What’s in the New ‘Spies Against Armageddon’? Mossad Options Limited in Iran, Palestinian Peace Hopes Stymied, Pressure from America, Upheavals in Syria and Egypt — and a Traitor

The authors of a best-selling history of Israel’s intelligence community – who revealed in 2012 that the Mossad had Israeli assassins operating inside Iran – now report that the assassination campaign has stopped.

Mossad chiefs decided that it became too dangerous, as Iran’s counter-intelligence units conducted an intensive manhunt. The Mossad could risk seeing its best combatants – Israel’s term for its most talented and experienced spies – arrested and hanged. Another factor: strong signals to Israel by the Obama Administration that it did not want acts of violence to continue inside Iran when negotiations were starting.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered the Mossad instead to focus – inside Iran – on hunting for evidence that the Iranians are cheating on their nuclear commitments to the West.

A new edition of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars reveals that the Mossad – the lethal, feared and respected intelligence agency of Israel – is going through tough times, even as the Middle East is in turmoil: posing an unprecedented set of challenges to Israel and the United States.  (The new edition was published in the Spring of 2014.)

In their updated book the authors – Dan Raviv of CBS News and Israeli journalist Yossi Melman (whose jointly written Every Spy a Prince was a national best seller in 1990) – report that a four-year campaign of assassinations ended after the killings of 5 nuclear scientists in Iran. The Associated Press and The New York Times (July 12, 2012) reported on Raviv and Melman’s original Spies Against Armageddon.

"Updated - New Revelations"

“Updated – New Revelations”

Also related to Iran, according to the updated book, the Mossad suffered unprecedented blows in 2013 when it was revealed that two of its operatives betrayed the organization and caused severe damage to its operations, morale, and omnipotent image. In prison they were known only as X and X2 – their identities kept secret by Israeli censorship and judicial gag orders. X turned out to be an Australian-born Mossad man whose story was unveiled after he hanged himself in his cell.

Authorities continue to block release of any details of X2’s action, except to hint that he gravely endangered former teammates.

The new Spies Against Armageddon has fresh information and perspective on huge events that have occurred since the original book came out in 2012:

–The civil war in Syria has become more vicious and complex, with the death toll rising to 130,000 and the list of lethal participants broadening to include al-Qaeda groups and intervention by Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other foreigners. Israeli spies were sent into action (crossing borders), and the air force has bombed Syrian targets – without any public confirmation.

–Egypt has had two changes of leadership: first, the election of a Muslim Brotherhood president, and then the toppling of President Mohamed Morsi by the Egyptian military. Israeli intelligence now secretly cooperates with Egypt against radicals in the Sinai – and potentially against Hamas in Gaza.

–Iran reached an interim agreement with the West, agreeing to scale back nuclear activities for at least six months; and Israeli leaders are frankly alarmed by signs of a rapprochement between Iran and America. The Mossad is scouring for evidence of cheating by Iran.

–The Israelis and Palestinians tried negotiating for a possible end to their historic conflict, and the intelligence community prepared for a possible outbreak of violence as Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts collapsed. A 51-day war between Israel and Gaza ensued within months.

–All the significant players in the Middle East seem to agree that leadership by the United States has been lacking, with Egyptians, Syrians, Iranians, Lebanese, Jordanians, and others – including America’s allies in Israel – wondering what President Barack Obama really wants.

The newly updated Spies Against Armageddon reveals that Israel has had to adjust rapidly its response to the tragic civil war that continues in neighboring Syria. Even as Israeli doctors treat wounded civilians, the Mossad takes the opportunity to glean intelligence – and, based on well established patterns, spies take advantage of chaos by crossing in and out of Syria.

Iran has been the Mossad’s top focus since 2002, but the mission has changed. As noted above, the assassination campaign has ended, due to increased dangers and opposition by the United States. Also narrowing Israel’s options: the Obama Administration’s determination to “give the talks a chance.” It’s clear now that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would not dare to bomb Iran. Netanyahu might saber-rattle, but there is no likely military option now

The Iranians, meantime, learned how to defend their nuclear computers and thus minimized damage from cyber-attacks – such as the Stuxnet virus, a joint U.S.-Israel creation.

Spies Against Armageddon is published in paperback and all e-book formats by Levant Books. Over 20,000 copies of Spies Against Armageddon have sold so far in Barnes & Noble outlets, independent bookstores, and on line. In addition to the national best seller Every Spy a Prince, other books co-authored by Raviv and Melman include Friends In Deed: Inside the U.S.-Israel Alliance and Behind the Uprising: Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians.

Their blog is IsraelSpy.com .

September 21, 2014

The Gaza War — Featuring an Israeli Intelligence Failure? Who Knew About Hamas Tunnels?

When the Gaza war that Israel calls “Operation Protective Edge” (in Hebrew the name is Tzuk Eitan, מִבְצָע צוּק אֵיתָן, which means Operation Robust Cliff) began over a month ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the key goal was to find and destroy the rockets and launchers that Hamas was using in Gaza — so as to bring calm to southern Israel, which has been targeted on-and-off for nearly 10 years.

IDF photo of a Gaza tunnel's opening

IDF photo of a Gaza tunnel’s opening

After 10 days of failing to stop the Hamas rocket barrage, Netanyahu sent in ground forces. Now the declared key goal became subterranean: locating and destroying a huge network of tunnels — some of which went under the border and had exit points near Israeli residential neighborhoods.

Didn’t the highly respected — almost mythical — Israeli intelligence know about the Hamas tunnels, now nicknamed “Underground Gaza”? Were the Palestinians able to spend millions of dollars worth of materials, and countless man-hours digging and reinforcing tunnels, without Israel noticing?

Senior Israeli military briefers now say: We knew about the tunnels.

Other officials said that moving against Underground Gaza — before the current conflict broke out in July — would have triggered a war. Israel would have been blamed. Even the Israeli public might not have been supportive of a preemptive invasion.

The briefers reveal that Israel even sent experts to Mexico and to South Korea — to see how smugglers’ and attack tunnels were built there.

Many Israelis are starting to ask, “Didn’t Israeli intelligence detect the tunnels as they were being dug?” Presaging what’s likely to be parliamentary investigation, members of the public are asking, “Did intelligence analysts speak to military commanders, and did they both clearly warn government officials and political leaders?”

Were the dots connected?  One senior briefer (who insists on not being named) was asked about claims by some cabinet ministers that the IDF (the military) and intelligence chiefs did not tell them “loud and clear” about the tunnels as a strategic threat from Gaza.

Hamas could have chosen to attack Israeli civilians or soldiers at any time. Many now are believing reports of a master plan by Hamas to send a large number of terrorists into Israel on the important New Year holiday, Rosh HaShana, this coming September.

The senior briefer responded to reporters — with a touch of sarcasm — that top military officers might speak in complex sentences, containing comprehensive information in just a few phrases, but it was apparent that Israel’s top civilian officials understood what the military was telling them.

August 10, 2014

Why Was the Missing Israeli Lieutenant Declared “Dead”? And Does the Army Have a Secret Plan to Kill Kidnapped Soldiers, to Avoid Crisis?

Israel was feeling the overwhelming national emotion of having a “missing soldier — kidnapped by terrorists,” but late on Saturday night (2 August) the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) decided to declare that Hadar Golding, a 23-year-old 2nd lieutenant, was dead.  Officials did not want to reveal publicly what they had found at the scene of a suicide bomb explosion on Friday morning — the one that shattered the ceasefire that had just begun in Gaza. Body parts? Pieces of Golding’s clothing? Or just the logical, almost certain conclusion that Golding — though his body was dragged away by Palestinian attackers — could not have survived, as he had been standing with the two soldiers whose corpses were found?

In Israeli society, why is the kidnapping of a soldier considered worse news than the death of IDF soldiers?  Because the army adheres to its commitment, to bring every fighter back home from captivity. Thus a kidnap leads inevitably to a lopsided prisoner exchange. In 2011 Israel released more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners — including convicted murderers — in exchange for Gilad Shalit, an IDF soldier who had been held by Hamas in Gaza for five years.

Lt. Hadar Goldin, declared dead by IDF

Lt. Hadar Goldin, declared dead by IDF

[The folowing analysis — which dismisses the notion of a secret IDF plan to kill Israeli soldiers when they have been captured — was written by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, for the website of the private TV news service broadcast from Israel, i24news.tv.]

Before the death of the Israeli army’s Second Lieutenant Hadar Golding was publicly declared, based on ‘findings in the field,’ Israeli intelligence did not have precise information to determine the fate of Goldin, who had been dragged away by Hamas fighters on Friday morning — approximately 90 minutes after the start of a ceasefire that was thus immediately shattered.

While the house-to-house search continued in the Rafah area (where the incident took place) to find out what exactly happened to him, a senior IDF officer said on Saturday morning that several scenarios were possible and under consideration. Initially, four scenarios were discussed. He could have been taken alive. He could have been taken alive and wounded. He could have been killed in the heat of the battle. He could have been killed later at the hands of his captors.

It is clear now that Hamas leaders were highly embarrassed by the incident. Some of their officials issued contradictory statements and details.

