The following article was written by Yossi Melman (co-author of Spies Against Armageddon) for The Jerusalem Report — a twice-a-month magazine published by The Jerusalem Post.
The international and Israeli media’s unflagging interest in the case of Ben Zygier – the Australian-born Jew turned Mossad operative, who committed suicide in his Israeli prison cell in December 2010 – has brought to light the intriguing question of how Israel’s espionage agency searches for, approaches and recruits its manpower.
But first an update on the unfolding story: The German magazine, Der Spiegel, first reported in March that Zygier, who wanted to impress his superiors, betrayed a few Lebanese agents who worked for the Mossad. And then in May, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), which earlier in February exposed Zygier’s identity (known until then as Prisoner X), went an extra mile, claiming that the Australian-Israeli, 34 at his death, compromised an operation to discover the remains of three Israeli MIAs who died in a battle in Sultan Yakoub in Lebanon during the 1982 war.
The ABC report was based on an interview with one of the “betrayed” Lebanese. Ziad el Homsi, a former Palestine Liberation Organization officer turned local politician, claimed that he was asked to dig up the graves of the Israeli MIAs, but actually he was a double agent working for Lebanese military intelligence.
Israeli sources dismissed both the German and Australian stories and described them as “nonsense.”
Yet they do admit that it was wrong to recruit Zygier in the first place. “He slipped through our usually rigorous recruiting net,” said an intelligence source.
Zygier was born in 1976 in Melbourne to a family very active in the Jewish community. He went to a Jewish school, joined a Zionist youth movement (Hashomer Hatza’ir) and in 1994 moved to Israel, aged 18. He adopted a Hebrew surname, Alon, and served in the Israel Defense Forces. Soon he was spotted as a potential recruit for intelligence work. Among other attributes, he had a genuine foreign passport that could help a covert operative establish a cover story.
Ben Zygier (from Australia’s ABC)
The sources say Zygier/Alon was approached by the Mossad, went through the standard laborious psychological and aptitude tests, and joined the secret agency in 2003. After more than a year of training, he was assigned to one of the Mossad’s top operational and clandestine units. His assignments tended to involve efforts to penetrate Iran.
Noticing flaws in his personality that made him unsuitable for intelligence field work, the Mossad sent him to study for an MBA at a university in Melbourne before the termination of his contract. There, sources say, he became depressed and edgy and was excessively talkative. Rubbing shoulders with fellow students from many nations, including Lebanese and Iranians, he openly spoke of his Mossad career. At a certain point, he befriended a local contact who had ties with Iran. He was so talkative that the Australian Security Intelligence Organization heard about him and opened its own investigation.
The Mossad also became aware of his loose tongue. Examining who was having conversations with Zygier, the Mossad concluded that some of its operations and operatives were put at risk by his revelations. On his next visit to Israel, he was arrested and indicted on charges of espionage, bordering on treason.
On its website, the Mossad refers to itself as the Israel Secret Intelligence Service (ISIS). It defines its mission as “collecting information, analyzing intelligence and performing special covert operations beyond Israel’s borders.” The website encourages members of the public, locally and internationally, to apply for a job in a range of professions such as graphic design, logistics, computers and programming. Multi-language skills are desired, with an emphasis on Farsi and Arabic. An excellent job candidate would excel at “special” assignments, intelligence and security – areas that are at the core of the agency.
Mossad’s official logo
It is clear from the Zygier affair, as well as previous known and unknown cases, that the number-one priority of the recruiting process is to properly screen potential candidates. The screening is aimed at finding out whether they are suitable for their designated missions — above all, so that they will neither bungle their work nor cause embarrassing damage to Israel’s national interests. The ultimate goal is to make sure that the select few will be loyal to the organization and avoid actions that might eventually lead to divulging sensitive information and exposing operations, thus causing the arrest and death of agents.
The jobs are described in superlatives. “The job which will change your life,” and “Your job dream.” Despite lack of precise descriptions of the jobs required, from the skills needed, one can reach the conclusion what it is all about. Here is one example for a job in the field of “special assignments.” The candidate, it says, “has an opportunity to create a reality in which he/she plays the central role.” It sounds like a sentence from The Little Drummer Girl, one of John Le Carre’s novels in which he likens intelligence to the art of the theater, though intelligence is “theater of the real.”
In reality, what the Mossad is talking about is the job description of a katsa, a Hebrew acronym for a “collection officer.” In other intelligence services, such a person and role is referred to as a “case officer” or “handler of agents.”
Despite its worldwide image and reputation as an organization that is mainly involved in liquidating its enemies, the Mossad is not “Murder Inc.” In its more than 60 years of existence, the Mossad has been involved in no more than 40 assassination cases in which terrorists, nuclear scientists and Nazi war criminals were killed. The Mossad is basically an intelligence agency specializing in collecting and analyzing information, which is then provided to the Prime Minister and his cabinet to aid in making decisions.
The katsa plays an essential role in the Mossad. He or she is indispensable. This officer is the spearhead of the agency in the field. With the help of specialists at headquarters level, the katsa is responsible for spotting, approaching, recruiting, running, defending and babysitting the agent who is supposed to provide the information. These officers belong to a department known as Tsomet (Junction).
A second operational department is Keshet (Bow), which is in charge of the surveillance of targets as well as break-ins into places of interest to the agency. And a third department is Caesarea, which encompasses the Mossad’s most cherished persons: the field agents. These are the operatives who infiltrate enemy countries such as Syria, Lebanon and, the most dangerous one, Iran. One of the units within the department is Kidon (Bayonet), whose agents carry out the very select operations in which violence is necessary.
One of the main functions of the Mossad’s website is to broaden the net of potential candidates for the Mossad. Before the website was launched 15 years ago, the main recruiting method was based on the “old-boys network” – searching for candidates in the military and the other branches of the intelligence community based on personal recommendations.
Since then, searching, screening and recruiting have tremendously improved and are more systematic and scientific. Yet, today, as then, the number-one problem of the Human Resources department remains how to make sure that the recruit does not have a hidden personality disorder and latent suicidal tendencies.
The objective is to screen out problematic candidates — without rejecting the suitable, potentially great ones. In the annals of the Mossad and other intelligence agencies, there have been hundreds of cases of rejecting good candidates. But, luckily enough for the Mossad, very few cases of recruits with personality disorders have been discovered.
There are at least four famous cases. One was Avri Elad, a major in the IDF. In 1954, he was sent to Egypt under the identity of a Nazi SS officer to run a network of Jewish students trained to destabilize the regime. Eventually, he betrayed them. Elad denied the charges yet was imprisoned for 10 years for espionage.
Another one involved Mordechai Kedar, a bank robber suspected of murder. He was recruited in 1956, trained and sent to establish his cover in Argentina before being sent to Egypt. While in Buenos Aires, he murdered his local Jewish helper and stole his money. Kedar was found guilty by a military tribunal court and was imprisoned for 20 years.
Three decades later, the case of Mossad cadet Victor Ostrovsky came to light. Possessing a Canadian passport and the traits of a professional charmer, he was recruited as a candidate despite what Mossad sources call personality flaws. They say Ostrovsky became involved in financial frauds. Eventually, after 18 months of training, his handlers discovered that he was cheating his classmates.
After being fired, Ostrovsky took his revenge by writing a book about Mossad operations, and named many of its operatives. Prior to the publication of his book, which contains a lot of lies, the Mossad tried to dissuade him from publishing, but he refused. It turned out that the Mossad’s efforts, which included failed appeals to Canadian and American courts, served as Ostrovsky’s best marketing vehicle. His book became a lucrative bestseller.
And then there was the case of Yehuda Gil. A legendary katsa who posed as an Italian businessman, in the mid-1970s Gil befriended a Syrian general and tried to recruit him. The general refused to betray his country. Fearing he would be seen as a failure, Gil kept up a 20-year charade in which the general was supposedly feeding him valid information. Meanwhile, Gil hid the money he was supposed to pay the source under mattresses at his home in Tel Aviv and fabricated reports.
In the mid-1990s, one of the reports Gil submitted nearly triggered a war between Israel and Syria. Eventually, Gil was put under the surveillance of his Keshet buddies and was caught red-handed. He was sentenced to five years in jail.
Psychologists who worked for the Mossad have told me that individuals with borderline personalities are characterized by sudden and dramatic changes in their behavior and unstable relations with other people. “In many cases,” one psychologist said, “these people tend to see their close colleagues in a dichotomy – either as an enemy or a loved one.”
