone does. But I think that both groups have the same goals, both believe in the same ideology, both are equally violent and evil. And actually I believe that al-Qaeda poses a greater threat to the U.S. and the West than Islamic State.”

How so?

“Because al-Qaeda has better and greater capabilities. I am worried about the situation in Yemen where al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is located.

In the past, the government there fought against terrorism. But now because of the civil war they stopped. AQAP has very good bomb-makers. The bombs were so sophisticated they were not detected by airport machines. Only due to good intelligence, several of their lethal plans to bomb airplanes were prevented.

I am also concerned about another al-Qaeda entity – Khorasan Group – sent from Pakistan by Ayman al-Zawahiri into Syria. There are indications that the two groups cooperate with each other.”

Al-Qaeda confirmed this week that Nasser al-Wuhayshi, leader of AQAP, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen. What is your answer to the claim that both al-Qaeda and Islamic State were created as a result of U.S. involvement in the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the ’80s and the U.S. toppling of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in Iraq in 2003?

“It is ridiculous. It is an attempt to revise history. There are many reasons for extremism and these terrorist groups would have been created regardless of U.S. politics and actions.”

Morell shared an entertaining anecdote about Saddam in his book, which explains why the deposed Iraqi dictator grew a beard during captivity.

Morell says a clean-shaven Saddam was taken for medical treatment under U.S. custody, and tried to flirt with the nurse, to no avail. When he asked his U.S. debriefer – whom Saddam had become friendly with – why the nurse wasn’t interested, the American escort told the Iraqi dictator (in jest) that it was because American women like men with facial hair.

Saddam walked into the courtroom a few weeks later with a wild beard. Commentators concluded that he was trying to look Islamic to appeal to religious elements in court. “It was a humorous example of Saddam’s misjudging Americans,” wrote Morell.

But this could also be said about the United States – that it doesn’t understand the Middle East and that its actions in the war against the terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria are weak.

“Yes, I know. But I am convinced that the Iraqi government in the end will regain the lands Islamic State has captured from them. It will take a few years, maybe three or four, but it will happen. We can’t fight instead of the Iraqis.”

And what about Syria. It seems the U.S. has no clear strategy?

“Yes, Syria is a big mess. Everyone is fighting everyone. There is a war there between a dictator and his people. A war being fought between emissaries of Iran and Saudi Arabia, between Shi’ites and Sunnis, between secular groups and fanatic Islamist organizations.

I don’t think anyone has an idea or plan of how to resume stability in Syria. To be honest, I must admit that I can’t answer how to solve the problem there. I can only say that efforts must be made to ensure that the mess in Syria doesn’t spread to nearby states, like Jordan or Israel.”

You mentioned Israel. Could you describe the relationship between the CIA and the Mossad?

“I won’t go into details, and I am going to be careful. I can say that the CIA has ties with many intelligence agencies in the world. Some of these relationships are more developed, and others are less developed.

With Israel’s intelligence community – not just the Mossad – the relations are some of the best in the world.”

And the political problems and disagreements between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama don’t disrupt the cultivation of intelligence ties?

“One of the nice things about intelligence cooperation is that it goes under the political radar. Even in times of political crisis, the ties and cooperation continue and sometimes even help reach a solution.”

What do you think of the Israeli intelligence people you have met with?

“I think they are some of the best in the world. Not just professionally, but as people too. I have only praise and admiration for them.”

In the past, American intelligence officials have made remarks indicating that Israel manipulates intelligence information to influence them, is that true?

“I have never experienced anything like that, and I never thought that Israeli intelligence was trying to ‘sell’ us something that we didn’t believe or that we thought was untrue. Nevertheless, certainly, sometimes your political leaders take stances that are not compatible with your intelligence positions.”

Are you referring to the disagreements between Netanyahu and Obama over Iran’s nuclear program?

“Yes, that is true, with regard to Iran, but I won’t go into details. I can only tell you that the argument is not about whether Iran poses a threat, but rather how close and tangible that threat is.”

Does that mean you agree with the assessment that Iran poses a threat?

“Yes, of course. Completely. But keep in mind that the nuclear program has three foundations. One is to achieve fissile material. The second is to build a bomb, and the third is to have delivery means. Most of the world’s deliberations are focused on the first stage. And here, too, a distinction must be made. Everyone is trying to understand what happens at the facilities designated for enriching uranium. But Iran has already declared them, and we know about them.”