Musa Abu Marzuk, Hamas’s deputy chairman of the Political Bureau, said in Cairo a few hours after the incident that an Israeli soldier was in Hamas’s hands and gave his name. Friday night, Hamas’s military wing – Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades — posted an official statement on their website saying that they lost contact with their unit involved in the operation and that they assume that their combatants — together with the captured soldier — were killed by Israeli bombs.

Then came another statement by another senior Hamas official who said in Qatar that “honestly,” the organization doesn’t have any information. Hard to believe. Hamas is a highly hierarchical and disciplined organization and despite wartime difficulties, the chain of command and information from top to bottom and vice versa might be rusty — but it works.

So what really happened on Friday morning in Rafah? What went wrong? Israeli troops were involved in a mission to search for tunnels. This was allowed in the ceasefire terms announced by the United Nations and America’s Secretary of State John Kerry, and they said that Israel and all the Palestinian factions were on board.

One possibility, which is ruled out by most experts, is that Hamas leaders or the military wing commanders cynically played a double game, seemingly accepting the cease fire but deciding covertly to sabotage it.

A more plausible explanation is that it was an act of a local low-level commander or even of a unit which was hiding in a bunker for a mission — featuring one suicide bomber and other fighters to follow-up — and did not know that a ceasefire was declared.

Now, Hamas — and Palestinian civilians in Gaza — will pay a high price for the mistake. The Israeli security cabinet decided Friday night that negotiations with Hamas for another ceasefire are pointless.  Israel lost any faith it had in Hamas as a partner in a deal.

Instead, Israel will make a unilateral decision in regard to the continuation of its military operation in Gaza.

Although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon announced on Saturday night that Israel will continue to pound Hamas terrorists, Israel is highly likely to end its Gaza operations soon.

The IDF can credibly declare that most of its stated goals – the destruction of the tunnel network and the rocket arsenals – are accomplished. Israel, from now on, will rely on deterrence.  That’s in the belief that Hamas was so badly hit in this war that it is losing its appetite to renew the hostilities.

Peace and quiet — at least for a couple of years — may have been bought again, at the price of Palestinian and Israeli blood.

Practically, Israel returns to its simple strategy: Calm will be met by calm, and fire will be matched by more fire.  The Israelis are not ashamed, in any way, of the fact that they have a lot more firepower than does Hamas.

Following the 2011 deal that released Gilad Shalit — in exchange for over 1,000 Palestinians — Israel’s top military and political echelons have reached a tacit understanding: They will not agree again to release a high number of terrorists, to win the freedom of one or a few Israelis. And they do not intend to free large groups of prisoners in return for Israeli corpses held by the enemy.

This realization ignited many discussions – mostly based on rumors – regarding a supposed order known as “the Hannibal Directive.” Hannibal was a military code word used in the 1980s to report when a soldier was kidnapped.

Since the ’80s there were many serious theoretical debates on how to deal with incidents in which Israeli soldiers are kidnapped. Some proposed that it was better that the enemy would have a corpse rather a live soldier.

But although this proposal had never actually formed into any procedure, many in Israel and outside it – especially fans of conspiracy theories – spread the belief that the Hannibal Directive instructs the army to kill its own soldiers, rather than let them be captured.

In 2011 the Chief of Staff, General Benny Gantz, made it absolutely clear that there is no such procedure or directive. Hannibal is a figment of the imagination. The army doesn’t kill its own troops intentionally. But it’s very hard to stop a scandalous rumor.

August 3, 2014

Israeli Intelligence on Alert with a Civil War Next Door: Again, “The Syrians are On the Fences!”


(Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, wrote this article first for the website of the Israel-based television news channel, i24news.tv)

During the surprising and successful Syrian attack (simultaneously coordinated with Egypt) aimed at recapturing the Golan Heights from Israel on October 6, 1973, one could hear on military radios the panicking voices of Israeli military commanders from their bunkers and posts: “The Syrians are on the fences!”

Forty years after the Yom Kippur War, the Syrians are once again dangerously close to Israel’s fences, though this time it is a different kind of Syrian, with a different network of support.

When the Syrian civil war broke out in March 2011, then-Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak predicted in his “I can never be wrong” attitude that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime would be finished off by the rebels “within three weeks.”

Bashar al-Assad, Still Hanging On (courtesy: Iran's Press TV)

Bashar al-Assad, Still Hanging On (courtesy: Iran’s Press TV)

Three years later, Assad is still holding onto power and has recently even strengthened his positions in various parts of the country. Israel’s current Defense Minister Moshe (“Boogie”) Ya’alon believes that the Syrian president is in control of only 40 percent of the country’s territory.

What concerns Israel, however, is that the trend has reversed along the 100-kilometer (62-mile) strip of the Israeli-Syrian border, spreading from Mount Hermon in northern Golan to the El Hama enclave in the southern part of the Golan near the border with Jordan.

In this area, close to Israeli military positions and not far from Golan-Heights Jewish settlements, the Syrian army has lost important positions to the rebels. Some of the opposition fighters belong to the extreme Islamist movement of Jabhat al-Nusra. This group is a mixed bag of Syrian and foreign fighters who infiltrated that country from neighboring Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey to join the “holy” battle.

Two important developments mark the consolidation of al-Nusra’s jihadist combatants. The first was the seizure of Tel (“Hill”) al-Ahmar, only a couple of hundred meters (yards) from the Israeli border.

The hill and its 200 Syrian army defenders were besieged for months. The Syrian Air Force parachuted supplies of food, medicine and ammunition, and the planes bombed the surrounding rebels. At a certain stage, a Syrian army brigade tried to break through and shatter the siege, but was it ambushed and failed in its mission.

After the conquest, the Islamists took a group photo atop the hill, waving banners praising Osama bin Laden. Even more significant and worrisome from the Israeli perspective was the fact that the rebels got their hands on sophisticated weapons, such as anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles, which they captured from Syria’s army. These were the kind of missiles which Israeli officials describe as “game changers.”

When those kinds of missiles were being transported from place to place by Syria’s army, the Israeli Air Force — though without ever acknowledging this — bombed the convoys.  There were reportedly at least six bombing raids, aimed at preventing the weapons from reaching Hezbollah forces in Lebanon.

The missiles, including potentially potent anti-aircraft systems, may not have reached the Shi’ite Lebanese of Hezbollah, but they are now in the hands of other radicals: the disciples of Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda.

They too are dangerous enemies of Israel.

In an even more far-reaching development, al-Nusra fighters took over another strategic post near the Israeli border a few days ago: Tel al-Jabia in the southern part of the region.

The triumphant announcement by al-Nusra including a significant nugget of information on secret intelligence-gathering.  The statement declared that the Syrian army had been operating a secret intelligence base inside the hill, manned and controlled by Iranian officers.  They had been directing the Islamic Republic of Iran’s electronic bugging equipment in the direction of Israel.

This announcement appears to confirm what analysts had speculated for years: that Iranian intelligence officers hold positions on the Syrian side of the frontier with Israel.  That underlines just how the Syrian-Iranian strategic alliance is directed against Israel.

The rebels scored another major achievement in their successful takeover of the headquarters of Brigade 61 of the Syrian army, which is tasked with controlling the entire border area. The brigade commanders were forced to retreat to Damascus during the takeover and are now leading the war in the Syrian Golan from “behind,” rather than on the front lines with their soldiers.

Israeli officials estimate that nearly 60 to 70 percent of the area is under rebel control, including the surroundings of the regional capital Quneitra (which also serves as the official crossing point between Syria and Israel for U.N. observers and a few local residents).

It is not clear, however, what the division is between the anti-Israel Islamist forces such as al-Nusra and a few other small groups versus the secular units which belong to the Free Syria Army (FSA).  The FSA rebels are considered to be sympathetic to the West and voice little (if any) hostility toward Israel. Some FSA commanders and top leaders expressed in the past their hopes that Israel would help them with weapons and even training to fight the Assad regime.

Israel’s official policy is not to interfere in the civil war, but as Defense Minister Ya’alon has said on numerous occasions, Israel will act “to defend our vital interests.” These interests include preventing the transfer of sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah and retaliating whenever shells or missiles are fired toward the Israeli side of the border — be they errant or deliberate by the Assad army or the rebels.

Regardless of its declared policy, Israel is quietly trying to shape what happens on the other side of the border. It does so by striving to maintain ties with elders and local leaders in villages along the border, encouraging them to block Islamist elements from entering their villages.

In return, Israel rewards these villagers by allowing wounded civilians and warriors of the secular groups to cross into Israel and be treated in a field hospital operated by IDF near the border. So far, more than 1,000 Syrians have been treated at this hospital.

For years before their injuries, these Syrians’ brains were washed with anti-Israel propaganda authored by the Assad regime. Now, when Syrians return home from Israel, it is hoped that they will be fairly friendly ambassadors for the Jewish State by praising the treatment they received from official enemies.

Israeli intelligence estimates see no sign that the war will end in the near future. According to this estimate, the two sides are deadlocked, and the war may prolong for many years to come. Another intelligence estimate surmises that Assad is trying to hide some residual chemical weapons, though there is no concrete evidence to verify this claim.