“People with borderline personalities are the greatest risk to any intelligence organization,” another psychologist noted, “because it is an elusive trait that is difficult to be noticed and screened.”
Maximum efforts of any clandestine service are devoted to block entry to such personalities. However, a built-in contradiction threatens the process. Often such people are gifted and blessed with traits that the organization is seeking: creativity, the ability to change identities, to lie without blinking, to be daring, and to deal with changing and challenging circumstances. No wonder that sometimes the agency does not resist the temptation and hires these characters.
Indeed the cases mentioned above, as well as the Zygier affair, prove this point. Nevertheless, a few dozen failed cases out of the thousands of people who have been recruited to work in the Mossad and for the Mossad over the six decades of its existence are not a bad ratio at all.
The recruiting process cannot be perfect. As of now, no one has invented a vaccine that can neutralize the flaws in human nature.
[This Jerusalem Report article by Yossi Melman was slightly edited for IsraelSpy.com.]
May 23, 2013
Click here for full details of how (and where) to buy Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, the new history of the Mossad and Israel’s other security and espionage agencies.
The authors are Dan Raviv (of CBS News) and Yossi Melman (the longtime Haaretz expert on intelligence, who now is a defense, strategy, and espionage analyst for the Israeli news website Walla). This is their fifth book together. Their best seller (in 1990-91) about Israel’s intelligence community was Every Spy a Prince. They also wrote a character-filled history of U.S.-Israel relations, Friends In Deed.
To glance at readers’ reviews posted at Amazon.com, please click here. For example:
“Despite the book being over 350 pages, it goes by very quickly (I read it in a weekend). ” –daniel michael | 17 reviewers made a similar statement
“Highly recommended read for those interested in Middle East events. ” –zedillo99 | 15 reviewers made a similar statement
“Raviv and Melman have written a wonderful history of Mossad. It reads like a thriller, but conveys a thorough history of the Israeli intelligence agency.” –Kai Bird, Pulitzer Prize winner
SPIES AGAINST ARMAGEDDON is a powerful, vivid history of Israel’s intelligence community – led by the famous and feared Mossad – from the country’s independence in 1948 right up to the crises of today. Israel’s battle plan, aimed at stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program, may drag the United States into war and soaring oil prices. The plan is based on deception, sabotage, assassination, and intimidation. The book tells the story, never told before, of Kidon – the super-secret unit that is like a Mossad within the Mossad. Kidon carries out special operations, including assassinations and sabotage. Kidon had a daring role in destroying Syria’s nuclear reactor in 2007.
Israel’s methods and motivations can be fully understood only when seeing how they developed over the decades. Bold spies have penetrated enemy capitals, and secret agencies felt a historic responsibility to protect Jews worldwide. The authors chronicle major changes in Israeli intelligence agencies’ priorities – away from Palestinian peace prospects, shifting to Iran as the main focus. The book also exposes some episodes of which Israeli spies are ashamed; scandals they would prefer remain buried. Still, in the age of the internet and spy satellites, Israel is the most innovative nation in the use of espionage as an alternative to war.
Among the burning questions addressed and answered in SPIES AGAINST ARMAGEDDON are these: Who planted a powerful computer worm in Iran’s uranium enrichment centrifuges? Who has been motorcycling boldly through the streets of Tehran, assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists? Are Israeli spies regularly inside Iran and other enemy countries? Did the Mossad make a huge mistake when two dozen of its operatives were seen by hotel security cameras in Dubai, or was it a successful murder mission? Do the assassins, as portrayed in the movie “Munich,” really feel pangs of conscience? Have Israel’s enemies ever managed to plant agents in the Israeli government? Does the United States really trust Israeli intelligence, or is the relationship limited by mutual mistrust? Why do U.S. security agencies believe their close ally is spying on America? Is Israel trying to maneuver the U.S. into attacking Iran?
This book contains new information about the Mossad director from 2002 to 2010, Meir Dagan, and how he put “the dagger back between the teeth” of the spy agency. When he publicly declares that he opposes an Israeli military strike on Iran, what does he favor instead? The authors of this book have spoken with all the major players, and a multitude of minor players as well, to gain a balanced and deep understanding of Israeli actions at times of crisis – and Israel almost always feels it is in a crisis. Click here for reviews and more information on Spies Against Armageddon.
May 23, 2013
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited China, and then Russia, this month. Did he accomplish anything? In Sochi, the Russian resort city that will host the Winter Olympic Games next year, the Israeli made it clear that he was trying to persuade Vladimir Putin to cancel planned arms deliveries to Syria.
In an exclusive article for TheTower.org, where he is a Contributing Editor, Yossi Melman reveals that Netanyahu failed. Here is a small excerpt:
Israeli diplomatic sources are expressing disappointment at the outcome of Tuesday’s meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Netanyahu, who initiated the meeting, …was accompanied by Chief of Military Intelligence Major-General Aviv Kochavi and Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin, who served as a translator. Netanyahu hoped to persuade Russia not to honor its contract to supply surface-air S-300 missiles to the Syrian army. But Israeli sources told The Tower that Putin was evasive and refused to commit himself on the issue.
During the meeting with Putin, Netanyahu also clarified Israel’s position versus Syria. He explained that Israel would continue to obstruct by all means available — including continued air attacks — Syria’s efforts to ship long-range missiles to Hezbollah.
The Russian president, on the other hand, made clear that his country objects to any foreign intervention in Syria and advised Israel to restrain itself, arguing that further attacks may escalate the situation.
Click here for the full article at TheTower.org, published by The Israel Project in Washington: http://www.thetower.org/exclusive-netanyahu-putin-meeting-a-bust-as-russia-refuses-to-back-off-s-300-sale-to-syria/
May 16, 2013
[This is edited from an article by Yossi Melman, a new contributing editor at TheTower.org (which is published by The Israel Project in Washington). The full article is here: http://www.thetower.org/analysis-israeli-brinksmanship-aimed-at-preventing-regional-deterioration/.]
CNN video showed smoke and fire from apparent Israeli Air Force strikes inside Syria (used in TheTower.org coverage)
By striking military targets inside Syria three times this year, Israel is engaging in what former Secretary of State John Foster Dulles would have described as a strategy of “brinksmanship.”
It is not in Israel’s national interest to intervene in the bloody Syrian civil war – a sad, violent, and regionally destabilizing conflict with no end in sight. And it is not Israel’s intention to do so.
Though the Israeli government has mostly maintained official silence – neither confirming nor denying – there are sufficient hints to conclude that three aerial attacks this year, on sensitive military facilities and on Hezbollah and Iranian assets in Syria, were carried out by the Israeli Air Force.
The first, in January, destroyed a convoy loaded with Russian made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The targets struck in early May included depots of medium-range surface-to-surface missiles also prepared for transfer to the Iranian-backed Hezbollah. Another target was Jamraya, Syria’s most secretive military R&D center. It is situated in northwest Damascus, the Syrian capital. Israeli intelligence sources tell The Tower that the facility housed sensitive Syrian research on chemical weapons as well as long-range guided missiles.
All three attacks illustrate a pattern. They certainly suggest that Israel has excellent, precise intelligence. It must have been gathered over months and even years of painstaking work from agents on the ground, communications intercepts, aerial reconnaissance, and satellite imagery.
Politically and diplomatically, the attacks also highlight the determination of the Israeli government not to repeat past mistakes. Since 1996, Israel ignored the systematic, ongoing transfer of Iranian-made missiles to Hezbollah via Syria.
As a result of this choice – and even after a U.N. Security Council resolution demanded the disarmament of Hezbollah and an end to the smuggling of weapons into Lebanon – Assad’s terrorist allies amassed more than 40,000 rockets and missiles of all types and ranges. Their arsenal included long-range missiles capable of hitting almost every target in Israel: cities, military bases, power stations, and perhaps even the nuclear reactor in Dimona.
The previous government, still in power during the January air strike, and the new coalition (still headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) decided that enough is enough.
Israel is determined to stop shipments of weaponry systems it calls “game changing.” They include Russian made anti-aircraft missiles, Russian made surface-to-sea missiles, and the Iranian made Fateh-110 (Victory) and M-600 surface missiles. Those can carry both conventional and chemical warheads.
Israel’s decision to carry out air strikes, albeit without making a public announcement, is based on a calculated risk. It assumes that the Assad regime is too weak to respond, and that neither Iran nor Hezbollah has the desire to escalate the situation.
