Analysis: How does Israel recruit Palestinian informants in Gaza?

Erez border crossingBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
According to human-rights organizations, the Palestinian group Hamas has executed over 50 alleged Israeli informants in the Gaza Strip. Nearly two dozen Gaza residents were accused of collaborating with Israel and summarily shot in the weeks following the recent war between Israel and Hamas. There are serious concerns over the absence of appropriate legal processes in these executions. The issue of legal standards aside, however, there is little question that Israeli intelligence agencies have for decades relied on Palestinian informants to gather information on Arab communities in Israel and the Occupied Territories. These individuals provide the Israeli intelligence establishment with human intelligence or plant technical surveillance equipment as instructed by their handlers. But how do Israeli intelligence agencies, including the Mossad and Shin Bet, recruit Palestinian informants in difficult-to-penetrate places such as the Gaza Strip?

Palestinians who have been personally wronged by Hamas, or who oppose the militant group’s seven-year rule in the Gaza Strip, constitute low-hanging fruit for Israeli recruiters. Other informants, such as petty-thieves and other small-time criminals, are recruited through traditional intelligence techniques that include entrapment or blackmail. But it would be reasonable to assume that most recruits are lured by direct cash payments. Unemployment in the Gaza Strip is currently estimated at 40 percent, which makes offers of cash extremely enticing for a significant segment of the Gazan population. One officer in the Shin Bet —Israel’s domestic intelligence agency— said recently in respect to the recruitment of informants that “everything starts and ends with money”.

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Mossad officer who saved Hamas leader’s life appeals for moderation

Mishka Ben DavidBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
An Israeli intelligence operative, who in 1997 saved the life of the leader of Palestinian militant group Hamas, has published a letter calling on Hamas to show moderation in the dispute with Israel. In 1997, Benjamin Netanyahu, who, like today, was Israel’s prime minister, authorized an ambitious operation to assassinate the leader of Hamas, Khaled Mashal. The operation was carried out by the Mossad, Israel’s covert-action agency, which sent several of its members to Jordanian capital Amman, where Mashal was living at the time. On September 25, two Mossad assassins were waiting for Mashal to arrive at his office, ready to dispense a fast-acting poison in the form of an injection. But as the Hamas leader entered the premises, his young daughter called his name, causing him to turn his head in the opposite direction. As a result, the needle with the deadly poison landed on his ear, as opposed to his neck, and much of it was spilled. Mashal started yelling and before too long the two Mossad assassins had been captured alive by Hamas security guards. Mashal was then rushed to hospital and was about to die, when a furious King Hussein of Jordan contacted Tel Aviv with an ultimatum: either an antidote would be provided to save Mashal’s life, or the captured Mossad agents would be speedily tried and most likely sentenced to death by execution. The director of the Mossad operation then contacted a support officer, Mishka Ben-David, who was awaiting orders in an Amman hotel, and asked him to deliver a vial of antidote to a Jordanian security officer who would be waiting at the lobby of the hotel later that evening. Ben-David did as he was told and handed to the Jordanians the vial of antidote, which the Mossad had prepared in case one of their operatives was inadvertently injected with the poison. The antidote saved Mashal’s life and enabled him to continue to lead Hamas, the organization that is now in command of the Gaza Strip. Last week, Ben-David published an open letter addressed to Mashal, the man whose life he once saved, in which he calls on the Hamas strongman to stop taking his cues from “the most extreme side” of his organization. In a subsequent interview with British newspaper The Sunday Telegraph, Ben-David said his intention in authoring the letter was to “appeal to the rational side of Khaled Mashal”, and urge him to “accept a compromise” in order to “end the war with Israel”. Read more of this post

