News you may have missed #808 (Obama-Netanyahu edition)

Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack ObamaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►The other concession speech: Netanyahu congratulates Obama. At least there was no pretending. In the language of diplomacy, the greeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu extended to Barack Obama on the occasion of his re-election was “correct” and nothing more. “Prime Minister Netanyahu congratulates US President Barack Obama on his election victory,” read the public statement issued early Wednesday in Jerusalem. The next word out of Balfour Street, where Netanyahu mulled the returns, was a warning to members of his Likud party to shut up about how they figure the premier might really feel. By then, the deputy speaker of the Knesset had already called Obama “naïve” and vowed Israel would not “surrender” to him.
►►Netanyahu rushes to repair damage with US President. Over the past several years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has on several occasions confronted or even undercut US President Barack Obama, taking his message directly to the Israel-friendly United States Congress, challenging Mr. Obama’s appeal to the Arab world, and seeming this fall to support his opponent, Mitt Romney. Mr. Netanyahu woke up Wednesday to find not only that his Republican friend had lost, but also that many Israelis were questioning whether he had risked their collective relationship with Washington.
►►Barack Obama victory spells trouble for Israel’s Netanyahu. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces an even more awkward time with Washington and re-energized critics at home who accused him on Wednesday of backing the loser in the US presidential election. With Iran topping his conservative agenda, Netanyahu will have to contend with a strengthened second-term Democratic president after four years of frosty dealings with Barack Obama and a rift over how to curb Tehran’s nuclear program.

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Mossad, IDF ‘resisted order’ to prepare for Iran war in 2010

Ehud Barak and Gabi AshkenaziBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The heads of Israel’s army and main spy agency resisted an order issued by the Israeli Prime Minister to prepare for an all-out military attack on Iranian nuclear installations in 2010, according to a report aired today. According to Monday’s edition of Uvda (Fact), a popular investigative program on Israel’s Channel 2 television, the command to prepare for an attack was given by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Defense Ehud Barak. The two men delivered the order to a meeting of senior cabinet ministers, telling them that the Israeli military’s preparedness level would be elevated to ‘P plus’, effective immediately. According to Uvda, ‘P plus’ meant that the Israeli armed forces should prepare to take military action at a moment’s notice. However, the then-Director of Israeli spy agency Mossad, Meir Dagan, who was present at the meeting, asked to speak and, according to Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, which said it has seen the Uvda program, “came out sharply” against both Netanyahu and Barak. He told those present that elevating the military preparedness to ‘P plus’ was something that technically could only be decided at a meeting of Israel’s Political-Security Cabinet. Also known as “the inner cabinet”, the group, which consists of over a dozen Ministers and is led by the Prime Minister, is tasked with outlining and implementing Israel’s foreign and defense policy. Dagan told the two men that “only the [inner] cabinet is authorized to decide this” and warned them that they were “likely to make an illegal decision to go to war”. Dagan’s objection was later reinforced when General Gabi Ashkenazi, then-leader of the Israel Defense Forces, told the Prime Minister that the Israeli army was not ready to elevate its preparedness level to a ‘P plus’. Read more of this post

CBS re-broadcasts Iran comments by former Mossad chief

Meir DaganBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
One of the few certainties in the spiraling crisis between Iran, Israel and the United States, is that Tel Aviv and Washington do not agree on how to respond to Tehran’s nuclear program. Nowhere is this lack of unity more noticeable than in the difference of opinion between the Office of the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the White House. Netanyahu, a leading hawk in Israeli political circles, has made it clear that, unlike United States President Barack Obama, he believes that the time for diplomacy has run out, and that Israel has no option but to consider direct military strikes on Iran. Last weekend he even took the unprecedented step of advising American voters to elect a leader willing “to draw a red line” on the issue of Iran. It is worth noting, however, that senior figures in Israel’s intelligence community seem to be siding with the US on this dispute. Leading the wave of dissention within the ranks is Meir Dagan, former Director of the Mossad, Israel’s most revered intelligence agency. In November of 2010, Meir Dagan stepped down from his post as the head of the Mossad after having led the agency for over eight years —the longest tenure of any Mossad director in history. Soon afterwards, he admonished calls by Netanyahu’s people to bomb Iran as “the stupidest idea” he had ever heard. On Sunday, September 16, the CBS flagship investigative program 60 Minutes aired again an important interview with Dagan, which was first broadcast on March 11 of this year. The timing of the re-broadcast is critical, as observers in the Middle East appear increasingly certain that an Israeli military attack on Iran is imminent. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #780

