Israeli intelligence ‘critical’ in US case for strikes on Syria

Regional map of SyriaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
As the United States prepares to make its case in support of military action against the Syrian government, there are reports that Israeli intelligence will be playing “a central role in cementing” Washington’s argument. The White House indicated this week that it is prepared to launch military strikes against Syrian government targets, following reports that chemical weapons were fired at a Damascus suburb. Western intelligence sources suggest that last week’s chemical weapon strikes killed “hundreds of people” and wounded “at least a thousand”, including many civilians. Interestingly, while the US administration of President Barack Obama is collating the evidence of the Syrian government’s complicity in the attacks, reports from Israel have identified even the Syrian Army unit that allegedly fired the chemical rounds. Late last week, Israel’s Channel 2 claimed that the attack was launched by the 155th Brigade of the Syrian Army’s 4th Armored Division, which is known to be commanded by Maher al-Assad, brother of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. German media reports suggest that the source of the claim was Unit 8200, the electronic interception division of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). It is believed that the IDF has in its possession intercepted conversations between senior Syrian military commanders allegedly discussing last week’s chemical attack. Most analysts appear confident that Israel would play no visible part in a possible US-led military strike on Syria. But many senior Israeli cabinet ministers are voicing strong support for direct Western military involvement in the Syrian civil war. On Tuesday, Naftali Bennett, Israel’s Economy and Commerce Minister, said the time for intervention had come: “it cannot be that less than 100 kilometers from Israel, children are being gassed to death and we let the world remain silent and ignore it”, he told reporters. Read more of this post

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News you may have missed #845

Lianne PollakBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Mideast envoy Blair’s adviser is former Israeli intel officer. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is an official Middle East envoy for the Quartet, the group that represents the US, Russia, the United Nations and Europe. In his role as a mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, he is supposed to be politically neutral. But it turns out that one of his principal advisors, Lianne Polak, is an Israeli former army intelligence officer who has led intelligence teams in the Israel Defense Forces.
►►Who is the New Egyptian Intelligence Minister? Last week, a presidential order saw the appointment of General Muhammad Farid as the new head of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service. A profile of this unknown person reveals the close ties he had with those at the top of the Mubarak administration. His previous role was as the chairman of the Administrative Control Authority, which deals with investigating corruption in governmental agencies and public funds, as well as fighting organized crime. Farid was appointed to this role in 2004 by Hosni Mubarak.
►►Five unanswered questions about the NSA’s surveillance programs. Although the US government has disclosed some additional details about the programs in response to the leaks, important questions remain about the nature and scope of the surveillance programs. They include: 1. What other data is being collected under the USA PATRIOT Act? 2. How broad are the programs? 3. What’s the legal rationale? 4. Is the NSA still collecting email records? 5. Are there other programs that we don’t know about?

Israel spy agency has presence in Syria, says senior rebel general

Regional map of SyriaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Israel is one of several countries that maintain a significant intelligence presence inside Syria, according to the top commander of the Syrian rebel forces. General Salim Idriss, Chief of Staff for the Free Syrian Army, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that the Jewish state has “many, many” intelligence officers in various parts of Syria. The Arab country has been rocked since 2011 by a violent civil war, which has cost the lives of at least 60,000 people. Idriss was responding to comments made earlier this week by Brigadier General Itai Brun, senior intelligence analyst for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Brun, who heads the Division for Research and Analysis of the IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate, was speaking at a conference hosted in Tel Aviv, Israel, by the Institute for National Security Studies. He told an audience of intelligence experts that the IDF was “quite certain” that the Syrian government headed by President Bashar al-Assad had resorted to the use of chemical weapons against rebel forces on at least one instance. According to Brun, footage obtained by the IDF of rebel casualties from a March 19 attack by Syrian government forces, pointed to the use of sarin nerve gas. He referred to evidence such as the victims’ dilated pupils and “the foam coming out of their mouths” as strong proof of the use of weaponized sarin nerve gas in the battlefield. Responding to Brun’s allegations, General Idriss suggested that Syrian government forces had used chemical weapons repeatedly in a variety of locations, including Aleppo, Homs, and the outskirts of capital Damascus. Read more of this post