There is the risk that repeatedly hitting a weakened President Bashar al-Assad will goad him to retaliate for the sake of his personal honor and national pride. But if he fires rockets into Israel or gives the “green light” to Palestinian proxies or Hezbollah terrorists to strike Israelis, Assad and his backers in Tehran know that Israel would respond forcefully.
There is much talk, lately, of “red lines” in the Syria crisis. Israel, in effect, must guess what are Assad’s limits of tolerance. Israeli officials are adamant that their country is not aiming at destabilizing the Syrian regime. But Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has hinted that further actions remain possible.
While it is unclear if the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis understands that years of impunity regarding arms shipments have come to an end, there are also lessons from the Israeli Air Force attacks that can affect Israel’s relations with the United States.
The region assumes that raids by the IAD were coordinated with the Obama Administration — in part to dispel criticism that President Obama has done nothing to punish Assad, even though the Obama “red line” was violated when chemical weapons were used against rebels and civilians in Syria.
Still, the gambit is highly risky. Israel’s successful air operations, after all, undermine Administration arguments regarding the sophistication of Syrian air defenses. U.S. officials repeatedly say, “Syria wouldn’t be as easy as Libya was,” hinting at their concern that U.S. or NATO planes trying to carry out missions in Syrian air space might be shot down.
If Israel’s pilots could penetrate into Syria, surely the United States Air Force or NATO would be capable of enforcing a non-fly zone. Grounding Assad’s warplanes and helicopter would, at least, reduce the bloodshed inside his suffering country.
May 11, 2013
The authors of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars (available now as a trade paperback and e-book) have written several books together, and they all include Israeli and American intelligence operatives. In their book, Friends In Deed: Inside the U.S.-Israel Alliance, 1948-1994, they illustrate that cooperative and competitive covert activities were a significant part of the story.
Levant Books has now seen to it that Friends In Deed
is available (for the first time) for the Nook: http://bit.ly/KInNdv
It can also be purchased for Kindle readers and the Kindle app for iPad and many smartphones: http://amzn.to/144oBIM
The list price is only $2.99.
– - - -
Like other books by Yossi Melman and Dan Raviv, Friends In Deed has the true-life stories of dozens and dozens of people whose collective efforts form a coherent, significant history.
From Library Journal
This is one of the most readable accounts of U.S.-Israeli relations in recent years. Both authors have impeccable credentials in the field of journalism and Israeli politics and successfully coauthored Every Spy a Prince, which detailed the activities of the Israeli intelligence community. As they chronicle the political give-and-take between the two countries from Harry Truman’s presidency onward, fascinating pieces of the hardball reality that is international politics float to the surface. Thus, we learn that it was the Israelis who suggested focused bombing raids to eliminate Saddam Hussein during Desert Storm; during the 1980s, Israel was so well received in Washington that Secretary of State George Shultz and others would solicit Israeli help in getting certain pieces of legislation passed by Congress. Eminently readable, Friends in Deed is highly recommended for all libraries with collections in this field. (1994)
April 24, 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
[The following is Yossi Melman's personal opinion, as he watched Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremonies in Israel on Sunday evening and Monday.]
My true feelings on the eve of our Holocaust Remembrance Day are of shame. Israeli governments and some corporations (such as Bank Leumi, which for many years withheld the funds of people who perished and refused to release the money to their relatives) are so hypocritical. They praise the bravery of the World War Two Partisans and the Warsaw Ghetto fighters — now saluting the 70th anniversary of the uprising in Poland against Nazi occupiers — and promise never to forget. The phrase, “Never again!” repeatedly rings in our ears.
Prime Minister Netanyahu, seen on Israel’s Channel 2, at Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Day) ceremony at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem
The Chief of the General Staff — himself a son of Holocaust survivors — is leading the March of the Living in Poland, with its show of mass defiance at the gates of Auschwitz.
But there are still 180,000 Holocaust survivors in Israel. One-third of them live in poverty. Thousands of them are in despicable conditions. The bureaucratic machinery is doing everything to deny them the very little to which they are entitled: financial support, housing subsidies, medication, discounts on their utilities, and so on.
Israeli governments, leftist and rightist, consistently promised in the last two decades — promised? swore! — to improve the situation of the Holocaust survivors and to reform a system which essentially was wicked. But it turned out that very little was done.
April 6, 2013
By YOSSI MELMAN in Tel Aviv
Despite pleas made face to face to President Barack Obama by Israel’s President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it appears certain that Obama is turning down their request that he order the release of Jonathan Pollard.
Pollard was the civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy who was caught spying for Israel in Washington in 1985. Peres was prime minister at the time, although he claimed not to know that a branch of Israeli espionage (not the Mossad) was running an agent inside the United States government. Peres and Obama, both Nobel Peace laureates, clearly respect and perhaps adore each other, but Obama has made clear – in recent public comments – that Pollard committed very serious crimes and should not get favoritism over other convicted Americans held in prison.
Thousands of Israeli have taken part in demonstrations, including one this week near the Obama-Peres talks in Jerusalem, demanding that Pollard – who was sentenced to life in prison and is behind bars in North Carolina – be set free.
While there is no sign that Obama will make such a decision before his presidential term ends in January 2017, Pollard’s supporters are finding some hope in their belief that he can petition the Justice Department in November 2015 – when he has been imprisoned for 30 years – for early release on grounds including good behavior and health problems. Pollard, in late 2015, would be 61 years old.
Behind the protest signs and slogans stands an Israeli organization, the Committee to Free Pollard. It operates as a charity, with an annual budget of 200,000 Israeli sheqels (a little over $50,000) per year. It is funded by contributions from the public, and the managers say they do not receive any government money.
The leaders of the committee are Effi Lahav, who served as office director for an Israeli justice minister, and Adi Ginsburg, who is the group’s spokesman. They are working as unpaid volunteers.
While Lahav and Ginsburg are known clearly as right-wingers on the Israeli political spectrum – suspicious of Arabs and unwilling to make concessions for often illusory progress toward possible peace – they have succeeded in totally changing the committee and its campaign to free Pollard. For years it aligned itself only with the political Right – even with radically nationalistic Jews in both Israel and the U.S. They practically ignored Pollard’s wife Esther (whom he married while a prisoner, after divorcing Anne Pollard, who was convicted of helping Jonathan’s espionage) and dictated the tone of the campaign.
It was highly political and often aggressive, making accusations against Israeli and American dignitaries who refused to join the cause. A U.S. official who chose not to call publicly for Pollard’s release might be labeled by committee activists as a “self-hating Jew” if he were Jewish – or an “anti-Semite” if he were not.
The change that occurred in recent years can be seen in the fact that Left-leaning Israelis are also interested now in Pollard’s prison conditions and in seeing him freed. Writers, artists, and jurists are on his side now. They do not generally hail him as a Zionist hero, but as a man who has been punished enough after 28 years.
The committee has broadened its campaign and has achieved a national consensus. The strongest sign of that came when 112 members of the last Knesset (out of 120 in the parliament) signed a resolution calling on the United States to release Pollard.
The campaign has also been helped by the fact that after decades of refusing to sympathize with Pollard in any way, there are voices emerging in U.S. military, intelligence, and political circles who call for his release. These include former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Schultz, and a former Director of Central Intelligence, R. James Woolsey.
Jim Woolsey, in recent interviews, stresses that Pollard committed serious crimes, but that 28 years in prison is enough. Woolsey points to others in America who spied on behalf of friendly countries such as South Korea and the Philippines. They typically were locked up for less than a decade, not serving a life sentence like Pollard.
The Israeli media have perked up at Lawrence Korb’s statements that Pollard should be released. A longtime defense expert and Pentagon official, Korb was a senior aide to Caspar Weinberger – the defense secretary at the time of Pollard’s arrest. Weinberger is believed more responsible than anyone else (except Pollard himself) for the severity of the spy’s punishment. The defense secretary wrote a memo to the judge in the case, which portrayed Pollard’s actions as extremely damaging to the United States.
The committee is hoping that the major news media in the U.S. will also take up the cause of freedom for Jonathan Pollard, and they are especially targeting the New York Times and its columnists. They suffered a setback this month when Bret Stephens, considered usually a pro-Israel columnist in the Wall Street Journal, wrote a piece that blasted the campaign to free Pollard. The suggestion was that Israelis should not be celebrating the actions of an American, who happened to be Jewish, who betrayed his country by selling secrets.
Still, the committee is continuing with its significant and successful shift away from stressing politics – or hailing Pollard as a hero – and instead speaking of the man’s deteriorating health and his miserable isolation. Freeing him is framed as a humanitarian issue.