Destroying Hamas won’t solve conflict, says top US Pentagon official

Lieutenant General Michael FlynnBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The most senior military intelligence official of the United States has warned that the destruction of Palestinian militant group Hamas will not solve, and might even intensify, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Hamas, otherwise known by its full name, Islamic Resistance Movement, was founded with Israeli help in 1987 to combat the power of its secular rival, Fatah. Since 2007, Hamas has ruled the Gaza Strip, after winning most of the votes in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary election. Fatah, which refused to hand over power to Hamas, now governs the West Bank. Israel has for many years accused Hamas for leading what it describes as the “rejectionist” camp of the Palestinian nationalist movement, by refusing to accept the legitimacy of the Jewish state. The US is in broad agreement with its close ally Israel, and has designated Hamas as a foreign terrorist organization. On Saturday, however, the outgoing director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, warned Israeli officials that wiping out Hamas will not mean the end of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute, and that the group’s demise will probably lead to a far more radical group taking its place. Lieut. Gen. Flynn was speaking at the Aspen Security Forum, an annual gathering of senior defense leaders in Aspen, Colorado. The top US military intelligence official told his audience that “if Hamas were destroyed and gone, we would probably end up with something much worse”. He went on to add that the militant group’s place in Gaza would probably be replaced by “something like ISIS”. Lieut. Gen. Flynn was referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, known as ISIS, which has emerged from the Syrian Civil War as the most powerful non-state actor in the region. The group has already announced the creation of an Islamic State in territory under its control in the borderlands of Iraq and Syria. Lieut. Gen. Flynn was echoing similar views expressed earlier this month by former Israeli intelligence official Efraim Halevy, who directed Israel’s covert-action agency, Mossad, from 1998 to 2002. Speaking to American television network CNN, Halevy said that numerous radical groups in the Gaza Strip would be far more threatening to Israel’s security than Hamas. Read more of this post

Israel should negotiate with Hamas, says former Mossad chief

Efraim HalevyBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A former director of the Israeli covert-action agency Mossad, who helped forge a historic peace treaty between Israel and Jordan in the 1990s, has called for the Jewish state to negotiate with Palestinian group Hamas. Efraim Halevy, who directed the Mossad from 1998 to 2002, told American television network CNN on Tuesday that numerous radical groups in the Gaza Strip would be far more threatening to Israel’s security than Hamas. Speaking to CNN’s chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour, Halevy said that Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, “is a very bad option” for Israel, but that the militant Sunni Islamist groups coming out of Syria and Iraq are “a lot worse” and posed a much more pertinent challenge to regional stability. He specifically mentioned the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, known as ISIS, which has emerged as the most powerful non-state actor in the region, saying that “ISIS has its tentacles in the Gaza Strip too”. Amanpour retorted that, by negotiating with Hamas, Israel would effectively legitimize the militant group. But Halevy said that, while it would be “politically inconvenient” for Israel to reach out to Hamas, the fact is that Tel Aviv has been negotiating with the Palestinian group “for years”. Even though Israel and Hamas insist on refusing to publicly acknowledge each other’s existence, in reality they have been negotiating with each other for a long time, he said. “We [presumably the Mossad] have had several rounds with Hamas in recent years, and the previous rounds ended up in agreements —arrangements, as it was called”, said the former Mossad chief. “But in effect”, he went on, “it was a negotiation between us and Hamas”. As an example, Halevy mentioned the release of Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, who was captured in 2006 in a cross-border raid by Hamas forces. He was released in 2011 as part of a prisoner exchange agreement between the Palestinian group and Israel. In 2012, Halevy issued a public call for dialogue between Israel and Iran, saying that “the Iranians, in their heart of hearts, would like to get out of their conundrum”, referring to Tehran’s nuclear program. Read more of this post