You mean the facilities at Natanz and Fordo?

“Yes. But I think we should be much more concerned that maybe Iran has other secret facilities that we don’t know about.

The facility in Fordo was covert, but it was exposed thanks to good intelligence. So why do we think that they built only one and not more facilities that still haven’t been discovered? That is the great danger.”

Explain the problem with the covert uranium enrichment facilities.

“If they don’t have a covert facility, it will take them three or four years from now to build one. If they started building it three or four years ago, then by today they would already have one that we don’t know about. What I learned in intelligence is that I don’t know what I don’t know.”

How far do you think Iran is today from a bomb?

“When I was working, it was two to three years. Since then, they have advanced in shortening time. Without inspection and a deal, Iran would be able to produce its first bomb in two to three months.”

Do you support a nuclear deal with Iran?

“Because I don’t know the details, I can’t say. There are differences between what the U.S. says and what Iran claims. I think the deal the U.S. agreed to is a pretty good deal because of the inspection regime.

As an intelligence officer, I also ask, what is the alternative? There are two alternatives: To go back to where we were, with no negotiations, sanctions continue and are even harder – and they continue to work on their program. What is the implication of that? That the time to a bomb, would be reduced from two to three months to weeks.

Another alternative is a war, which would send a powerful message that we will not allow them to have a bomb. I am worried about such alternatives. There is a debate in Iran about what they should do with their nuclear program. A military strike would strengthen the hard-liners, who would say it wouldn’t have happened had we had nuclear weapons. That would enhance their efforts to get the bomb.”

Still, do you understand the Israeli prime minister’s position? 

“Yes I do. The difference between the President and the prime minister is easy to explain. The President focuses on getting a nuclear deal, which would take us from two or three months to one year from a bomb. The prime minister is focused on the bigger problem of Iran: What to do about their support for terrorist groups like Hezbollah and insurgents in the region, such as in Yemen, and their desire for regional hegemony, and their calls for the destruction of Israel.

The prime minister focuses on all of these in addition to the nuclear program, and he says the sanctions are good, let’s continue – because the Iranian behavior will not change.”

June 19, 2015

“When conditions are ripe,” Israel Wouldn’t Oppose Nuclear-Free MidEast — But for Now, Israel Thanks Obama for Blocking the Issue

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

Five more years.  That is the grace period granted to Israel — again — to avoid discussing Arab and international calls to open talks to create a Middle East Nuclear Free Zone.

That is the practical result after the Review Conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty failed, over the weekend, to reach a consensus and ended without a final statement.

Once again, it was the United States (together with the U.K. and Canada) that came to the rescue of Israel, taking it off the hook.  Israel won’t have to reveal anything that it has — or pretends perhaps not to have — when it comes to nuclear weapons.

But What Does Israel Have? Netanyahu Doesn't Have to Tell

But What Does Israel Have? Netanyahu Doesn’t Have to Tell

The month-long conference convened in New York City with more than 150 countries in attendance. It collapsed after the U.S. rejected an Egyptian draft resolution, backed by the majority of the member states, echoing decades of calls to dismantle any nuclear weapons that Israel may have, which the Jewish state neither confirms nor denies.

The final paper, drafted by Cairo and opposed by the U.S., would have called upon United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to convene a regional conference on banning nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical and biological, by March 2016.

Egypt, however, also insisted that the conference be held with or without Israel’s participation, without prior agreement on an agenda, and with no discussion of regional security issues.

Any reference to establishing a Middle East Nuclear Free Zone (MENFZ) is perceived as directed against Israel, which, according to international and regional perception, is so far the only possessor of such weapons in the region.

U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller announced on Friday that there was “no agreement,” and accused Egypt and other Arab states of demanding “unrealistic and unworkable conditions” in the negotiations. “We have made clear throughout the process that we will not accept the efforts by some to cynically manipulate the [conference] or try to leverage the negotiation to advance their narrow objectives,” she told attendees.

The NPT Review Conference was the fourth since 1995 (they are convened every five years). The purpose of the conferences is to draft a new treaty since the current NPT, which entered into force in 1970, was intended for a limited period of 25 years.