Syrian rebel video of downed dronesBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Israeli Prime Minister rebukes President’s Iran comments. Aides to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a stinging rebuke to the country’s president, Shimon Peres, after he said that Israel should not act alone in launching military action against Iran’s nuclear program. In an interview on Israeli television, Peres said: “It is clear to us we cannot do it on our own. We can only delay [Iran's progress]. Thus it’s clear to us that we need to go together with America”. Officials from Netanyahu’s office were quoted in the Israeli media as saying: “Shimon Peres forgets what the role of the president of Israel is”. The row is a stark example of the sharp differences at the heart of Israel’s political, military and intelligence establishment over the merits and dangers of an early unilateral military strike on Iran.
►►Russian embassy in UK alleges attack by Syrian activists. Russia’s embassy in London accused British police on Friday of taking no action to prevent an attack on its building by a group of activists protesting Moscow’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It made the accusation as about 40 protesters clad in balaclavas demonstrated outside the embassy, located in an upscale part of London, against the verdict in a trial of the Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot in Moscow. An embassy spokesman said a group of protesters chanting anti-Assad slogans attacked the building overnight, throwing stones and smashing windows.
►►Syrian rebels put captured Iranian drones on YouTube. The opposition to Bashar al-Assad says it’s captured spy drones made by Assad’s patron, Iran. And it’s put the evidence on YouTube. In the video, Syrian rebels show off three smallish, unarmed surveillance drones they say they downed. The two larger drones appear to be variants of Iran’s homemade Ababil, or Swallow, surveillance aircraft. All three show signs of damage, with the tiny drone’s nose cone looking to have taken the worst, and alongside the drones are pamphlets displaying the face of the dead Iranian ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. It’s yet more evidence that Iran considers Syria’s civil war to be a proxy contest with much at stake for their influence in the region.

Mossad gave us no terror warning before blast, says Bulgaria -updated

Burgas, BulgariaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Bulgarian authorities received no warning from Israeli intelligence prior to yesterday’s bombing in eastern Bulgaria, which killed at least seven and injured over 30 Israeli tourists. The bomb blast occurred outside the main airport building in the Black Sea resort town of Burgas. Less than an hour earlier, Air Bulgaria flight 392, which had departed from Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, had landed at the Burgas International Airport, carrying nearly two hundred Israeli tourists. The latter were boarding three buses scheduled to transport them to various hotels in Burgas, when one of them was ripped apart by a blast —most likely caused by an explosive device placed in the vehicle’s storage compartment a suicide bomber. Reports from Bulgaria and Israel said last night that at least two of the injured were in critical condition and could die soon. Speaking to local media gathered at the site of the blast, Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev said that Israeli intelligence services had provided no warning of a planned attack inside the country. Plevneliev said that members of Bulgaria’s security apparatus met a month ago with officials from the Mossad, Israel’s primary external intelligence agency, but received “no warning of an expected attack”. Earlier this year, it was reported that the Bulgarian intelligence services had uncovered a plot by Lebanese militant group Hezobllah to strike Israel-linked targets in Bulgarian capital Sofia. Last January, Israel had asked Bulgaria to increase security provisions for Israeli tourists, after a suspicious package was found on a tour bus carrying Israeli holidaymakers from Turkey into Bulgaria. Ironically, Dan Shenar, head of security at the Israeli Transportation Ministry, said at the time that security measures were excellent in Bulgarian airports, but “the situation is not the same outside them”. Read more of this post

Mossad ‘helped arrest’ alleged Hezbollah operative in Cyprus

Cyprus, Israel, Syria, Lebanon By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Israeli intelligence was directly involved in the recent arrest of an alleged member of Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, who is said to have been planning a series of attacks against Israeli targets on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. Cypriot media quoted police spokesman Andreas Angelides, who confirmed that the 24-year-old man was arrested on July 7 during a raid on his hotel in the tourist resort of Limassol. He also said that the man, whose name has not been released, was arrested “on possible charges pertaining to terrorism laws” soon after entering Cyprus using a Swedish passport. According to local media, Cypriot authorities were tipped off as to the man’s alleged Hezbollah connections and plans by an unnamed “foreign intelligence agency”. However, several news reports suggested over the weekend that officers of Israeli intelligence agency Mossad have already been dispatched to Cyprus to aid local counterterrorist officials involved in the investigation. Several sources allege that the Swedish-passport holder has been collaborating with his interrogators, telling them that he traveled to Cyprus with the intent of launching an armed attack at the embassy of Israel in Cypriot capital Nicosia. He allegedly changed his mind after observing the heavy security measures in place at the embassy, and opted instead for a plan to blow up a commercial airplane belonging to El Al Airlines, Israel’s national air carrier. He also allegedly considered attacking a number of buses belonging to Israeli tour companies operating in Israel. Cypriot police said that a thorough search of the man’s hotel room netted information on Israeli bus tour companies on the island, detailed flight schedules of Israeli airline operators, as well as digital photographs of popular destinations among Israeli tourists holidaying in Cyprus. Read more of this post