US spy agencies probed job seekers with links to al-Qaeda

CIA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
One in five applicants for jobs in American intelligence agencies, who were rejected due to questionable backgrounds, were found to have connections with foreign intelligence or militant groups, including al-Qaeda.  This is revealed in an internal document provided to The Washington Post by American defector Edward Snowden. Snowden, a former technical expert for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA), is currently living in Russia, where he has been granted political asylum. Last week, he gave The Post a top-secret document containing the 2012 budget summary for the US National Intelligence Program. Among other things, the document reveals that individuals with links to what the United States Intelligence Community terms “hostile intelligence”, or foreign terrorist organizations, have sought to obtain intelligence-related jobs in the US. According to the paper, roughly one out of every five job seekers at the CIA,  whose applications were rejected by the Agency due to suspicious backgrounds, had “significant terrorist and/or hostile intelligence connections”. Such connections allegedly included links with Lebanese Hezbollah, Islamic Hamas, as well as various al-Qaeda affiliates, all of which are on the US State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations. The Post subsequently spoke to a CIA source who argued that the number of applicants found to have ties with militant groups was relatively small. The leaked document also mentions that the NSA has launched a major counterintelligence scheme aimed at uncovering “potentially suspicious or abnormal […] activity” among its employees. Read more of this post

Hamas ‘found tracking devices’ inside weapons bound for Gaza

Rafah Border CrossingBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The Palestinian militant group Hamas said on Sunday it refused to take possession of a shipment of missiles after its weapons experts discovered they contained a number of carefully hidden tracking devices. The Egyptian newspaper Al-Youm Al-Sabea, which reported the story, said it spoke to a source “closely affiliated with weapons smugglers” in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, who confirmed Hamas’ claim. According to Al-Youm, the weapons shipment consisted of 28 long-range missiles stolen from the arsenal of the Libyan armed forces during the uprising that led to the overthrow of Libya’s late leader, Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi. The shipment made its way across the border with Egypt and from there to the Sinai desert, before ending up at the Rafah Border Crossing, located between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. It was there that the missiles were inspected by a team from the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas. The paper reported that one of the Hamas inspectors, a senior member of the al-Qassam Brigades, discovered a number of miniature tracking devices carefully concealed inside the missiles, which appeared to be active. Following the discovery, the Hamas team backed out of the purchase deal and abandoned the inspection site. Al-Youm also said that the Palestinian group has decided to terminate its contacts with a significant number of weapons smugglers operating in the Sinai, because of concerns that they may have been penetrated by Israeli and Egyptian intelligence. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #817 (assassinations edition)

Patrick FinucaneBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►British PM apologizes in killing of IRA lawyer. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron, has apologized after a government report found that British intelligence officials had colluded with loyalist paramilitaries in the 1989 killing of lawyer Patrick Finucane in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Finucane, who had represented members of the Irish Republic Army in court, was shot dead by two gunmen from a Protestant paramilitary group while having a Sunday dinner at his home with his wife and three children.
►►Behind the plot to kill Afghanistan’s spy chief. On December 11, we reported that the Afghan government accused Pakistani intelligence of having played a role in the assassination of Assadullah Khaled, who heads Afghanistan’s National Directorate for Security. But how was the attempt on Khaled’s life carried out, and how did the aspiring assassins get so close to the controversial intelligence chief? Time magazine reports that it was Khaled’s self-confidence “bordering on recklessness” that almost got him killed. Sources say that, even after taking over the NDS, Khalid frequently drove around without bodyguards.
►►How Mossad bid to kill Hamas leader ended in fiasco. Khaled Mashal’s recent presence in the Gaza Strip will have rudely reminded Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, of one of the greatest fiascos in the history of special operations, writes The Daily Telegraph‘s David Blair. Fifteen years ago, Netanyahu authorized a risky attempt to assassinate Mashal in the Jordanian capital, Amman. Everything went wrong. The Jordanian security forces responded to this brazen daylight attack, arresting two of the Israeli operatives and forcing three to hide in their country’s embassy, which was promptly surrounded by troops.

Comment: Did Israel assassinate senior Hamas official in Syria?