The United Nations announced recently that 92 percent of the regime’s chemical weapons have been removed from Syria and destroyed. As long as Assad and his regime remain in power, the Islamist militants will target him as their main priority. But Israeli military and intelligence planners do not rule out the possibility that the Islamists may one day turn their arms — including sophisticated weapons — against Israel.

May 1, 2014

Turn the Clock Back 32 Years: Lebanon Was the Battleground — Before Hezbollah’s Rise to Power

[Here is part of Chapter 14, “Northern Exposure,” in the history of Israeli espionage and security by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman — Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.]

No one needed the best intelligence in the world to know that Israel
was poised to attack the PLO infrastructure in Lebanon in 1982.

Menachem Begin’s intentions became clear after his reelection
in 1981. With a measure of reluctance and a whirlwind of controversy, Begin
elevated Ariel Sharon to the post of defense minister. The feisty and ambitious
retired general had a reputation as a man of action who believed in using a
glove of iron—rather than velvet—in dealing with Arabs.

Another cabinet minister remarked—only half-jokingly—that if Sharon
got that job, one day tanks would surround the prime minister’s office in a
coup d’état. Yet Sharon, as a hero of the Yom Kippur War against Egypt, had
many admirers and lobbied vigorously for the defense ministry. Begin lavished
praise on Sharon as a modern-day Judah the Maccabee, but also feared Sharon
as a charismatic figure who could cause trouble.

What did occur, and quickly, was that Sharon began planning an invasion
of Lebanon. Military planners codenamed it “Big Pine.” The concept, in
truth, also fit Begin’s strategy. The prime minister was feeling remorse over his
offer of Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza—part of his peace
treaty with Egypt’s President Sadat in 1979. Begin now was concerned that
autonomy would lead to an independent Palestinian state, which he opposed.
The most effective way to derail that would be to smash the organization that
embodied the Palestinians’ aspirations, the PLO.

In public, Begin kept warning that Palestinian terrorists—after being
expelled from Jordan in 1971—had built a state within a state in Lebanon as
a launching pad for attacks southward into Israel. He even dehumanized the
enemy by referring to PLO chairman Yasser Arafat as “this man with hair on
his face,” and to the PLO as “two-legged beasts.”

Even for the large circle of Israelis who were privy to the secret war plans,
it was a surprise to see how trigger-happy Begin and his defense minister were
when news broke in April 1982 that two Israelis had been murdered in the Bois
de Boulogne park in Paris. Sharon called Begin, and suggested that this would
be the opportunity to execute the pre-cooked plan to invade Lebanon.
It turned out that the corpses in Paris were those of Israeli criminals, killed
in an organized crime clash. They were not victims of Palestinian terrorism.
Tranquility reigned for only two months. Late on a Thursday night, June 3rd, the Israeli ambassador in London—Shlomo Argov—was shot in the head while leaving the elegant Dorchester Hotel after a banquet.

The next morning in Jerusalem, Begin’s cabinet convened for an urgent
meeting. Researchers from Aman explained that the three Palestinian attackers,
arrested by efficient British police, belonged to a renegade wing of the
PLO named for its leader: the Abu Nidal organization. The army chief of staff,
General Rafael (Raful) Eitan, immediately jumped up and said: “Abu Nidal,
Abu Shmidal, they all are the same.”

The cabinet approved a limited penetration by Israeli forces into Lebanon,
to smash PLO positions. Begin told parliamentarians in the Knesset—in Biblical
terms—that the IDF operation would bring the Jewish state 40 years of
peace and quiet, in which “the children of Israel will happily go to school and
joyfully return home.”

On Sunday, June 6, the mighty Israeli military invaded Lebanon by land,
sea, and air. Things went well, at first. Palestinian guerrilla fighters were no
match for the fully trained and equipped IDF. Within six days, the Israelis
encircled the sprawling capital city, Beirut.

Along the way, as tanks advanced northward from the border, the Israelis
were welcomed by Druze villagers, Maronite Christians, and even Shi’ite Muslims
who showered the invaders with the traditional greeting of handfuls of
rice. They saw the Israelis as liberators from an oppressive PLO-Sunni Muslim
coalition backed by Syria.

But the honeymoon did not last long.

The promises made by Begin and Sharon, and supported by General Eitan,
for a quick victory turned out to be hollow. The invaders went far beyond the
40 kilometers (25 miles) declared by Begin as the war plan. Sharon had a
grander strategy, intent upon forcing the Palestinians to leave Lebanon and
make their way back to Jordan—the country he wanted to be the permanent
solution for the Palestinian problem.

That was not the way events played out. Very soon, the Israelis were perceived
by most of Lebanon’s factions as an occupying force. The IDF became the
target of attacks by Palestinians and by a new force: Hezbollah, or Party of God,
created by the new Islamic regime in Iran to empower their Shi’ite brethren.
The major breakdown of Sharon’s strategy occurred that September. Just
after being elected president of Lebanon, Bashir Gemayel—whose family had
a long history of secret cooperation with Israeli intelligence—was assassinated
by Syrian agents. Syria felt it had to crush the obvious alliance between Israel
and Maronite Christians, including the Gemayels.

Retaliation followed swiftly, and it was bloody and history-changing.
Either encouraged or malevolently ignored by the Israeli military, Christian
militiamen entered the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps and massacred 800 Palestinian men, women, and children.

Israel sank even deeper into the mud of Lebanese politics: a complex and
fractured mosaic of rival and often violent ethnic groups.
American, French, and Italian forces intervened, intending to stabilize
the failed state of Lebanon, but they themselves became the targets of a new
form of terrorism: suicidal attacks by Hezbollah. The organization glorified the
Shi’ite Muslim tradition of martyrdom: giving your life for a holy cause, wiping
out Islam’s enemies, while guaranteeing yourself a place in Paradise where
72 virgins would await you.

The worst attack of all was the truck bombing that brought down the
United States Marines barracks, killing over 240 servicemen in October 1983.
A simultaneous suicide bombing in Beirut killed 58 French paratroopers.

Israel found small comfort in the mass departure of PLO fighters, led by
Arafat. Ships brought them from Beirut’s harbor to their new headquarters,
far to the west in Tunisia. Israeli snipers had Arafat in the crosshairs of their
gunsights, and a junior intelligence officer felt this could be an opportunity
to get rid of the man viewed by Israel as a terrorist chief. Restraint prevailed,
because of a ceasefire an American envoy had negotiated, so Begin and Sharon
did not approve taking the shot.

The PLO left, but Israel was stuck for another 17 years in its own Vietnam.

March 30, 2014

Israel’s Surrounded by Trouble: Is There Something Big Brewing in the South?

[This is based on a post written by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, for the website of the English-language non-stop news service broadcast from Israel, i24news.tv.]

The Hamas leadership in Gaza has swallowed its pride and turned back into the arms of its former patron, Iran

Bad news for Israel: There are growing signs that the Palestinian Hamas movement is on the verge of reconciliation with Hezbollah and with Iran, its former banker and weapons supplier. Recent weeks have witnessed secret, intensely cooperative encounters among the three sides.

Hamas man Meshaal will wave hello to Iran's top leader

Hamas man Meshaal will wave hello to Iran’s top leader

Western intelligence sources told me that soon – in a matter of just a couple of weeks – the Qatar-based Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal, will visit Tehran, information corroborated by sources in Gaza. The highlight of Meshaal’s visit is expected to be a meeting with Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei.

Ironically, Meshaal was the target of a botched assassination attempt by Israel’s intelligence agency, the Mossad, in Jordan 18 years ago. Since surviving that (because King Hussein intervened after Israeli operatives were arrested, and the Mossad was compelled to hand over the antidote for a poison that had been sprayed into Meshaal’s ear), this radical Palestinian politician has become a major hero to Hamas followers).

The clandestine negotiations among the three parties are being brokered and facilitated by Qatar, which is a supporter of Hamas, and by the leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), Ramadan Shalah.

Shalah, who commutes between Damascus and Tehran, and his small terror group based in Gaza have developed a love-hate relationship with Hamas over the years.

On the one hand, PIJ accepts the predominance of the bigger and stronger Hamas and obeys most of its instructions. But occasionally PIJ defies Hamas’ orders and challenges its authority. For example, the rocket and mortar attack on southern Israel a few weeks ago was initiated by PIJ in defiance of Hamas’ efforts to maintain calm along the border.

Shalah visited Qatar recently to meet with local officials and, more importantly, with Meshaal. He then traveled to Tehran to lay the ground for the reconciliation, which is expected to be announced during Meshaal’s own trip to Iran.

The first milestone in Iranian-Hezbollah-Hamas relations was marked in 2006, when Hamas organized a coup d’état in Gaza, toppling the Palestinian Authority government there. Despite their religious differences – Iran is Shiite and Hamas is Sunni – the organization benefited from the cozy and friendly relations. Iran showered Hamas with financial support to the tune of tens of millions of dollars, provided technical and military assistance – rockets, ammunition and even three small drones – and trained Hamas combatants in warfare techniques. From time to time, Iran asked Hezbollah to ship weapons in small boats from Lebanon to Gaza.