US rejects calls to free Navy analyst who spied for Israel

Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack ObamaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The White House has rejected persistent calls by Israeli politicians and lobbyists to free a United States Navy intelligence analyst serving a life sentence for giving classified US government documents to Israel. Jonathan Jay Pollard was convicted in 1987 for selling classified information to the Israeli government. Ronald Olive, a former counterintelligence officer for the US Naval Criminal Investigative Service, who led the US Navy’s prosecution of Jonathan Pollard, has described Pollard’s spying activity as “one of the most devastating cases of espionage in US history”, involving the theft of over “one million classified documents”. Recently it emerged that, before spying for Israel, Pollard had attempted to spy on the US for the government of Australia. However, in Israel, Pollard, who is now an Israeli subject after renouncing his American citizenship, is widely considered a national hero. Last week, senior Israeli political figures renewed persistent calls to the administration of US President Barack Obama to free Pollard. According to the Israelis’ reasoning, the life sentence imposed on Pollard is too harsh considering that he spied for a US ally. Last week’s calls were led by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who urged the White House to free the convicted spy “in the spirit of the Jewish Passover. Netanyahu said that “the Festival of Freedom of all the Jews should be turned into Pollard’s private one”. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plea was echoed in a personal letter addressed to President Obama by Israeli President Shimon Peres, along with a petition signed by over 80 members of the Israeli Knesset. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #710

Jonathan PollardBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►MI6 officer murder inquest to be held in secret. Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague has ordered that key evidence in the inquest into the death of MI6 officer Gareth Williams is to be heard in secret. Williams, who was found dead in a padlocked sports bag in the bath of his London apartment 20 months ago, was on secondment to MI6 from GCHQ, the British government’s signals intelligence agency, and had worked closely with the American security services.
►►GCHQ warns it is losing terrorists on the internet. Speaking of the GCHQ, the organization says that modern internet technology has left them unable to intercept calls which use new technology instead of traditional phone systems. Britain’s Daily Telegraph quotes “senior intelligence sources with detail knowledge of the problem”, who say that GCHQ technical experts have seen their access to telephone intercept information “eroded” by the use of the technologies such as Voice Over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, which route telephone calls over the world wide web.
►►Israel pressures Obama to release Jewish spy. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has again called on the United States to release convicted spy Jonathan Pollard after the former US Navy intelligence analyst was hospitalized this week. Pollard, an American of Jewish descent, was sentenced to life in prison 25 years ago for leaking classified documents to Israel. Many Israelis believe the sentence was too harsh and officials often demand his release. But Democratic and Republican administrations in the US have repeatedly refused Israeli appeals to release the convicted spy.

Interview with ex-Mossad director Meir Dagan

Meir DaganBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The former director of Israel’s most revered intelligence agency has given an extensive interview on why he believes a military strike against the Iranian nuclear program “should be the last option” for Israel. In November 2010, Meir Dagan stepped down from his post as the head of the Mossad after having led the agency for over eight years —the longest tenure of any Mossad director. During his leadership, the Israeli intelligence agency augmented its notoriety by assassinating Imad Mughniyah, security chief of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, and allegedly killing Islamic Hamas weapons procurer Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. The Mossad is also said to have played a role in Operation ORCHARD, the 2007 Israeli air attack on what is thought to have been a secret nuclear reactor in Al-Kibar, Syria. However, when it comes to the Iranian nuclear program, the 67-year-old retired spy is adamant that the military option would be a strategic error of gigantic proportions. Last year, Dagan admonished calls by hawkish Israeli politicians to bomb Iran as “the stupidest idea” he had ever heard. In an interview with Reuters news agency published on Thursday, April 5, Dagan said the word “stupid” was “a harsh expression” and “not something [he is] very proud of”. But he insisted that the military option should be last on the table, and said that it would be a mistake for Israel to lead international action against the Iranian nuclear program. Instead, the “Iranian problem” should be “left in the hands of the international community”, said Dagan. The Mossad veteran went on to identify three main problems with the military option. To begin with, he said, military action, no matter how damaging in the physical sense, “cannot disarm the core factor of the Iranian program: knowledge” about how to build a nuclear device. Second, Dagan argued that, even if a military strike managed to eliminate a considerable portion of the Iranian nuclear program’s infrastructure —which is not at all assured— it would likely cause a significant backlash. That backlash would culminate in “a regional war” that would involve simultaneous actions by non-state forces allied with Iran, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah. Read more of this post