An honest look at Israel’s attitude toward Pollard has to include some uncomfortable facts in the background, however. While the request now is for kind gestures toward the American who spied against his own country, this is the same Israel which was far from gentle and forgiving to Mordecai Vanunu – the Israeli technician who worked in the top-secret nuclear laboratories at the Dimona reactor in the Negev.
He provided photographs and details of his clandestine work to a British newspaper in 1986, and then-Prime Minister Peres made sure to order the Mossad to locate and capture Vanunu. A female Mossad operative seduced Vanunu in London and lured him to Rome, where an Israeli espionage team pounced on him, apparently injected him with a sedative – which has been in the Mossad playbook for over sixty years – and shipped him to Israel to stand trial. This happened to have been just a few months after Pollard was arrested by the FBI in Washington.
Vanunu was tried behind closed doors and imprisoned in isolation. Despite appeals by him and a raft of international sympathizers, Vanunu was compelled to serve his full 18-year term.
Many Israelis would point out that Vanunu was not clamped into prison for life; but almost 9 years after his release from a jail cell he continues to be under a kind of house arrest – with limitations on his right to speak to journalists and many others, and a ban on his leaving Israel. In an ironic comparison with Soviet Jews who for decades were not permitted to leave the USSR, Vanunu could practically be labeled “a Prisoner of Zion.”
Authorities somewhat ridiculously claim that if he were allowed to move abroad and start a new life – apparently as a fervent Christian now – Vanunu could still harm Israel by revealing secrets.
The general tone is that Israel’s security and intelligence establishment is not forgiving toward Mordecai Vanunu. Yet they claim it would only be fair for the CIA and other U.S. agencies to drop their harsh attitude toward Jonathan Pollard and signal the President that it would be okay to set him free.
There are valid parallels. Both Pollard and Vanunu were convicted of betraying their countries’ secrets. They both appear to have had ideological motives: Pollard, believing he was protecting the Jewish state by providing information that the U.S. was not passing along to Israel; and Vanunu, who had sympathies with the Palestinians and was also alarmed by the dangers to the world of nuclear proliferation – seeing what he believed to be bombs being built right before his eyes at Dimona.
Pollard was recruited and run by a small intelligence and security unit within Israel’s defense ministry called Lakam – a Hebrew acronym for the Science Liaison Bureau. It specialized in gathering scientific and technical information, and Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars now recounts the history of how Lakam was tasked with acquiring the materials needed at the Dimona reactor for Israel’s clandestine nuclear weapons program. Lakam also protected the secrecy and security of the nuclear project – the cloak of silence that was pierced by Vanunu.
Lakam was run by a longtime Israeli security and intelligence operative, Rafi Eitan, who later in life would be a member of Knesset with his own small party devoted to the interests of senior citizens. Eitan, who could never visit the United States after the Pollard affair was exposed, continues to insist that everything he did was fully authorized.
The fact is that Israeli intelligence gathered information in the U.S. from 1948, the founding of the State of Israel, until Pollard’s arrest in 1985. Israel has publicly pledged not to do it anymore, but the line between espionage and simply using “open sources” — which are read, chatted with, collated and analyzed – can often be blurry. Records indicate that Eitan himself used to visit nuclear-related facilities in the U.S. as a visiting Israeli “scientist.”
After 1985 the FBI and other American security agencies became more suspicious than ever of Israeli actions and motives. Some in the FBI believed that Israel had more agents inside the U.S. government, and they also accused the Israelis of selling – or trading – to Russia many of the secrets acquired in America. There were dark whisperings about Pollard’s information eventually leading to the deaths of CIA agents in Russia.
Those accusations now appear to have been empty and rooted mainly in bitterness. A spy inside the CIA, Aldrich Ames, was responsible for giving Moscow the information that led to the execution of Russians who were secretly working for the West.
Pollard was working as a lone wolf. Eitan played him with valuable gifts, cash, and the promise of Israeli citizenship and a role in history as a Zionist hero.
Peres, after Pollard’s arrest, told the United States that the affair was a “rogue operation.”
The time has come for Israel to tell the full truth. Here is a new idea for the Committee to Free Pollard: recruit President Shimon Peres to your campaign. Also include former defense minister Moshe Arens (as the defense minister in 1985, Yitzhak Rabin, was unfortunately assassinated in 1994) and the men who led the intelligence agencies at the time: Nahum Admoni, who was director of the Mossad; Avraham Shalom, who served as Shin Bet chief (and is known to some movie audiences for his colorful interview in the documentary, “The Gatekeepers”); and the recently retired minister Ehud Barak, who in 1985 was commander of the military intelligence agency Aman.
Ask them to write a joint letter to their friends in the American intelligence community, to the Justice Department, and to President Obama.
I suggest the letter should open with these words, more or less: “We were responsible for the recruiting and running of Jonathan Pollard – or we knew about his work and benefited from it. That was for the sake of the security of Israel, as we saw it.” The letter should certainly include a sincere apology, a request for forgiveness, and a plea for Pollard’s release on humanitarian grounds.
That way the American authorities would not simply see the case as a haughty demand for early release by a notorious criminal who may or may not feel honestly regretful.
It is possible that an original and new approach such as this could touch the hearts of the even the most stony U.S. intelligence authorities who tend never to forgive “an insider” who betrays his legal obligations of secrecy as a trusted government employee.
Even if this approach does not help visibly, it surely could not hurt. A step toward the truth, with an honest plea, could lead the way toward putting this episode — a festering irritation between the United States and Israel — behind us.
March 21, 2013
By YOSSI MELMAN in Tel Aviv
On a sunny, humid afternoon in June 2010, I sat on the plaintiff’s bench in Judge Hila Gerstel’s court in Petach Tikva, a town about eight miles east of this bustling city.
Opposite my lawyer and me were representatives and legal advisors of Israel’s security establishment. My goal, on behalf of the newspaper I then worked for, Haaretz, was to persuade Judge Gerstel to lift a gag order.
We lost the case. Judge Gerstel refused to consider even a compromise – to allow us to reprint news items published abroad about a mysterious Prisoner X. Because of the judicial gag, the episode was not included in the book which I later co-authored.
Twenty months later, I wonder what would have happened had the judge given her consent? Would that have prevented Ben Zygier from committing suicide? He was the Australian who moved to Israel and, as Ben Alon, reportedly worked for the Mossad until he did something that enraged the Israeli foreign espionage agency. Perhaps a glimmer of media attention would have offered some hope to a man in solitary confinement whose very existence was a state secret.
The 6 Former Shin Bet Chiefs (from Dror Moreh’s Oscar-nominated film “The Gatekeepers”)
He was arrested in February 2010, almost certainly by officers of Shin Bet – the domestic security agency spotlighted now in the Oscar-nominated documentary, “The Gatekeepers.” Zygier/Alon was interrogated, was represented by four lawyers, appeared before judges, was visited by his wife and other family members, and was eventually indicted. In December 2010 he was found dead in his high-security cell, originally constructed to house Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin. Authorities decreed that the prisoner somehow hanged himself. Every move and stage of this case was conducted in secrecy.
We still don’t know the nature of his alleged crime. Did he betray fellow Mossad operatives – known as “combatants” — and compromise ongoing operations? Was he recruited by a foreign agency, perhaps an Arab entity or other enemy of Israel? Or, as Australian media now suggest, did he spill the beans to a basically friendly security service such as ASIO, the Australian Security Intelligence Organization?
Senior Israeli government officials, including current and former heads of the intelligence community, are saying: “Trust us. We don’t make any of our citizens simply disappear. The civil rights of suspects and prisoners are respected. But telling you anything about them would do severe harm to the security of the Jewish State.”
Yet the secrecy culture is clearly exaggerated and habitual, tarnishing my country’s image as a society based on freedom – boasting proudly that it is the only true democracy in the Middle East.
The deafening silence of the authorities about Zygier and his death for nearly two years, until they were forced by an Australian TV documentary to open the information portal slightly, made Israel look like a dark nation whose citizens can simply vanish from the face of the earth, as happens under tyrannical regimes. And we are not one of those.
In 2006, Amos Manor, who headed Shin Bet for 11 years beginning in 1953, told me that since the War of Independence in 1948, no Israeli prisoner suspected of security offenses had been executed in Israel. None, he said, had even been detained for long without trial.
Yet since the 1950′s Israel did operate an X Files system. When members of the Mossad or other security agencies and institutions were suspected of betraying Israel, they were typically held in solitary confinement under assumed names and isolated from the outside world. The media were banned from reporting about the arrests, word of which generally leaked to journalists in this small and intimately talkative land.