Kamel RanajaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The leadership of Hamas has accused Israel of assassinating one of its senior officials in Syria last Wednesday. The Palestinian militant group, which controls the Gaza Strip, announced late last week that the charred body of Kamel Ranaja had been found in his half-burned apartment in Syrian capital Damascus. Ranaja, known informally as Nizar Abu Mujhad, was said to have replaced the post of the late Hamas weapons procurer Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. Al-Mabhouh was killed in 2010 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, most likely by Israeli intelligence agency Mossad. Citing French news agency Agence France Presse, Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz quoted an unnamed Hamas official as saying that “a group of people entered [Ranaja’s] home […] and killed him”, adding that “according to the information that we have gathered, the Mossad is behind the attack”. Reports from Reuters published in the British press suggest that Ranaja’s charred body “bore signs of torture” and that it had been dismembered. There are also suggestions that the group that attacked the Hamas official’s apartment took with them an unspecified volume of documents and computer files before setting the place on fire.

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Car explosion in Port Sudan linked to Israel

Blast site in Port SudanBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
A powerful car explosion, which rocked Sudan’s main port on Tuesday, killing one person, has been linked to Israel by Sudanese government officials. The car was blown up by what appears to have been a missile attack, in Port Sudan, a city of over half a million people on the Red Sea. A local reporter told Reuters news agency that the blast site featured “two small but deep holes” and “another hole beneath” what was left of the gutted car. Many observers consider Port Sudan, an ancient city that has traditionally connected Sudan with Egypt in the north and Saudi Arabia across the Red Sea, as a major link in the complex smuggling network that supplies goods and weapons to the Gaza Strip. Israel has long asserted that the smuggled items are secretly carried from Port Sudan into Egypt, before eventually ending up in the Palestinian enclave that is controlled by militant group Hamas. The government of Sudan vehemently denies these charges. But a “local security source” in Port Sudan told Reuters that the car’s driver, Nasser Awadallah Ahmed Said, who was killed in the blast, was an eminent member of the Red Sea’s Ababda Bedouin tribe, whose members have a long history of smuggling weapons and goods to and from Sudan. Speaking on Tuesday, Sudan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ali Ahmed Karti, stopped just short of directly fingering Israel as the culprit of the attack. Karti, who is Sudan’s most senior government official to have so far commented on the blast, told local news media that “the style of the car explosion was similar to Israel’s attack on [Sudan’s] Red Sea State [province] last year”. He was referring to a similar incident that took place in April of last year in the very same province where Port Sudan is located. At that time, Khartoum directly blamed Israel for the strike. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #660

Margaret ThatcherBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Taiwan President accused of spying on political opponents. Taiwan’s opposition challenger for the presidency, Tsai Ing-wen, has accused intelligence services under the control of incumbent President Ma Ying-jeou of tracking her campaign events for political advantage. The allegations – unproven and denied by Ma – conjure up memories of Taiwan’s one-party past when Ma’s party, the Nationalists, used their total control of the state apparatus to persecute opponents.
►►Analysis: Has Israeli-Australian spy relationship been restored? Intelligence sharing between Israel and Australia was halted this time last year, when a Mossad hit squad with forged Australian passports assassinated senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in in Dubai. But Australian newspaper The Age reports that “the flow of top secret intelligence between the two countries has now been restored”, in a move apparently initiated by the Australian side.
►►Thatcher threatened to ban BBC program on MI5 and MI6. The Conservative government of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher threatened to “veto” a BBC investigative program about British intelligence services MI5 and MI6, because it would reveal details about how they operated and question their public accountability. In a letter marked “top secret and personal”, cabinet secretary Sir Robert Armstrong, recommended that Margaret Thatcher consider invoking the rarely used power, saying that “the government has the power to ban any program”. Thatcher wrote on the note: “I would be prepared to use the veto”.