But the idyll ended bitterly some three years ago with the outbreak of the civil war in Syria. Hamas sided with its Sunni brothers and denounced the Assad regime’s butchery of its own people. Hamas later joined the opposition forces and helped them recruit warriors from among Palestinian refugees in Syria.

In retaliation, Hamas’ leaders – including Meshaal – were expelled from Damascus. Iran and Hezbollah followed their Syrian ally, accordingly. The financial and weapons pipelines were blocked, but Hamas was lucky to find a new sponsor. Two years ago, the Muslim Brotherhood movement, which is somewhat of a big brother to Hamas, came to power in Egypt. Its leader Mohammed Morsi became president and Hamas was ecstatic. It enjoyed a steady supply of money, goods from Egypt via Sinai to Gaza, and above all, the fact that Egyptian security forces turned a blind eye and allowed the smuggling of weapons through tunnels into Gaza.

But less than a year ago, Hamas’ roller coaster crashed once more. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were toppled by a quasi-military coup. The new military rulers in Cairo, led by Defense Minister General Abdel Fatah a-Sisi (most likely Egypt’s next president), accused Hamas of collaboration with radical Islamist jihadists operating in Sinai. The Sisi regime increased its security and intelligence cooperation with Israel and Hamas found itself under a double siege (from both Israel and Egypt).

Cornered and isolated, with no patrons, money, and fewer and fewer weapons, Hamas has had to swallow its pride and fall back into Iran’s arms. But Iran and Hezbollah wanted to humiliate Hamas first, and played hard to get; only in the last few weeks has a breakthrough been achieved.

If Hamas indeed turns again to Iran and Hezbollah — entering  the Shiite fold — it will have to pay a price and carry out the orders of its old-new master.

Sooner or later, Hamas will be asked to cooperate with PIJ, to launch rockets into Israel and to begin a process of escalation, which could lead to a new round of war with Israel.

It is becoming clearer that a future conflict with Hamas will force Israel to go all-out, which would lead to a toppling of the Hamas government in Gaza – an idea that has already been voiced by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and senior Israel Defense Forces officials. Such a scenario would raise the question of who will rule Gaza. Will it be handed over to the Palestinian Authority or will Israel reoccupy it? And what will the Egyptians have to say about this.

The renewal of the Hamas-Hezbollah-Iran strategic alliance will undoubtedly create a new reality.

March 27, 2014

Jewish Book Council’s Positive Review: ‘Spies Against Armageddon’ Gripping, Riveting

[This book review appeared on the website of the Jewish Book Council, which writes about books of interest especially to American Jews.  The reviewer is Micah D. Halpern, who closely follows the Israeli-Arab disputes and wrote a book about despots titled Thugs.]

Like all good spy novels, Spies Against Armageddon is gripping, riveting, a real nail biter—only the story it tells is true. There is no make believe and no fiction in Spies Against Armageddon. This book contains the real life material on which spy novels are based.

SAA final book cover (best)Yossi Melman is a feature writer and columnist [in Israel]. Dan Raviv, now a CBS radio news correspondent stationed in Washington, DC, reported for over two decades from the Middle East and other places.

This collaborative effort shows just how Israel’s clandestine services, including the fabled Mossad, work. The book reads like a movie and readers are given front row seats to view secret operation after secret operation and learn how Israeli operatives went the world over to complete their missions. Some of the material is published here for the first time.

Stories are told about missions undertaken in the Arab capitals of Cairo and Damascus. The real story behind Munich 1972 and the teams that went out in search of the Palestinian terrorists who murdered the Israeli Olympic team and its coaches is related in detail. And the authors explain how the January 2010 assassination of Mahmoud Al Mabhouh in Dubai was carried out by a complex array of people and set of arrangements from around the world.

Raviv and Melman extend the world of spying to include an explanation of the Stuxnet, the computer virus that attacked the Iranian nuclear program. The authors draw a timeline and include a map detailing how Stuxnet made its way to Iran and paralyzed the country.

This book is not simply a gripping story of past triumphs and tragedies. It is an attempt to piece together recent operations and to even offer speculation about what may happen in future clandestine operations.

And then it gets even better. The most fascinating component of Spies Against Armageddon has to do with the operations of Kidon. Kidon is a unit in the Mossad—but it is really the Mossad’s Mossad. The ultra secret task of Kidon is to assassinate and to sabotage. Kidon operatives are sent around the world and there is nowhere, nothing, and nobody they cannot get to.

Spies Against Armageddon is a fun and exciting read. It is a book for anyone who wants to learn about Israel’s special weapons, the Israeli intelligence services.

February 9, 2014

The Nuclear Deal with Iran — An Undeniably Huge Change Rocks U.S.-Israel Relationship

What’s the true significance of the nuclear agreement between the United States (and its allies) and Iran?

-The military option is taken off the table.  The U.S. certainly won’t strike Iran in the foreseeable future, and Israel wouldn’t dare defy America’s clear preference for a negotiated settlement.

A Strained Alliance (standforIsrael.org)

A Strained Alliance (standforIsrael.org)

-Iran will be allowed to be de facto a military nuclear threshhold nationThe number of months that the Iranians would need to “break out” quickly by enriching enough highly enriched uranium to build a bomb is increased by the Geneva accord — but they remain able to do it.

-The security and foreign policy posture of the United States in the region is in decline.  The Obama Administration might deny that, but smart people in the Middle East feel it and know it. (See Yossi Melman’s article by scrolling down at IsraelSpy.com or jump to it here.)

-Israel will feel, more than ever, that it has to go it alone. That does not mean that a military strike on Iran is likely — far from it. But Israel is already exercising diplomatic options than might have been considered absurd in the past. These are reliably reported to include secret understandings with Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations.

Israel has had time to prepare its diplomatic (and perhaps military-intelligence) repositioning. The Associated Press, in a detailed report on secret U.S.-Iran government talks this year, reveals that President Barack Obama personally briefed Israel about them when he met at the White House with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the end of September. Netanyahu kept the secret, but he did decide publicly to put a ton of daylight between Israel and the Obama Administration, when it came to dealing with Iran.


November 24, 2013

Israel’s PM Can Do Nothing But Fume — As U.S. Advances Toward a Deal with Iran?

Netanyahu has Talks Scheduled with French and Russian Leaders

– – –

Kerry and Netanyahu in more trusting times

Kerry and Netanyahu in more trusting times

After coming very close to a nuclear deal with Iran, it seems that the Obama Administration would like to avoid a ton of questions — and harsh criticism, whether well based or otherwise — from “friends of Israel” in Washington.

Thus, just before embarking for Geneva last Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry dropped in on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for one last strategizing chat.  After coming close but failing — or declining — to finalize a deal with Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, Kerry flew from Switzerland to brief some of America’s Arab friends.

In the United Arab Emirates, Kerry was quoted as saying that he’s in no great rush to reach a deal with Iran. But he has been saying that a partial, first-stage deal would be better than the current situation — because Iran’s nuclear progress would be halted, at least for a while, as negotiations continue for a wider agreement.

Wendy Sherman (TimesOfIsrael.com)

Wendy Sherman (TimesOfIsrael.com)

Kerry sent his chief negotiator, Wendy Sherman, to brief the Israelis after the Geneva talks. Quite promptly, off-the-record accounts quoting an American official close to the talks presented the U.S. version of why Geneva failed. The “new” truth contends that the Western countries (the U.S., Britain, France, and Germany) were completely united — and it was Iran that refused to sign the deal.

The U.S. source, whoever she might be, apparently wanted to smash the impression of dissension in the Western ranks. The first story out of Geneva — somewhat encouraged by France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius — was that he refused to go aong with the proposed deal, because it wasn’t harsh enough on Iran.

Specifically, according to the first truth coming from the great Swiss city of diplomacy and espionage, Fabius was insisting that Iran had to stop construction of a heavy water reactor — which could produce plutonium, a wholly separate route to a nuclear bomb — at a site called Arak.

Israelis, especially, on Sunday were stunned to be asking: “France is our great pro-Zionist hero? The French are protecting us — and Mr. Kerry, with all his professed concern for Israel and the Jewish people, was selling us out in Geneva?”

The dramatic reactions were, almost certainly, exaggerated. But after years of hearing the Islamic Republic of Iran thunder that Israel needs to be wiped off the map, while Iran maintained a secret nuclear weapons program, who will blame the Israelis for being worried?  Deeply worried, in a life-or-death sort of way.

The New York Times suggested that Prime Minister Netanyahu can do nothing but “fume.”  But, by the incredible coincidence of long scheduled diplomacy and travels, he’ll have a chance to pursue his points with France’s President Francois Hollande, when Hollande visits Israel this week.

And, before the negotiations with Iran resume in Geneva next week (Nov. 20), Netanyahu has a trip to Moscow scheduled — to apply pressure on President Vladimir Putin.

In the world of clandestine diplomacy, as odd as it might seem, tiny Israel can make promises, threats, and deals that could command Putin’s attention.