According to the NPT, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, technology, knowhow and equipment that would enable states to build nuclear bombs is universally forbidden, and only the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council – the U.S., Russia, China, U.K. and France – are permitted to have The Bomb.

Some of the existing clauses of the NPT, and particularly the one just cited, are challenged by emerging powers such as India, Brazil and Argentina, which demand full equality — and urge the five major powers to get rid of their nuclear arsenals.

Since decisions at the Review Conference have to be accepted by consensus and approved by all participants, the U.S. rejection of the Egyptian draft led to the conference’s failure.

While there were disagreements on other aspects of the NPT, the Middle East issue was the most divisive.

Israel, which (like India, Pakistan and North Korea) is not a signatory member of the NPT, for the first time this year agreed to attend the Review Conference in the capacity of an “observer.”

Israel noticed (with displeasure) that at the 2010 Review conference, the U.S. did not oppose an Egyptian final draft. That compelled Israel to take part in nonbinding and preliminary talks with states in the region, brokered by a Finnish diplomat, about the terms and conditions of how and when to convene a conference to discuss the creation of MENFZ.

The talks, which in one round included an Iranian diplomat, led nowhere because of unbridgeable differences between the sides and the disintegration in recent years of states in the region such as Syria, Iraq and Libya.

Over the weekend, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu phoned Secretary of State John Kerry and thanked him for the Obama Administration’s position and support.

The official position of Israel is that it doesn’t oppose — in principle — the convening in the future of a conference that will discuss the creation of a Middle East free of nuclear weapons as well as other weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery (missiles), but only when conditions are ripe.

Israel demands that before that happens, all states in the region, including Iran, must recognize the right of Israel to exist, sign peace treaties with it and put in place concrete security arrangements. The next Review Conference will be convened in 2020.

May 25, 2015

Israel Will Keep Protesting, But Already Prepares for “The Day After” the Iran Nuclear Deal — Including Covert Action

[The “framework” reached with Iran by the U.S. and its partners is “a good deal” — according to President Barack Obama — which, if implemented and obeyed, will make the world (including Israel) safer.  Many Israelis — certainly the reelected leaders — strongly disagree with that.  Perhaps continued pressure by Israel can make the final details — in the deal to be negotiated by June 30 — a bit more acceptable.  In this analysis for The Jerusalem Post, Yossi Melman — co-author of Spies Against Armageddon — considers how Israel may have to prepare for “the day after” the nuclear deal with Iran.] 

Israel continues to ready itself for the stark reality at the end of the Iran nuclear talks.

Netanyahu consults with Ya'alon and others

Netanyahu consults with Ya’alon and others (GPO photo)

Officially, Israel continues to criticize the talks and the pending nuclear agreement between the world powers and Iran. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, each in his own way, keep bashing the negotiations.

It will take nearly three more months to flesh out the full details of a final and comprehensive agreement. President Obama says Iran’s nuclear program will be reduced and rolled back so that it would take one year to “break out” to assemble a bomb. In return the West and the UN’s sanctions will be gradually lifted.

Most Israeli experts, and certainly its leaders, have argued without hesitation that the current deal is dangerous to Israel’s interests.

But is it really? The blatant reality is that even before the deal Iran was already a nuclear threshold state. And if it really wants to, it can run off and produce nuclear weapons.

On the other hand, Israel is the strongest nation in the region. According to foreign reports, the only democracy in the Middle East boasts both a significant nuclear arsenal and submarines that are capable of executing second strikes — the capability to respond to a nuclear attack with powerful nuclear retaliation.

Four Arab states – Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen – are disintegrating. As a result, Israel’s strategic posture has improved, as many of the serious military threats facing Israel have dissipated.

Israel would have preferred that there be no negotiations on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and that sanctions would be in place forever. But that won’t happen.

Without admitting it, Israel is preparing itself for the “day after,” adjusting its position to the reality at the end of the negotiations.

The world will never hear an official admission, but deep in their heart Israeli leaders surely understand they failed to orchestrate an international campaign against the talks and the deal that has emerged.

It was an unnecessary campaign. Israel paid a heavy price in its confrontation with the US administration, and it caused great animosity between Netanyahu and President Barack Obama. Frankly, Israel had very little influence, if at all, on the talks.

The only tangible result was that Netanyahu won reelection last month, after convincing the public that only he knows how to deal with the threat of Iran becoming a nuclear state.