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

Israel admits assassinating Palestinian commander in Tunisia

Abu JihadBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Authorities in Israel have authorized the publication of an interview acknowledging Israel’s role in the assassination of a senior Palestinian military commander in Tunisia in 1988. The target of the assassination was Khalil al-Wazir, better known as Abu Jihad, one of the co-founders of Fatah, the secular wing of the Palestinian Liberation Organization chaired by Yasser Arafat. In the 1960s and 1970s, Abu Jihad rose within the ranks of Fatah and eventually became commander of its armed wing, known as al-Assifa. However, he was killed on April 16, 1988, when a group of unidentified gunmen stormed his villa in Tunisian capital Tunis, before managing to slip away. In the past 23 years, the Israeli intelligence services have been repeatedly singled out as prime suspects in Abu Jihad’s assassination. Nearly 15 years ago, Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronot announced that it had secured an interview with an Israeli commando who had a leading role in the operation and had been the one who fired the shots that killed the Fatah commander. But the interview was blocked from publication by the Israeli military censors, who, under Israeli law, have the power to prevent the airing of information that might harm national security. In 2000, however, the commando, Nahum Lev, died in a motorcycle accident, which prompted the Israeli newspaper to renew its application for the ban on the interview to be lifted. This week, Israeli authorities officially lifted the ban, which allowed Yedioth Ahronot to run the interview with Lev. The airing of the interview was coupled by a more substantial account of the operation, which appeared in the specialist Israel Defense magazine. According to the article, the operation was planned over several months by the Israeli covert action agency Mossad and the Sayaret Matkal, a special forces unit of the Israel Defense Forces. It involved 26 commandos who allegedly reached the Tunisian shore on rubber boats. Several of them walked the streets of Tunis disguised as women tourists. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #783

Uri SaguyBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Israeli ex-intel chief says warns of ‘hysteria’ over Iran. Major General Uri Saguy (a.k.a. Uri Sagi), who was head of the IDF’s Operations Directorate during the 1982 Lebanon war, and Military Intelligence chief from 1991 to 1995, has warned of an “orchestrated and purposely timed hysteria that puts the country into a state of anxiety, artificial or not”, regarding the Iranian nuclear issue. Saguy, who resigned from the IDF in 1995 due to a conflict between him and the Chief of General Staff, added that “it would be a mistake if Israel uses force, certainly now, in order to thwart the Iranian nuclear potential”. The essence of Saguy’s message, notes Ha’aretz‘s Amir Oren, is that Israel’s citizens cannot trust Defense Minister Ehud Barak or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
►►Australian spy chief warns of economic espionage. The director-general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, David Irvine, has warned that the online revolution has left Australian companies increasingly vulnerable to cyber attacks and commercial espionage. Speaking to a business audience in Canberra, Irvine said that most online attacks in the business world go undetected, despite growing awareness of the threat. Asked how much commercial cyber crime went undetected, he said: “I would be very surprised if we who are active in this area are picking up the greater proportion of it, in fact, quite the reverse”.
►►Top US military official objects to attack on Iran. As Israeli officials are telling local reporters that they’re really, really ready to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, and they mean it this time, the top US military officer is saying what a terrible idea that would be. “I may not know about all of [Israel's] capabilities”, said General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “But I think that it’s a fair characterization to say that they could delay but not destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities”. Left unsaid: in a few years, the US and Israel would be back to the same standoff with Iran —except this time it might do so amidst a proxy terrorist war to avenge the Iranians.