The prisoners’ interrogators threatened them that if they failed to follow these guidelines, they would be deprived of various rights, such as family visits.
The last known case of this disturbing practice was that of Professor Marcus Klingberg, the deputy scientific director of the top-secret Israel Institute for Biological Research. He was arrested in 1983 and convicted of spying for the Soviet Union. He had to play along with using a false name in prison and was known to his jailers as Greenberg.
Gossip about some of these cases naturally reached foreign correspondents, and the result was that readers around the world knew about some occurrences in Israel – often drawn in harshly negative tones – even while gag orders prevented Israelis from reading or hearing reports that were freely available abroad.
The age of the internet has made a mockery of the practice, as Israelis can click and read foreign websites. Yet judges and security agencies here cling to the old days when they thought they could control everything.
The ties that bind the intelligence community, the defense establishment, and law-enforcement authorities including the courts are too tight and too cozy. Espionage agencies that are rated among the world’s finest show only a Neanderthal knowledge of how information reaches the public in a high-tech era.
The Mossad and its sophisticated combatants display daring and courage behind enemy lines, and they know how to gather information. In the pre- and post-internet age, they have been very good at waging psychological warfare involving the dissemination of disinformation and rumors.
Yet the Mossad is less capable of handling crises involving the mass media. Attempting to conceal facts only serves to stimulate interest and draw even more attention. By treating every bit of information as a national secret, the Mossad and the other state security institutions have caused the number of secrets to multiply. And trying to protect all of these secrets has made it difficult for any secret to remain intact, including ones that really deserve to be.
Here is one example to prove the point. Victor Ostrovsky, a Mossad cadet who was ousted, wrote a book aggrandizing his own role and supposedly revealing Mossad secrets. He should never have been recruited by the secretive agency in the first place, since he had been a known swindler who was caught in a fraud scam. The Israeli government foolishly tried to block publication of Ostrovsky’s book in the United States, which naturally resulted in its becoming a global best seller in 1990.
The Mossad’s handling of the Zygier/Alon affair is reminiscent of what was said about French royalists more than two centuries ago: They forget nothing, yet they learn nothing.
As effective as Israel’s covert combatants have been, their chiefs repeatedly display a we-know-best attitude that crosses the border into harmful arrogance. The Mossad’s shiny image has been tarnished by this episode – with the agency seen to be desperately scurrying to close the barn door after the horse has bolted, perhaps because there are other embarrassing steeds and stories still tightly held.
Damage may also have been to ongoing operations. Iran and other enemies of Israel surely now are double- and triple-checking any contacts they had with Australian-accented men who resemble the published photographs of Zygier/Alon.
February 24, 2013
The story of the Australian-born “Prisoner X” found dead in an Israeli prison — apparently having crossed his bosses at the Mossad — is starting to fade. But more revelations would surely re-ignite interest. Mossad chiefs probably feel angry that some of their methodology has been revealed to Israel’s enemies, because of this incident’s exposure.
But in the modern world of information flow, secrets are very hard to keep.
Here’s most of an Agence France Presse item on February 19 that quoted Yossi Melman:
The mysterious arrest and suicide of an Australian-Israeli with Mossad ties in a top-secret prison cell near Tel Aviv has raised questions about how Israel’s shadowy spy outfit chooses its agents.
While some reports suggested the man now identified as Ben Zygier may have been a loose-lipped braggart with psychological problems, a veteran Israeli defence analyst dismissed the claims, saying it would have shown up clearly in the agency’s exhaustive vetting procedures. …
Intelligence and defence expert Yossi Melman told AFP that any flaws in Zygier’s character would almost certainly have been known to his employers. “The vetting is very, very, very rigorous,” he said.
“It can take a year before someone is recruited, just to begin as a cadet. You undergo psychological screening and psychometric exams and you talk to psychologists, you are interviewed, then you are given some sort of tests in the field,” he said.
“If (Zygier) had any past problems … I am sure that Mossad knew about it,” said Melman, whose book Spies Against Armageddon looks at Mossad operations targeting Iranian nuclear scientists.
According to the latest report by ABC published on Monday, Zygier was arrested by his Mossad handlers after leaking detailed information about his work to the Australian intelligence services.
It said Zygier had given the Australians a comprehensive account of a number of Mossad operations, including plans for a top-secret mission in Italy that had been years in the making.
Zygier, who also went by several other surnames — Alon, Allen and Burrowes — was reportedly one of three Australian Jews working for Mossad who changed their names several times to take out new passports, enabling them to travel to Middle Eastern countries where Israelis cannot enter.
It said he was involved in setting up a Europe-based communications company for Mossad that exported electronic components to Iran and to other Arab countries, working alongside two other Australian-Israelis also employed by the spy agency. …
“Whatever he did, he did something that compromised the organisation and compromised maybe some field operation, maybe he even compromised some field agents, I don’t know,” Melman said, basing his assessment on information published abroad.
To his understanding, Zygier would only have been a relatively minor cog in the Israeli intelligence machine. “He didn’t have a serious job, that’s clear for me,” Melman said. “I think he served for a couple of years.”
February 24, 2013
On Wednesday morning, Israeli authorities eased — but did not entirely lift — their ban on any discussion in the Israeli news media of a Mossad secret operative who hanged himself in an Israeli prison.
Ben Zygier/Allon (from Australia’s ABC)
On Wednesday night, the Ministry of Justice in Jerusalem issued a statement confirming that an Israeli-Australian dual citizen had been imprisoned and in 2010 was found dead in his cell. It said the man’s family had been informed after he was arrested. Only recently officials (without any public announcement) reached a conclusion that he committed suicide by hanging, but investigations continue into any failures, abuse, or wrongdoing by prison officials.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s “Foreign Correspondent” series had a half-hour report this week on the mysterious life and death of the man, born as Ben Zygier to a prominent Jewish family in Melbourne, Australia, who was known in Israel as Ben Alon.
On Wednesday morning, Israel Radio’s Keren Neubach phoned Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, seeking his analysis. Melman explained that two years ago, when he was working for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, he and the paper tried to publish an item — giving some partial details about a “Prisoner X” held secretly in an Israeli prison — based entirely on something that had appeared in a British newspaper.
Usually Israel’s military censor permits repetition of claims and information that have appeared in foreign publications, but — citing a gag order issued by an Israeli judge — the authorities did not allow Melman or the newspaper to say anything about Prisoner X.
Melman said on the radio that in the age of the internet and social networking — when any Israeli can go on the Web and read or watch what Australian TV revealed about Prisoner X and his suicide in 2010 — there is no point in banning any word of it in the Israeli news media.
Melman added, however, that the State of Israel does not “disappear” people. If someone is charged with a crime, however serious, that person is brought before a judge, a state prosecutor draws up charges, the person’s family is informed, and a legal verdict is reached by a court. In many cases touching upon the security and intelligence agencies, every step is however “behind closed doors.”
The Associated Press notes that the most recent case of a person vanishing — apparently through the action of Israel’s espionage agency Mossad and/or security agency Shin Bet — was that of an Arab who was last seen on a train in Ukraine. Dirar Abu Sisi was later confirmed to be in custody in Israel, where he faces charges of being the director of Hamas’s rocket attacks against Israel.
February 13, 2013
Benjamin Weinthal, a Berlin-based analyst, journalist, and fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (an American think tank), writes in National Review Online of his recent visit — during the Gaza mini-war — to experts in Israel, including Spies Against Armageddon co-author Yossi Melman.
For the full article, click here. The title is “Did Israel Defeat Hamas?” Here’s an excerpt:
During my interviews with leading military and intelligence reporters in Israel, there was a clear consensus that Israel had to respond to the growing violence from Hamas (including over 100 rockets fired into the south of the tiny Jewish country in November prior to the war). “Hamas eroded the cease-fire. Israel could not take it anymore,” Yossi Melman told me in Tel Aviv. Melman works as a commentator with the popular Israeli news outlet Walla, and is the co- author, with Dan Raviv, of the highly acclaimed Spies against Armageddon, which goes deep into the weeds of the enormously complex history of Israeli intelligence agencies.
Melman was referring to the cease-fire of 2009 which brought an end to Operation Cast Lead (Act I in the hot war), launched in 2008 to stop Hamas from raining rockets on Israel’s southern periphery. Hamas broke the cease-fire by shooting at Israeli patrols on the border and by its continued rocket fire.