November 11, 2013

Saudi Arabia’s Dissing its Big Ally America? Cold Desert Wind – Analyzed on TV by Yossi Melman

Yossi Melman on RT

Yossi Melman on RT

Reliable reports indicate that Saudi Arabia is fed up with Obama Administration policies on several fronts — including a lack of strong American action to remove Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria.

The Russia-based TV channel “RT” looked at the issue, by questioning Yossi Melman — co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, the previous best seller Every Spy a Prince, and other books.

Click here to download and view the video interview: (HERE/ RT VIDEO)

Here is a previous interview with Yossi Melman, by RT, featuring major issues in the book Spies Against Armageddon:  CLICK HERE for 13-minute interview.

October 23, 2013

Israel and Turkey: Shared Concerns Include Radical Islamic Fighters in Neighboring Syria

Israel and Turkey have been on the “outs” for years, and Prime Minister Recip Erdogan continues to make efforts — in public — to appear as a Muslim political hero, in part through voicing constant criticism of Israel.

Prime Minister Erdogan

In private, however, the two countries — and especially their intelligence agencies — are again finding common cause: because sandwiched between them is Syria, where a vicious civil war for almost three years has created a vacuum partially filled by Islamist radicals who come from near and far.

Turkey’s population is overwhelmingly Muslim, but the country has generally been ruled by secular laws.

And, because Turks are not Arabs, they were part of the “Peripheral Strategy” that Israel’s Mossad (foreign intelligence agency) developed — since the 1950s — to make secret alliances around the fringes of the Muslim Arab nations of the Middle East.

This article by Benjamin Weinthal of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies quotes Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon (and other books, including our previous history of Israeli intelligence, Every Spy a Prince):

The brutal, Al Qaeda-linked group rebels invited into Syria to help topple President Bashir Assad has virtually taken over northern Syria, raising fears that its brand of indiscriminate terror could spill into neighboring Turkey, where some 300 U.S. soldiers are based to protect Turkish airspace from Syrian missile attacks.
ISIS — whose name has been translated as “Greater Syria” — joined the Free Syria Army’s bid to oust Assad, but now seeks to turn the embattled nation into a building block in a radical Sunni Islamic empire, or caliphate, across the Middle East. The group has captured towns and swaths of territory along the border with Turkey.
According to a recent analysis from Stratfor, a Texas-based global intelligence organization, ISIS “has dispatched hundreds of fighters north toward Turkey in response to closure of certain border crossings.” Turkey has a powerful military, but even so, can’t welcome an enclave of radical jihadists on its border, say experts.
“Turkey could be a target for them [ISIS ]… Not in the immediate future, but maybe in the far future,” said Yossi Melman, a top Israeli security expert and co-author of “Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.”
Melman said Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is not a “real Muslim” in the eyes of ISIS because he is a relatively moderate Islamic leader.
The ISIS has “gained a lot of knowledge and experience about Turkey,” cultivated ties and could form sleeper cells, added Melman. “If I were a Turkish official, I would say, there is  room for concern,” he said.

Here is the rest of the article at FoxNews.com : http://www.foxnews.com/world/2013/10/15/jihadists-flooding-into-northern-syria-put-turkey-on-edge/?intcmp=latestnews


October 16, 2013

An Israeli Intelligence Assessment: If U.S. Punishes Syria a Bit vs. Trying to Topple Assad — What’s Better? What’s More Dangerous to Israel?

While not openly taking sides with anyone in the civil war in neighboring Syria, Israel does believe that it’s “very important” that President Bashar al-Assad not be the ultimate winner — because he is a close ally of Iran and Hezbollah.

Amos Yadlin at his INSS

That declaration is clear in a policy snapshot by retired air force general Amos Yadlin — who until 2011 was head of Israel’s Military Intelligence (Aman), the largest agency in the Israeli intelligence community.

Yadlin has co-authored an assessment of what would be best for Israel: a short and limited campaign of airstrikes by the United States against chemical-weapons-related targets in Syria? or a wider, much more emphatic effort to topple Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Damascus?

Yadlin published his conclusions through the Institute for National Security Studies (in Tel Aviv), which he heads, along with a colleague, Avner Golov.

It’s highly likely that Gen. Yadlin’s frame of analysis and conclusions are similar to those of the top Israeli intelligence analysts now delivering their classified conclusions to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Clearly this point of view is rooting for President Obama to carry out airstrikes on Syria — an event that is, at the very least, delayed now until Congress debates and votes on the matter.

Yadlin and Golov write that’s it’s in Israel’s interests that…

(a) The U.S. show unequivocally that there is a high price to pay for using non-conventional weapons.

(b) The U.S. restore its strategic deterrence and credibility in the Middle East.

(c) Israel do everything possible not to be dragged into Syria’s civil war.

(d) Iran should see “that Washington is determined to uphold the President’s promises. President Obama’s actions and the cooperation he achieves with Western and regional allies will have implications for the Iranian nuclear issue.”

Yadlin mentions that one happy outcome of the Syrian civil war, in the end, could be the establishment of a pro-Western, moderate government in Damascus. Then Syria’s support for terrorist organizations would almost surely end. Yadlin’s study says Israel — in the past — considered giving up the Golan Heights in order to achieve that. Now it might be achieved without handing over territory.

Big U.S. Attack or a Small One?

Yadlin and Golov write that if the U.S. strikes, say, 50 targets for two days, “A limited but successful attack that is backed up by U.S. determination to prevent the use of non-conventional weapons would restore some American deterrent power against the use of chemical weapons and to a certain extent would enhance American standing in the region.

“Such an attack could also influence decisionmaking in Tehran. Thus, the expected [smaller] scenario regarding an American attack would promote some of Israel’s interests, especially those connected with U.S. deterrent power in the region, albeit to a limited extent only.”

And what if the U.S., perhaps propelled by sentiments expressed by Congress next week, decides to bomb a lot more extensively — with a goal of destabilizing and forcing out the Assad regime?

That would do a lot more restore America’s credibility and “deterrent power” — “and would convey a clear message of American determination to Tehran,” in Yadlin’s words — but there would also be two significant risks to Israel.

Quoting the INSS study: “The first and immediate risk is that Assad might decide to launch ground-to-ground missiles at Israel, and perhaps even arm them with chemical weapons. However, given Israel’s deterrent power and the limited effectiveness of chemical weapons, there is little likelihood of this scenario taking place — although it is more likely here than in the punishment scenario described above.

“Moreover, despite the low probability, its severity requires that the Israeli government prevent such an attack, or if it fails, that it limit its consequences.”

The other risk is that if Assad is unstable or gone, terrorism threats to Israel could actually grow. Yadlin says terrorist groups in Syria (which he makes a point of saying are funded mainly by Qatar — to some a moderate country that owns Al Jazeera TV, for instance) would likely seize control of areas that they could use as bases for attacks into Israel.

In part of the conclusions by Yadlin and Golov, they write: “Israel has the power to cope with the potential challenges discussed above, and in particular, the non-conventional threat and the threat of terrorism from Syria. To this end, Israel should adhere to a policy in which it is not a party to the turmoil in Syria and does not plan to intervene in the civil war.

“The government of Israel has maintained this posture thus far, and it is very important that this continue, even if there is some provocation on the northern border.”


September 1, 2013

Reviews by Readers of ‘Spies Against Armageddon’ — Israeli Espionage & Security Agencies at Center of Multiple Crises

Here are some reviews at Amazon.com by readers who bought (and, we trust, read) Spies Against Armageddon — a history of Israeli security and espionage agencies, from the authors of the best seller Every Spy a Prince.

(5 stars out of 5)

Comprehensive and thrilling account of history of Mossad, July 9, 2012

This detailed and exciting account of the history of the Israeli secret services, including the Mossad, the Shin Beth and others less well-known to the public, should be required reading for anyone interested in the history and politics of the Middle East. It is even more relevant because its opening chapter deals with the ongoing Iranian nuclear crisis and Israel’s clandestine efforts to derail and delay the Iranian nuclear program.

The book clearly benefited from detailed interviews the authors conducted with leading players, some now deceased. The authors themselves are a winning team of a well-known Israeli reporter and a veteran American correspondent (full disclosure, I was a reporter in Israel for several years in the 1980s and knew one of the authors quite well.)

Starting with the founding of Israel in 1948, the book runs through some well-known episodes such as the kidnapping of Adolf Eichmann from Argentina to stand trial in Jerusalem. But there are many other vignettes that were unknown to me — and I consider myself something of a professional student on Middle Eastern history. There is a comprehensive account of how Israel built its own nuclear program with help from France and others. The story of how Israel managed to persuade an Egyptian Air Force pilot to defect, bringing with him his top secret Soviet plane, could be the subject of a fantastic movie all by itself. Thus, Israel became the first Western nation to acquire a Soviet MiG-21 and it was a treasure trove for U.S. intelligence.

In another chapter, the authors describe Israel’s success in protecting its civilian aircraft from hijackers and bombers — and America’s refusal to imitate some of the Israeli techniques despite repeated warnings. Had our leaders listened, we may have averted 9/11.

The authors show that contrary to popular opinion, the Mossad has generally been reluctant to kill its adversaries. It preferred to threaten and deter them if possible, with assassination a last resort. But they state unequivocally that Israel has been behind the murders of several Iranian nuclear scientists in recent years.