News you may have missed #643 (Israel edition)

Mosab Hassan Yousef

Yousef/Joseph

►►Hezbollah uncovers more Israeli spy devices. Lebanese media reported on Friday that two people were wounded in a blast that occurred in the south of the country, between the towns of Srifa and Deir Kifa. According to some of the reports, the blast targeted espionage devices which were destroyed by Israel after being exposed by Hezbollah. This is not the first time such devices have been discovered in Lebanon: see here and here for previous such incidents.
►►PLO subpoenas Palestinian who spied for Israel. The Palestine Liberation Organization served Mosab Hassan Yousef, who says he is a former spy for Israeli domestic intelligence agency Shin Bet, with a subpoena in the United States last month. The Palestinian group says it wants his notes and details of his spy work for the Israeli government.
►►Analysis: The complex relationship between the Mossad and Israeli media. “Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan’s crusade this week against an Israeli strike on Iran took on a new dimension with his several media interviews. His campaign also reflects the Mossad’s attitude toward journalists, something along the lines of respect them, suspect them and use them. The degree shifts from one Mossad head to the next”. An enlightening analysis by veteran Israeli intelligence correspondent Yossi Melman.

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

Why Are Armed Groups Storming Foreign Embassies in Tripoli?

The new Libyan flag

New Libyan flag

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
It is perhaps understandable that fighters of the National Transitional Council, Libya’s rebel umbrella group, have stormed locations in Tripoli that are associated with the regime of deposed Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi. Strategic sites such as  Bab al-Aziziya, Gaddafi’s compound, government ministries, or even houses belonging to Gaddafi’s large and powerful family, may be deemed legitimate targets. But why are the rebels also selectively attacking foreign embassies in the Libyan capital? According to Yonhap, South Korea’s state-run news agency, the South Korean embassy in Tripoli was “attacked […] by an armed gang” of about 30 people late on Tuesday. The report, which could not be immediately confirmed by the Republic’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, cited anonymous sources, who said that embassy staff were “threatened at gunpoint”. At roughly the same period, another group of “armed persons” stormed the building of the Bulgarian embassy, according to the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which said that it had yet to clarify “the circumstances around the incident”. On Wednesday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said that armed groups had “assaulted and totally looted” the Venezuelan embassy. A few hours later, the Venezuelan Ambassador to Libya, Afif Tajeldine, clarified that the attack took place at his official residence, which is located about 9 miles from the Venezuelan embassy. He told El Universal that armed groups broke into the ambassadorial residence and “searched the house asking for me”. They then “ransacked the house completely” and “left nothing in the house”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #527

  • Has Microsoft broken Skype’s encryption? The US Congress has finally discovered Skype. But the timing may be bad, since there are rumors that Microsoft has found a way to break the encryption behind Skype communications, rendering all Skype calls potentially open to surveillance by governments. The company (Microsoft) has even filed a related patent application. Communications interception experts have been trying for some time to achieve this.
  • Ex-CIA agent loses legal battle over ‘unauthorized’ book. A former CIA deep-cover operative, who goes by the pseudonym ‘Ishmael Jones’, may have to financially compensate the Agency for publishing a book without the CIA’s approval, after a US judge ruled against him. Jones maintains that the CIA is bullying him because of his public criticism of its practices.
  • Family of accused Australian spy seeks support. The family of Australian-Jordanian citizen Eyad Abuarga, who has been charged with being a technical spy for Hamas, have called on the Australian government to do more to help him, with less than a month before he is due to face trial in Israel.

News you may have missed #503

  • Dutch forces’ covert operations in Africa revealed. Dutch forces have for several years been training government soldiers in Mali, Senegal and Chad, without the Dutch parliament being informed, according to Dutch newspaper AD, which cites documents from the US Congress and the Pentagon.
  • Israel destroys spying devices found in Gaza. Hamas sources have told Egyptian newspaper al-Ahram that they discovered several “audio-visual spying devices” in the sand hills south of Gaza City. But, as soon as they started removing the devices, they “received a phone call from Israeli intelligence elements” telling them that the site would be bombed “within three minutes” —which is precisely what happened, according to al-Ahram. Regular readers of this blog will know this incident was not a first.
  • Leaked documents reveal Guantanamo secrets. A batch of leaked US government intelligence documents, not meant to surface for 20 years, shows that intelligence collection at Guantánamo often was much less effective than the George Bush administration has acknowledged. According to the documents, the US military used interrogation and detention practices that they largely made up as they went along.
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