One of the greatest tools for Israeli espionage is the capability — for decades, the best in the Middle East — to put eyes on the enemy from high above, without even risking the lives of spies and pilots.
photo from Elbit Systems Ltd.
A new study of the global market for UAV’s (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) shows that Israel is the top exporter of the hardware and software that many countries are starting to use.
The United States military and the CIA operate their own fleets of drone aircraft, and despite the assumptions made by some observers, the Americans manufacture their own and insist that theirs are the best in the world.
The market study was published, for private clients, by the business research firm Frost & Sullivan and is reported by Haaretz.
It says that in the past eight years, Israel sold drones for dozens of nations for a total of $4.6 billion. The customers included India, which has become Israel’s largest market for arms sales. The United Kingdom and other NATO alliance members — such as Poland, Turkey, and even some customers in the U.S. — have also bought drones from Israel.
A sale to France is now being negotiated, and sales have gone through to Nigeria and Kenya in Africa — which both face terrorist threats. Angola and Azerbaijan have also bought drones.
Israel was the first country to use pilotless aircraft for intelligence-gathering, as early as the late 1970s. These days, Israel uses them to keep a close eye on Palestinian extremists in Gaza, the Hezbollah forces in Lebanon, and developments in Syria’s volatile civil war.
Note the absence of a cockpit or windows.
Drones were also used to track Iranian arms supplies to Hamas, even at remote locations in the Red Sea and along the coast of Sudan.
The Americans use their drones — which often have precision missiles mounted on them — to attack al-Qaeda and Taliban positions in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, and Somalia. Although not acknowledged by the U.S. government, American drone aircraft have also spied in the skies over Iran.
Israeli-made drone aircraft come in many sizes. Surveillance targets are meant never to notice the smallest ones, high overhead. There are wide-bodied UAVs that can be equipped with cameras, listening devices, and missiles. These are capable in all weather conditions, on sunny days and during dark nights, and can stay in the air for as long as 48 hours.
May 19, 2013
The controversial head of an Israeli defense facility that is almost never talked about — the Israel Institute of Biological Research (IIBR) at Nes Ziona — has retired.
Dr. Avigdor Shafferman was director of IIBR, one of the country’s most secretive security institutes — for 18 years. He is considered one of the world’s top experts on anthrax, although Israel has never confirmed having weaponized versions of anthrax or any other lethal biological compounds.
His replacement will be Dr. Shmuel (Samuel) Shapira, whose role in the department of anesthesiology at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem may not seem to have much to do with biological weapons. Yet he is also deputy director-general of the hospital and director of a “military medical school” at Hadassah.
Senior officials at Hadassah Medical Center have a role in preparing Israel for coping with possible attacks in the future by enemies using non-conventional weapons. Dr. Shapira also served in the navy as a lieutenant colonel.
He has been a consultant to the Rand Corporation and to the U.S. government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
[In an earlier blog post here at IsraelSpy.com, we said that the most likely pick for director would be Shafferman's deputy, Dr. Gadi Frishman. But the Defense Ministry went in a different direction.]
official logo of the secretive institute (at iibr.gov.il)
IIBR employs approximately 300 scientists and technicians, all of whom sign secrecy agreements. Located 15 miles south of Tel Aviv, the Institute’s laboratory work is believed to include both biological and chemical weapons — as well as countermeasures that Israel might need to defend itself. Researchers there developed a vaccine against anthrax, more than a decade ago.
Over the years, IIBR has benefited from grant money from the Pentagon and the U.S. Army and Navy.
As reported in our book, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, IIBR also works closely with the Mossad when the spy agency needs ways of poisoning Israel’s enemies — such as in the failed assassination of the Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Amman, Jordan, in 1996.
Preparing defenses against chemical and biological weapons that might strike Israel has taken on a new importance, because of the civil war in neighboring Syria. Even before America’s Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel declared (on April 25, 2013) that there is evidence that Syrian government forces used poison gas or chemicals against rebels, a senior Israeli military officer had revealed that disturbing fact.
Brig.Gen. Itai Bron, the head of the Research Directorate of Aman — the military intelligence agency — was the first to reveal that Bashar al-Assad’s regime used Sarin gas on several occasions against the rebels.
Dr. Shafferman’s pet project, more than a decade ago, was to develop a vaccine against anthrax. But it turned out that with the collaboration of the army’s Medical Corps, vaccine tests on soldiers were conducted in contrast to the Helsinki Convention’s guidelines for conducting medical tests on human beings.
An inquiry committee, set up a few years ago by the ethics department of the Israel Doctors Association, hinted that the soldiers may have been abused as guinea pigs to serve “foreign interests.” As reported by the French website Intelligence On-Line, IIBR received a grant of $200 million from America — in return for providing the anthrax test results to the U.S. military. That financed a production line at Nes Ziona, where the Institute produces the anthrax vaccine and other medications. The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz revealed the tests on soldiers.
May 8, 2013
Israeli authorities have now released the full report by a judge on the death of Ben Zygier, the Australia-born man who moved to Israel and became a Mossad operative.
He hanged himself in a high-security, solitary cell partially covered by surveillance cameras. The new revelations include a visit to Zygier — on the day of his death in December 2010 — by his wife and their daughter.
The report says he was miserable and crying, after the visit. At one point, a minder from the Prisons Service prevented Zygier from passing a note to his wife. This made him so distraught that the wife was allowed to re-enter the cell to spend a few more minutes with him.
Ben Zygier (from Australia’s ABC)
A social worker — who had visited Zygier, we now learn, 57 times in the prison where his real name was never uttered — was informed of how upset the prisoner was. He had seemed, previously, to have possibly suicidal tendencies. But, because he had wept in the past, the social worker did not react.
The judge blamed the Prisons Service for Zygier’s death. She ruled that PS staffers did not faithfully monitor the surveillance cameras in his cell.
Her report does not state what is widely known by now: that Zygier, using the name Ben Alon, had been a secret operative for the Mossad. Why was he imprisoned, awaiting trial — with talk of a possible plea bargain? That remains secret.
Why was he so upset by something his wife told him? A source in the Jewish community in his native Melbourne, Australia, says Zygier’s wife was divorcing him. Israeli officials have not confirmed that.
April 26, 2013
Are Hezbollah agents living in Europe, South America, and parts of Asia as “moles,” preparing to surface — if activated by their commanders in Lebanon and Iran? Are they likely to receive attack orders, if Israel and/or the United States were to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities? Would Hezbollah be the key to the terrorism “blow-back” that many U.S. analysts fear?
There’s a new on-line magazine called TheTower.Org (with its second monthly issue in May 2013), published by the Washington-based The Israel Project, hoping to break some news and give perspective on major issues in the Middle East. Benjamin Weinthal has an article there on Europe– after years of denial and delay — moving toward branding Hezbollah (the militant Shi’ite party in Lebanon) as a terrorist organization. The article suggests that if Hezbollah organizing and fundraising were to be stopped in Europe, the entire group would be severely weakened.