That helps to explain why Melman dismissed as “rubbish” the view of some commentators that the head of Hamas’s military-operations, Ahmed Jabari, was a “moderate force.” He added that Israel’s pinpoint strike taking out Jabari caused turmoil within the Hamas leadership.
It took five years to reach a negotiated deal with Jabari to secure the kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit from Hamas in exchange for the release of over 1,000 Palestinian criminals and terrorists. Melman dryly noted that it would have perhaps taken ten years to negotiate a cease-fire with Jabari to end his rocket attacks on Israeli civilians. The targeted killing of Jabari was nothing short of a remarkable combination of Israeli human intelligence and military expertise.
The interview with Melman ended with a boom in the sky of Tel Aviv. We heard Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system intercept a Hamas rocket aimed at Tel Aviv. The Iron Dome had a spectacular 85 percent success rate in intercepting Hamas missiles.
November 26, 2012
While global media picked up on an intriguing element of a TV documentary in Israel — the apparent refusal of the military and intelligence chiefs to carry out a mobilization in 2010 that appeared to mean preparation for attacking Iran — a subtle but important feature of those events remained buried.
Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, reveals what the true intention was — at least as seen by the military and Mossad leaders who said “no” and, frankly, were shocked. Here is Melman’s article, appearing at the Middle East news and analysis website Al-Monitor.com.
TEL AVIV — Sometime in 2010, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak met with their top five cabinet ministers for a routine yet secret meeting to discuss pressing security and foreign-policy issues. The group, which has no legal status and does not have the authority to make decisions, is known as the “Secret Seven,” inspired by the “Secret Seven” series of adventure novels for children by the British author Enid Blyton.
Also present at that meeting (the date of which Israeli censors do not allow to be specified) were Israel’s security chiefs, including then-Mossad director Meir Dagan, Chief of the General Staff Major-General Gabi Ashkenazi and a few others.
Minutes before that meeting ended, Netanyahu turned to the chief of staff, General Ashkenazi, and told him to “set the systems for P-plus,” a term meaning to swiftly increase the preparedness of the military in case of a war with Iran. The measures to be taken in such a situation could include moving military units, strengthening intelligence capabilities and preparing the home front for a war.
The 2010 incident was reported earlier this week in the opening of a new season of “Uvda” (“fact” in Hebrew), a flagship program of Channel 2, Israel’s largest commercial and privately owned TV station.
The story hit Israeli headlines and reverberated in major Middle Eastern and Western media outlets. The prime minister’s words two years ago are now interpreted by the Israeli and international media as an order for the military to begin the countdown to an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
But the truth of what happened, which went farther than that particular meeting involving Netanyahu, Barak and their top military and security echelon, is much more complex and intriguing than the way it was broadcast and understood.
The truth is that Netanyahu and Barak did not order the military to plan a direct, all-out attack on Iran. Their true intention was to trigger a chain of events which would create tension and provoke Iran, and eventually could have led to a war that might drag in the United States.
At that meeting and on other occasions, General Ashkenazi warned Netanyahu and Barak that such an order could “create uncontrollable facts on the ground” which could ignite an undesired regional war. ”If you open and press an accordion, the instrument starts playing music” was the picturesque description from the chief of staff, who retired more than a year ago.
Ashkenazi’s concerns were echoed at the time by Mossad director Dagan, who at present is fighting for his life at an Israeli hospital after a liver transplant four weeks ago.
Before his illness, Dagan, who retired from his office nearly two years ago, talked in private on numerous occasionns about Netanyahu and Barak’s intentions against Iran. He revealed that he witnessed several incidents in which Netanyahu, who became prime minister in 2009 and is seeking reelection in January 2013, conspired with Barak to take measures which could have led to miscalculations by Iran.
One such scary scenario was the possibility that Iranian intelligence could have noticed the Israeli military preparations and decided to stage a pre-emptive strike against Israel or US targets in the region. Israel, in such a situation, would have claimed that it was a victim of Iranian aggression and retaliated. America, too, could have found itself caught up in an unpredictable circle of violence.
Sources who were privy to the secret deliberations told me that Ashkenazi and Dagan eventually managed to convince the security cabinet and then the full cabinet, which are the only authorized bodies to decide on war and other vital issues, that Netanyahu and Barak were playing with fire and may not only ignite a regional war in the Middle East, but also ruin decades of close, intimate strategic cooperation with the US.
Since then, bad blood has overtaken the relations between Netanyahu and Barak on one hand and Ashkenazi, Dagan and Yuval Diskin, the former chief of the domestic security service Shin Bet, on the other. A few months ago, Diskin described Netanyahu and Barak as being “motivated” by a “messianic” drive. Barak in return accused his critics of attempting a military “putsch” — the disobedience of generals of legitimate elected officials — and hinted that they deliberately did not prepare the military for the mission.
For the time being, the danger of war with Iran has diminished. Israel is preoccupied with its national election on January 22. The Iranian issue is no longer high on the Israeli political agenda. Opinion polls indicate that Barak, who is leading a small party, may not be reelected. Netanyahu himself, in his speech last September in the UN General Assembly, set spring, or at the latest, summer 2013, as a new deadline to deal with Iran’s nuclear program.
The results of the US elections will also have a tremendous effect on the future Israeli deliberations and decision regarding Iran.
If Netanyahu is reelected — and he has a fairly good chance, though it’s premature to predict — he will get right back to beating the war drums. He is obsessed with Iran’s nuclear program. He has time and again likened Iran’s policies to German Nazi hatred of the Jews. He seems to feel certain that if Iran produces nuclear weapons, they will be used to destroy Israel and the Jewish people.
Netanyahu reiterated this week in interviews that if he is re-elected, he will not allow Iran to have nuclear weapons. He refused to be more specific about how he would achieve that. But with the re-election of President Obama, and the likely re-election of Netanyahu, what to do about Iran, and the consequences of such action, will be at the very top of the national-security agendas of both Israel and the United States in 2013.
Yossi Melman is an Israeli commentator on security and intelligence affairs and the co-author with CBS News Correspondent Dan Raviv of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars. They blog at IsraelSpy.com.
Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2012/al-monitor/israel-secret-seven.html#ixzz2BZ78P0AZ
November 7, 2012
by Yossi Melman in Tel Aviv
Israel has just come to a standstill for 26 hours. It’s the eve of Yom Kippur, and even for those who don’t attend Kol Nidrei services at synagogues it is a very quiet time – suitable for contemplation and reflection.
Yom Kippur is, of course, the Day of Atonement: the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.
For many Israelis, notably those who were in the army or the security agencies in the early 1970s, this is remembered as the 39th anniversary of Israel’s biggest military and intelligence failure. On that day, at least – October 6, 1973 – it was a defeat for the seemingly invincible forces of Israel.
Egypt and Syria took Israel by surprise, with coordinated attacks in the South and in the North. The Yom Kippur War – known to Arabs as The October War – cost the lives of nearly 2,700 young Israeli servicemen. Restoring some measure of pride to Egypt and its then-president Anwar Sadat, the war did also pave the way to a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979.
Ashraf Marwan was paid by Israel’s Mossad
Recently declassified documents in Israel reveal a large part of the intelligence failure: the refusal to believe information from a top-level spy in Cairo, an Egyptian who was very close to Sadat, who told the Mossad that Egypt and Syria would attack on October 6. Our book similarly tells the tale of that spy for the Mossad. His name was Ashraf Marwan, and he was a son-in-law of Sadat’s predecessor, Gamal Abdel Nasser. Israelis and Egyptians still debate whether Marwan might have been a double- or a triple-agent. Whom did he truly serve? His mysterious death in London in 2007 only deepened the debate.
That story is in our Chapter 12, “Surprises of War and Peace,” as is another entirely new and true tale of Israeli espionage inside Egypt in the years leading up to the Yom Kippur War.
The protagonist, whose family asks that he not be named, was an Israeli Jew who had linguistic abilities and was recruited by the Mossad. He was trained as an intelligence officer and sent into Egypt in 1969 under deep cover – with a most unusual “legend,” or false identity. His story, unfortunately, does not have a happy ending. Here is an excerpt:
“Serving in the Mossad was a big honor for him,” one of his controllers recalled. He was clearly willing to take on a notably dangerous assignment: living, under a false identity, in an enemy country. His destination would be Egypt.
He underwent an intensive course to learn the crafts needed to be an intelligence officer. That was the usual stuff taught to dozens of Israelis as they prepared to vanish into enemy lands. Unusual in his case was the cover story.