Intelligence wars heat up in Lebanon amid regional instability

Lebanese-Israeli-Syrian borderBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
As the security situation in Syria and Egypt deteriorates, Lebanon is rapidly emerging as a major intelligence hub in the wider geopolitical power-struggle currently unfolding in the Middle East. On Monday, Lebanon’s leading Arabic-language newspaper, An-Nahar, reported the discovery last month of a foreign espionage network allegedly operating in Lebanese capital Beirut. The paper said that the clandestine network was spying on behalf of “a major Western country”, and was unearthed by forces loyal to Hezbollah, the Shiite group that controls large parts of southern Lebanon. The network allegedly consisted of at least three men, all Lebanese citizens, who lived in close proximity to each other in Beirut’s southern suburbs —a traditional Hezbollah stronghold. The three men were not Hezbollah members, said An-Nahar, but one was stoutly religious and all had good relations with local Hezbollah cells operating in their respective neighborhoods. The alleged head of the spy ring was an unnamed Lebanese citizen who had lived in the Ukraine for several years, where he operated a human smuggling network transporting Arab men into Europe. However, he was eventually arrested by French authorities in Paris and spent two years in prison. According to An-Nahar, the man was able to secure a deal with his captors, under which he would be allowed to return to Lebanon in exchange for informing them about the activities of a senior Hezbollah official wanted by Interpol. His ultimate mission was allegedly to lure the Hezbollah official, with whom he was friends, to Europe, where he could be arrested. Hezbollah has refused to comment on the newspaper’s claims. But the militant Shiite group did confirm on Tuesday the reported explosions of three alleged Israeli spy devices found in Southern Lebanon. Read more of this post

New Israeli special forces command escalates covert action

Benny GantzBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
In recent months, intelNews has paid particular attention to senior Israeli security officials, or former officials, who routinely caution against plans for an Israeli military attack on Iran. These include Amos Yadlin, former head of Israel’s Military Intelligence directorate, and former Mossad Directors Meir Dagan and Tamir Pardo, who believes that a nuclear-armed Iran “would not be an existential threat to Israel”. But such current or former Israeli officials, who view a possible Israeli military attack on Iran as catastrophic, should not be seen as advocating pacifist views. On the contrary, they caution against an open Israeli military attack on Iran, favoring instead a covert-action approach. There are now signs that, under pressure by the United States, the Israeli administration of Benjamin Netanyahu is gradually heeding such advice. One such indication is to be found in the increasingly instrumental role played by Benny Gantz, the Chief of General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces. Lieutenant-General Gantz, who rose to the position of Israel’s most powerful soldier in February of 2011, arguably represents the most hawkish wing of the Israeli military. He is also one of the most vocal adherents of Israeli military supremacy in the Middle East ‘by any means necessary’. In April, he spoke publicly to confirm that, under his leadership, the Israeli military has “escalated special operations beyond the country’s borders”. Since then, he has refused to provide details of such operations, which he has described as “highly classified”. But an article published earlier this month in The Jerusalem Post discusses the rise in Israeli covert operations in the context of a new Israeli special forces command called Deep Corps. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #734

Aviv KochaviBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Australian spy agency in rent dispute. The Australian government insists there is no dispute over the lease of the new, state-of-the-art headquarters of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, which cost nearly A$589 to build. But according to a number of government sources, the property has become the subject of a standoff between the ASIO and Australia’s Department of Finance and Deregulation. The Canberra Times reports that the Finance Department has told ASIO it will have to hand over more money than anticipated because of a blowout to building costs and timing. But the ASIO is refusing to pay more than initially agreed.
►►US unveils spy model of bin Laden compound. The United States intelligence community has unveiled a scale model of the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden spent the last few years of his life in hiding. The model was built by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGIA) and used by military and intelligence leaders to plan the daring night raid on May 2, 2011, that killed the al Qaeda founder. Its scale is an exact 1:84; every tree, bush, wall, animal pen, trash can and physical structure in the model existed at one time at the original compound in Abbottabad.
►►Israel military intelligence head in secret US visit. Israeli military intelligence chief Aviv Kochavi made a “secret visit” to Washington earlier this month to discuss the upcoming talks between world powers and Iran. An Israeli security official confirmed the visit, which was reported in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, but could not provide further details. Meanwhile, three senior IDF intelligence officers resigned recently, following what they called “questionable” appointments to key positions. The three colonels held some of the most senior and classified positions in the Israeli military intelligence community.