TheTower.org Shows this Portrayal of Hezbollah’s Leader, Sheik Nasrallah, in a Museum in Lyon, France (taken from Abode of Chaos/Flickr)
In these excerpts from “Europe Has a Serious Hezbollah Problem,” Weinthal writes:
“Europe’s official policy of soft-pedaling Hezbollah emerged early in the organization’s history. Following a wave of Hezbollah attacks across Europe in the 1980s, Europe’s number one aim was to make them stop happening. The unspoken agreement struck between the two centered on legal recognition of Hezbollah’s presence—including fundraising—in Europe, in exchange for refraining from terrorism on European soil. …
“While this may have alleviated European anxieties, it had grave unintended consequences. Not only did it render Europe politically and militarily impotent against one of the world’s most dangerous terrorist organizations, it allowed Hezbollah to turn Europe into its economic backbone and create one of the world’s most powerful criminal enterprises. ..
“Once upon a time, Europe’s tacit deal with Hezbollah might have made sense, if only on the most Machiavellian, pragmatic level. But now, it is difficult to see what possible benefit the EU derives from it. It has not stopped Hezbollah from resuming terrorism on the continent. It has undermined Europe’s moral and political standing in the world. It has been of great economic benefit to Hezbollah, to the detriment of European criminal law. And it threatens to undermine the very stability of Lebanon and the greater Middle East that Europe so wants to preserve.”
Weinthal adds that the watershed event was the bombing of a tourist bus in Bulgaria, last July, that killed 5 Israelis and their Bulgarian bus driver.
A question for Israel’s intelligence community — which monitors Hezbollah activity in dozens of countries, often seeing the Lebanese terrorists working with Iranians and even Iran’s embassies — is whether Israel will vigorously pursue a low-level war outside the Middle East. After the massacre at the Munich Olympics in 1972, which left 11 Israeli athletes dead, the Mossad did engage in a brief but violent war against Palestinian militants in Europe.
April 25, 2013
On Sunday (April 21), as America’s new Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was due to arrive in Israel for high-level talks, word emerged of major arms sales to the Middle East approved by the Obama Administration. The framework of the sales is the traditional U.S. policy of ensuring that Israel has the QME — a “Qualitative Military Edge” over all of its neighbors.
Defense Secretary Hagel at Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem (official Pentagon photo)
Thus the sale includes advanced radar for fighter aircraft and aerial refueling planes for long-range missions — sparking speculation that Washington is not strongly discouraging the notion of an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
In a copyrighted report, the Associated Press notes:
The officials said the United States will sell to Israel an undisclosed number of KC-135 aerial refueling planes and V-22 Osprey aircraft, the tilt-rotor hybrid that can take off and land like a helicopter and then fly like an airplane, as well as precision-guided missiles and advanced radar for Israeli fighter aircraft. It would be the first sale of the V-22 to a foreign nation.
In Israel, officials said the U.S. offer is meant to ensure Israel’s military edge in the region, in light of arms sales the U.S. is advancing in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The weaponry is not expected to arrive in Israel for at least two years.
On Sunday in Israel, Defense Secretary Hagel called the planned arms delivery a “message” to Iran and its ambitions.
Before Hagel was confirmed as Leon Panetta’s replacement this year, some pro-Israel political activists in the United States had branded Hagel an unfair critic — and perhaps even an unsympathetic opponent — of Israel. There was no sign of this in his remarks in Jerusalem on Sunday.
Meantime — even though President Barack Obama and his new Secretary of State John Kerry were in Israel recently, reassuring Israelis that the United States will ensure that Iran never builds a nuclear bomb, Israel’s prime minister is sounding impatient, worried, and perhaps leaning toward military action against Iran.
Netanyahu, in BBC interview, 18 April 2013
An in-depth interview on the BBC with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was visiting London to attend Margaret Thatcher’s funeral, found him warning that Iran is moving rapidly toward the “red line” that he drew at the United Nations in New York last autumn: 250 kilograms of enriched uranium which, he says, could rapidly be turned into weapons-grade material to build a nuclear bomb.
Again skeptical of the negotiations that the U.S. and partners (in the P5+1 group of nations) plan to continue with Iran, Netanyahu said only a “military threat” has a chance of persuading the Iranians to stop their nuclear enrichment.
The New York Times is also highlighting renewed Israeli threats to strike at Iran — unilaterally, without U.S. involvement.
It has to be assumed that covert activities by U.S. and Israeli espionage agencies, aimed at closely monitoring the nuclear work inside Iran and probably gathering information on possible targets, continue — even though nothing in public is being said about it by the American and Israeli governments.
April 21, 2013
There is a perception in Israel that its intelligence agencies should help protect Jews wherever they are.-
By Yossi Melman [originally in The Jerusalem Report dated 22 April 2013]
Acts of anti-Semitism and terrorism against Jewish targets have been on the rise across Europe and South America in recent years – except in Switzerland, where the number of incidents against Jewish institutes dropped in 2012.
Elsewhere in Europe, including the relatively tranquil Scandinavian states, there were increased attacks against synagogues and Jewish community centers, the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, and the spraying of swastikas and Nazi symbols on Jewish property.
In several European countries, anti-Jewish ultra-national forces are on the march. In the June 2010 elections in Greece, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party won 21 seats in parliament; in Ukraine, the radical Svoboda (Freedom) party garnered 10 percent of the vote in the country’s November 2012 elections; and in Hungary, the relatively well-established Jobbik party is a significant political force. Hatred for Jews can still be found in the traditional roots of Christianity; and economic and social reasons, as well as politics, also play a role.
But, more and more, the hatred is also surfacing among the growing Muslim communities in various parts of the world, drawing inspiration from the al-Qaeda notion of “Global Jihad” against the “Crusaders (Christians) and Jews,” as decreed by Osama Bin Laden.
Since the 9/11 attacks on the US, dozens of attempts by radical Islamists – inspired by al-Qaeda, Iranian or Hezbollah agents – to hit Jewish and Israeli targets have been foiled by Israeli intelligence or local security services in places such as Hungary, India, Turkey, Thailand, Azerbaijan and others. According to reports in early April, agents on behalf of Hezbollah and the Iranian intelligence services were spotted collecting information and taking photos of the synagogue in Sofia, Bulgaria.
No wonder that the spread of anti-Semitism and the threat of Muslim terrorism are of major concern to Jewish leaders across the world.
But not only Jewish leaders are worried. So, too, is the Israeli intelligence community.
The Israeli intelligence community? What does it have to do with anti-Semitism directed at nationals of other countries? Well, apparently, it has plenty to do with it. The idea can be defined as “Jewish intelligence.”
It is based on the perception that if Israel is a Jewish state, then the Israeli intelligence agencies should also protect Jews wherever they are. The founding fathers of the Jewish state – and its intelligence community – believed that it was their almost mystical calling to ensure the safety of Jews around the world and to help them if they needed to emigrate to their ancient land. It was and still is a self-appointed mission. The individual communities rarely requested assistance.
Israeli envoys came to them, helped them to protect themselves against hostile neighbors, and gradually got them to emigrate if they wished so.
From the beginning, the Israeli intelligence community included two units charged with the task of carrying out such missions – one named Nativ and the other Bitzur.