Israel ‘scales back covert operations in Iran’, says Time magazine

Israel and IranBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The Israeli government has instructed the country’s intelligence services to “scale back” their covert operations in Iran, according to Time magazine. The American publication quotes anonymous “senior Israeli security officials”, who argue that the Jewish state’s covert activities in Iran have been scaled down by “dozens of percent” in recent months. The alleged reduction is said to include “a wide spectrum of operations”, but has mostly affected some of Israel’s most high-profile covert actions. The latter include regular assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists in Tehran and the alleged sabotage of Iranian missile bases. These are said to include a blast at an Iranian military base near the city of Isfahan, in central Iran, which is home to one of Iran’s most active nuclear facilities. They are also said to include a massive explosion in 2011 at an Iranian missile depot near Tehran, which killed at least 17 people, including Major General Hassan Moqqadam, described by Iran’s state media as the “founder of Iran’s missile program”. According to Time, the reduction in Israeli covert operations inside Iran was ordered by none other than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The magazine quotes a “senior security officer” in Israel who claims that the Israeli leader is “worried about the consequences of an [Israeli] covert operation being discovered by Iranian counterintelligence”. There is also a sense in Tel Aviv, says Time, citing “Israeli officials”, that Mossad intelligence planners have largely exhausted their major targets inside Iran at this stage. Nevertheless, the decision to scale back intelligence operations on Iranian territory has reportedly “caused increasing dissatisfaction” inside the Mossad, Israel’s premier external intelligence agency, according to an unnamed Israeli official quoted in Time. Read more of this post

Israel ‘has decided to attack Iran’, claims US intelligence source

Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack ObamaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS| intelNews.org |
The consensus in the US intelligence community is that Israel has decided “on principle” to launch a military strike on Iran in order to halt its nuclear program, according to an American intelligence insider. The American source was quoted on Israel’s Channel 2 (Arutz 2) television on Monday as saying that most US intelligence analysts believe “the attack will go ahead”. The source also argued that the Israeli public remains unaware of the “catastrophic consequences” of such an attack, which, according to US intelligence analysts, will be met with thousands of missiles launched against Israel by Iran and several Arab states. The confrontation will most likely trigger a regional war and “possibly even World War III”, said the source, citing US intelligence reports on the subject. He also warned Israel that the decision to attack Iran would be “tantamount to suicide”. The Channel 2 report claimed that the American and Israeli governments are “deeply at odds” over the potential consequences of a military attack on Iran, but that Tel Aviv has already decided to authorize strikes. The latter will allegedly take place before summer, unless there is “a significant change in the Iranian nuclear program in the next few weeks”, said the report. However, sources close to the Office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the Channel 2 report as part of “scare tactics” employed by Washington. The sources dismissed the so-called “nightmare scenario” as a method employed by members in the administration of President Barack Obama, who “want to constrain Israel from contemplating an attack on Iran”. Meanwhile, British newspaper The Daily Telegraph effectively corroborates the Channel 2report, and adds that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu issued the US President with “an ultimatum” during their closed-door meeting in Washington on Monday. Read more of this post

Israel ‘not to warn US’ on Iran attack, says US intelligence official

White House National Security Adviser Tom DonilonBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The Israeli government has reportedly decided not to forewarn the United States if and when it decides to launch military strikes against Iran’s nuclear energy program. Citing a US intelligence insider, the Associated Press reported on Monday that American officials have been given the message “in a series of private, top-level” meetings with senior Israeli leaders. Tel-Aviv’s decision not to notify Washington about a possible attack on Tehran has been allegedly communicated to US officials by none other than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Defense Ehud Barak. The US intelligence official, who tipped off the Associated Press anonymously, said that the two men have been relaying the same message to a host of American officials who have visited Israel in the past several weeks. The officials include the US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey, as well as several senior American lawmakers. The intelligence source told The Associated Press that Tel Aviv’s decision to keep its cards on Iran close to its chest was solidified following a series of meetings last week between the Israeli leadership and White House National Security Adviser Tom Donilon (pictured). The American official relayed to Netanyahu, Barak and others, the opinion of the White House that a military attack on Iran would be both dangerous and counterproductive. This appears to have further alarmed the Israeli leadership, which last week chastised the United States for voicing criticism of a possible Israeli military attack on Iran, arguing that this criticism effectively “served Iran’s interests”. Read more of this post