But now, with election season over and the deal with Iran being shaped, Israel has started clandestine diplomatic and intelligence initiatives to reach understandings and define red lines on how to deal with the upcoming reality.

Israeli bodies – the Defense Ministry, the air force, Military Intelligence and the Mossad – are already involved in discreet contacts with their American counterparts, as well as with EU countries, on how to prepare various responses in case Iran violates the deal.

-Iran is Likely to Cheat-

The best-case scenario is that Iran will adhere to the agreement. But anyone who follows Iran’s nuclear history and its relations with international bodies such as the International Atomic Energy Agency knows that it is unlikely to happen.

Most probably Iran will try to dishonor its obligations through deceptions and lies.

Israel, with its counterparts, is trying to define the possible responses needed if and when Iran’s deceptions are exposed. In the past, international media reported that Mossad chiefs met with their Saudi counterparts to coordinate joint efforts to stop Iran from building nuclear bombs. In these reports it said Saudi Arabia agreed that the Israel Air Force would use Saudi airspace for an attack on Iran’s nuclear sites.

This doesn’t mean that Israel is already coordinating a detailed military option with all those who are against the deal. These exchanges are more about reaching a basic understanding, should Iran seriously violate the deal.

Indeed, one should not hastily reach the conclusion that Israel is expediting its preparations to strike Iran. For now, Israel is still relying on the Americans. Ya’alon made it clear this week that Obama had promised that he would not allow Iran to have nuclear weapons.

But it is also clear that Israel will not tolerate a situation where Iran is on the verge of producing nuclear bombs. In such a worst-case scenario, it is most probable that any Israeli prime minister will make the same decision as previous leaders – Menachem Begin in 1981 and Ehud Olmert in 2007, who ordered to destroy Iraqi and Syrian nuclear reactors, respectively. Even though it’s reported that Israel does have nuclear weapons it can’t allow Iran, which advocates the destruction of the Jewish state, to have nuclear bombs.

April 4, 2015

Israel Keeps Warning Iran Nuclear Deal is Bad — But It’s Not a Sword on Israel’s Throat

[Ths is adapted from an analysis by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon and other non-fiction books including the best seller Every Spy a Prince.]

Armed with half a dozen submarines, Israel’s strategic arm – along with the air force, and pending approval from the political echelon – could attack Iran to prevent it from assembling and deploying nuclear weapons. This is what former Mossad chief Meir Dagan meant when he spoke about a military attack as a last resort – “only when the sword is at the throat” — but still a possible option.

The deal unveiled in Switzerland on Friday between Iran and the five world powers plus Germany (P5+1), even if not ideal, certainly does not belong in the category of “sword at the throat.”

The Israeli government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, defined the pending agreement as a “bad deal.”

It’s true – maybe it would have been possible to reach an immeasurably better agreement. Iran has come to these talks, which are aimed at limiting its nuclear program, out of weakness. The heavy sanctions imposed on it over the last years – particularly on its oil exports and banking system – are threatening to crush its economy, and Iran’s leaders are concerned about the future of their regime.

But even with the concessions apparently being offered by the P5+1, Iran is being forced to capitulate. The centrifuges will not be dismantled, but their numbers will be reduced greatly.  And operations at both Fordow (once a secret site) and Arak will be restricted and subject to international inspections.

Each of these steps will distance Iran from being able to create nuclear weapons by at least a year. At the moment, it is only a few months away from such a capability.

It’s true that the agreement leaves some loopholes that are worrisome and that beg for solutions, such as requiring that Iran reveal its past “weaponization” activities, and how to prevent it from nuclear research and developing advanced models of centrifuges.

The question here is not only if this is a bad agreement – but rather, what is the alternative?

The alternative to foregoing a deal is even worse. With no international agreement and stringent inspections, Iran could already begin galloping toward a bomb.

Don’t forget: Israel is the strongest military and economic power in the Middle East. Its strategic posture amid the dissolution of the governments in the Arab world, has only improved in the last years.  There is no existential threat to the Jewish state. Not even from Iran.

Israel can permit itself to show more self-confidence than its prime minister, who imbues his citizens with fear, permits himself.  In any case, Israel always reserves the right to military action — perhaps even using the strategically invisible submarines — if ever it should feel “the sword at the throat.”

April 2, 2015


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