Since the 1950s, Nativ, an independent unit within the Israeli intelligence community, was in charge of organizing the immigration of Jews from Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Since the collapse of Communism in the late 1980s, freedom of movement is ensured in these countries and there is no longer a real need for Nativ. Consecutive Israeli governments have toyed with the idea of disbanding the unit. Yet, it is still alive, albeit small in size and with limited tasks.
Bitzur, on the other hand, is active and busy. Part of the Mossad, the unit was charged with organizing immigration from Arab and Muslim countries, where Jews were in distress or were not allowed to leave their countries. Bitzur agents were involved in lifting the remaining Jews from Iraq, Syria and Lebanon in the 1970s, Ethiopian Jews from Sudan in the 1980s, Yemenite Jews in the 1990s, and, throughout the years, from Iran. At the same time, Bitzur was and still is responsible for ensuring that the local Jewish communities have the knowhow and means to defend themselves and their property.
These, however, are highly sensitive missions. Jews scattered around the world are usually not Israeli citizens. Their home countries do not like the notion of foreign interference in the lives of their nationals. The Jews receiving uninvited aid can suffer from a kind of a split personality – as well as accusations of dual loyalty hurled by the non-Jewish majorities all around them and the respective local governments.
As unique and touchy as it is, “Jewish intelligence” seemed natural. Israel calls itself the Jewish homeland and it has a Law of Return that grants automatic citizenship to any Jew who reaches its soil and asks for it. Israel has also had a powerful strategic motive. Immigration makes Israel stronger and bigger, in terms of population. More people mean improved national security.
Because of the sensitivity of the issues at stake, the intelligence chiefs very rarely talk about this hidden aspect of their duties, and certainly not in public. Yet, when they are asked privately, they say that “it was my finest hour.” Israeli leaders, too, are reluctant to discuss it, and they settle for general remarks about the “solidarity with our Jewish brethren.”
Only once was an exception recorded. It came in the wake of the August 11, 1982, terrorist attack carried out – in all likelihood by the Palestinian Abu Nidal faction – on the Jo Goldenberg restaurant on Rue des Rosiers in the Marais neighborhood of Paris. Six people were killed in the attack, which came after a wave of anti-Semitic and terrorist incidents against Jews and Jewish and Israeli targets in the French capital.
Then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin slammed the French government and its socialist president, Francois Mitterrand. “If the French authorities will not prevent the neo-Nazi manifestation of the murder of Jews, just because they are Jews, I, as a Jew, will not hesitate to call on the youth of our people living in France to actively defend the lives of Jews and their human dignity,” Begin warned, hinting that he would order Bitzur to activate its mission with local Jews, usually members of Zionist youth movements, to defend French Jewry.
This is exactly what happened 20 years earlier in Argentina. Following the kidnapping in Buenos Aires of Adolf Eichmann in 1960 and his subsequent trial and execution in Israel, a wave of anti-Semitic attacks spread across the South American nation, organized by a fascist group that had support from military and police officers. In July 1962, Fascists abducted a Jewish student and tattooed a Nazi swastika on her breast. Argentine Jews were terrified, and Israeli newspapers urged their government to “send assistance to our Jewish brethren.”
[from Mossad official website]
The Mossad, led then by its legendary chief, Isser Harel, moved in. He ordered the activation of Misgeret
(Framework), a unit of young local Jews trained to defend the local Jewish communities. The young local Jews were trained in camps in Argentina by Mossad-assigned Israeli military experts in martial arts, intelligence gathering, surveillance, navigation and the use of weapons. Once they were trained, the Jewish volunteers were assigned various security tasks, which included escorting school children back home, guarding Jewish facilities and, if necessary, launching attacks against the fascist thugs.
Today, some 50 years later, the same concept, measures and modes of operations are relevant and in place. Israel nowadays understands the complex issues with regard to the defense of Jewish communities. In the era of open societies and social media, what could have been achieved in secrecy, while undermining the sovereignty of other nations, is much more difficult to accomplish. Thus, Israel understands that the task of defending Jewish communities lies in the hands of local government.
Israel provides intelligence about plots against Jewish targets and is cooperating with local authorities, especially with friendly nations. But if worse comes to worst, it will not hesitate to resort to the old tactics.
April 14, 2013
This is from Balkanalysis.com — a website that takes those Balkan countries very seriously, as a hotbed of nationalism, power struggles, espionage, and potential terrorism.
An…Israeli expert, Yossi Melman, recently provided some significant commentary for Balkanalysis.com. A veteran journalist specializing in intelligence matters, Melman is the co-author (with CBS News’ Dan Raviv) of several critically-acclaimed contemporary studies, the most recent being Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israeli’s Secret Wars.
“Israeli agencies know that Iran’s MOIS and the al Qods force have established sleeper cells of agents and helpers in various key countries in regions all over the world, from South America and Central America to Southeast Asia and East and West Africa, and they try to locate weak links in the European chain… one such a weak link is the Balkans,” notes the Israel journalist. “They operated there during the wars of the 1990′s (mainly, in Bosnia and Kosovo) and they are trying to establish some sort of presence in Macedonia.”
The same local conditions that make the Balkans an attractive target for Hezbollah and Iran are also obliging Israeli security services to increase their focus. According to Melman, “the decision to expand the Israeli diplomatic presence [in the Balkans] is a byproduct of budgetary reasons, economic potential and yes, also the desire to challenge and stand up to Iran and Hezbollah terrorism.”
A key question emerges: what would Iran do if, as has been speculated for years, Israel and/or the US decide to attack it?
“Iran will respond and retaliate where it will have the operational capabilities, as we have seen in Bulgaria,” attests Melman. “Iran’s operations are based on, and are a result of, the following considerations: its capabilities, targets (whether there are easy and soft to attack) and above all not to leave its fingerprint, where they believe they would get away with murder- even if their agents are caught red-handed.”
“Having said that, this does not mean necessarily that the Mossad will open ‘stations,’” Melman continues. “Embassies provide a good logistic cover for intelligence operations but you can also have ‘jumpers’- liaison intelligence officers and officials who operate from HQ and ‘jump’ to countries were they are needed.”
However, he adds that while Israel enjoys “excellent cooperation” with local Balkan services, the latter in some cases “lack technological capacities and are weak in analysis, and certainly in monitoring outside elements like Iran- here enter the CIA and the Mossad to help them. The Burgas inquiry is a good example of such an international cooperation, combining local and international knowledge and understanding.”
For the rest of the analysis by Chris DeLiso — an American now based in Skopje, Macedonia — see: http://www.balkanalysis.com/bulgaria/2013/03/31/israeli-security-concerns-and-the-balkans/
April 7, 2013
While some journalists digging into the death of Ben Zygier, the Australian-born ex-Mossad man found hanged in a high-security cell in Israel, think they have it all figured out — there is a lot that remains tightly under wraps.
The mystery is fascinating and continues to play out in the media. One question worth considering is whether the Israeli public wants to know all the answers. There’s a traditional notion that Israelis sleep better, feeling that they’re well protected but not wanting to know precisely how.
Mossad’s official logo
A (British) Daily Telegraph blog cites some of the history in our book – pointing out that Israel is loath to give details of episodes that prove embarrassing to its intelligence community.