German spy helped facilitate Israel-Hamas prisoner exchange

BND seal

BND seal

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Amidst the ongoing media frenzy over the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit by Hamas, in exchange for hundreds of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, few noticed that Germany was expressly thanked by the Israelis for its role in the deal. Speaking to journalists right after Shalit’s release, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his government was “grateful [to] German negotiators for helping facilitate the exchange. Commenting on Netanyahu’s statement, Germany’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Guido Westerwelle, said simply that he was pleased because the German government was “able to contribute to Shalit’s release”. But what exactly was Germany’s role in arranging the deal? The answer was given on Tuesday by Ernst Uhrlau, director of Germany’s intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND). Uhrlau hinted that BND officers had assisted Israel and Hamas in securing the unlikely agreement. Now Germany’s Suedeutsche Zeitung newspaper claims that it knows the identity of the BND officer who acted as the foremost mediator between Israel and Hamas. According to the paper, the officer’s name is Gerhard Konrad; he is 50 years old, six feet tall, and has a PhD in Islamic Studies from Germany’s prestigious Heidelberg University. He speaks fluently French, English and Arabic, which he perfected while working in the Middle East “for several years”. He began his career with BND by representing the agency in German embassies in countries such as Syria and Lebanon. It was there, says Suedeutsche Zeitung, that Konrad cultivated relationships of trust with Hamas and Palestine Liberation Organization-affiliated groups, such as Fatah. He also developed a strong reputation for negotiating with militant groups in adversary conditions. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #543 (CIA edition)

John Rizzo

John Rizzo

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Ex-CIA officer warns of Israeli attack on Iran. Few in the CIA are more knowledgeable about Shiite politics than Robert Baer, a veteran of the Agency’s National Clandestine Service, who spent over 20 years in the Middle East, notably in Lebanon. Last weekend, Baer spoke to Los Angeles radio station KPFK, and said that “[t]here is almost near certainty [in Israel] that Netanyahu is planning an attack [on Iran] and it will probably be in September before the vote on a Palestinian state. And he’s also hoping to draw the United States into the conflict”. Baer is not alone in issuing such warnings in recent months. Former Mossad director Meir Dagan has been echoing Baer’s concerns. ►►Campaigners seek arrest of ex-CIA legal chief. We have written before about John A. Rizzo, the CIA’s former Acting General Counsel, who has been termed “the most influential career lawyer in CIA history”. Some readers may remember that Rizzo retired hurriedly from his post in 2009, amidst fears that he could get in trouble for acting as what some observers termed “a legal enabler” of the CIA torture practices under the George W. Bush administration. Now a group of human rights campaigners in Britain and Pakistan are seeking Rizzo’s arrest for his role in justifying the CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, the legality of which is often questioned by experts. The CIA has refused to comment on the campaign to indict Rizzo. ►►Analysis: The fallout from the CIA’s vaccination ploy in Pakistan. We wrote on Monday that not everyone is amused by news that the CIA tried to collect DNA evidence on Osama bin Laden by running a phony vaccination program in Pakistan. Read more of this post

New Zealand investigates ‘suspicious’ Israeli spy activity [updated]

Ofer Benyamin Mizrahi

Ofer Mizrahi

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Authorities in New Zealand have confirmed that they investigated a series of suspicious actions by alleged Israeli intelligence operatives, in the days following last February’s earthquake in Christchurch. According to publicly available data, at least three of the 181 people who died in the February 22 earthquake were Israelis. Admittedly, the number of Israeli victims was relatively small, which is why New Zealand authorities were baffled by the Israeli government’s intense concern about the earthquake. On the day of the disaster, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on the telephone no fewer than four times with his New Zealand counterpart, John Key, which some New Zealand officials found odd at the time. Even stranger was a subsequent encounter between an armed New Zealand security force and an unauthorized Israeli rescue squad, in the days following the earthquake. The Israeli squad was found roaming in Christchurch’s cordoned ‘red zone’, without an official rescue accreditation by either the United Nations or the New Zealand government. After a brief but tense exchange, the Israelis were escorted out of the ‘red zone’, and the episode led to “intense diplomatic exchanges” between Wellington and Tel Aviv, according to New Zealand media. A possible solution to the riddle came with the discovery in Christchurch of the dead body of an Israeli named Ofer Benyamin Mizrahi. Mizrahi, who died when part of a building fell on the van he was riding in, was found to be carrying at least five different passports bearing his photograph. Read more of this post

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