Thanks to especially warm relations with a small nation, the leader of which was a true friend of Israel, the Mossad arranged that A. would go to Egypt as a citizen of that country. Only the country’s leader and three of his top officials were privy to the secret.
Before A. left Israel, the head of Caesarea [the operations department], Mike Harari, tried unsuccessfully to persuade A.’s girlfriend to marry him and tag along on the adventure in Cairo. A married couple was considered safer – far less likely to be harassed or blackmailed – than a 30-year-old bachelor. Even worse, when Wolfgang Lotz [who spied for Israel in Cairo in the early 1960s] went to Egypt without his wife, he ended up marrying a second woman.
A. was very successful, from the Mossad’s point of view. He quickly became a prominent member of the expatriates’ circuit in Cairo, hosting parties and mingling with foreign diplomats and the Egyptian elites, including army officers.
He sent his information and observations in coded messages to Tel Aviv, using a transmitter hidden in the posh villa he rented in one of Cairo’s most prestigious neighborhoods. Some reports were sent in the mail to post office boxes rented by the Mossad in Europe.
When circumstances permitted, he traveled to European capitals for face-to-face meetings with his controllers, because then he could freely add details and respond to questions. He used some of those trips to fly to Israel for brief visits with his girlfriend.
Mossad headquarters began to realize that the fears about sending a bachelor were materializing. Several women in Cairo, notably the daughter of a European diplomat, were attracted by A., and he went out on dates with some of them.
His loneliness manifested itself in personal messages that he transmitted – along with his official espionage reports – asking that “birthday wishes” to his friends and regards to his girlfriend be passed along by the Mossad communications desk. His handlers, including Harari, found that to be excessive and reprimanded him; but they also grew increasingly concerned about his state of mind.
Still unable to persuade A.’s girlfriend to join him in Egypt, Harari decided – for the sake of the important mission – to “marry him off.” The Israeli spy was instructed to fly to Europe on “vacation,” where he would meet a pretty young woman and bring her to Cairo. Harari sent a female combatant, whose first initial was M., to meet A., and they were “married” in Europe by virtue of documents she brought with her from the Mossad’s forgers.
Before their flight to Egypt, they lavished a lot of Israeli government cash on new furniture, bed linens, and tableware – just as any newlyweds might do.
Now the Mossad had two spies in Cairo. A. and M. worked in concert and helped each other achieve more than one person could. In the months leading to the October 1973 war, A. was able to photograph the military build-up from Cairo all the way to the Suez Canal.
A. reported that Egypt was preparing for war. Military intelligence analysts in Tel Aviv were not moved by his reports. They were sticking to their conclusion that Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat was not ready for a new war.
A. and M. would remain in Cairo during the war and had the strange experience of seeing the entire city rejoicing at setbacks for Israeli troops. This, frankly, was frustrating for two Jews in the middle of a crowded Arab country, however well trained they might have been to act dispassionate.
They stayed in Egypt for another two years. The Caesarea department decided in 1976 to remove the “couple,” after consulting with the Mossad chief who took over in 1974, General Yitzhak Hofi. A. was offered a new job as an instructor at the Midrasha [the Mossad’s training academy], as he would have many experiences to share with up-and-coming Mossad field personnel. But he declined and decided to leave the agency.
M., meantime, had actually fallen in love with A. and wanted to marry him. Harari, in a cruel manner, told her that even if A. were willing, the Mossad would not allow that to happen. “You were sent on a specific mission,” Harari told her, “which now comes to an end – not to falling in love.”
A. was not interested in marrying her. A series of quarrels ensued, and M. telephoned him several times, yelling at him and insisting that some of the household assets were hers.
A. instead married his longtime sweetheart, who had loyally waited for seven years. They had an ostensibly normal life, including two children. But his espionage years were bothering him. The Mossad’s “rehabilitation” effort, routinely offered to operatives who returned home after a long mission, seemed to have failed.
He was haunted by the secret life he had lived. A. could not help but be suspicious of everyone as a potential attacker or assassin.
On the other hand, in business, he genuinely was cheated by partners when trying to set up a plastics company. That failure depressed him. An even more scarring tragedy occurred when A.’s car struck and killed a pedestrian.
He asked the Mossad to help him with the obvious legal complications, but the agency refused to do anything for the former undercover employee. Feeling disappointed and bitter, A. left his wife and children and abruptly moved to his original homeland.
He did some odd jobs there, living hand to mouth. His life story was reminiscent of that of Wolfgang Lotz, who also became a lost soul after his secret years in Egypt. But in this case, the story had an even sadder ending. Sitting in a city park one day, A. committed suicide.
In his tale is further proof that very rarely did any spy who worked under deep cover return home as a happy, well-adjusted person.
[from the new book by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, pp. 159-161]
September 25, 2012
Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, is cited as an expert and then quoted directly in coverage of the U.S.-Israel dispute in this piece in The New York Times. A new report from the International Atomic Energy Agency was the catalyst for the coverage.
The Times wrote: “Though Mr. Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are crucial to making the final call, attention has turned to a group of 14 ministers known as the inner cabinet, or security cabinet. Yossi Melman, an author of ‘Spies Against Armageddon,’ a history of Israeli intelligence, said military actions typically required “a solid majority” of 12 or 13 members of this group, which is currently divided.
“Remember, it’s whether to attack now or attack later; it’s not between peaceniks and warmongers,” Melman told The Times. “The argument against is don’t hurt the U.S. relationship, don’t risk relations with the president just for the satisfaction of conducting an attack before the election.”
August 28, 2012
Since Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars was published recently, there’s an upsurge of interest in the Middle East on various incidents that had been cloaked in shadows — perhaps no event more than the destruction of a Syrian nuclear reactor in September 2007.
[in photo: Prime Minister Menachem Begin]
Israel’s air force carried out that raid, but Israel never announced it and has not officially acknowledged it.
Following publication of a Hebrew edition of Spies, the authors Yossi Melman and Dan Raviv are featured in a TV documentary — on Israeli television’s Channel 10 — about how and why Israel flattened that building in remote, northeastern Syria. As their book points out, then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decided to obey the Begin Doctrine: named for the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s decision in 1981 to destroy Iraq’s nuclear reactor, because he determined that no Middle East nation hostile to Israel should be permitted to develop nuclear weapons.
The Syrian example of five years ago offers clues, perhaps, on Israeli decision-making about Iran’s nuclear program. In 2007, however, the United States government did not mind the fact that Israel decided to act alone — after George W. Bush turned down a request by Olmert for U.S. air power to destroy the building. As of now in 2012, the Obama Administration is obviously urging Israel not to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities. Not now.
Melman and Raviv’s book in Israel is titled Milkhamot ha-Tzlalim, which is Hebrew for “The Shadow Wars.” To view the 45-minute documentary, which also features a former deputy national security advisor to President Bush — Elliot Abrams — speaking in English about the Olmert-Bush conversations regarding the Syrian reactor, please CLICK HERE.
August 27, 2012
[Adapted from Chapter 22, "Assassins," in Spies Against Armageddon by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman]
Whether it is a mini-Mossad within the agency, or even a planet of its own, the fact is that operatives in Kidon (Hebrew for “Bayonet”) are obscured by strict secrecy and further protected by military censorship of the Israeli media. Yet, an accurate window into the structure of Kidon, its modes of operation, and the moods and psyches of its members can be found in the pages of a novel.
- [official emblem of the Mossad]
The author is Mishka Ben-David, and a thorough dossier describing the Kidon unit is nestled in a seemingly innocent book of fiction he wrote, Duet in Beirut, published in Hebrew in 2002. Ben-David, though, is not just a novelist. He was an intelligence officer. He was in the Mossad. And if that is not real enough, then consider that he was the chief intelligence officer of Caesarea, the agency’s operations department that runs combatants – Jewish and non-Jewish – who penetrate such enemy countries as Syria, Egypt, and Iran.
Caesarea also has, at its service for special occasions, Kidon. This “Bayonet” unit is kept small but sharp, and it recruits men and women who already have proven themselves in their military service or in other intelligence work. They are judged, through a process that includes copious psychological profiling, to have excellent self-discipline. Even more importantly, they have the skills needed for operations that are on the edge. Many of them come from special forces units, such as Sayeret Matkal and Flotilla 13.
They are trained by highly motivated instructors and work in small teams of two or four – each of them known as a khuliya (a Hebrew word for “team” or “connected link”). Although Kidon’s overall size has never been published, there are several dozen khuliyot, and the entire secretive organization is referred to as “The Team.”