And the Berlin-based Benjamin Weinthal, a reporter and columnist for The Jerusalem Post, is featuring our conclusion that recent “revelations” about what Zygier did don’t seem to be fully accurate. Here’s what Weinthal wrote:
Intelligence Experts Challenge ‘Prisoner X’ Media
BERLIN – Two leading experts in the field of Israeli intelligence — Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman — have strongly questioned the veracity of an article last month by German media outlet Der Spiegel, claiming that Ben Zygier, the alleged Mossad agent known as “Prisoner X” who committed suicide in Ayalon Prison in 2010, endangered Mossad sources.
According to an article on Raviv and Melman’s website, named “Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars”, after their highly acclaimed book from last year, “recent articles by Der Spiegel and some Australian and Israeli newspapers stated that Zygier’s leaks put Mossad agents in extreme danger — specifically, Lebanese inside the Hezbollah organization who were secretly working for Israel. The latest sources disagree with that.”
According to German and Australian media reports, Zygier was arrested for passing sensitive information to Hezbollah that led to the arrests of two informants within the ranks of the Shi’ite organization. They also alleged that Siad al- Homsi and Mustafa Ali Awadeh were arrested in May 2009 for spying for Israel in Lebanon and sentenced to long prison terms after Zygier passed their names to a Hezbollah operative, according to the article.
According to the article titled “Partial exposure of what ‘Prisoner X,’ who committed suicide, did to anger Mossad – not quite what recent newspapers’ probe suggests” on the Spies against Armageddon website, the sources said that, in the Mossad’s view, Zygier did do damage — and some operatives could have been in danger because of what he revealed — but they refute the claim that the operations concerned were aimed at Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
“Officials also seem convinced that if similar circumstances were to recur — with a former or current Mossad operative, no matter where he had been born, being perceived as dangerously talkative — then Israel would probably handle things almost exactly the same way: Get the suspect to Israel, arrest him and make him vanish,” the article said.
“But this time authorities would take more care to ensure that the suspect not commit suicide — and might reconsider the wisdom of imposing a complete blackout regarding the person’s identity.”
Melman and Raviv have written extensively on Israel’s intelligence agencies and have earned a reputation for exhaustive reporting and analysis in the opaque world of intelligence.
Raviv is a national correspondent for CBS News and hosts a show on the CBS Radio Network.
Melman worked for Haaretz as a security and intelligence reporter and columnist.
April 6, 2013
by DAN RAVIV in Washington
According to well informed Western sources in the security and espionage field, the Australian-born Israeli citizen who was found dead in a high-security prison cell in Israel did — in the Mossad’s view — endanger some Mossad operations. That is why Ben Zygier was locked up in early 2010.
Ben Zygier (from Australia’s ABC)
An official Israeli investigation declared that Zygier hanged himself, in the bathroom portion of his cell in Ramle Prison, in December 2010. He was 34 years old.
Investigators could not explain why Zygier chose to end his own life, and senior Israelis were unwilling to state officially what the man did that angered the Mossad, the domestic security agency Shin Bet, and prosecutors. He was held anonymously in the prison and was nicknamed Prisoner X.
Officials do confirm that Zygier, who for a while as an Israeli citizen renamed himself Ben Alon, was an operative of the Mossad, which is responsible for foreign espionage operations.
The Western sources say that Zygier seemed almost the perfect kind of person to be recruited by Israeli intelligence. As a teenager in Melbourne, he was active in a Zionist youth movement. One source said that Zygier took part in training to help the Jewish community with self-defense. That kind of training has been, in many nations, arranged by Israeli government security officials.
He moved to Israel — or, as many Jews put it, “made aliyah” — in 1994, at age 18. He served in the Israel Defense Forces (the IDF, or Israel’s army) and was noticed as a potential recruit for intelligence work. Among other positive attributes, he had a genuine foreign passport which could help a covert operative establish his “legend” – his cover story.
The sources say Zygier/Alon was approached by the Mossad, went through the standard yet rigorous psychological and aptitude tests, and joined the secret agency in 2003. His assignments tended to involve high-tech knowledge, apparently including a placement with a company in Europe that did its best to penetrate Iran.
He was discharged by the Mossad in 2008, with no apparent stench of suspicion or scandal, but the sources say he was considered no longer suitable for his tasks. In 2009 he returned to Australia to study for an MBA — apparently with his wife and one daughter (a second daughter was born shortly before Zygier’s death).
According to the sources, he was excessively talkative back in Melbourne. Rubbing shoulders with fellow students from many nations, he openly spoke of his Mossad career.
For reasons not so clear as portrayed recently in Australian newspapers and Germany’s Der Spiegel, he was so talkative that the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) heard about him — wondering if he was a boastful Australian citizen, or a truly imprudent Israeli intelligence officer.
The Mossad also learned that Zygier was blabbing, which is not a professional term but summarizes what Israeli intelligence was said to be hearing. Examining who was having conversations with Zygier, the Mossad concluded that some of its operations were endangered by his revelations.
On his very next visit to Israel (and it is not clear if the Mossad somehow arranged an excuse or invitation that hastened Zygier’s flight to Tel Aviv), he was arrested.
Recent articles by Der Spiegel and some Australian and Israeli newspapers stated that Zygier’s leaks put Mossad agents in extreme danger — specifically, Lebanese inside the Hezbollah organization who were secretly working for Israel. The latest sources disagree with that.
Still, Israeli security officials wanted Zygier locked up and silenced — though they did not mean that they intended his death. The sources say that after his arrest, which was not announced publicly, he was interrogated and confessed that he had violated his lifetime secrecy pledge.
Prosecutors commenced discussing a plea bargain with attorneys for Zygier and with the prisoner himself. One of the lawyers said that a “double-digit” prison sentence — at least 10 years — was being discussed.
The sources said that, in the Mossad’s view, Zygier did do damage — and some operatives could have been in danger because of what he revealed — but they refute the claim that the operations concerned were aimed at Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
Officials also seem convinced that if similar circumstances were to recur — with a former or current Mossad operative, no matter where he had been born, being perceived as dangerously talkative — then Israel would probably handle things almost exactly the same way: Get the suspect to Israel, arrest him, and make him vanish.
But this time authorities would take more care to ensure that the suspect not commit suicide — and might reconsider the wisdom of imposing a complete blackout regarding the person’s identity.
April 5, 2013
by Dan Raviv in Washington
Presidents Obama and Shimon Peres review Israeli troops at Ben-Gurion airport (White House photo)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, answering some questions in public with President Barack Obama alongside in Jerusalem, emphasized that Israeli and U.S. intelligence assessments of Iran’s nuclear program do not differ. But there’s a differing sense of what “the timing” means to each country.
Somewhat surprisingly deciding not to disagree with his American guest on how long it might take for Iran to build nuclear bombs, Netanyahu said: “If Iran decides to go for a nuclear weapon, then it’s true it will take them about a year.” But he added that Iran’s uranium enrichment can reach a dangerous, unacceptable level even without a bomb being designed and constructed.