There is also a vivid and full account of the decision to destroy a Syrian nuclear plant in 2007. I had no idea before reading this account how close the Syrians were to developing a weapon. Their graphite reactor would have gone operational and started to produce plutonium within weeks had the Israelis not taken it out in September 2007.

The Mossad and especially the Shin Beth are not perfect. They have made major blunders — such as failing to anticipate the start of the Yom Kippur War. The Shin Beth fell victim to excessive brutality against Palestinians in the territories and mishandled the two Intifadahs. Israel has made strategic decisions, such as invading Lebanon in 1982, that produced short-term success and longer-term disaster.

But what comes across to me most vividly in this book is the resourcefulness, courage and sheer inventiveness the men and women of these services have so often displayed. Israel is still at war, surrounded by enemies who wish to destroy it. These secret services are on the front lines. Often, what they do averts greater threats through their ingenuity.

Since its early days, Israel has developed a doctrine of not relying on others for the defense of the nation. This doctrine comes out of the painful lessons learned during the Holocaust. But the Iranian crisis is testing many long-held beliefs and assumptions, confronting policy-makers and especially the Prime Minister, with one of the most agonizing decisions any Israeli leader has ever faced.

This book will make readers more aware of the stakes, the opportunities and the dangers.

(5 stars out of 5)

History that reads like a thriller!, July 24, 2012

By David M. Sherman “literarygarden” (New York) – See all my reviews

This is the way history ought to be written; exciting, well researched, brilliantly organized, and accessible to the general public. Other reviews have provided a detailed summary of the book. Be assured that you will not be overwhelmed with the details but intrigued by the events. I highly recommend this book for content and an intriguing peak into the world of spying. The authors should be praised for their willingness not only to provide a cogent history of Israeli spying, but to make critical judgments about the events that are so complex and controversial. Wonderful book….

(5 stars out of 5)

Melman and Raviv, superb as always, June 25, 2013

Once again, Yossi Melman and Dan Raviv have written a consummate and fascinating work on Israeli Intelligence. This book might be regarded as the companion piece to their New York Times best seller, “Every Spy a Prince,” and its carefully crafted history and new revelations continue to enthrall and thrill.

Unlike many other investigative journalists who delve into this subject, Melman and Raviv are not “speculators,” and have been working this ground for decades, balancing their carefully-earned contacts deep within Israeli Intelligence with great care not to reveal too much. However, each chapter brings a new surprise, such as the details of Israel’s assault on Syria’s nuclear bomb factory, and the subsequent assassination of Assad’s nuclear architect, General Suleiman. No one else writes about Israel’s intelligence community with such elegance and authority. For anyone interested in the subject, this book’s not to be missed. Even the end notes are gripping.

August 22, 2013

With Surrounding Countries On Fire, Top Israeli Ministers Have Strategy Session — Egypt & More

With the end of the Jewish Sabbath in Israel, official sources let it be known that on Friday afternoon, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a two-hour strategy meeting with the senior ministers in the “security cabinet.”

The most urgent topic was Egypt — including the multifaceted fallout that could affect Israel from the upsurge in violence in Egypt.

The two countries have had a peace treaty since 1979. Since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the Sinai Peninsula (occupied by Israel, as a buffer zone, from mid-1967 until that peace treaty) has become a free-range roaming ground for terrorists.

The Sinai is thus a security headache for Israel. Insurgents in the Biblically significant desert have fired rockets at the Israeli southern port, Eilat — a threat to the important tourism industry there.

israel spy, covert operations, spies against armageddon

Benjamin Netanyahu has plenty with which to grapple

Netanyahu and his senior ministers had plenty more to keep tabs on in their neighborhood. There is, of course, the continued civil war in Syria, with indications that Islamic radicals of the Al-Qaeda type may be dominating the anti-Assad rebel movement.

For various reasons — not least the sheer “good public relations” image — Israel has permitted the news media to report that Syrian civilians who are wounded in the fighting have been transferred across the border to Israeli hospitals for treatment. Jewish and Arab medical professionals in Israel are proud to be helping innocent victims of the civil war, notably quite a few children.

It’s important to Israel that Hezbollah — the Lebanese Shi’ite militants who are financed by Iran — have been fighting in Syria, apparently with some measure of success, to help their friend and patron, President Bashar al-Assad.

It’s noteworthy, too, that someone has been hitting back at Hezbollah. A massive car-bomb explosion in a Shi’ite neighborhood of Beirut killed around 20 people and wounded many more. Hezbollah is blaming Sunni Muslim militiamen (who apparently want to weaken Hezbollah’s quest for wider influence), claiming the attackers were directed by Israel. There is no indication of an Israeli role.

Another worry for Israel is the precarious state of affairs in Jordan. Having agreed to provide shelter to thousands of refugees from the Syrian civil war — and how could Jordan say “no” to fellow Arabs? — King Abdullah may find himself with a dangerous combination: a lot of hungry mouths to feed, and a growing number of Islamic radicals who could be foot soldiers in an effort to topple him. (Jordan and Israel have had a peace treaty since 1994.)

Israeli officials also have to consider whether the volatile nature of events in many surrounding countries make it more urgent — or less advisable — to push quickly for a breakthrough toward peace with the Palestinians. Israel, this past week, released a few dozen Palestinian fighters who had killed Israelis; and that “gesture” for the sake of the peace talks that have now resumed is deeply resented by some Israelis who wonder if it’s worth it.

Above all this is the vital issue — for Netanyahu — of his country’s relations with its superpower ally, the United States. Netanyahu and Barack Obama do not see eye to eye on many issues, and Egypt may have added one more. (See Yossi Melman’s article, below.)


August 17, 2013

Israel’s Negotiator in Washington: Tzipi Livni Writes of Her Big Moment

Israel’s justice minister — Tzipi Livni — a former foreign minister who is not in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s party and is considered more “to the Left” than almost all her cabinet colleagues — is negotiating on behalf of Israel, starting Monday evening, in “talks about talks” in Washington. They are indeed the first face-to-face negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in several years, but they are not yet fully fledged peace talks.

Livni and Yitzhak Molcho, who is very close to Netanyahu, will be facing two Palestinian men, and they share the task of agreeing on how best to begin serious negotiations.

Tzipi Livni, negotiator

Just before leaving Israel from Ben-Gurion Airport, Livni posted her thoughts on Facebook. Here is our translation, provided so that non-Israeli readers can get a sense of what she is thinking.

“The cabinet today decided to open negotiations with the Palestinians. This is an important decision to our future. I don’t know if it’s a historic decision (that will become clear in the future), but if the cabinet had not approved the opening of negotiations, then that might’ve been an historic missing of an opportunity.

In our decision today there is pain. A lot of pain. We decided today on the release of murderous prisoners who are serving long years in prison — and justly! This was one of the most difficult decisions that an elected official has to make. One of the hardest I’ve made.

In the past and also now, I say to bereaved [Israeli] families that I, to the extent possible, understand their pain. But I say also that Israel has — in the past — released murderers when we had a gun at our head, handing them over at the demand of terrorist organizations.

Today we decided to release them, but only after the start of negotiations — during the talks, and only if they are clearly serious. … Because without a diplomatic process, and without negotiations and without difficult decisions, there cannot be peace.

The start of the process is in our security and strategic interests as a state, as a Jewish people. For my part, I pledge to act with responsibility and in the name of all Israeli citizens — and to guard, in the negotiation room, our security and Jewish-democratic interests. That is my task, and it’s the reason I joined the coalition.”

Her original Facebook post:
הממשלה החליטה היום לפתוח במשא ומתן עם הפלסטינים. זו החלטה חשובה לעתיד שלנו. אני לא יודעת אם זוהי החלטה היסטורית (זה יתברר בעתיד), אבל אם הממשלה לא הייתה מאשרת את פתיחת המו״מ, זו הייתה יכולה להיות החמצה הסטורית. בהחלטה שקיבלנו היום יש כאב. הרבה כאב. החלטנו היום על שחרורם של אסירים רוצחים שפלים שיושבים שנים ארוכות בכלא – ובצדק! זו החלטה מהקשות שנבחר ציבור צריך לקבל. מהקשות שאני קיבלתי. בעבר וגם כעת אני אומרת למשפחות השכולות, שאני, ככל שזה אפשרי, מבינה את כאבם. אבל אני אומרת גם שישראל שחררה בעבר רוצחים כשאקדח צמוד לרקתה, ומסרה אותם על פי דרישת אירגוני טרור. היום אנחנו קיבלנו החלטה לשחררם, אבל רק לאחר פתיחת המשא ומתן ובמהלכו ורק אם הוא יתברר כרציני. וזאת תשובתי לאלה שמוכנים לשחרר בשביל הסיכוי להשיג שלום. כי בלי תהליך מדיני ובלי מו״מ ובלי החלטות קשות לא יכול להיות שלום. פתיחת התהליך היא אינטרס בטחוני אסטרטגי שלנו, כמדינה, כעם יהודי. אני מצדי מתחייבת לפעול באחריות ובשם כלל אזרחי ישראל ולשמור בחדר המו״מ על האינטרסים הביטחוניים והיהודים-דמוקרטים שלנו. זה תפקידי ולשם כך נכנסתי לממשלה.