News you may have missed #550

Sukhoi-27 jets

Sukhoi-27 jets

►►Chinese fighters chased US spy plane into Taiwan. It has been revealed that, late last June, The Taiwanese Ministry of National Defense sent two F-16 fighters to intercept a two Chinese Sukhoi-27 jets that crossed into its airspace, while pursuing an American U-2 reconnaissance plane. It was the first time that Chinese jets breached Taiwan’s airspace since 1999. The Pentagon declined to confirm the report, but some in Washington must have had flashbacks of the 2001 Hainan Island incident.
►►Israel arrests four of its soldiers for sabotaging spy gear. This story is interesting on numerous levels: according to a statement by the IDF’s Northern Command, Israeli military authorities plan to prosecute four Israeli female soldiers for repeatedly shutting off unspecified surveillance equipment designed to collect intelligence from neighboring Lebanon. When faced with the accusations, the soldiers apparently told their commanders that “they worked under very difficult conditions and couldn’t bear the pressure”.
►►Turkish national convicted for spying in Ukraine. Ukrainian prosecutors say Read more of this post

Location of massive Israeli eavesdropping site uncovered

Nicky Hager

Nicky Hager

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
An author and investigative journalist from New Zealand has uncovered one of the world’s biggest government-sponsored eavesdropping sites in a desert in Israel. Writing in French monthly review Le Monde Diplomatique, Nicky Hager reveals that the site acts as a base for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Central Collection Unit of the Intelligence Corps, also known as Unit 8200, which is responsible for collecting and decrypting signals intelligence. In his article, written in French, Hager describes the base as one of the world’s largest, and says it is located near the Urim kibbutz, about 30 kilometers west of Beersheba, in Israel’s Negev desert region. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #386 (Israel edition)

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Analysis: Israel Suffers Strategic Blowback in Flotilla Raid

Gaza Freedom Flotilla raid

Flotilla raid

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Speaking before a parliamentary committee about last month’s Israeli raid on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, which killed nine and injured over 60 international volunteers, a senior Israeli intelligence official warned  that “[e]vents [like this] are likely to go out of control and the situation could deteriorate to extreme scenarios”. The official was no other than Meir Dagan, director of the Mossad, Israel’s foremost external intelligence agency. As I explain in an article published yesterday in Daily News Corner, to some extent, Dagan’s “extreme scenario” has already materialized. The raid’s outrageous death toll has further-worsened Israel’s deteriorating relations with Australia and has caused the outright termination of the Jewish state’s diplomatic contacts with several non-Western countries that used to be among its closest international friends, such as Turkey, South Africa, Ecuador and Nicaragua. More importantly, the flotilla attack has even stigmatized Israel’s relations with the United States, a development that fits into the broader pattern of steadily worsening US-Israeli relations in recent years. It is no coincidence that, on the day after the raid, Mossad chief Dagan said that “Israel is gradually turning from an asset to the United States to a burden”. Read article →

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Israeli Navy insiders deplore Gaza flotilla raid

Mike Eldar

Mike Eldar

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A day after a former Mossad officer described last week’s Israeli raid on a fleet of Gaza-bound aid ships as “stupid”, former and current Israeli Navy insiders have strongly criticized the bloody operation. Speaking from Israel, Mike Eldar, a 20-year veteran of an elite Israeli Navy special missions unit, said the only explanation for the Israel Defense Forces’ attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla was “stupidity [and] super egos”. He was echoing the words of former Mossad case officer Victor Ostrovsky, who last week described the raid as an act that was “so stupid it is stupefying”. The operation, carried by the IDF’s elite Shayetet 13 amphibious unit, resulted in the deaths of nine and the injuries of over 60 flotilla passengers. Elgar added that the botched raid’s result “made no sense”, considering that there must have been Mossad agents on board the ships, and that the IDF “had at least two weeks to prepare, with lots of practice”. Read more of this post

Analysis: Israel’s Flotilla Raid Involved Espionage, Sabotage

MV Mavi Marmara

Mavi Marmara

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The intense worldwide debate about last Monday’s Israeli raid on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla has concentrated relatively little on the operation’s intelligence facets. As I explain in an article published yesterday at Daily News Corner, this is puzzling, considering that the intelligence aspects of the attack are largely responsible for its bloody outcome. The Gaza-bound ships had drawn minor international attention prior to the first media reports of the raid in international waters by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). But the effort by the Israeli security services to prevent the flotilla from reaching its intended destination did not begin in the Mediterranean Sea. It started several months before the fleet of ten vessels was even chartered by the Humanitarian Aid Foundation (ÍHH). Indeed, despite the revered image that is often projected by the Israeli security services, faulty intelligence may be at the root of the debacle on the MV Mavi Marmara, the Gaza Freedom Flotilla’s largest ship, where IDF commandos killed nine and injured over 60 passengers and crew. Read article →

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