Netanyahu made a point of thanking Obama for saying in public that they have instructed their teams to negotiate a new ten-year security cooperation agreement. Their talks, behind closed doors, almost certainly included secret cooperation on many levels — including covert activities that the Mossad and the CIA have done together to retard Iran’s nuclear program.
Obama has begun a three-day visit to Israel, meant to counter the impression that many people had that he does not like the Jewish state. At Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport and then in Jerusalem, Obama repeatedly stressed his commitment to Israel’s security as the nation of the Jewish people.
March 20, 2013
It’s likely that the Mossad told ASIO — the Australian Security Intelligence Organization — what Ben Zygier allegedly did to endanger Israeli security. Zygier committed suicide in a high-security Israeli prison cell in December 2010. A native of Melbourne, Australia, he moved to Israel and reportedly became an undercover Mossad operative.
In this interview with Australia’s ABC Television (the Lateline program today), Yossi Melman — co-author of Spies Against Armageddon and previous books including the best-seller Every Spy a Prince — said Israeli intelligence may have been in a mood to share more information with ASIO than usual, because in early 2010 there was uproar in Australia over the revelation that Mossad operatives on an assassination mission in Dubai had used Australian passports, among others.
March 6, 2013
Sheera Frenkel, a reporter in Israel, has a piece in McClatchy Newspapers that includes Yossi Melman’s views on what the mysterious Australian-born man — found hanged in his prison cell in Israel — may have done to anger his bosses in the Mossad. Here are excerpts:
It’s still unclear why Israel’s Mossad jailed Prisoner X, Ben Zygier
“Knowing the Mossad, I don’t think they would be so harsh on someone who committed a mistake like talking to the Australian security services. I don’t think that talking to a friendly security service would earn him this kind of treatment, so it has to be something more than that,” said Yossi Melman, who co-wrote the book “Spies Against Armageddon,” a recitation of the Mossad’s triumphs and defeats, with Dan Raviv of CBS.
One Mossad officer, who agreed to speak to McClatchy only on the condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to talk to a reporter, said it would take a grave offense for the Mossad to treat one of its own in the manner Zygier was treated: arrested and then held and tried in secret.
…Melman has followed the case since 2010, when as a reporter for the newspaper Haaretz he petitioned the Israeli courts to lift the gag order on Zygier; first in June 2010, when Zygier was still alive, and then in January 2011, after Zygier was dead.
From an operational point of view, Melman said, Mossad would be careful to keep under wraps the true story of Zygier’s espionage activities and subsequent imprisonment. By now, he said, the spy agency probably has dissected what went wrong and thought hard about how to avoid it in the future.
“They are very rigorous in their soul searching when it comes to the briefings and internal investigation of operational aspects,” he said. “Whether they are big successes or failures, this is one thing that is done in house.”
February 24, 2013
Although Israel’s government has released portions of the official report on the death of Ben Zygier — and that is the only name being used for the Australian-born Israeli who was found hanged in a high-security prison cell in December 2010 — there is no confirmed information on what Zygier was doing for Israel’s foreign espionage agency, the Mossad. And no official word as to what was his alleged crime.
part of the ASIO agency website
In fact, considering that he was facing a prison sentence of greater than 10 years — based on one of his lawyer’s statement that a plea bargain would have included “a double-digit sentence” — it is difficult to believe that the “grave offense” was spilling information to a friendly intelligence service, specifically Australia’s ASIO.
Yes, identifying secret operatives or methods would be damaging — and Israel’s security agencies would punish any employee who did that.
But Zygier’s case glows with the sense of greater importance. A grave crime, in this field, would be unauthorized and intense contacts with hostile foreign agents, perhaps compromising an ongoing Israeli operation, or worst of all causing the death of Mossad personnel or their hired agents.
As for the fact that releasing almost any information on the Mossad’s work can be damaging, the revelations in the past week since Zygier’s identity was revealed by Australia’s ABC television include circumstantial evidence that he — and two other ex-Australians believed to have been working for the Mossad — were running a secret operation based in Italy.
a screen grab from Australian ABC’s documentary Feb. 12
The assumption is that the target country was Iran, and it seems only reasonable that a company in Europe serving as cover for the Mossad might be selling goods to Iran. We have reported that Israel managed, over the years, to see to it that faulty equipment was shipped to Iran’s nuclear program.
We can note also that Italy historically has been cooperative with Mossad efforts. Israel’s secret agency feels that its counterparts in Italy are quite friendly.
February 21, 2013
The Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar has published its own investigation into how Israel’s Mossad was able to assassinate Imad Mughniyeh, the highly elusive “defense minister” of Lebanon’s Shi’ite Muslim militia Hezbollah. The killing took place in February 2008, after a decades-long manhunt by Israel, the United States, and other Western countries which had felt the sting of Hezbollah skyjackings and other terrorism.
The newspaper confirms the notion that Mughniyeh and other Hezbollah men lowered their guard and were relaxed while in Damascus, believing that they were beyond Israel’s reach. The report suggests that Mughniyeh was walking alone, when a car bomb exploded:
On the evening of 12 February 2008, Mughniyeh had just finished a meeting with some of the most senior Palestinian leaders in the Syrian capital of Damascus. They had discussed ways to develop the capacities of the Palestinian resistance inside Palestine, and Gaza in particular.
Around 10:15 pm, Mughniyeh left his apartment building in the Kfar Sousa neighborhood of Damascus. He came down alone and started to walk toward his car, which was parked in an area of about 800m2 that was used as a parking lot outside a cluster of buildings.
The explosion was heard around 10:20 pm. Some people rushed to the location, including those Mughniyeh was seeing in the apartment. It turned out that when Mughniyeh had stepped out of the building’s main gate, a 2006 silver Mitsubishi Pajero 4×4 parked nine meters away exploded, killing him alone, on the spot.
The Lebanese newspaper continued with new details of a Syrian employed by the Israelis:
The Mossad recruited a Syrian expat who visited his country often, and asked him to move to Damascus to provide logistics for the operation. The agent provided a villa to hide the vehicle and affix it with explosives, in addition to accommodations for the group that carried out the operation.
He rented the villa in an upscale suburb of Damascus (“Assad Villages”), located to the northwest of Kfar Sousa, and asked an ironsmith to separate the car entrance from the pedestrian entrance with an iron net on three sides, making it look like a cage and blocking the entry to the villa from that location.
A while later, the agent went back to Syria and bought a Mitsubishi Pajero 4×4, after knowing that several similar makes visited the targeted location often. In addition, Mughniyeh sometimes drove the same make. The execution team used a different model, Mitsubishi Lancer, due to its popularity in Syria in general.
The Pajero, now parked in the villa, was equipped with explosives in its trunk door. It was later discovered that, in addition to the explosives, the bomb contained metal pellets that can cause extensive damage to the target instantaneously. The device was similar to several bombs used by Israel to assassinate resistance leaders in Lebanon and abroad.
The investigators and people close to the file are very secretive about the implementation team. But there are indicators that show that they were not Syrian citizens and that they had travelled in and out of the country to implement the operation.
In the early afternoon of 12 February 2008, one of the implementers drove the Pajero, equipped with explosives in its trunk door, and parked it outside the building frequented by Mughniyeh.