July 29, 2013

Syria — Two Years of Challenge and Some Confusion for Israeli Intelligence, and Now…

The director of Israel’s Agaf ha-Modi’in (Aman) — the intelligence branch of the military — expresses deep concern that radical Islamic extremists are pouring into Syria, filling a vacuum in what is probably becoming a failed state. 

The likely result: disintegration of Syria into several volatile parts, with a significant portion controlled by al-Qaeda affiliates.

Gen. Aviv Kochavi (courtesy IMEMC.org)

The scenario outlined by Major General Aviv Kochavi could be a terrible headache for Israel’s military and security agencies. It also would be a long-term threat for the security of the United States and its allies, as al-Qaeda — decimated in Afghanistan and on-the-run in both Pakistan and Yemen — would have a new base for its regional and global ambitions.

Normally, in any conflict involving Syria, Israel would want the Assad regime in Damascus to lose. President Bashar al-Assad — and his predecessor and father Hafez — have been implacable foes of the Jewish state since 1970. In recent decades the Assads forged a tight and ominous alliance with Iran; and together they arm and bankroll the viciously dangerous Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The initial analysis by Israeli experts (including many in the intelligence agencies), near the start of Syria’s civil war in early 2011, was that it would be terrific if Bashar al-Assad were to fall. Iran would lose a key ally, and the new rulers in Syria would be entirely busy consolidating their rule and trying to govern their country.

As the shocking civil war has continued, however, killing an estimated 100,000 Syrians and creating well over a million refugees, the picture is far from simple for the Israelis.

Several analysts have reverted to a different traditional view: “Better the Devil we know.” They understand Assad and his regime. The Israelis cannot claim to be comfortable with or completely knowledgeable about the warring factions that have sprung up from the strange innards of Syria society — or have crossed the border from war zones (most definitely Iraq) and other factories of extremism (such as Somalia and Sudan).

Israeli intelligence fears that the violence in Syria will destabilize the country until it recognizably becomes a failed state, according to statements made Tuesday by Major General Kochavi.

In a rare public appearance, he told newly graduated intelligence officers of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) that Syria was becoming a hub for jihadist activity, drawing thousands of radicalized Muslim fighters from the region and the world. Their motives range from – primarily – toppling the regime of Syrian ruler Assad, to promoting the creation of an Islamic state modeled on Osama bin Laden’s vision.

Gen. Kochavi said, “Right before our eyes a center of global jihad is developing on a scale that may affect not only Syria and the borders of the state of Israel, but also Lebanon, Jordan, and Sinai. ”

Kochavi has just returned from strategic talks and intelligence sharing with his counterparts in Washington. While in the United States, he relayed the same concerns about Syria. American officials at the Pentagon and the CIA are having a hard time — according to U.S. sources — trying to identify “the good guys” among all the rebel factions in Syria, so that the West may train and arm them.

The Aman chief added: “It is possible that in the long run, the winds of change will carry with them an opportunity, but in the short term, the risks are increasing and in some of the sectors, the seeds of additional threats have been sown.”

July 24, 2013

A New Israeli Ambassador in DC, Israeli Attacks in Syria, and Al-Jazeera Pushes Al-Qaeda Fears

by DAN RAVIV in Washington

The Middle East seems like an iceberg again: only about 10% of what’s really going on is visible.

Map from DP-news.com

One noteworthy example: Officials in Washington are increasingly convinced that Israel’s military is continuing to pound targets in Syria — not to help the rebels there, but to prevent anyone from getting new and potent weapons. The latest example: mysterious explosions at a Syrian port on July 5, soon after Russian vessels delivered advanced missiles that can strike ships offshore.

CNN and ABC News reported that, according to U.S. sources, Israel attacked the Syrian port. The Sunday Times of London reported that an Israeli submarine carried out the attack, which would be a new and dramatic technique.

Israel refuses to say a word about it. The pattern of silence about operations in Syria was firmly set in 2007, when Israel’s air force demolished a nuclear reactor being built in a remote site in northeastern Syria — and Israel has never confirmed what the CIA and other credible sources affirmed: that Israel did it to preserve its nuclear monopoly in the Middle East.

The dynamic moving parts now in the region are in Arab countries — with ambitions, tensions, and violence ignited by the Arab Spring movement that began in 2011. The future of Egypt and Syria: still unknown.

The United States and Israel, maintaing close consultations and publicly stressing their alliance — a history of which we wrote in 1994 (the book, Friends in Deed) — are reacting quite differently.

Departing Ambassador MIchael Oren

That’s the situation that Ron Dermer will be inheriting, when he becomes Israel’s ambassador to Washington in September. Replacing another American-born Israeli, Michael Oren — a historian and professor who had a fascinating 4 years that surely will spawn books and lectures — Dermer is well known to Obama Administration officials. Dermer is so close to Benjamin Netanyahu that the prime minister has often sent Dermer to Washington as his personal envoy on touchy issues.

Appointed ambassador, Ron Dermer

Mideast-watchers in Washington are referencing Dermer’s feisty right-wing views. Folks who are skeptical of the Oslo Accords, the notion of a two-state solution with the Palestinians, and most anything the New York Times writes love Dermer’s sardonically polite explanation to the Times of why Netanyahu would not write an op-ed article for the paper.

Obama Administration officials are probably not going to hold Dermer’s views against him, because his closeness to “Bibi” is a lot more significant. Their disagreements are mostly over re-starting negotiations with the Palestinians — and, more essentially, whether a Jewish state and a Palestinian Arab state can respect fair borders and live side-by-side in peace.

Syria, Egypt, and Iran’s nuclear program are far more pressing issues right now.

our book from 1994, filled with American and Israeli characters

The Obama Administration, after all, knows that anything America says and does will be closely watched worldwide: Send weapons to the rebels? Train them in neighboring countries, Turkey and Jordan? Set a deadline for toppling President Bashar al-Assad? Operate only through a multinational coalition, as the U.S. chose to do during Libya’s civil war?

Israel, sitting just to the southwest of Syria and buffered only by the Golan Heights which Israel captured in 1967, cannot afford to sit and watch with its proverbial hands under its rear end.

The only policy lines which Israeli officials have declared are: (1) Israel isn’t taking sides, as to which faction should win in Syria.  (2) Any attempt by the Assad government to move advanced weaponry or chemical weapons to Lebanon or to any guerrillas will not be tolerated. (3) No Syrians will be allowed to fire toward Israelis on the Golan.

Number 1 seems to be true, in part because Israeli officials — including analysts in the intelligence community — are unusually confused as to what outcome they would prefer in Syria.  At first, it was clear that weakening Assad by distracting him looked great. The possibility that he would be overthrown would probably shatter Syria’s alliance with Iran — and perhaps even with Israel’s bitter enemy, the Hezbollah in Lebanon.

So one would think that Israel would like “the rebels” to win. Yet as it became clear that there were all kinds of rebels — and some might put hostility toward “the Zionist entity” near the top of their priorities — Israeli analysts realized that they didn’t like any of the rebels, either.

Some Israeli officials privately say what Israel has traditionally thought when Arab and Muslim nations are fighting against each other in the Middle East: “Let them keep on fighting each other. It’s only good for us.” Others honestly feel terrible that tens of thousands of civilians have been killed in Syria — and recognize the volatile danger that over a million Syrian refugees can represent in other countries.

It is traditional that refugee crises give intelligence agencies fantastic opportunities. Western agencies almost certainly are planting spies among the refugees — to learn what can be gleaned about politics and military positions inside Syria, and perhaps to go with the Syrians when they eventually reenter their country. It’s a great time to recruit agents and place long-time moles in place.

It was noteworthy (Saturday, July 13) that Al-Jazeera English is emphasizing a story about Al-Qaeda-affiliated rebels in Syria having killed a commander of the Free Syrian Army.  “Rebels are fighting each other,” the TV news said, and the reporter who told the story practically urged Western nations to arm the FSA before it’s too late. A commentator added that Western policies are inadvertantly helping Al-Qaeda by starving the relatively pro-Western FSA.

July 13, 2013

Another Secret Security Prisoner in Israel — Revealed by Mistake, Now Authorities are Livid


[This article, written first for The Forward and Forward.com, has been slightly edited for IsraelSpy.com. It was subject to Israeli military censorship.]

Frankly, it was a surprise to Israelis – many of whom could fairly be described as news junkies – to wake up to the news that there is a second Prisoner X: an unnamed inmate, reportedly a man who worked for an Israeli security agency, being held in a prison without any announcement about his case.

The last one they heard about, just a few months ago, turned out to be an Australia-born intelligence officer for the Mossad. And he hanged himself in a high-security cell in Ayalon Prison.

The newly revealed inmate has been dubbed by the Israeli media as “X2.”

Now government prosecutors, various security agencies, and the military censor’s office are trading accusations as to who leaked the existence of a second prisoner held anonymously.

The sheer existence of X2 was considered to be one of the most closely held secrets in Israel, protected by gag orders issued by a court.