They are so compartmentalized that their office is not inside the Mossad headquarters at the Glilot junction north of Tel Aviv. They hardly ever go there, and even with the very few Mossad operatives with whom they interact, they use assumed names – so as to be anonymous even to them.
In the field, they use a third name, and sometimes even fourth and fifth identities.
Their training includes almost anything one might imagine is needed for a thorough intelligence operation: surveillance, shaking off surveillance, and how to study an object – things, buildings, or even people – and memorize everything about it.
They become proficient at remembering codes and securely communicating during missions without raising suspicion. On top of conventional communication gear, this can include an agent touching her nose or pulling her earlobe, or some other form of sanitized signal to colleagues.
One of the skills is to remain cool as a cucumber in all circumstances, and not to be shaken by any unexpected interruption, question, or approach by people – never hinting that you are involved in anything unusual.
In Ben-David’s adventure novel, a female Kidon combatant and the senior man who trained her are sent to penetrate a factory in a foreign country that manufactures parts for Iran’s nonconventional weapons. They are interrupted when another Kidon team, serving as their perimeter guard, informs them with urgency that unexpected guests are arriving. The guards disperse, according to plan, and the duo know precisely where to go to meet a car that is waiting there for such an eventuality. Everyone keeps their cool. Panic is not in their lexicon.
Kidon personnel excel at the manual skills that are often required in the field: picking or breaking a lock, surreptitiously taking photographs, and planting electronic devices. They also learn to master a variety of vehicles: not only cars and vans, but also motorcycles, which have become Kidon’s vehicle of choice – almost a trademark of a team that leaves few traces.
The Team’s members are constantly practicing the use of weapons, and as wide a variety of weapons as has ever been invented. They are very good at firing pistols, often with silencers, whether while standing, running, driving, or riding a motorcycle. They know how to shape, plant, and detonate explosives, including innovatively designed bombs. They are well practiced at stabbing enemies with knives, injecting them with hypodermic needles, or administering poison by way of newly minted delivery methods. In addition, well trained in martial arts, Kidon operatives are adept at using their own hands and feet as weapons.
The description of their skills may seem torn from a James Bond novel or movie, but they are not figments of a writer’s imagination. Kidon men and women are authentic intelligence officers who are taught a wide range of crafts. It is a barely concealed fact, within the Mossad, that they are Israel’s assassins. Moreover, they are considered to be supreme intelligence officers for all seasons – not simply a death squad.
August 24, 2012
A former Director of Central Intelligence is one of the readers of Spies Against Armageddon who are praising the book by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman, who were the authors of a best seller on Israeli intelligence in 1990 titled Every Spy a Prince.
After reading Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, James Woolsey — who is well versed in the history of CIA cooperation with Israeli espionage and security agencies — wrote:
“Raviv and Melman have redefined the gold standard for nonfiction about intelligence. This remarkable history of Israeli intelligence from the War of Independence to Stuxnet calls it straight. By describing the roots of both the triumphs and the screw-ups thoroughly and fairly, the authors help us see not only how Israel’s survival has been effectively protected — but the huge debt the rest of us owe.”
The reviews at Amazon.com
are uniformly 5 stars out of 5. One is by Joseph Gelman, co-author of a fascinating non-fiction book, Confidential: The Life of Secret Agent Turned Hollywood Tycoon, Arnon Milchan
. Milchan is among the dozens of colorful characters in Spies Against Armageddon,
in part because – before becoming one of the top movie producers in the world — Milchan took part in covert missions that helped Israel obtain materials it needed for its unacknowledged nuclear weapons. Shimon Peres, now president of Israel, coordinated much of that work and now has very high praise for Milchan. Here is what the author Gelman wrote about Raviv and Melman’s new book:
“A gripping read. Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman do it again! As a life-long student of Israeli intelligence history and capabilities, I have always found Raviv and Melman’s work over the decades to be indispensible and cutting-edge. ‘Spies Against Armageddon’ is chock-a-block with stunning material. I could not put the book down. For a sweeping history of Israeli intelligence accompanied by nail-biting descriptions of field operations, this is a must read.”
August 22, 2012
By Orlando Radice (TheJC.com
), August 17, 2012
In 2004, during the Second Intifada, Israeli intelligence officers invited two journalists to a cafe to discuss corruption stories involving Yassir Arafat, with a view to smearing the then-Palestinian Authority leader.
As the conversations got going, a third, uninvited journalist dropped in to the café on a tip-off that the meeting was taking place.
Excited by the possibility of taking part in Mossad psychological warfare, he offered to pose as a foreign writer who would seduce and sleep with Afarat’s wife, Suha, in order to extract secrets from her.
Although Mossad declined this particular offer, this tale of espionage-sleaze is just one of many James Bond-worthy episodes in Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, a colourful new history of the history of the intelligence agency by journalists Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman.
The book was a “pure journalistic endeavour”, says Mr Melman. “I didn’t have to swear allegiance to any intelligence agency,” he says, although the book had to be submitted to Israel’s military censorship authority.
Spy-glamour aside, Spies Against Armageddon has a serious aim: to dispel myths about Mossad, the spy agency that inspires the greatest number of conspiracy theories in the world.
On the Munich Olympics murders in 1972, the widely-held view, as disseminated by books and at least two films, was that Mossad embarked on a global vengeance mission against those who carried out the attacks.
The book argues that Mossad targeted Palestinian cells not as revenge but as part of long-term strategy to disrupt the PLO terror infrastructure in Europe.
The proof of this, Mr Melman says, was that two of those assassinated post-Munich were only indirectly involved in the Olympic attack. They were, however, key players involved in ongoing operations against Israel.
“Most of Mossad’s work is in intelligence gathering. Only five per cent are special assignments, and very few of those involve killing,” Mr Melman says.
A case in point was Wolfgang Lotz, who joined Mossad in the early 1960s and was one of the agency’s true 007s. He almost certainly assassinated no-one – his skill was in using his “convivial nature” and “passion for women and wine” to work his way into Egyptian high society and extract defence secrets from generals. Using a tiny radio hidden in a riding boot, he telegraphed reports to Tel Aviv.
As John le Carré noted, the best spooks do not kill their enemies – they make friends with them.
August 18, 2012
Readers who have bought Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars occasionally post reviews at Amazon.com, and so far all 11 are rating the book 5 stars out of a maximum 5. Here is a sampling of the latest:
5.0 out of 5 stars Thorough, Thrilling, Thought-Provoking
, August 4, 2012
By Larry Constantine “AKA Lior Samson”
Raviv and Melman’s Spies Against Armageddon is not the first history of Mossad and the Israeli clandestine services, but it is far and away the best and most readable. By dumping strict chronology while sticking to history, Raviv and Melman tell a more engaging and exciting story that makes it easier for readers to connect the dots and make sense of who and what are connected in a complex narrative. Written in a highly readable but disciplined style, this book is both a comprehensive resource and a thrilling read. Much of the story has been told before, but even familiar capers are enriched by insider insights and fresh details that bring the politics and practice of secret operations alive. Of particular note are up-to-the-minute disclosures, including confirmation of the German BND involvement in the cyberattack on Iran’s nuclear facility at Natanz. The authors go beyond mere recounting of facts to delve into the reasons and intentions behind operations. Their treatment of all sides of the issues and all players is impressively well-balanced. Triumphs and screw-ups are presented with equal candor. Theirs is neither a knee-jerk defense of Israel’s positions and actions nor an unduly critical attack. As a writer of thrillers about clandestine operations, I wish I had the benefit of this remarkably rich source earlier. Highly recommended for absolutely anyone interested in the Middle East or in the role of clandestine ops in the modern world–which should mean just about everyone.
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic book!, August 6, 2012
By daniel michael
An absolutely incredible book. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in Israeli history and/or espionage in general. Very well researched and filled with great stories. Although this book is non-fiction, it is written in a very entertaining narrative that will surely keep you interested. Despite the book being over 350 pages, it goes by very quickly (I read it in a weekend). The book is split up into chapters, all covering different themes and periods of history; it makes it very easy to stay focussed and aware of everything going on.
As someone already familiar with the history of the Mossad, this book contained tons of stuff I had never heard about before. Regardless of your familiarity with the various Israel intelligence services, the book is sure to contain new information for you. Although I suspect that this book will more popular with zionists, it really is accessible and made for everyone. No bias – no hidden agenda – just the history of the Mossad (or atleast what has been accessible to the outside world).
Reading this book makes me curious about all the other stuff that goes on that the public has no idea about.
August 13, 2012