At dusk, the team of four individuals took the getaway Lancer and, after making sure that the construction workers had left the building under construction next to Mughniyeh’s building, three of them went upstairs to observe the parking lot, the target, and the vehicle with the explosives.
They chose an apartment on the sixth floor. One of them surveyed the area with binoculars, another was charged with detonating the explosives, and the third was for protection. The fourth waited in the getaway car parked at the back of the building close to the fence.
Right before 10:20 pm, Mughniyeh exited the building and, as soon as he reached the well-lit lot nine meters away from the Pajero, the bomb was detonated and he was killed instantly. The implementing team left the building and headed toward their getaway car.
They immediately drove toward the Mazzeh highway where they parked the car on the side of the road and left behind some items for distraction. The investigations showed that the implementing team faced a problem while escaping, which led them to leave the car and use another to escape to an unknown location.
Imad Mughniyeh’s funeral in Beirut, 2008
Here is what the book Spies Against Armageddon says about the Mossad finding and killing Imad Mughniyeh — on pages 301-302:
For Israeli intelligence, the most important target in Hezbollah was not Nasrallah. It was his “defense minister,” Imad Mughniyeh. He had been the Mossad’s most wanted man—and also on the FBI’s official list—for many years. Israel tried to kill Mughniyeh numerous times…
He was very elusive. Knowing he was a target, he changed his face, he changed his safe houses often, he changed his vehicles, and he barely traveled: only to Damascus, Syria, and to his masters in Iran. Until Dagan became the Mossad chief, those locales were out of bounds for Israeli assassination operations.
In the end, the Mossad showed that it could be patient as a hawk waiting for its prey. Waiting and watching, for one mistake. One opportunity.
That came in February 2008 in Damascus.
Syria was a dangerous place for Mossad operatives. The government had a large security apparatus, unusually adept at spying on its own people. Foreigners, too, were under constant watch. When the Mossad wanted to operate in Damascus, it would be highly unlikely that Israelis would pose as citizens of a Western country—the usual technique in most places. It would be wiser to melt into Syrian crowds on the streets. And a Kidon team managed to do that.
The Mossad had done it, in fact, four years earlier in Damascus. Izzedin el-Khalil, a senior operative in the military wing of Hamas—the Palestinian Islamic movement—was killed by a bomb planted under his car in September 2004. That was an important operational landmark. For the first time, the Mossad proved that it could execute a lethal mission in a front-line enemy capital other than Beirut, even in such a tightly controlled police state as Syria.
That mission gave the Kidon unit a great deal of confidence that it could carry out such strikes under the most challenging conditions imaginable. That was fully in accord with the undeclared motto of the Mossad, that everything is do-able.
Piecing together humint and telephone intercepts, Israeli intelligence managed to learn a great deal about Mughniyeh’s private life and tracked his movements, finally aware of his post-plastic surgery appearance. They took advantage of two human weaknesses, quite uncharacteristic for a master terrorist on the run.
First, hosted by Syrian intelligence in one of its guest apartments, and in constant contact with Iranian “diplomats,” Mughniyeh felt totally comfortable in Damascus. Living for decades with the assumption that he was an assassination target, he must have craved a place to feel safe. He let down his guard when in Syria, moving around with full self-confidence and no fear.
He also permitted himself to do, in Damascus, what he did not do at home in Lebanon: fool around with women. That, too, meant that he was literally a man about town, in moving cars more than a cautious man would be. Spies for the Mossad took note of routes that he repeatedly took.
A Kidon team, acting with great care in an enemy capital, managed to plant a bomb in or on Mughniyeh’s Japanese four-wheel-drive vehicle on February 12, 2008. The terrorist’s career ended with a blast. His body parts were scattered, but no one else was killed.
This was a triumph for the men and women of Israeli intelligence. They had accomplished the nearly impossible. Their feeling was similar to the satisfaction Americans would enjoy, three years later, when Navy Seals found and killed Osama bin Laden.
February 21, 2013
The constant tug of war between protecting the nation’s security and satisfying the people’s right to know — an important facet of Israeli life — is on display, as authorities gradually release details of Ben Zygier’s death: though not yet his life.
Ben Zygier (from Australia’s ABC “Foreign Correspondent”)
A judge approved the release of parts (though not all) of the investigators’ conclusion that Zygier — an Australian-born Israeli, reliably reported to have been a covert operative in the Mossad — hanged himself in his high-security prison cell on December 15, 2010. He tied a wet bedsheet to the bars of the window in the toilet-and-shower part of the cell, where cameras apparently were absent. The sheet was twisted tight around his neck.
The report also said that there was a small amount of a tranquilizer drug in his bloodstream, but the investigators stated that the drug had nothing to do with Zygier’s suicide.
The judge, however, declared that she is keeping the case open, because there is evidence of “culpability” by prison authorities. They should have known that preventing the possibility of suicide was a vital part of their job. But instead, according to The Jerusalem Post, they made their first priority isolating Zygier so that he could have no communication with other people.
The report might be considered surprising when it reveals that Zygier’s family was actively involved and kept informed during the death investigation. There is no indication, however, that the family was told anything at all about their loved one’s covert career — or what he might have done to anger the Mossad and Shin Bet (the domestic security agency).
Prime Minister Netanyahu
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu obviously sought to discredit media reports that Zygier’s violation was revealing information to the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) by issuing an unexpected statement: “between the government of Israel and all its agencies, and the government of Australia and the Australian security agencies, there is excellent cooperation, full coordination, and complete transparency in dealing with current issues.”
The situation seems to suggest again that Australian officials were not disturbed by Israel’s arrest of Zygier. Officials revealed last week that they were informed through intelligence channels when Zygier was locked up in February 2010. It is, at the least, a remarkable coincidence that around the same time the Australian government was criticizing the Mossad publicly for using Australian passports in its covert operations — including the murder, the previous month, of a Hamas operative in a Dubai hotel (the assassination mission in which up to 26 Israeli secret operatives were seen by security cameras).
Another reasonable conclusion, though admittedly not based on full facts, would be that Ben Zygier’s alleged crimes against Israel were considered very serious. One of the lawyers on his defense team has revealed that when Zygier was considering a plea bargain — a day or two before his death — the state prosecutors’ offer was a “double-digit sentence”: at least 10 years in prison.
February 20, 2013
A rare debate has broken out in Israel, on the subject of how problems, scandals, and misdeeds within the intelligence community are handled. Miri Regev, a former military censor (and spokeswoman for the Israel Defense Forces), is now a Member of Knesset (MK) in Prime Minister Benjamin Netayahu’s Likud Party. Regev is condemning other MK’s who rose, this week, to ask the Minister of Justice questions about “Prisoner X” — reportedly an Australian-born Mossad operative who was secretly jailed and then committed suicide in a special high-security cell in Ayalon Prison.
Miri Regev, MK, former army censor
Among other things, some MK’s — and some media figures on the radio and in newspapers — are asking why it took two years for an investigation to conclude officially that the man’s death was caused by suicide.
Regev told Israel Radio that the fact that a judge issued a gag order, preventing any reports or comments on the case, indicates that Israel’s security would be harmed if information were to get out.