All of the details of the new affair are still surrounded by clouds of secrecy. But one fact is clear. The leak was a result of negligence by one or more government agencies that failed to protect one of their top secrets.

This happened just a few months after the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) broke the sensational news that the previous Prisoner X (now known as X1) was Ben Zygier, a Jew originally from Melbourne who had moved to Israel. He worked for five years for the Mossad in operations directed against Iran. In March 2010 he was arrested on suspicion of espionage and treason. While in his highly guarded cell at the Ayalon prison in Ramle, half way between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, waiting for his trial, he committed suicide in December 2010.

The roots of the new leak can be traced to a period just after the suicide of Ben Zygier. The Israeli police opened a secret investigation, which determined that he indeed put an end to his own life and was not murdered. The investigation also dealt with the question of whether his jailers were negligent in their duty to monitor him around the clock. The conclusion was that some jailers showed incompetence and did not fulfill their duty.

One paragraph in the secret report by the police stated that the Israel Prison Service did not follow its own procedures regarding the protection and monitoring of special prisoners who are charged with security offenses. The use of the plural, “prisoners,” would have been fascinating enough.

And then the police report said that procedures were effectively followed in the case of another prisoner who was held under similar circumstances in the same prison. This was a reference to the inmate now called X2. His name and other details were not mentioned in the police report.

The report was sealed and handed over to a judge, who had been appointed to reach her own independent findings in the Ben Zygier case.

The judge, Daphna Blatman-Kedrai, presiding over the Central Magistrates Court, invited all involved parties to her closed-door hearings — including lawyers who represented Ben Zygier when he was still alive and later represented his wife and parents. The lawyers demanded in writing that personnel in the security services and the prison guards should be punished for negligence. They based their demand on the police findings and cited the paragraph in the police report which mentioned the second nameless prisoner held clandestinely.

Until February 2013 all the police and judicial investigations were held beyond closed doors. The public did not know about what was happening, and reporters who found out were prevented from broadcasting or publishing anything by the gag orders and the censorship.

Then, in mid-February, came the Australian television program which opened Pandora’s box. The silenced Israeli media started digging into the Ben Zygier case, and the newspaper Haaretz appealed to the courts to release all relevant documents. The state prosecutor and security agencies objected to the request, but Judge Blatman-Kedrai overruled them and ordered the state to disclose most of the materials — except those which would be an invasion of the late inmate’s privacy.

It is standard procedure in Israel that transcripts of judicial deliberations and court decisions dealing with security cases are censored before being released to the press. The responsibility is that of relevant units charged with information protection in the Israeli intelligence and security agencies.

But in the new affair, which ended up revealing Prisoner X2, the customary censorship did not happen. Someone failed to do it. Israel’s daily newspapers noticed the particular super-sensitive paragraph in the police report and in the lawyers’ summary – mentioning another inmate held in similar conditions to Zygier’s – and rushed to publish it.

The Israeli security establishment thus has been thrust into a state of shock. One of its most guarded secrets leaked out.

And not only that. Avigdor Feldman, one of Israel’s top lawyers who is a champion of human rights and an outspoken critic of the government’s culture of secrecy, was interviewed by a local radio station. Feldman was asked what he could say about the new revelation of a second anonymous inmate.

Feldman replied that he would say very little, but he did declare that the case of Prisoner X2 is more shocking and severe than the case of Ben Zygier.

The security establishment went bananas. Some security officials suggested that Feldman must be punished, but eventually reason prevailed and he was only politely warned to shut his mouth.

The renewed quiet lasted less than 24 hours. On Wednesday (July 10) another Avigdor opened his mouth. This was Avigdor Lieberman, the former Foreign Minister who is now chairman of the prestigious Foreign Affairs and Security Committee of the Knesset. “It is indeed a particularly serious case,” Lieberman said, though he added that the handling of the person facing charges is overseen by appropriate legal and parliamentary authorities.

Prosecutors and security chiefs can do very little when it comes to prominent public figures such as the two Avigdors. It is easier for them to go after journalists.

For various reasons, then, we do very little to expose the full truth about Prisoner X2, and even if we know something we are forbidden by the court and the military censorship – which also censored this blog post — to publish anything new about him. So we can’t say who is Prisoner X2, whom he worked for, and what his crimes are alleged to be.

What we know and what we can write is that in Israel, in some rare cases, its own citizens are held in prison cells in solitary confinement without the public being informed – although the individuals are accorded their full legal rights and are visited by their families.

July 12, 2013

Another ‘Prisoner X’ in a High-Security Prison: Lawyer Hints This Israeli Spy’s Crime ‘Amazing’

Based first on court filings by the family of Australia-born Ben Zygier, the so-called Prisoner X who hanged himself in a high-security Israeli prison cell in December 2010, the newspaper Yediot Ahronot is reporting that another prisoner is being held in similar conditions — including, apparently, a court-ordered ban on naming him or her.

Yediot Ahronot front page (9 July): “An Additional Secret Prisoner X in Ayalon Prison”

The initial newspaper report did not say the inmate, behind bars in a cell quite close to Zygier, was also a Mossad intelligence officer. Zygier did work for the Mossad, but he violated the espionage agency’s code of behavior — and allegedly violated Israeli law, although he ended his own life before any trial took place.

Ben Zygier (from Australia’s ABC)

Judging by the pattern of previous prisoners held anonymously by Israel — including, for instance, the nuclear technician Mordecai Vanunu who gave photographs he took inside the Dimona reactor to a British newspaper — the trial of Zygier would have taken place “behind closed doors”: meaning no news reporters would have been present, and publishing anything about the case would have been banned by judges and by the military censor.

Government authorities claim that the defendant’s rights are still fully respected — including the right to be represented by a lawyer. The attorneys who work on such cases have security clearance, a process usually handled by the Shin Bet domestic security agency.

One of those lawyers, Avigdor Feldman, said on Tuesday that the second anonymous prisoner had also worked for Israel’s security services. Feldman, for some reason, used some tantalizing words in a radio interview (reported by The Forward).

When asked how the second detainee’s alleged crimes compared with those of Zygier, Feldman said: “Without getting into details? Much more grave. Much more sensational. Much more amazing. Much more riveting.”

Rather than teasing us with highly incomplete information, those in the know might consider a serious discussion of treason within Israel’s security services. Was there an epidemic of disloyalty in the Mossad? One or two cases per decade are, perhaps, to be expected. Yet with intelligence officers arrested secretly, and then held without their names being uttered, who is able to weigh exactly what is going on?

As an extra detail of the Zygier tragedy, the Yediot report also said that hi’s Israeli wife visited him in the high-security prison and told him that she had decided to end their marriage. Sources had suggested that a few months ago, as a possible contributing factor to Zygier’s depression.

July 9, 2013

Egypt’s Coup — Fragile Situation, but Good for U.S. Interests and Good for Israel

A simple and quick analysis of the coup in Egypt — the removal of the Islamic Brotherhood president, Muhammad Morsi — is that it’s good for the United States.  And it surely does seem to be good for Israel.

The U.S. and Israel, through all the tumult of the past 30 months, have maintained their close ties with the Egyptian military.

Morsi was Important, but he Failed

The rise of the Islamic Brotherhood – and indeed the downfall of Hosni Mubarak – was often explained by analysts who said the best organized political force inside Egypt was “the Brotherhood.”  Most Egyptians might not favor strict religious law in their daily lives – though many probably would – but in the search for leaders who seemed to be incorruptible, the Islamic Brotherhood seemed like a clean and shiny choice.

Incorruptible, perhaps – but also incompetent.

Among the secrets, in the background, is the extent of United States support for the Egyptian army as it reached its decision to seize power.

In 2011, when Mubarak fell and chaos seemed likely, Egypt’s army seemed to hold the country together – but with an apparently sincere refusal to stage an outright coup and control Egypt forever with tanks and martial law.

Once again, now, the army is portraying its dramatic move as temporary.

Who will be relieved, so far?  The Obama Administration would never say it publicly, but out of all the political elements in Egypt, Washington’s closest contacts are in the military.  Most of the U.S. aid to Egypt (lately around $1.5 billion per year, to an economy that’s been starved of tourism revenues) has gone to the military.

The American government managed to keep relations quite cordial – although not warm – with Morsi’s government. When then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wanted Egyptian help, in late 2012, in stopping Hamas rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, President Morsi came through and helped the Americans.

By extension, he was also helping the Israelis.  But his colleagues in the Islamic Brotherhood (closely allied with the Palestinian radicals of Hamas in Gaza) generally hate and resent the Jewish State.   There was no warmth in that relationship, but as a matter of security – for Morsi’s own stability, not to mention keeping the peace along Israel’s frontier with the volatile Sinai Peninsula – Egypt and Israel forged a measure of cooperation.

In truth, though, Israel’s main, agreeable contacts were with the traditional partners in Cairo – not with President Morsi. Egypt’s intelligence services maintained their quiet, but sometimes intense and useful liaisons with Israeli intelligence.  And Israel never broke off its cooperative contacts with Egypt’s military, including the very same generals and brigadiers who are now running the Arab world’s most populous and influential nation.

July 3, 2013

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