Israel Hasson, MK and former Shin Bet official
Another MK, Israel Hasson — who used to be deputy director of the domestic security agency Shin Bet — told the same radio show: “This is an unusual case, an exception.” Hasson suggested that it is far from routine to hold an Israeli suspect in total secret. In these cases, he added, judges and lawyers are involved. An official government statement says the man’s family was informed, immediately, when he was arrested in 2010. Australia’s ABC television, which broke the story in a half-hour report this week, said the man was Ben Zygier — who renamed himself Ben Alon after moving to Israel, and also had an Australian passport in the name of “Ben Allen” — and that his family in Melbourne had his body flown there for burial in December 2010.
Hasson said: “There’s no little man sitting in a basement, making people vanish.” When the radio host, Aryeh Golan, wondered how we could be certain that laws and rights are honored, the former Shin Bet man said: “You can feel certain, and even proud.”
February 14, 2013
By YOSSI MELMAN in Tel Aviv
A prominent Israeli lawyer who frequently defends people accused of serious security-related violations confirms that he was one of four defense lawyers representing Ben Alon.
a screen grab from Australian ABC’s documentary this week
Alon was the immigrant from Australia (at age 24) who joined the Mossad as a secret operative, but then ran into severe trouble that has not yet been publicly explained. At age 34, in late 2010, he was found dead in a specially designed high-security cell in an Israeli prison — as revealed this week by Australia’s ABC in an episode of the documentary TV series “Foreign Correspondent.”
The official finding was that Alon — who was born in Australia as Ben Zygier — committed suicide by hanging.
Avigdor Feldman, the defense attorney respected for his human-rights work, visited the prisoner — whose arrest and imprisonment were kept absolutely secret, as ordered by a judge in her “gag order” — only two days before Alon’s death.
Feldman says he noticed no signs of severe distress and describes Alon as “a nice guy.”
The attorney was hired by Alon’s wife, who is an Israeli. (They were reported to have two children.) She wanted Feldman to provide “a second opinion” as to whether Alon should accept a plea bargain that was offered by State prosecutors. His wife and other unspecified family members were able to visit Alon, even though his location and predicament was an official secret that could not legally be revealed.
Alon was charged with very serious acts of espionage on behalf of enemies of Israel, but he insisted that he was innocent.
The start of his trial had been delayed, because plea bargain negotiations were continuing.
On this day that the Israeli government and courts partially lifted their ban on any discussion of this case in the Israeli news media, Ben Alon’s family and friends in the country remain silent. But in Australia, according to news media there, “friends” are describing his personality.
They apparently suggest that Alon (reported by the ABC documentary to have had a fairly new Australian passport naming him as “Ben Allen,” a name probably chosen because it doesn’t appear Jewish or Israeli) was “talkative” — a friendly chatterbox.
He may have been using that trait or ability in the service of Israel, as he is said to have made a point of befriending Iranian and Syrian students in Australia — while ostensibly taking courses in his native country, during a long break from his life in Israel. There is also the possibility that he was being too friendly with Iranians — too friendly, from a Mossad point of view.
With his “clean” Australian passport he could, of course, visit Iran, Syria, and other locales that Israel considers to be “enemy countries.” The cover story could be visiting friends, or doing business on behalf of non-Israeli companies selling products in the Middle East.
Having contact with the enemy — even as part of your espionage mission — can be extremely delicate, often leading to suspicions that you got too close to “the other side.” There have been occasions when a spy who may have seemed reliable is suspected of becoming a double agent, and a person’s true loyalties are difficult to ascertain in some cases.
There is the suggestion now that Alon had a possibly “problematic” personality, which was discovered little-by-little. He is believed to have been a Mossad operative for only about four years, indicating that he did not become a senior man in the espionage agency.
February 13, 2013
By DAN RAVIV in New York
As some in the Israeli press praise a few members of Knesset for insisting on public exposure of whatever happened to a Mossad operative — believed now to be an Australian Jew who moved to Israel, became a secret agent, and ended up hanging himself in an Israeli jail while held as an unnamed “Prisoner X” — an issue of press freedom arises again: Can gag orders by courts and the instructions of Israel’s military censor hermetically seal any story? Any story at all?
As Jodi Rudoren of The New York Times indicates from Jerusalem, people in the know are aware of other long-term secrets that have never been discussed in public in Israel. Judges and censors often contend that they are acting to protect the security of the country, but sometimes it seems that all they are trying to prevent is embarrassment.
Below is an article written before Australian TV revealed the story — at least, the hints and facts that could be discovered — of the Australian Jew, Ben Zygier, who moved to Israel and somehow ran fatally afoul of his Mossad employers.
[Here is a preview of an article to be in the February 25 edition of The Jerusalem Report, a magazine published by distributed by The Jerusalem Post.]
By YOSSI MELMAN
Israeli censorship of the media is an old and outdated institution. It was established nearly 80 years ago during the British Mandate in Palestine. Its authority is derived from British Emergency Laws, some of which have been adopted by the State of Israel. The institution is replete with contradictions.
For example, it is a military unit which employs mainly civilians. The Chief Censor is a military officer in uniform (the post has been held in recent years by female Brigadier-General Sima Vaknin-Gil), who is not subordinate to the Chief of Staff, but to a civilian, the Defense Minister. This is meant to provide the Chief Censor’s office some measure of professional independence.
Indeed, many censorship decisions are reasonable and professional and intended to prevent the leakage of core secrets, which could genuinely damage national security. But sometimes the censor’s efforts are futile.
Such was the case of the recent Israel Air Force attack on a Syrian weapons convoy headed for Hezbollah militants in Lebanon. The Israel government and military kept silent and the local media had no clue what had happened the night of January 29.
When the first reports emerged from Lebanon and later from the Western media about a mysterious air strike, Israel censorship went into a state of panic. Military Intelligence feared that if the Israeli media reported the incident from its own sources, Syria or Hezbollah might hold Israel responsible and retaliate. Thus, the military censor tried to prevent the Israeli media from publishing information or even hints that Israel was behind the attack. In some instances, the overly zealous censors were performing in a theater of the absurd. They refused to allow the publication in Israel of facts or analysis that had originated in the foreign media. Local journalists dealing with security matters were frustrated and helpless.
But a few days later the weakness and limits of censorship were fully exposed. It was no less than Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the censor’s boss, who upset the apple cart.
While attending an international security forum of diplomats and defense officials in Munich, he was asked about the air strike. He initially toed the censor’s line saying, “I cannot add anything to what you have read in the newspapers about what happened in Syria several days ago.” But then he let the cat out of the bag by adding, “I keep telling frankly that we said – and that’s proof when we said something we mean it – we say that we don’t think it should be allowed to bring advanced weapons systems into Lebanon.”
It was not the first time that Israeli leaders and officials have broken the strict censorship, which they themselves impose on the media. The leaders preach and condemn the media for supposedly leaking secrets, while they hint, wink and make a mockery of the censorship, which does not have authority to censor them.
The attack on Syrian soil was meant to serve as a warning to the crippled Bashar Assad regime not to transfer sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah and, above all, not to move anti-aircraft missiles and radar systems, which can limit the freedom of the IAF to fly in Lebanese skies. However, if the Syrian regime does not understand the message and keeps transferring weapons to the Shiite organization, it will be difficult for Israel to repeat its action. Syria will face tremendous difficulties to swallow its pride in the face of the Israeli violation of its sovereignty.
Despite its weakness and lack of desire to open another front, which may exacerbate its collapse, the regime will most probably have no choice but to retaliate next time.
February 13, 2013
By DAN RAVIV in New York
The media outside Israel can repeat what Australia’s ABC TV is reporting: that an Australian Jew who moved to Israel — “made aliyah” — at age 24 went on to join the Mossad as a secret operative … and met an unhappy end a decade later.
The ‘Mossad suicide’: Identified by Australia’s ABC (photo from its program Foreign Correspondent) as Ben Alon a.k.a. Ben Allen, originally Ben Zygier of Melbourne.
Australian ABC’s reporter carefully tiptoed around Israeli censorship and a gag order issued by a judge — even reporting on the gag order, which Israel’s newspapers and broadcast media are banned from doing. It makes for interesting reading and viewing:
The full half-hour Australian program is here: http://youtu.be/1HMN7UmOy18
Our book, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, reports on other occasions when Israel “disappeared” an enemy or even an Israeli considered to be a renegade. Despite being a democratic country, a nation of laws? Many people ask. Israelis who have spoken about this kind of action in the past — if they are connected with the security apparatus of the country — say that if someone is tried in secret and jailed in secret, those steps are approved by a judge and by a senior government official.
Still, on the rare occasions that details do emerge, it is highly controversial. And it’s apparently not good for Israel’s image.
Except for this: Security and intelligence officials in many countries, when speaking about Israel’s Shin Bet (domestic security service) and Mossad (the foreign espionage agency), say: Don’t mess with the Israelis.
February 12, 2013
[This article will appear in The Jerusalem Report later this month, a magazine published and distributed by The Jerusalem Post.]
by Yossi Melman in Tel Aviv
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared once again to be beating the war drums against Iran at around midnight on January 22, a mere two hours after exit polls aired on Israel’s three news channels showed his Likud Beytenu party losing 24 percent of its parliamentary power in the national election. Nevertheless Netanyahu, who, despite the electoral setback, will form the next government, was again raising the Iranian specter, even though he had ignored it for several months.
During his four-year term, Netanyahu repeatedly warned of the danger facing Israel if Iran were to achieve nuclear-weapon capability. In inflammatory terms, he described Iran as a country posing an “existential threat” to the Jewish state. He likened the situation facing Israel to the 1938 Munich agreement, in which Britain and France caved in to Adolf Hitler and sacrificed Czechoslovakia in the name of appeasement.
Netanyahu attempted to create the impression that Israel was in a similar situation to European Jewry on the verge of the Holocaust. And words were not sufficient for Netanyahu; they were followed by deeds. He boosted the Israel Air Force budget and ordered the military to accelerate its preparations for an attack on Iran’s nuclear sites. In late 2010, he convened an unofficial meeting of top-level military and intelligence officials and issued an order to put the military machine on alert. His security chiefs managed to calm him down.
The impression in Israel and outside is that the prime minister is on a one-man crusade. No wonder Yuval Diskin, the former head of the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet), called Netanyahu “the messiah from Caesarea” – where the prime minister has a seaside home and where he spends his weekends.
Throughout 2012 it seemed that an Israeli attack on Iran was inevitable. Local and international media pundits, as well as foreign intelligence communities, were setting date after date for an imminent Israeli attack. A few commentators, myself among them, doubted that Israel would attack Iran, but their voices were, for the most part, ignored.
Netanyahu’s obsession exacted a heavy price. Israelis were scared and close to panic. Relations between Israel and the US, which tried to prevent an Israeli attack, soured. And none of this helped to endear Netanyahu to US President Barack Obama.
And then came October – and the election campaign. Suddenly, the Iranian nuclear issue disappeared from the agenda, whisked away by a hidden hand. It was Netanyahu, who, together with his spin doctors, decided that sowing fear in the hearts and minds of the electorate was not a good ploy. Existential threats disappeared from the public domain.
But now that the election is over, Netanyahu is trying to revert to his old scare tactics, However, the prime minister’s renewed efforts vis-à-vis Iran are going to be far less convincing. He has fallen victim to the cry-wolf syndrome. How many times one can threaten with the same hollow words?
Moreover, in the wake of the election, Netanyahu and his party are now weaker; and a weak prime minister has less power to push his agenda. This weak prime minister will not have Ehud Barak, who has announced his retirement from politics, alongside him as his defense minister when the new government is formed. Netanyahu, who served as a junior officer in the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit, adored Barak, who commanded the unit at the time; and the prime minister was under Barak’s spell when it came to Iran. Netanyahu felt reassured and capable of making tough decisions when Barak was around.
This could explain why Netanyahu had no qualms about ordering the IAF to carry out a strike inside Syria on January 29 to prevent the transfer of sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah. Unlike the Iranian issue, over which Netanyahu and Barak had to contend with strong opposition to a military strike from their security chiefs, the top brass supported the decision to carry out the attack in Syria.
Meanwhile, senior military officials continue to oppose an Israeli attack on Iran. So when Barak leaves the Defense Ministry, Netanyahu will feel less confident to take tough decisions.
Netanyahu will be also restricted by his new coalition-in-the-making. As the second-biggest party in the Knesset, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid is going to be a major component of the new government, and it is more cautious and less adventurous in its approach to complicated security and foreign policy issues. The party’s two dominant voices in the field of security are Yaakov Perry, a former Shin Bet chief, and Ofer Shelah, a former journalist and political pundit. In the past, both have criticized Netanyahu and Barak for the way in which the two handled the Iran problem, and they can be expected to try to put the brakes on any Netanyahu military initiative.
But above all, it is the US which Netanyahu will have to take more seriously than he has done until now. By pushing the Iranian issue to the brink up until the elections in both the US and Israel the prime minister appeared to be on a collision course with Obama and his administration and seemed to be compromising the strategic alliance with Washington. Netanyahu put his money on Republican presidential campaign Mitt Romney – and lost the gamble. Now, he knows that he has to resuscitate the relationship, and means less freedom of maneuver for Israel.
In other words, if the chances of an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear sites were very slim before the election, they are now even slimmer.
And all of this is taking place as Iran continues to upgrade its uranium-enrichment capabilities. The Tehran regime announced that in January new centrifuges had been put into operation at its uranium-enrichment plant in Natanz. Iran has been working on these centrifuges for more than 10 years, and probably because of the impact of international sanctions had great difficulty in developing them. The new machines can operate five times faster than the old ones, and could therefore be game changers. They bring Iran closer to producing its first nuclear bomb – if it decides to further enrich its stockpile of already enriched uranium from 20 percent to 90 percent.
Bearing in mind all the political, military and international constraints it faces, Israel under its newly elected prime minister is entering 2013 with a limited range of options to deal with Iran. And more so than ever, it will have to rely on Obama’s good will and his promise not to allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.
February 8, 2013